Tree of Faith Letters Continued
by the Late Archbishop Michael M. Wright
In the Letters which follow, the secular 'historical' interpretation of the Holy Scriptures has no place. This 'historical' way of approaching the Scriptures has long been acceptable to 'liberal' Protestant 'theologians', indeed it is regarded by such as the only intellectually acceptable way of understanding and interpreting the Bible text. A famous Oxford scholar of the Nineteenth Century, Benjamin Jowett, insisted on his right to read the Bible as no more than an ancient document. This implied that the Bible was to be regarded as a history of religious ideas, not as a source of divine revelation. The outcome of such an attitude is entirely predictable; at the outset it imposes a philosophical embargo on anything and everything that does not come within its limited field of vision. If it is to be understood properly, the Bible must be treated for what it claims to be, a revelation granted to mankind, but often passing beyond man’s limited intellect and experience. The ultimate authority of Holy Scripture (God’s Word written) rests not with the text, venerable and outstandingly well-preserved as it is, but with Him whose gift it is and who alone, as the Word made Flesh, provides its true interpretation.
The Tree of Faith Letters - Part II
Letter 16:Eucharist and Life, Letter17: Gethsemane - Freely-willed Offering, Letter 18: Suffering and Death of Christ, Letter 19: Death of Christ and Death of Death, Letter 20: Resurrection- More than Restoration, Letter 21:Ascension- Timeless Abiding Presence, Letter 22:The Holy Spirit and the Church, Letter 23:Ministry in the Holy Spirit in the Church, Letter 24:The Colony of Heaven, Final Comment: + Michael Wright, Glossary
In the Autumn of 2003 Father Teklehaimanot Tekeste asked me to provide a more detailed course of instruction for his fellow students in Johannesburg. It soon became clear that the best way to do this was to provide a series of Letters written, where possible, at weekly intervals. The writing of these letters provided an opportunity to demonstrate the way in which the Faith revealed in the Holy Scriptures has been clarified by the Fathers in the face of false interpretations and the intrusion of alien teachings.
It seems that there is no brief and easily available presentation of this kind. Much helpful material is to be found, but only in scholarly books and articles. It was also necessary to demonstrate the need to think deeply about the Faith. Many believers assume that they can get by with just a superficial grasp of the Faith, but St. Paul insists "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds." (Romans 12:3). To know, understand, and to communicate the Faith is a duty laid on all believers. The otherwise overwhelming challenge of the times in which we live demands that we cease to be slack in this matter. For this reason the Letters demand serious thought; we are required to take leave of worldly attitudes and standards.
Some important Greek terms, used and refined by the Fathers, have been introduced, explained, and are then used over again, printed in bold type. Quotations come from a variety of sources and the passages from the Scriptures have been compared with the original texts and modified where the sense of the original seemed to require it. Since we read the Fathers mostly from translations, the subtleties and linkages which are evident in the originals are passed over; I hope, however, that the fundamental force and purpose of such quotations stands clear.
At the conclusion of the twenty-fourth and final letter I have written: "It is my hope that these letters provide a sufficient guide so that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments begin to come alive in the way the Fathers experienced them." This is an invitation to a fresh discovery of the spiritual riches of the Catholic Church.
(The title of these Letters is taken from Father Haimanot's own surname. It is the name of a famous Ethiopian Saint and means 'The Tree of Faith.')
- LETTER SIXTEEN: EUCHARIST AND LIFE.
- LETTER SEVENTEEN: Gethsemane- Freely-willed offering.
- LETTER EIGHTEEN: THE SUFFERING AND DEATH OF CHRIST- It's meaning.
- LETTER NINTEEN: THE DEATH OF CHRIST and THE DEATH OF DEATH.
- LETTER TWENTY: RESURRECTION- MORE THAN RESTORATION.
- LETTER TWENTY ONE: ASCENSION - TIMELESS ABIDING PRESENCE.
- LETTER TWENTY TWO: THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE CHURCH.
- TWENTY THREE: MINISTRY IN THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE CHURCH.
- LETTER TWENTY FOUR - THE COLONY OF HEAVEN.
- A FINAL COMMENT:
1. St. John describes at length, in Chapter Six of his Gospel, the dispute which broke out following the miracles of the loaves and fishes. This is the point at which Jesus identifies the Bread of God as "... the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." (John 6:33). Jesus follows this up by saying "I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty". (John 6:36). This statement is not well received and Jesus goes further:
"I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the Life of the world is My flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no Life in you." Those who eat My Flesh and drink My Blood have eternal Life, and I will raise them up at the Last Day; for My Flesh is True Food and My Blood is True Drink. Those who eat My Flesh and drink My Blood abide in Me and I in them. Just as the Living Father sent Me, and I Live because of the Father, so whoever Eats me will Live because of Me." (John 6:52-57 - with capitals added for extra emphasis).
2. We will understand this passage more clearly - a passage which refers so obviously to the institution of the Eucharist (or Mass) at the Last Supper - when we have made a distinction between hypostasis and prosôpon. The two words are very close in meaning but the use made of hypostasis by the Cappadocian Fathers in describing the Persons of the Holy Trinity provides a clue to the distinction which needs to be made. A quotation from Letter 3:11 and 12 points to this distinction:
"God is one because His Essence (ousiâ) is one, God is three because there are three divine Persons (hypostases). If we leave matters there, however, we have little more than a scheme; more needs to be said. Peter, James, and John all share the same human essence and are three individual men (i.e. three hypostases with the same ousiâ). If the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share the same divine essence how can they avoid being three Gods?
The solution to this question leads us to a yet more profound level of understanding. Although we use the same terms for both, divine, uncreated existence is radically different from created existence. In uncreated existence the essence is undivided, in created existence the essence is divided. For us, therefore, essence, being divided, is a set of characteristics and qualities which allow us to place individuals in particular groups - plants, animals, humans, angels. For uncreated or divine existence the essence, being undivided, is the total communion and eternal interchange of divine life."
3. From this we see that hypostasis, although it indicates something which exists and is identifiable as an individual, opens up, as with the Holy Trinity, to "... the total communion and eternal interchange of divine life.". Prosôpon (a term introduced in Letter 12:4) points, on the other hand, to the outward appearance and tends to emphasises individuality. The Fathers were prepared to apply both the terms hypostasis and prosôpon to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit when they wished to emphasise the reality of the Persons. This does not mean, however, that they regarded the two terms as meaning exactly the same. So also the Definition of the Council of Chalcedon declared concerning union of the divine and human natures in Christ that this took place:
"... without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar (distinctive) property of each nature being preserved and being united in one prosôpon and hypostasis ....".
4. What then does the difference between the two terms signify? As suggested above, prosôpon indicates an individual and no more than that, but hypostasis is applied by the Fathers to all three Persons of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all Three. This means that the term hypostasis is enriched by such an application and, in fact, finds there its true definition. Hypostasis indicates more than mere individual existence, it is existence created by "total communion and eternal interchange" - perichôrLsis. This remains for ever true of the Holy Trinity and should be true also of humankind also. This was built into the logos of Adam but lost through the misuse of free-will.
5. Just as, in the Fall of the Old Adam, the human essence (ousiâ) suffered division into death-dealing self-centredness (see Letter 3:11), so the New Adam opens to humankind the possibility of a return to true personal existence. By virtue of His incarnation Christ is as yet an individual among individuals, a human prosôpon identifying Himself with their fallen condition, even to the point of death. At the same time Christ is also a true hypostasis, unifying mankind in Himself in a life-giving relationship - just as He receives His very existence from the Father. St. Paul describes this with reference to the Resurrection:
"But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being: for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ." (I Cor. 15;20-22)
6. If we return now to the words of Jesus we see the uncreated life of the Holy Trinity being made available to mankind through the created elements of bread and wine, now become His Body and Blood:
"Those who eat My Flesh and drink My Blood abide in Me and I in them. Just as the Living Father sent Me, and I Live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will Live because of Me."
7. It is insufficient to think of the death of Jesus at Calvary solely as a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. There is indeed a forgiveness of such magnitude achieved on the Cross, but there is much more. As St. John reports the Lord himself saying, following His triumphant arrival in Jerusalem:
"'And I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to myself'. He said this to indicate the kind of death He would die" (John 12:32,33).
9. All the Evangelists, other than John, record the institution of the Mass (Eucharist) which took place in the upper room on the night of Jesus' betrayal. These accounts make clear the relationship between those events and their identification with the Mass as it continues to be celebrated by the Catholic Church. If there is a single word which sums up the content and purpose of the whole, it is koinôniâ (See Letter 6:3). St John does not recall this event in the manner of the other Evangelists; instead he concentrates on the crucial aspect of communion contained in the teaching of Our Lord at the earlier point in his earthly ministry. Communion (koinônia) is a theme constantly underlying all these Letters. In the next Letter we will have to concentrate on the reason why koinônia is of such significance.
1. The Evangelists, St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke all report Christ's prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, while St. John reports the same struggle between Jesus' shrinking from death, a genuinely human response, a pathLma, and His determination to pursue the will of His Heavenly Father at the point of His entry into Jerusalem (See John. 12:23-28, and especially verse 27). The resolution of this situation is summed up in the words "... not what I wish but what You wish." (Mtt. 26:39).
2. The Scriptures and the Fathers combine to see the death of Christ as a sacrifice - the sacrificial worship commanded in the Old Testament is a preparation for its fulfilment by Christ on the Cross. Jesus is both Priest and Victim, the only one fit to offer the eternally abiding sacrifice and the only one fit to be the sacrificial Victim. The Epistle to the Hebrews provides a fitting summary:
"But Christ, having become high priest of the good things that have come about, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and bulls' but through His own blood, having secured eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer sanctify those who have been defiled, for the purifying of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God?" (Heb. 9:11-14).
3. Our Lord described his impending death as a 'ransom for many' (Mk. 10:45) and St. Paul takes up this theme saying:
"For there is one God, there is also one mediator between God and mankind, Christ Jesus, Himself human, who gave Himself a ransom for all." (I Tim. 2:5).
The notion of ransom suggests that Christ's death was a repayment due either to the Father or even to Satan. This was an idea taken up in one form or another by some Western Fathers, by medieval Scholastic writers, and by leading Reformers. Long before that St. Gregory of Nazianzus had disposed of such notions in one of his last sermons:
"Now we are to examine another fact and dogma, neglected by most people, but in my judgment well worth enquiring into. To Whom was that Blood offered that was shed for us, and why was It shed? I mean the precious and famous Blood of our God and High Priest and Sacrifice. We were detained in bondage by the Evil One, sold under sin, and receiving pleasure in exchange for wickedness. Now, since a ransom belongs only to him who holds in bondage, I ask to whom was this offered, and for what cause? If to the Evil One, shame upon the outrage, if the robber receives ransom, not only from God, but a ransom which consists of God Himself, and has such an illustrious payment for his tyranny, a payment for whose sake it would have been right for him to have left us alone altogether. But if to the Father, I ask first, how? For it was not by Him that we were being oppressed; and next, On what principle did the Blood of His Only begotten Son delight the Father, Who would not receive even Isaac, when he was being offered by his father, but changed the sacrifice, putting a ram in the place of the human victim? Is it not evident that the Father accepts Him, but neither asked for Him nor demanded Him; but on account of the Incarnation, and because Humanity must be sanctified by the Humanity of God, that He might deliver us Himself, and overcome the tyrant, and draw us to Himself by the mediation of His Son, Who also arranged this to the honour of the Father, Whom it is manifest that He obeys in all things?" (Second Oration on Easter, 22).
St Gregory draws his sermon near to its conclusion with the resounding words: "We needed an Incarnate God, a God put to death, that we might live. We were put to death together with Him, that we might be cleansed; we rose again with Him because we were put to death with Him; we were glorified with Him, because we rose again with Him." (Second Oration on Easter, 28).
4. Our Lord's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane concluding with the words "... not what I wish but what You wish." reverses, on the level of humankind, Adam's self-centred act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Here we have the freely-willed offering of obedience, even to death, which binds us to Christ and through Him to the Father. At the heart of the sacrifice of Christ is the restoration of koinôniâ. This, indeed, is the underlying purpose behind all true sacrifice as it is met with in the Scripture, and this is why the prophets of the Old Testament emphasise the necessity for the right disposition on the part of those who come to offer sacrifice.
5. Gethsemane also confirms the truth that Our Lord possessed a natural human will, thelLsis alongside the divine will which he has in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The assertion that Christ had only one divine/human will was the error condemned by the Sixth Ecumenical Council. Such an assertion destroyed the true humanity taken by the incarnate Logos, and did away with the very faculty in man the misuse of which had engulfed him in sin, death and captivity to Satan, the faculty above all by which Our Lord brought about our redemption.
6. The fact that Christ is acknowledged by the Fathers as hypostasis and prosôpon explains why His death avails for all mankind. As the New Adam, the hypostasis of Christ has that quality which is found in the three hypostases of the Holy Trinity involving "total communion and eternal interchange". The hypostases of fallen mankind do not have that all embracing character - they have lost that quality of koinôniâ -. becoming impoverished and reduced to little more than prosôpa - individuals. Our Lord took on this impoverishment in order to be fully identified with those He came to save. He saves by restoring the koinôniâ lost by sin - a koinôniâ both with the Holy Trinity and with as many as receive Him, to whom He gives the exousiâ to become the sons of God (see Jn. 1:12).
1. Since the later Middle Ages, Western Christendom has tended to emphasise the human suffering endured by Christ. The emphasis has been devotional rather than doctrinal; the probable reason for this is that doctrine had become by then the domain of professional theologians - to the exclusion of the majority of believers. The effect was to present the Faith more and more as a matter of devotional response rather than of understanding.
2. By contrast the Scriptures tend to describe the passion and death of Christ in a very restrained way. This is true of all four Evangelists who make little comment on the events they record except to point out the way in which the ancient prophecies are being fulfilled. This characteristic remains a continuing feature of the way the other New Testament writers and the Fathers approach the meaning of Calvary.
3. One of the crucial questions which had to be addressed was "How can God suffer and die?". This appeared as a contradiction in terms because God, being God, is incapable of suffering as human beings suffer, nor can He die. This question was at the root of many of the early heretical movements the Church encountered. The two alternative solutions were either that Christ was a mere man or that His sufferings and death were not real. The letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch contain warnings against the latter alternative, while asserting also the divinity of Christ against the former. In the Epistle to the Trallians we have such examples:
"Wherefore guard yourself against such persons; and that you will do if you are not puffed up; but continue inseparable from Jesus Christ our God and from your bishop, and from the commands of the apostles." (Trall. 7).
and further on: "Stop your ears, therefore, as often as anyone shall speak apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the race of David, of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink; was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and dead: both those in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, being spectators of it. Who was also truly raised from the dead by His Father who raised Him, after the manner as He will also raise us up who believe in Him, by Jesus Christ, without whom we have no true life." (Trall. 9).
5. We see already in these two quotations the three necessary affirmations which will occur time and again in varying forms throughout the history of the Church. These are (1) the true divinity and (2) the true humanity of Christ and (3) the true union of the two by which alone He becomes our Saviour, "without whom we have no true life.". It is the suffering and death of Christ which raised the question above and it was necessary for the Fathers to provide clear guidance, creating the vocabulary we are using in these Letters.
6. Commenting on St. Paul's words "He put off the powers and principalities" (Col. 2:15), St. Maximus the Confessor provides a particularly helpful exposition of suffering and death as central to the saving ministry of Christ - deploying the terms genesis and gennLsis we met in Letter 7:
"Thus, in His love of humanity, the Only-Begotten Son and Logos of God became perfect man, with a view to redeeming human nature from this helplessness in evil. Taking on the original condition of Adam as he was in the very beginning (i.e. genesis), He was sinless but not incorruptible, and he assumed from the procreative process (i.e gennLsis), introduced into human nature as a consequence of sin, only the liability to passions (i.e. pathLmata), not the sin itself. Since, then, through the liability to passions that resulted from Adam's sin, the evil powers, as I already said, have hidden their activities clandestinely under the law of human nature in its current circumstances, it merely follows that these wicked powers - seeing in God our Saviour the same natural liability to passions as in Adam, since He was in the flesh, and thinking that He was necessarily and circumstantially a mere man, that the Lord himself had to submit to the law of nature, and that he acted by gnômL rather than thelLsis - assailed Him. .... They tried to do this to Him who, in His first experience of temptation by pleasure, subjected Himself to being deluded by these evil powers' deceits, only to 'put off' (Col. 2:15) those powers by eliminating them from human nature, remaining unapproachable and untouchable for them." (Ad Thal. 21).
7. St. Maximus goes on to speak of a second and final assault by the powers of evil:
"So the Lord 'put off the principalities and powers' (Col. 2:15) at the time of His first experience of temptation in the desert, thereby healing the whole of human nature of the passion connected with pleasure, Yet He despoiled them again at the time of His death, in that He likewise eliminated from our human nature the passion connected with pain. In His love for humanity, He accomplished this restoration for us as though He Himself was liable: and what is more, in His goodness, He reckoned to us the glory of what He had restored. So too, since He assumed our nature's liability to passions, albeit without sin, thereby inciting every evil power and destructive force to go into action, He despoiled them at the moment of His death, right when they came after Him to search Him out. He 'triumphed' (Col. 2:15) over them and made a spectacle of them in His cross, at the departure of His soul, when the evil powers could find nothing at all in the passibility proper to his human nature." (Ad Thal. 21).
8. St. Maximus sets out the linkage between the Holy Trinity and mankind, both fallen and restored. By His incarnation Christ restores human nature to its original condition and purpose, but more is required. Christ goes further and identifies himself with the weaknesses, the liability to passions, of fallen mankind. These pathLmata can either be innocent, such as the experiences of hunger, weariness, fear and pain, or harmful, such as lust, jealousy, rage and despair. "The law of human nature in its current circumstances" (i.e. fallen nature) enables Satan to attack mankind in a clandestine way. Since Christ experiences the present form of human birth, gennLsis, as well as the original adamic genesis (His birth being by the Spirit of the Virgin Mary), He becomes the object of attack by the satanic forces. Not only does Christ not succumb to the harmful passions but he uses the innocent passions as weapons to overthrow Satan and his kingdom of sin and death.
It is this larger picture (with which Christ's sacrificial death for the sins of the whole world is bound up) which occupies the attention of the Apostles and Evangelists, as also of the Fathers.
1. How can death die? Death is the timeless regression into non-being, signalled initially by the separation of the body and the soul of man. As set out in Letter 6:3, the purpose of man, his logos, is to bring the whole of creation to perfection through his continuously developing relationship with God.. This is achieved through an ever increasing koinôniâ with the Holy Trinity. The Fall not only interrupts this ongoing koinôniâ it places all mankind on the path to non-being. As St. Athanasius points out, this is the inevitable consequence of repudiating God, the only source of existence. The whole of mankind has become enslaved to Satan through the fear of death (see Hebrews 2:14,15) and, without divine intervention, the movement towards non-being is an irreversible process. Already in the earthly ministry of Christ, however, this enslavement is being overturned.
2. Our Lord Himself guides our understanding at this point. There were those who claimed that He drove out devils by the Prince of the devils and Jesus answered them:
"No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered" (Mark 3:27 and see also Matthew 12:29, Lk. 11:21)
In His ministry Christ was already overcoming and reversing the enslavement exercised by Satan over creation. Mankind is already dead in sin (see Ephesians 2:1,2) and the separation of body and soul marks the next following stage in the relapse into non-being. The reversal of this separation marks the decisive point at which the absolute power of Satan is checked and the otherwise inevitable recession into non-being is reversed - this is the way in which death itself dies.
3. It is necessary at this point to remind ourselves about the nature of the soul. While discussing this subject in Letter 5:9 it was said:
"Because man bears the image of God, there is something added to the soul of man which raises him above the level of all other creatures."
Later on, in Letter 12:2, the teaching of Apollinaris, a one-time friend of Athansius was described. Apollinaris made use, as we then saw, of the commonly accepted distinction between the two aspects of the soul (see Letter 12:2) to claim that the pneuma or nous in Christ was replaced by the Logos Himself. He destroyed thus the full integrity of Our Lord's manhood. St. Athanasius wrote two short treatises against the teaching of Apollinaris and in them he sets out the manner in which the resurrection of Christ was at once unique and yet did not contravene the integrity of Christ's manhood.
4. In the following passage St. Athanasius points out that the judgement pronounced by God on Adam's transgression of the commandment demonstrates the composite nature of man, (body and soul), so that both suffer the appropriate consequences of Adam's sin:
"For to entertain such a thought as to such things is impious (i.e. that in Christ the soul, and especially the nous, has been replaced by the Logos): but He who held the enquiry into the transgression, and gave judgement, passed the doom in a twofold form, saying to the earthly part, 'you are earth and to earth you will return.'(Gen. 3:19); - and so the Lord having pronounced the sentence, corruption receives the body: - but to the soul, 'You will die the death' (Gen. 2:17 LXX version): and thus man is divided into two parts, and is condemned to go to two places. For this reason the action of Him (i.e. the pre-incarnate Logos) who had pronounced sentence became necessary, that He might by His own act annul His own sentence, after He had been seen in the form of him that was condemned, but in that form as un-condemned and sinless; that the reconciliation of God to man might come to pass, and the freedom of the whole of man might be effected by means of man, in the newness of the image of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord." (Contra Apol. I:14).
5. It follows that, at their separation, the soul and the body of man are found in different places, the body corrupting in the grave and the soul confined to hades or hell. St. Athansius continues a little further on:
"Therefore also into the place where man's body underwent corruption did Jesus introduce His own body; and where the human soul was held fast in death, there did Christ exhibit the human soul as His own, that He who could not be held fast in death might be present as man, and unloose the grasp of death as God: that where corruption was sown, there incorruption might spring up, and where death reigned in the form of a human soul (i.e. the human soul being truly present in hades demonstrates the sovereignty of death), the Immortal One might be present and exhibit immortality, and so make us partakers of His own incorruption and immortality, by the hope of the resurrection from the dead ..." (Contra Apol. I:17)
6. St. Athanasius is demonstrating that Apollinaris' views make such a death and separation of body and soul impossible - there is no authentic human soul involved. While he insists that the death of Christ was a true human death, a separation of soul and body, St Athanasius also insists that at no time did either the human body and soul of Christ cease to be united with His Godhead:
"... the economy (i.e. the divine plan of salvation) was plainly exhibited on the Cross and His flesh was proved to exist by the effusion of blood: when a voice was uttered and soul indicated, not manifesting any severance of Godhead, but the putting to death of the body: for the Godhead did not desert the body in the sepulchre, nor was the soul separated from it in hades."(Contra Apol. II:14).
7. When, in a later generation, the nature of the union of the divine and human in Christ became a divisive issue, we see how important were these words of St. Athanasius as he explained how Christ could rise from the dead. The resurrection of Our Lord and the reversal of the inevitable movement towards non-being had been anticipated to a certain extent in the raising of Lazarus (to which St .John gives great prominence). However there is a crucial distinction to be made between the raising of Lazarus and the resurrection of Christ; this will be dealt with in the next Letter.
8. In Letter Fifteen we considered the blindness of evil. Although he is aware of Jesus' true identity, Satan treats Him as though He were merely human. Jesus is God incarnate and Satan is blind to the implications of this fact. The death of Christ abolishes the sentence of judgement against mankind and a new situation is thereby brought about.
1. The Gospels, as also the Old Testament record, contain several accounts of men and women being restored to life. The account of the raising of Lazarus is of particular significance because of the length of time spent by his body in the tomb and because of its close connection with the passion and death of Our Lord. In all these cases it is an outside agent - a prophet, or Jesus Himself, or subsequently one or another of His Apostles - who brings about the restoration and it is a restoration to life in its present condition.
2. This is not the case when Jesus speaks of about Himself as the good shepherd laying down His life for the sheep:
"For this reason the Father loves me because I lay down My life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority (exousiâ) to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father." (John 10:17,18)
At this point it is useful to remind ourselves of some words in Letter 14:5 concerning the miracles of Jesus: "We are justified in saying that the miracles of Jesus, both in their great variety and whether they spring from exousiâ or from dynamis, are instances where the divine energeia of the Holy Trinity breaks into the corrupted state of creation and begins to exercise its work of restoration - far beyond the limited expectations of fallen mankind. This will be true also of the Incarnation itself and also the Resurrection (so that the Scriptures can say both that The Father raised Jesus from the dead, and that Jesus rose from the dead, without any contradiction)."
3. Jesus is raised, or rises, from the dead not by command of an external agent but through that energeia which is common to the Holy Trinity. He rises from the dead through the unified will of the three divine Persons, Himself included. Again Christ rises no longer subject to the weaknesses of fallen human nature - this he took upon Himself, though sinless, in order to be totally identified with mankind. As St. Athanasius points out (see Letter19:4), He thereby annuls the sentence which He Himself as the Logos had pronounced in the Garden of Eden. With His resurrection Christ makes available to all mankind the new humanity, the New Adam; restoring the fully personal quality to human nature forfeited by Adam. This will be an extremely important consideration when we come to discuss the nature of the Church.
4. Meanwhile we need to understand how the resurrection of Christ came about. St. Peter, preaching on the Day of Pentecost is reported by St. Luke as saying:
"But God raised Him up, having freed Him from death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in its power." (Acts 2:24)
Peter goes on to quote a verse from the Psalms which is also quoted by St. Athanasius:
"For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let your Holy One experience corruption." (Psalm 16:10)
The impossibility of Jesus remaining in death arises from the fact that although His soul and body were separated from each other, yet His divine nature, His Godhead, remained united to both. It is appropriate here to quote again the words of St. Athanasius:
"... the Godhead did not desert the body in the sepulchre, nor was the soul separated from it in hades." (Against Apol. II:14)
5. St. Athanasius goes on to elaborate as follows:
"Therefore by the soul of God the grasp of death was loosened, and the resurrection from hades was effected, and was announced as good tidings to the souls (see I Peter 3:18-20): and in the body of Christ corruption was annulled, and incorruption displayed from the sepulchre. So that neither was man separated from God, nor did God announce that He would abandon man, nor was the dying and departure of the spirit a withdrawal of God from the body, but a separation of the soul from the body; for therein was our death described." (Contra Apol. II:145)
6. The separation of body (sôma or sarx) from soul (psfchL and pneuma or nous) marks a further and irreversible stage in our regression into non-being. There is no way man can reverse this process by himself. With respect to the incarnate Logos, however, His Godhead maintains an unbreakable union with his human soul and with his human body. This unity must prevail and Christ, because of who He is, cannot be held by death. The union of the Godhead and manhood in Christ is vital to an understanding of the nature of our redemption. This is one reason why St. Cyril of Alexandria was so concerned about the weakness of the 'Nestorian' account of the unity of Christ (Letter 12:7).
7. St. Cyril acknowledged that the union of Godhead and manhood in Christ was a mystery - a reality only partially accessible to human understanding - but, as mentioned in Letter12:7, he found a meaningful parallel in the relationship of the human body to the human soul. The natures of both soul and body can been clearly distinguished from one another yet together they form a composite whole. Each gives to the other what in separation they do not have - the fullness of human existence as person, hypostasis. The union of the two can be described as 'natural' and the separation of the two in death as 'unnatural'. So, similarly, the union of Godhead and manhood in Christ is 'natural' as it restores for both the koinôniâ which had been broken by sin. When Christ underwent death a separation of body and soul took place, but the union of both continued without a break. Because Christ, by His sacrificial self-offering, has wiped out the condition which resulted in the separation of the human body and soul and because in Him the divine-human union persisted, the separation of body and soul was overcome and the resurrection ensued.
8. In His resurrection Christ not only brings forgiveness to all who seek it, He replaces the limiting individualism of fallen man with true human personhood. In this way Christ does more than restore to mankind the measure of koinôniâ with the Logos enjoyed by Adam in the Garden of Eden, He fulfils that koinôniâ on behalf of all mankind.
9. This koinôniâ in Christ is restored to us initially in Baptism in which we become identified with Christ in His death and rising again. St. Paul reminds the believers at Rome:
"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him by Baptism into His death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly become partakers of His resurrection" .(Rom. 6:3-5)
The life of the incarnate Logos is no longer restricted, as in the period before His Crucifixion, it is ministered to us by the Holy Spirit through the sacramental character of the Church.
1. During the period between Our Lord's Resurrection and Ascension His disciples were aware that He now lives an existence different from theirs. Up to the time of His crucifixion Jesus, the incarnate Logos, shared the conditions of created existence - an existence limited still further by the Fall. As the Risen Lord, however, such limitations no longer apply to Him. His appearances to His disciples are not bound by space or time, or even by outward physical characteristics. The testimony of the Apostles is that He is truly alive, that He allows them to touch Him, that He eats food with them. On the other hand He appears and vanishes from their sight at will and, on occasion, His appearance is so altered that He is not immediately recognisable. The resurrected Jesus demonstrates that he has now transcended the conditions of the created world as we ourselves experience them.
2. In our present experience, for example, time can be described as linear, as a sequence of events which cannot be reversed. By His Resurrection Jesus passes beyond time as we know it. Beyond the created order of existence, there is no such time, instead there is either the fullness of koinôniâ, existence within trinitarian love, or a consigning to non-being - this is the underlying theme of the Revelation of St John.
3. In St. John's Gospel it is recorded that Our Lord, at His first appearance to His disciples after His resurrection, breathed on them and said to them "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 12:22). St. Luke likewise records the words of Jesus:
"And (see), I send the promise of my Father upon you. So stay in the city until you are clothed with the power from on high." (Luke. 24:49)
St. Matthew and St. Mark both describe the commission given to the disciples by Our Lord including the command to baptize, the assurance of Christ's abiding presence (St. Matthew), and the power to perform the miraculous signs which accompanied His own earthly ministry (St. Mark).
4. Our Lord is not merely transferring a power (both exousiâ and dynamis) to His Apostles which they, in turn, will transmit to others, they are being incorporated into that Life in the Holy Spirit which is the abiding presence of the incarnate Logos: He is making His own Life available in the Spirit to all believers in all ages. The Logos became incarnate in time and accepted the limitations of created existence (and, indeed, of fallen created existence) in order to carry out the work of our salvation. Now that same work of salvation is moving within its true dimension - that of koinôniâ, no longer will the earthly presence of Christ - as an individual (prosôpon) - be necessary, His Life will abide within the Church through the Holy Spirit. St. Mark concludes his Gospel with the words:
"Then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them (the disciples), was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the message by the signs that accompanied it." (Mk. 16:20)
5. The Epistle to the Hebrews provides an insight into one particular aspect of the abiding ministry of the incarnate Logos within the dimension of koinôniâ.
"... the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but because He continues for ever He has an unchanging priesthood. Consequently He is able for all time to save those who approach God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:23-25)
Further on in the same Letter there is a summary presenting the sacrificial worship of the Old Testament in a heavenly dimension:
"Now the main point of what is being said is this: we have such a High Priest, One who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that the Lord, and not man, has set up." (Hebrews 8:1,2)
6. The Gregorian Canon picks up this same concept in the prayer Supplices te rogamus, placed after the consecration of the bread and wine:
"We humbly beseech Thee, O Almighty God, command thou these to be brought by the hand of Thy holy Angel unto Thy high Altar in the presence of Thy Divine Majesty, that as many of us as of this partaking of the Altar shall receive thy Son's holy Body and Blood may be replenished with all heavenly benediction and grace. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen."
The action of the Church on earth, gathered for the Mass (Eucharist) and fulfilling the command of Christ, is identical with the indissoluble (in Greek akatalutos, see Hebrews 7:16) ministry of the incarnate Logos within the eternal koinôniâ of the Holy Trinity. It is thus that the Church can be described as a sacrament, at one and the same time part of creation and yet filled with the uncreated energeia of the Trinity.
7. What needs to be avoided is the crude and superficial notion that the Holy Spirit and/or the Church, take over from where Jesus leaves off. This is to persist in a narrowly linear way of thinking which devalues the koinôniâ underlying our salvation in Christ. The disciples receive the Holy Spirit with the endowment of exousiâ when Christ comes to them in the upper room on the evening of the first Easter. Subsequently the Lord tells His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they receive dynamis from on high. During the intervening period the Eleven Apostles reconstruct their number by appointing Matthias to the place forfeited by Judas Iscariot. This action takes place under the prophetic guidance of the Holy Spirit set out in Psalms 69:25 and 109:8. The Holy Spirit is given in His fullness, but His work within the Church and beyond waits upon the human faithfulness of it members.
1. The Greek words used by the Fathers to preserve the true meaning of the Scriptures and the Tradition took on their special meaning from the spiritual realities revealed by the Holy Trinity. Thus the word koinôniâ is to be understood primarily from what is revealed to us of the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. St. John records words spoken by Jesus on the night of His betrayal:
"When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all Truth; for he will not speak on His own, but will speak whatever He hears, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, because He will take what is Mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is Mine. For this reason I said that He will take what is Mine and declare it to you." (Jn. 16:13-15)
We see here both a real distinction between the Persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and yet no separation, all three possess 'all that the Father has'.
2. Here again the true quality of hypostasis is understood, not as signifying a self-contained individual, but as signifying one whose very being is established by sharing it with others. In this way the Person of the Incarnate Logos, now risen and unconstrained by the limitations of the Fall, is available to be the Life of all who receive Him. His incarnate presence - our knowing Him 'according to the flesh', as St Paul has it (see 2 Cor. 5:16) - has ascended to the Father. Such a presence remaining on earth would provide a misleading focus on His historical individuality - as prosôpon, but no more than prosôpon.
3. In His discourse at the Last Supper Jesus speaks of the new way in which He will be present with His disciples;
"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments and I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. Those who have My commandments and keep them are those who love Me; and those who love Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them." Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, "Lord ,how is it that you will reveal Yourself to us , and not to the world?" Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves Me he will keep My word, and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our dwelling with him; and the word that you hear is not Mine, but is from the Father who sent Me." (John. 14:15-24)
4. The removal of Jesus' physical presence emphasises His continuing personal presence with us and in us through the Holy Spirit. The koinôniâ of the Holy Spirit with the incarnate Son throughout His earthly ministry was always an abiding reality. It was by the Holy Spirit that the 'Word became flesh and dwelt among us.' (Jn. 1:14). The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at His baptism in Jordan is not an initial anointing by the Spirit nor a promotion to divine status: St. Athanasius provides clarification:
"If then for our sake He sanctifies Himself (John 17:19), and does this when He has become man, it is very plain that the Spirit's descent on Him in Jordan was a descent upon us, because of his bearing our body. And it did not take place for (His) promotion to the Word, but again for our sanctification, that we might share His anointing, and of us it might be said, 'Do you not know that you are God's temple and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?' (I Cor 3:16). For when the Lord, as man, was washed in Jordan, it was we who were washed in Him and by Him. And when He received the Spirit, we it was who by Him were made recipients of It." (Contra Arianos I :47).
5. It is by the hypostatic union of Godhead with manhood in Christ that we participate not just in all that He has achieved on our behalf but participate, through that manhood in the perfect koinôniâ of the Holy Trinity. But it is necessary to go further; our union in and with Christ in the Holy Spirit goes beyond the boundary of individual human existence. In Christ the believer himself also begins to becomes truly personal so that his life, which is Life in Christ, binds him in a unity with all other believers - this is the unity which characterises the Catholic Church. When this is said, however, even more must be added.
6. First of all, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church at Pentecost demonstrates His perpetual abiding. In the passage from John, Chapter 16 already quoted, Jesus says, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments and I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever." We also noted in Letter 21:7 that the gift of the Spirit as exousiâ is given to the disciples some fifty days before He is also received as dynamis. It was said then that:
"During the intervening period the Eleven Apostles reconstruct their number by appointing Matthias to the place forfeited by Judas Iscariot. This action takes place under the prophetic guidance of the Holy Spirit .... The Holy Spirit is given in his fullness, but His work within the Church and beyond waits upon the human faithfulness of its members."
7. The decision to replace Judas Iscariot is a decision of the Church in virtue of the exousiâ already bestowed. It is a decision and a choice made under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The structure of the Apostolic College, the pattern established by the Lord Himself and broken by the defection of Judas Iscariot, has been restored by an act of obedience. As a consequence the dynamis of the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciple on the Day of Pentecost. In the case of the martyrdom of James (Acts 12:2), however, there is no need of a replacement because the ministry of the Twelve abides from then onward - whether in this world or beyond. (Note also that the outpouring of the Spirit on the Church and the commencement of its ministry form a parallel with the baptism of Christ and the commencement of His ministry.)
8. In this present age the Church is required to maintain a structure which proclaims its identity and purpose - it must be seen to be the Body of Christ manifested in a unity of complementary ministries. St. Paul insists on this:
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body - Jews or Greek, slave or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed the body does not consist of one member but many. ... If the whole body were an eye , where would the hearing be? If all were hearing, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God has arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose." (I Corinthians 12:12-15, 17, 18)
1. That the Church has always had a special and divinely appointed structure is demonstrated vividly by St. Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius had met with a delegation from the Church of the Magnesians, a delegation representative of the ministry of that Church. Ignatius then writes to the Magnesians:
"... I exhort you, that you study to do all things in a divine concord; your bishop presiding in the place of God; your priests in the place of the Council of the Apostles; and your deacons, most dear to me, being entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before all ages, and appeared in the end. Wherefore, in conformity with God's will, see that you all reverence one another; and let no one look on his neighbour 'after the flesh'; but do you at all times mutually love one another in Jesus Christ. Let there be nothing that may be able to make a division among you; but be united to your bishop and those who preside over you, to be your pattern and direction in the way to immortality." (Mag. 6)
Again, in another Letter, to the Smyrneans, St. Ignatius writes: "See that you all follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ (followed) the Father; and the presbytery (the priests), as the Apostles; and reverence the deacons, as the command of God. Let no man do anything of the things pertaining to the Church separately from the bishop. Let that Eucharist be looked upon as well established which is either offered by the bishop, or by him to whom the bishop shall give his consent. Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be; as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." (Smyr. 8)
2. St. Irenaeus also, contrasting the many contradictory teachings of the heretics with the stable witness of the Catholic Church, writes concerning it:
For this gift of God has been entrusted to the Church, as breath was to the first created man, for this purpose, that all the members receiving it may be vivified; and the communion with Christ has been distributed throughout it, that is, the Holy Spirit, the earnest of incorruption, the means of confirming our faith, and the ladder of ascent to God. 'For in the Church,' it is said, 'God has set apostles, prophets, teachers,' and all the other means through which the Spirit works; of which all those are not partakers who do not join themselves to the Church, but defraud themselves of life through their perverse opinions and infamous behaviour. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth. Those, therefore, who do not partake of Him, are neither nourished into life from the mother's breasts, nor do they enjoy that most limpid fountain which issues from the body of Christ; but they dig for themselves broken cisterns out of earthly trenches, and drink putrid water out of the mire, fleeing from the faith of the Church lest they be convicted; and rejecting the Spirit, that they may not be instructed. (Con. Haer. III:24)
3. The ministerial Orders in the Church (and this includes the Order of the Laity) are an integral part of the whole scheme of redemption in Christ. St. Irenaeus, in the passage above quotes I Cor. 12:28 and we can expand the idea he is expressing by quoting St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians:
"The gifts He (the ascended Christ) gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we arrive at the unity of the faith and the fuller knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the maturity of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-13)
4. We call this the 'eschatological' ( from eschatos - final), the ultimate and abiding dimension of the Church The structure of the Catholic Church not only manifests Christ in the Holy Spirit, it provides the means by which believers may grow into Him as the perfection of manhood. This eschatological dimension is already here with us, but will be revealed in its fullness when Christ comes again at the end of the age (Acts 1:11b.and 3:21).
5. There is also another dimension to this structure, that of proclamation to the world. Christ's completed work of redemption is available not just for a chosen few but for all mankind. The ministry, founded upon the Apostles, is one of witness to Christ, proclaiming His resurrection, and calling all to repentance and faith in Him. Repentance and faith lead, through Baptism, into the new Life in Christ manifested already in the Eucharistic assembly of the Church in every place. We remember here some words written in Letter 21:6 with reference to the High-Priesthood of Christ:
"The action of the Church on earth, gathered for the Mass (Eucharist) and fulfilling the command of Christ, is identical with the indissoluble ministry of the incarnate Logos within the eternal koinôniâ of the Holy Trinity."
6. These two dimensions must be held together and in balance if the true Catholic ecclesiology (doctrine of the nature of the Church) is not to be disturbed. Ecclesiology is an integral and essential element in doctrine; a false ecclesiolgy will also falsify the Faith itself. The first, eschatological, dimension concerns the final reality of the Church, even though it is already present among us and is manifested in time through the celebration of the Eucharist. The second dimension is concerned with the commitment of the Church to proclaim and to minister eternal salvation in Christ. Historically speaking, the greatest threat of falsification has come from emphasising the second dimension at the expense of the first. It has been too easy to see the Church on earth as carrying out its ministry on behalf of, rather than within, the koinôniâ of the Holy Trinity. The proclamation of the Truth of Christ requires the demonstration of that Truth in and through His Body.
7. By emphasising unduly the second dimension in the way suggested above, the Church comes to be looked upon as an organisation delivering the saving message and providing the 'valid' ministry. As a consequence, the local Churches - understood by St. Ignatius and St. Irenaeus to be complete and simultaneously identical manifestations of Christ, in whom they have their indestructible unity - become mere outlets for the ministrations of a 'universal' Church, a worldwide 'Catholic' Church whose unity is derived from a single ministry validating the whole on behalf of Christ. This is papalism, a deviant ecclesiology which distorts the nature of the Catholic Church.
8. In the truly Catholic Church the very multiplicity of local churches or congregations emphasises the true source of their unity - the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit ministering the Life of Christ to all who believe, are baptized, and continue to meet in the koinôniâ of the Lord's Supper.
Note: The shift towards an 'historical' understanding of the Church and the reaction against papalism (without a full return to the authentic Catholic ecclesiology) has led to a proliferation of different and mutually separated Churches. This is a 'Western' aberration which has spread far and wide as a 'genuine expression' of Christianity.
1. This series of Letters began with a reminder of Sundar Singh and his distinction between 'knowing about God' and 'knowing Him personally'. As we come to the final Letter the words 'knowing Him personally' have taken on a new depth of meaning. Such personal knowing is not mere acquaintance with another individual but participation in the Life of God Incarnate. St. Paul reminds us that in such knowing the initiative is always on the side of God, not ourselves:
"If anyone thinks he knows something, he does not yet know as it is necessary to know. But if anyone loves God he has (already) been known by Him." (I Corinthians 8:2,3)
2. Our present Life in Christ is a perpetual moving forward into Him. The more fully we know Him, the more we become one with Him through the power of the Holy Spirit. In this way the Catholic Church resolves itself into a deepening relationship and participation, a koinôniâ which moves toward its own fulfilment, and that of the whole creation, in the total koinôniâ of the Holy Trinity, the perichôrLsis noted in Letter 3:14. For us this is a participation, through and in Christ (by virtue of His incarnation and all that flows therefrom), a participation by grace (charis - see Letter 14:6) though not by nature, in the very koinôniâ of the Holy Trinity. This is our 'deification', our theôsis as the Fathers call it and our becoming partakers (koinônoi) in the divine nature (II Peter 1:4).
3. It is as they approach this point that those whom we honour as the Saints break the limitations of their individual existences, becoming truly personal - just as the divine hypostases of the Holy Trinity are truly personal. It is the Tradition of the Catholic Church that this is supremely true of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. Her relationship with her Son has always been so close that she has fulfilled the path of deification even to the extent of being raised from the dead already and of passing, body as well as soul, into that koinôniâ which is both heaven and beyond heaven. It is because the Saints departed this world have overcome individualism and have taken on true personhood that our continuing link with them, 'The Communion of Saints', is possible. Meanwhile for us the final fulfilment of that koinôniâ lies in the future but it is a confident expectation because already the Saints in heaven intercede for us and help us in the Holy Spirit. This is the effect of the measure of koinôniâ to which we have already attained.
4. At this point it is appropriate to mention the use of images (icons), either as paintings or made in the round. The Seventh Ecumenical Council confirmed the legitimacy of such images and of the custom of paying honour to them. The use of such images had been condemned by those called 'iconoclasts' on the ground that it amounted to idolatry. The Council, however, replied that the icons were honoured, not worshipped, and that the honour itself was paid to the subject of the icon and not to the icon itself, Furthermore, the icon was a reminder of the principle of the Incarnation itself, that the Holy Trinity has saved us through created matter. As someone has said, the images are windows on heaven beyond.
5. The Catholic Church therefore, is rightly seen as heaven beyond already existing in the present. The Church exists as a presence and a structure in this world, with a specific beginning and a traceable history, yet, at the same moment, it always exists perpetually and timelessly as the fulfilment of the divine purpose for mankind. Because of God's faithfulness this is also the assurance of our future, recognising always that this assurance is conditional upon our faithfulness to Him. The path is open all the way, but it is necessary to continue along it. Since we already have koinôniâ with Christ and with our fellow believers, both those now on earth and with those gone before us, we can meaningfully call the Church a colony of heaven beyond.
6. In this world we have a freedom to choose between remaining in the clutches of non-being or being freed into the New life offered in Christ. This is a freedom of choice, a created freedom, but it is not ultimate freedom. Ultimate freedom is when we are no longer constrained even by choice itself. Here again St. Paul illuminates our minds. Speaking of the resurrection of Christ he writes:
"But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since through a man came death, through a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die. So also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order. Christ the first-fruits, then, at His coming, those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He abolishes all rule, and all authority and power. For he must reign until He has put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death: for 'He (God) has put all things in subjection under His feet.' ... When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the One who put all things under Him, so that God may be all in all." (I Corinthians 15:20-27a, and 28)
7. The return of Christ is the point of final judgement its also the point were the true nature of freedom is revealed - absolute and eternal freedom, the freedom in love of the triune Godhead, where choice has been resolved into the koinôniâ and perichôrLsis of the Holy Trinity.
These Letters are an all too brief and inadequate introduction to the Faith of the Holy Catholic Church. Nevertheless the writing of this presentation has been a constant and forceful reminder of the unity of belief which exists between the Holy Scriptures and the teachings of the Fathers. One might describe this unity of belief as a total and universal scheme of understanding, mediated through divine revelation; it is, as was suggested earlier on, a complete philosophy. The various heresies, false versions of Christianity, had one single characteristic in common, regardless of their great variety. This characteristic was the desire to impose upon the authentically Christian 'scheme' an alien system of religion or philosophy. A true scheme of philosophy founded upon Christ, the Word Incarnate, is, at the same time, both comparatively simple and yet challenging; it demands acceptance or rejection in its totality because its truth can only be proven as and when commitment is involved.
Accepting the divine revelation as the basis of true philosophy, the Fathers were able to draw attention to the multiple resonances and harmonies within Scripture which those who sought or possessed no more than mere knowledge about God heard only as discord. It is possible to identify among the ancient Christian writers those who heard the music clearly, those whose hearing was in one way or another impaired, and those others who merely 'said it thundered.' (John 12:29) As an example of those who heard imperfectly we would note the outstanding figure of the Alexandrian writer Origen. A man of great sincerity of purpose and Christian dedication, Origen's wayward and speculative brilliance had to be corrected by future generations. To a certain extent the same is true of St. Augustine of Hippo, in spite of his enormous influence among future Western theologians. Because of his comparative isolation and his particular spiritual history, Augustine does not come within the clearly distinguishable mainstream of patristic Tradition - and, as the writing of these Letters has brought home forcefully to their author - that Tradition is clearly identifiable, chiefly because of the common spiritual interest and involvement which gave insight, wisdom and courage for the Truth to such as St. Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers, St. Cyril, and St. Maximus the Confessor. It is my hope that these letters provide for the reader a sufficient guide to make the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments come alive in the way the Fathers experienced them. + Michael M. Wright
The meaning given to the Greek words below is that adopted by the Fathers for the greater clarification of the Faith.. The meaning given by the Fathers does not necessarily coincide way such words were used by the sources; they have been given a special meaning in order to express the Faith more accurately and for the avoidance of unnecessary disputes.
charis - that which gives pleasure - beauty - kindness etc., especially here, God's loving gift of His own Life in Christ, a concept close to that of energeia.
dynamis - power, strength, the ability to perform miracles, an aspect of energeia. See Letters 4:8 and 14:2 ff.
energeia - the outward manifestation of God's being, directed towards the creation. See Letter 14:4.
exousiâ - power given as authority, the companion to dunamis. See Letter 14:2 ff.
genesis - origin, divinely created source of human life. This must be carefully distinguished from the word gennLsis with which it is closely linked.. See Letter 7:4 and 5.
gennLsis - birth, reproductive source of life. The term is applied to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity to distinguish Him from the other two Persons (Letter 3:13 and 14). It is also applied to fallen mankind in a different sense (See Letter 7:4 ff).
gnômL - the corrupted form of the natural will (thelLsis) characteristic of fallen mankind. See Letter 7:3.
homoousios - term meaning 'of one essence', used to insist upon the true divinity of the Second Person of the Trinity. See Letters 3:9 and 11:5.
hypostasis - an actually existing thing or, especially, a person. See Letter 3:9. The significance of the term is developed further in later Letters.
koinôniâ - fellowship, communion (a key concept). See Letter 6:3
logoi - the 'blueprint' assigned to every form of created being. See Letter 4:6
logos - the Word, referring to the Second Person of the Trinity. See Letter 3:5 and 6
nous - mind. The term is used to indicate the intellectual and deliberative aspect of the human soul. This term is virtually equivalent to pneuma. See Letter 12:2.
ousia - essence or substance. Originally a more general term for being, but given more precision by St. Basil. See Letter 2:6 and letter 3:10.
pathos - the ability to be moved by external factors, such as by God or by evil desires (Letter 7:2) Arising from this is the term pathLma - something which is suffered, an affliction. The plural, pathLmata, can mean either sufferings or (evil) passions.
perichôrLsis - a term implying surroundings or neighbourhood but given a special meaning by the Fathers to describe the relationship of the Persons of the Holy Trinity. See Letter 3:14.
physis - nature. See Letter 5:2 and Letter 12:1.
pneuma - Spirit. The word is used to indicate the Third Person of the Trinity and also the spirit or soul of man. See Letter 5:3,4 and also Letter 12:2.
psfchL - Soul. Refers especially to the immaterial aspect of man but see Letter 12:2.
prosôpon - person or individual.
sarx - flesh, used to indicate the material aspect of man. See Letter 5:3.
sôma - body, also used to indicate the material aspect of man. See Letter 5:3.
thelLsis - will, used to indicate the natural capacity to will implanted in man at his creation. See Letter 7:2.
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