Posts Tagged Alexandrian

Origen: “For as man consists of body, and soul, and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture”

Origen of Alexandria, (c. 184 – c. 254) was Head of the famed Catechetical School in Alexandria at age 18 and arguably the most brilliant theologian of the early Christian church.  He was probably the most able and successful defender of the faith against the heresy of Gnosticism in the third century.  In this quote he tells us that Scripture ought to be interpreted at three levels: starting with the lowest level, the body or literal interpretation; followed by the more advanced at the soul level, or moral interpretation; and culminating with the highest level of interpretation, the spiritual, or allegorical interpretation.  1,800 years ago, Origen very clearly articulated what contemporary Christian fundamentalists still haven’t figured out.

 

Origen of Alexandria

Origen of Alexandria (c. 184 – c. 254)

“The individual ought, then to portray the ideas of holy Scripture in a threefold manner upon his own soul; in order that the simple man may be edified by the “flesh”, as it were, of the Scripture, for so we name the obvious sense; while he who has ascended a certain way (may be edified) by the “soul”, as it were.  The perfect man, again… (may receive edification) from the “spiritual” law, which has a shadow of good things to come.  For as man consists of body, and soul, and spirit, so in the same way does Scripture, which has been arranged to be given by God for the salvation of men.”  ~  Peri Archon; First Principles, Book IV, Chapter 1

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Nous (νοῦς) – “…the highest faculty in man” 1

“What’s a “nous”?” 

 

In the last 500 years, since about the time of the Protestant Reformation (16th century) and Enlightenment (17th century), Western culture has been obsessed with the rational, reasoning, logical mind.  It has become so dominant in our thinking, that it is now the sole measure of human intelligence.  Our fixation with the rational mind is not without foundation.  The power of the rational mind has been the engine that gave us the scientific method of inquiry; it brought us the Industrial and Scientific revolutions; the Information Age.  It has largely shaped the modern world.  So, in modern society, when we speak of “mind” or “intelligence” we mean one thing and one thing only: the rational, reasoning human mind.

For Christians trying to understand the New Testament (originally written in Greek) and other early Christian spiritual writings (also predominantly in Greek), the exclusive association of “mind” and “intelligence” with man’s rational, reasoning faculties is problematic.  In Christian spiritual tradition, the rational, reasoning faculty of man is not the only definition of “mind” and “intelligence”.  In fact, it is not even considered the highest or most developed definition of “mind” and “intelligence”.  That distinction belongs to the “nous”.

What?  What’s a “nous”?  I’ll bet most Westerners, even mature Christians, have never heard the word “nous”.  The word “nous” (pronounced “nooce”) is Greek (νοϋς) and can be found throughout the Greek New Testament (it appears explicitly 22 times in the NT) and in scores of other early Christian (Patristic) writings.

The term “nous” can be thought of as a perceptive or receptive ability to hear God’s voice and to, perhaps, experience Him in His energies. It has often been translated simply as “mind”, as in Paul’s letter to the Romans where he wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind [nous], that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (12:2)

More next post.

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Clement of Alexandria: “Woman has the same spiritual dignity as man.” AD 198

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Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215)  Head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria

 

 

“Woman has the same spiritual dignity as man.  Both of them have the same God, the same Teacher, the same Church.  They breathe, see, hear, know, hope, and love in the same way.  Beings who have the same life, grace and salvation are called … to the same manner of being.”  ~ Paedagogus, 1,4

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Apokatastasis – The Ancient Christian Idea That Won’t Die

I was reading a meditation by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, a noted contemporary Christian mystic. One line caught my particular attention. He said, “God is calling everyone and everything to God’s self (Gen. 8:16-17, Eph. 1:9-10, Col. 1:15-20, Acts 3:21, 1 Tim. 2:4, John 3:17).”

Rohr’s quote above holds within it the possibility of a form of universal restoration or return of the entire created universe to God.  This is an ancient idea in Christianity, albeit a controversial one.  We can summarize the whole controversy in one Greek word:  ἀποκατάστᾰσις , [transliterated as apocatastasis] meaning restoration, re-establishment.

The concept of “restore” or “re-establish” is found in the Old Testament in the Hebrew verb שׁוּב (shuwb/shuv) and is used when referring to “restoring” of the fortunes of Job.  It is also used in the sense of “rescue” or “return” of captives, and in the “restoration” of Jerusalem.  In terms of shuwb as apocatastasis, Malachi 4:6 is the only use of the verb form of apocatastasis in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, ca. 250 – 100 BC; also abbreviated “LXX”). It reads:

“He will turn (restore –apokatastesei) the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” (NRSV and LXX)

The word apocatastasis only appears once in the New Testament, in Acts 3:21. After healing a beggar, Peter speaks to the astonished onlookers. In his sermon, Peter places Jesus in a very Jewish context as the fulfilment of the Old Covenant, saying:

“[Jesus] whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring (apokatastaseos) all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”

The idea of apocatastasis is supported further in the New Testament by the writer of 1 Timothy who declares that it is God’s will that all men should be saved (cf., 1 Timothy 2:4).

The concept of apocatastasis is also found in many writings of the early Church Fathers.  In early Christian theological usage, apocatastasis meant the ultimate restoration of all things to their original state, which early exponents believed would still entail a purgatorial or cathartic, cleansing state.  The meaning of the word was still very flexible during that time.  For example, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) generally uses the term apocatastasis to refer to the “restoration” of the mature, or “gnostic”, Christians, rather than that of the universe or of all Christians, but with universal implications.  The position of Origen (186–284) is disputed, with works as recent as the New Westminster Dictionary of Church History presenting him as speculating that the apocatastasis would involve universal salvation.  Most historians today would recognize a distinction between Origen’s own teachings (or at least those that have survived) and the theological positions of later “Origenists” (a later school of theological thought based on his teachings). A form of apocatastasis is also attributed to two sainted Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century; both Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus discussed it without reaching a decision.

Theological discourse continued until by the mid-6th century apocatastasis had virtually become a technical term referring, as it usually does today, to a specifically Origenistic doctrine of universal salvation.  An Anathema (a formal curse by an ecumenical council of the Church, excommunicating a person or denouncing a doctrine) against apocatastasis, or more accurately, against the belief that hell is not eternal, was formally submitted to the Fifth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (AD 553). Despite support from the Roman Emperor Justinian, the famous Anathema against apocatastasis is not one of the Anathemas spoken against Origen by the fifth council.

As late as the 7th century, Maximus the Confessor (580-662) outlined God’s plan for “universal” salvation alongside warnings of everlasting punishment for the wicked. Maximus was very clear that the “telos”, the ultimate end, was a mystery.

So, why does the concept of Apocatastasis persist down to this day, in men like Roman Catholic Fr. Richard Rohr and Orthodox Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, in spite of the Western institutional church’s absolute obsession with the concept and threat of eternal hell, damnation, and torment? To me, it’s quite simple. The idea of apocatastasis persists because it appeals to a heart enlightened by the love of God.

The universe was created “good”.  It is God’s will that all men should be saved.  God is love.  Love is patient, kind, is not irritable or resentful, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things; Love never ends.  Greater is He (the Son, the Logos, the Word) that is immanent in the spirit of all created beings, than he (Satan, evil) who is in the world.   Deep in my heart, I believe that ultimately, in some future age, in the end (telos), God (Love) wins. (Gen. 1:31, 1 Tim. 2:4, 1 John 4:8, 1 Cor. 13, 1 John 4:4).

 

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Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not

The beginning of the first century AD saw the rapid rise of the Roman Imperial Cult. This religious cult was based upon the proclaimed divinity of Augustus Caesar (c.62 BC – 14 AD / Reigned 31 BC – 14 AD) and subsequent Roman Emperors. This Imperial Cult was a unifying political and religious factor across the whole Roman Empire in the first century. The emergence of the Imperial Cult preceded, but also developed with, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The earliest written Christian records we have are the Letters of St. Paul from the mid-first century. A good summary of the theme of his gospel message is contained in the Letter to the Romans Chapter 1, Verses 3 &4: “…concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead…”.

In the opinion of British theologian N.T. Wright, “Despite the way Protestantism has used the phrase (making it denote, as it never does in Paul, the doctrine of justification by faith), for Paul “the gospel” is the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth is Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Lord.”

Wright goes on to explain that Paul’s euangelion, his gospel (Good News) message, was every bit as much a confrontational and subversive political proclamation as it was a religious one: “Paul was announcing that Jesus was the true King of Israel and hence the true Lord of the world, at exactly the time in history, and over exactly the geographical spread, where the Roman emperor was being proclaimed, in what styled itself a “gospel”, in very similar terms.”

Later, Wright applies Paul’s gospel message to his [Paul’s] vision for the ekklesia, the church. His basis for this comes from Chapter 3 of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Wright tells us: “We may begin with 3.20.  “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah”. These are Caesar-titles. The whole verse says: Jesus is Lord, and Caesar isn’t. Caesar’s empire, of which Philippi is a colonial outpost, is the parody; Jesus’ empire, of which the Philippian church is a colonial outpost, is the reality.”

Wright goes on to discuss the implications of Paul’s vision of this empire of Jesus: “if Paul’s answer to Caesar’s empire is the empire of Jesus, what does that say about this new empire, living under the rule of its new lord? It implies a high and strong ecclesiology, in which the scattered and often muddled cells of women, men and children loyal to Jesus as Lord form colonial outposts of the empire that is to be: subversive little groups when seen from Caesar’s point of view, but when seen Jewishly an advance foretaste of the time when the earth shall be filled with the glory of the God of Abraham and the nations will join Israel in singing God’s praises.”

Paul’s vision for this ekklesia, as subversive colonial outposts of the coming empire of Jesus, could not be realized after a series of events in the fourth century.  In AD 313 Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan, a proclamation of religious tolerance that officially ended the persecution of Christians.  The Christian Church greatly increased in power and influence in the fourth century under Imperial patronage.  The Church quickly became fully integrated into the political and cultural fabric of the Roman Empire, culminating with The Edict of Thessalonica, also known as Cunctos populos, issued on 27 Feb 380, by Roman Emperor Theodosius I.  This edict ordered all subjects of the Roman Empire to profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria. The edict officially made Nicene Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.

And the Church has been “sleeping with the enemy”, the world’s domination systems and institutions, for the entire 1,700 years since.  This is Christendom.  This is not the vision of the ekklesia of the Apostle Paul.

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The “Fall” as Disease

The Orthodox see the “Fall” of man and resulting sin as fundamentally a disease of the will. With the arrival of death at the Fall, our will and drive to maintain and satisfy our physical bodies overwhelmed our natural human will to attain to the likeness of our Creator, in whose image we were created. Our natural will has, from that time, been so distorted and diseased by our deception and preoccupation with carnal needs and passions, that we have nearly lost sight of our true nature. Using this disease model, the incarnation, ministry, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ can be thought of as a “therapeutic” mission of God to mankind. When I say “therapeutic”, I mean it in the Greek sense of the word θεραπεύω, therapeuo. The New Testament mentions healing by Jesus and his disciples 73 times. In 40 cases, the Greek word is therapeuo. It means “to serve as a therapon, and attendant;” then, “to care for the sick, to treat, cure, heal”. I think that this is an accurate, loving description of God’s intervention in the created world to provide personal care, curative treatment, healing, and salvation to his fallen and diseased creation through the incarnation, ministry, and voluntary, redemptive sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Note how this view of the Fall, from God’s relationship to man, avoids the problems and pitfalls of Western Latin (Augustinian) theology which include, but are not limited to: Original Sin (Total Depravity), God’s  Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption) , Irresistible grace (Effectual Calling), Predestination, Free Will, the Problem of Evil, Purgatory, and Heaven and Hell.

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Why is Theology Important?

What is our theology?  Is it based on a world-view that God is good and the universe is good?  Is God ambivalent, aloof and un-involved in a neutral, Newtonian physics-driven universe? Is God angry and vengeful over our sin, waiting to throw us into the pit of hell in a threatening, violent universe?

 Does our theology promote a search for spiritual understanding? Or does our theology seek security and certainty in dualistic yes/no, either/or, right/wrong answers to spiritual questions?

 Is our theology based on a big God who is broad, expansive, and inclusive in dealing with man?  Or is God small, exclusive, and tribal, belonging to this group (e.g., Jews) or that (e.g., Baptists), with everybody else on the outside looking in?

 Is our theology built from a viewpoint of God’s relationship with man (as experienced and recorded in Scripture and Tradition)?  Or is it based on man’s rational concepts of God based on Scripture and philosophical speculation?

 These are the types of questions theology asks and this is why theology is important.  It is the foundation of how we experience and relate to God and the universe.  It is the reason that God gave each human being a fully functioning nous (mind, intuitive conscience, spiritual intellect) to discover and use. 

Theology is important because it ain’t necessarily so just because grandpa or somebody behind a pulpit said it’s so.

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