Saturday, May 05, 2012

Fourth Sunday after Easter

Morning Prayer: Psalm 116  *  Job 19:21-27a  *  John 12:44-50
Holy Communion: James 1:17-21 *  John 16:5-14
From today's Scripture readings we may learn that God is the author of our salvation, that it was all his plan, and that it is his gracious will that sustains us throughout this life, and guarantees the joy of eternal life in Christ. None of these good things were our idea, nor were they a grudging benefit in answer to our pleading. Our entire inheritance given to us in Christ's Testament, the New Covenant, has been the will of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit from all eternity. In that long discourse after supper, recorded by John, Jesus spoke words beyond the understanding of the disciples, words that demonstrated how fully, how detailed, is the counsel of God's will (Eph.1:11). Jesus said to them just enough, in that discourse, for them to remember later, at the time when the Holy Spirit would be with them as the other Comforter, the other paraklētos, and as the Spirit of Truth.
When that time would arrive, the Day of Pentecost, when they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), they would begin to be the voice of God in the earth, the messengers by whom the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment. They would know the truth and be able to teach it to all generations that have followed. This plan from eternity, the eternal counsel of God's will, has meaning for the us as the Church, and for each one of you as a member of the Body of Christ.
To begin with, based on the promise made here by the Lord Jesus Christ, you may believe the teaching that has been handed down throughout the centuries. "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth," is not spoken to any of you as an individual. You cannot decide the truth, in this sense, for yourself.

The truth has been revealed; and so, from earliest times, the Church has heard the voice of the Lord above all in the books set apart as Holy Scripture, the New Testament books recognized very much as we have them in our Canon alongside the books of the Law, and of the Prophets and Sages of Israel who had spoken before of the coming of Christ, all quoted as having special authority by the earliest Christian writers. In spite of popular fiction to the contrary, the New Testament was recognized by the Church, it was a vox populi recognition- yes, with a few questions raised about II Peter and Revelation, and a few people who believed in a book called The Shepherd of Hermes. But, the overwhelming consensus throughout the Church was that the voice of God was recognized clearly in the Twenty-Seven books of the New Testament, as that same Voice had been recognized in the Old Testament all along. No one imposed any of it, certainly not an emperor.                   
And, even with its human imperfections and sins, the Church has been what St. Paul called her, when writing to St. Timothy, "the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (I Tim. 3:15) What it means for you, as an individual, whether or not you are a scholar, is that when people come literally knocking at your door with another gospel about another Christ, you may be certain that the Holy Spirit, in his role as the Spirit of Truth, guided the Apostles into all truth, and the Church has received by revelation what it has passed on to you and your children with authority, especially as it is summarized in that great Creed we have said together this day.    
The old phrase from what we call the Vincentian Canon is not true literally; but is true with poetic license. The phrase translates into English as "That which has been believed everywhere, always and by all." In fact, nothing has been "believed everywhere, always and by all," perhaps not even that two plus two equals four. But, using poetic license, it tells us that from earliest times the Church was guided by pastors and teachers who received the teaching of the Apostles and understood the Scriptures with a like mind. The poetic license by which we say "That which has been believed everywhere, always and by all," is, in fact, that they heard their Master's voice in words of the Apostles and preserved that same doctrine in the Scriptures, which they understood. What makes us catholic people is that we receive not only the books they believed in, but we receive those books as they understood them, not with some novel interpretation. As Anglicans, everyone of you is encouraged to read the Scriptures yourselves. We, among the clergy, do not teach the whims of human beings, the doctrines merely of men, hoping that we may rely on your ignorance, so as not to be discovered. We teach the plain meaning of Scripture relying on you, that reading it daily yourselves, you may glean the truth from what we say, however imperfectly we may express it.       
Be like the noble Bereans, and search the Scriptures daily to see if what we say is so. (Acts 17:11) And, be guided by the wisdom of the Church from its earliest generations. Let me make this simple; if someone's teaching and preaching does not agree with that Creed we said, you may be confident that it does not agree with Scripture; and that means that it contradicts what the Spirit of Truth revealed to the Church. By the way, the Holy Spirit does not grow in his understanding, he does not learn new things, and he does not change his mind. His wisdom is perfect and eternal.  
This brings us to the Epistle we heard, the words of St. James, that with God there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning." In fact, we have two phrases from that Epistle that can cause problems to modern ears. This phrase, "no variableness, neither shadow of turning," sounds so grand and musical that we may fail to think about it. The other is, "superfluity of naughtiness," because it makes sin sound trivial. Today we think of "naughtiness" merely as childish misbehavior, and it suggests innocence. The Third Millennium Bible is almost word for word the King James, but with a few differences. It says "superfluity of wickedness." We need to understand both of these phrases, and to understand them in context.  
First of all, however, notice that James affirms what I told you, that our salvation is God's gracious will in eternity. It was all his initiative. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth," says James. That means that everything that happened in Christ's coming, when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), was the plan of God in eternity, the one will of the whole Trinity. It was God's will to beget us again, that we could be born again unto eternal life, delivered from sin and death. Christ delivered us from sin and the consequences of sin by his cross.        
This was not Jesus coming to pacify his angry Father, as some have accused us of teaching. This was God satisfying the just requirements of his own holiness, acting in his own love, and also healing the conscience of each person who repents. God saved us in that terrible way, by the cross, because our condition of sin was truly terrible, as St. Paul wrote: "To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." (Rom. 3:26) God's love turned on his own holiness and perfect righteousness, and his own holiness and perfect righteousness turned on his love, so that God himself, in the Person of the Son, Jesus who is the Word incarnate, took the full weight of human sin on himself and bore it unto death. This was the will of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the eternal counsel of God's will. Therefore, God justifies sinners, and is also just in doing so; for on the cross he took away the sin of the world. This is the greatest love story of all.
He conquered death also, which is what this season of Easter is all about. His resurrection will be our resurrection when he comes again in glory; and as he cannot die again, (Rom. 6:9) we too will become immortal through him, and live forever. Now, that is the Gospel, and never let anyone tell you another gospel; for there is no other Gospel in truth.
So, that phrase, that sounds so grand we may fail to hear its meaning, ought to comfort us greatly: "The Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." The word for this in academic theology is "Impassibility." It means, simply, God does not change. He does not change his mind, he does not change his nature, he does not change his will, he does not change at all. In all eternity God is perfect in three Persons. He has no need of learning, he does not need to gain wisdom (certainly not from puny creatures), he does not need to mature, and nothing has ever created a change in God. He is perfect in all eternity. The cross and resurrection did not change God; they changed us. 
The impassible God, the God who does not change, will not forget you.

"But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me." (Isaiah 49:14-16)       
In some religious circles it is popular to promise that everyone who has faith, that is real deep faith, will be healed of all earthly sickness, will be in perfect health, will be rich, and live in victory over all things all the time. By twisting the Scriptures and wrenching Bible verses violently from their context, they present this burdensome, impossible, and dangerous doctrine, and often extract great sums of money from people looking to escape from desperate poverty by what actually constitutes a practice of attempted magic. But, these "faith and prosperity" preachers will get old themselves, and they will die the death of all men. 
Real faith carries with it trust. If God seems to hear your prayers and grant you what you ask of him, it is because of his love and wisdom. But, if he seems never to hear a word you utter, and does not grant your prayers, and often seems as if he is far away, that too is because of his love and wisdom. He need not prove his love. He proved his love for you already on the cross, and calls you his friend from the cross. It is the same love and the same Fatherly wisdom from God who does not change. You may have faith enough, for a grain of mustard seed is enough, and yet have a share of suffering that seems impossible to bear. Another may hate God and seem to have all his heart's desire. What matters for you is that God knows what is best for each of his children, and so you may trust his love and wisdom, the love of the one who has the scars in his hands and feet, with the wound of the spear in his side. You may trust him whether you have prosperity and healing, or whether you have a share of suffering for a time.  
Only one thing can stand between you and the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and it is not a created thing, that is, it is not a thing that God made (Rom. 8: 38,39): That one thing is unrepentant willful sin, or, as James calls it, "superfluity of wickedness." Remove all such barriers, if they are in your life, and you may trust that whatever comes is, ultimately, in the hands of the one you may trust absolutely.   Then we have only one thing left to do, and that is to give thanks. In the words of today's Psalm from Morning Prayer:

What reward shall I give unto the LORD * for all the benefits that he hath done unto me? * I will receive the cup of salvation, * and call upon the Name of the LORD.


Anonymous said...

Fr Hart quoted from the KJV:

"when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14)"

Wait a minute. According to the Nicene Creed, our Lord Jesus Christ was "Begotten, not made."

I looked up the meaning of "beget" in the Oxford College Dictionary and found the following: "(typically of a man, sometimes of a man and a woman) bring (a child) into existence by the process of reproduction."

Well, that does not define Christ's conception, but rather my own for mankind is reproduced but God is not... or such is my understanding, for there is only one God, the Holy Trinity.

I checked my RSV and noted that the same verse (John 1:14) is translated therein as follows: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." "Became" seems to me to be more accurate as Christ came from heaven and entered temporal time, fully man and fully God. Hall's Theology states that Christ "is Man and God, not by conversion of the Godhead to flesh, but by taking of the Manhood (flesh) into God." And further, "Remaining what He was, he became what He was not." There is that word, "became," again describing Christ's Incarnation.

Then I checked a cross reference in I Tim 3:16 of my KJV and found the following: "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh..." Now we're talking! I looked up "manifest" in my dictionary and found the following: "become apparent through the appearance of."

Christ "became apparent" and "was manifest."

My word study for the day. Thanks, Fr Hart!


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Well, of course Hall was quoting a combination of Athanasius and the Council of Chalcedon. Anyway, "begotten not made" is in the Creed about the Eternal Person of the Son Who is also called the Logos (translated "Word" for lack of a better English word). In eternity, wholly other from every created nature, the Son is begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit is proceeding from the Father. The Incarnation, as the Creed is laid, follows "begotten not made." That is, those words are not about the Incarnation. They are about the Eternal Person Who is One with the Father in eternity, outside all creation, which means outside of time as well as of space, of energy and of matter. The Incarnation comes in right after those words, beginning with, "Who for us men and our salvation..."

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Fr Hart, for your reply. I am slightly puzzled by your remark that the Son is begotten of the Father, when it is my understanding that He was with God from the beginning. (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God...) At what point was He "begotten"?

Well, I did a word search and came up with this: Psalm 2:7, which is as follows: "I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." Which day is referred to here? I was led to Acts 13:13, where the same Psalm is quoted by Paul. My study Bible explains that Paul is interpreting the statement Messianically, so that the "today" of the Psalm corresponds to the "Sunday"
when Christ rose from the grave. This is the day when Christ's humanity was anointed for eternal kingship (Luke 1: 32-33). Hebrews 1:5 alludes to the same Psalm. II Samuel 7:14 is yet another reference. So He was begotten upon His rising from the grave.

But there is more. In John 1:18 Christ is referred to as the "only-begotten Son". My Bible notes that the translation refers to the eternal generation of Christ within the Trinity, or might mean "unique" or "precious" as Isaac was of his father, Abraham.

In John we learn that, "He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." How did He become flesh? He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. That was the moment of His Incarnation.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

You are now discussing three things instead of two. Before you had put together Christ's incarnation as a Man with His eternal nature as God, and now you are adding the resurrection as yet a third way to use the word "begotten." For that is how St. Paul quoted the Second Psalm (Acts 13:33). But, the Creed uses the word "begotten" as it appears in the Gospel of John concerning the Person of the Logos (John 1:18).

So, although the word "begotten" can apply to the Incarnation, and was used for the Resurrection, in the first chapter of John, and in the Creed, it is speaking of something that comes before these two things. "Begotten of His Father before all worlds" was the old way of saying separate from creation and in eternity. So, it means eternally begotten of the Father, and therefore there is no time, such as Arius asserted, when He was not. More accurately, we do not say He was begotten of the Father, but that He is (always present tense) begotten of the Father. That is, forever and outside of time and creation, His Being comes from the Father, just as the Holy Spirit is said to be proceeding eternally from the Father (also always present tense).

Therefore, "begotten not made" has always meant that the Logos is not a creature, but that He is very God of very God.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Fr Hart, I am discussing three things - past, present and future, or Genesis to Revelation. Begotten appears to me to have 3-fold ordering (Biblically-speaking) as I consider it, and that is not contradictory to the triune nature of God but rather exposes the revelation of it. Past, present and future are temporal terms, and before the manifestation of Christ there was no clear revelation to Israel of the Trinity, unless you consider the 3-fold theophany (angel visitors) to Abraham in Genesis 18 to be a clue. In the New Testament, we of course see baptism being ordered in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That being said, the Lord is one Lord, eternal and outside of time. "I and the Father are One." There is no temporal succession, but there is temporal revelation to mankind. The Father proceeds from none, the Son from the Father as Redeemer, and the Spirit from the Father and the Son as Sanctifier.

You stated, "Begotten of His Father before all worlds" was the old way of saying separate from creation and in eternity. This is true but if you look back at my first posting, the modern definition of the word, begotten does not connect with it.

Thank you for your patience.


Anonymous said...

Susan, you might check some of the writings of the Cappadocian Fathers (the Gregorys of Nyssa and Nazianzus, and Basil of Caesarea) on the subject of "eternal generation". These writings were part of the patristic corpus that influnced the wording of the Creed which states that Christ was "begotten" of the Father before all worlds. In a nutshell, the Cappadocian theology holds that the personal hypostasis of the Father is the "font" or "monarchia" of the Godhead, from whom the person of the Son is "generated" and the person of the Holy Spirit "is spirated" or "proceeds." This dual act of generation and spiration is eternal, so that it can be said that there never was a "time" when the Son or the Spirit was not. Thus, the Father is said to be the "cause" or "font" of the *personal hypostases* of the Son and Spirit, and in that eternal act the divine essence of the Godhead is shared eternally by all three Persons. It's somewhat different than the Augustinian triadology we're used to here in the West, but it is the theology reflected in the Creed.

In the section on the Trinity in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis gives us a pretty helpful analogy on how it is the Father is said to be the "cause" of the personal hypostases of the Son and Spirit. Imagine, he writes, three books in a stack. The book on the bottom can be said to be the "cause" of the positions of the 2nd and 3rd books. Now imagine that stack of books existing eternally, so that there was never a time when book 2 and 3 did exist in that spatial relation to the book at the bottom.

Of course, this analogy breaks down at points, as do all analogies. But Lewis pretty much captures the Cappadocian argument with it, as it pertains to how the Son is "eternally generated" from the Father and the Spirit "eternally proceeds" from him (though we who cite the filioque in the Creed would say that there is a sense in which the Spirit proceeds from the Son as well).

Anonymous said...

Oops, the following sentence from my previous comment SHOULD read:

"Now imagine that stack of books existing eternally, so that there was never a time when book 2 and 3 did NOT exist in that spatial relation to the book at the bottom.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful analysis, Caedmon! Thank you so much! God as First Cause, with the generation of Christ and the spiration of the Holy Spirit being, as you say, an eternal act of the divine essence of the Godhead, is a revelation that I embrace. Where I get hung up is on the word, "begotten" as it appears in the Creed. That is why I tried to trace its usage relative to God in the KJ Bible (and also the RSV). "Begotten" according to its contemporary meaning refers to "reproduction" and also infers a beginning. Christ was not "reproduced" yet God calls Him His Son and He calls God His Father. For me it is an issue of semantics, not of faith. I guess it boils down to the problem of trying to describe spiritual realities by employing insufficient human terms.

Anyway, I appreciate your suggestion that I investigate the writings of the Cappadocian Fathers... I will!