St. Anselm of Canterbury

Saint Anselm was born in northern Italy (then part of the Holy Roman Empire) in 1033, and eventually moved to England, becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093 at the age of 60.  He is remembered by various people for several different subjects: historians note his role in the Investiture Controversy, he is remembered by philosophers for his role in kickstarting the tradition of Medieval Scholasticism, and he is remembered by theologians for his great treatise Cur Deus Homo.

755px-Anselm_of_Canterbury,_seal_(SVG).svg[1]

his personal seal, image provided at Wikipedia

The Investiture Controversy was a series of power struggles between the Emperors, Kings, and other noblemen of Europe and the Pope and other Bishops.  Did the Church get to dictate who they’d crown?  Did the Crown get to appoint the Bishops in their domains?  For trying to protect the Church in England from the machinations of the new Norman dynasty, he was exiled twice as Archbishop of Canterbury.  In exile he assisted the Church in southern Italy, mediating divisions between Eastern and Western traditions there.

Medieval Scholasticism was a movement both philosophical and theological, emphasizing the role of human reason.  Rather than “faith seeking understanding,” as Saint Augustine of Hippo had put it, Anselm expressed a more logical approach that is more familiar to the modern mind.  Scholasticism had its ups and downs of course: more reasoned study assisted advancement of technology and learning, and ushered in a new wave of literacy and educated clergy, but it also led to explorations into theological minutiae that caused great controversies, culminating ultimately in the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s.

Theologically, Anselm’s most famous work is Cur Deus Homo, “Why the God-Man?”  It is a monumental work exploring the question of why Jesus had to be both God and man in order to be the Christ, our Savior.  He sets forth a model we call Satisfaction Theory – that God’s honor had been besmirched by human sinfulness, and a debt was owed.  Only Christ could repay that debt because he is both human (in solidarity with us sinners) and divine (not actually guilty of our sin).  He is thus honored with the title “Doctor of the Church,” identifying him as one of the great Christian teachers of all time.

Apart from this, Anselm also wrote a treatise on prayer, showing the strong link between faith and devotion (or between theology and liturgy), and giving us a marvelous insight into his private piety in a series of prayers that he wrote for a fellow monk and abbot.  His love for Christ and his Saints is evident, and inspirational.  You can read more about his works here:

https://leorningcniht.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/prayer-is-theology/

Saint Anselm’s feast day is April 21st.

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The Communion of Saints

As we declare in the Apostles’ Creed, “we believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints…”  This statement places us in the context of the greater family of Christ throughout all time and in all places.  Our faith is not ours alone; it is shared with and received from those who came before us.  The accounts of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, in particular, make this passed-along eye-witness aspect of our faith quite prominent: our faith is an historical faith, based upon reliable witness and testimony and documentation.

Because the Christian faith is thus so objective and grounded in real history, and because Saint Paul went to great lengths to teach about how we are all one Body in Christ, the observance and celebration of various members of that Body has become an integral part of the Christian life of worship.  We remember and celebrate those who have gone before us, passing along the faith we have received, and helping us understand it and celebrate it better through their writings or the examples of their lives.  The most prominent of these holy men and women we know as Saints, and they are typically celebrated on the day of their death – when they completed the race and proved their commitment to Christ unto the end.  This series highlights one such person almost every week.

 

  • 4/21 St. Anselm of Canterbury
  • 4/24 A. Michael Ramsey
  • 5/8 St. Julian of Norwich
  • 5/16 St. Brendan the Navigator
  • 5/26 St. Augustine of Canterbury
  • 6/1 St. Justin Martyr
  • 6/9 St. Columba
  • 6/18 Bernard Mizeki
  • 6/28 St. Irenaeus of Lyons
  • 7/11 St. Benedict
  • 7/18 St. Macrina
  • 8/1 St. Athelwold
  • 8/8 St. Dominic
  • 8/20 St. Bernard
  • 8/28 St. Augustine of Hippo
  • 9/13 St. John Chrysostom
  • 9/17 Edward Bouverie Pusey
  • 10/6 William Tyndale
  • 10/11 St. Philip the Deacon
  • 10/26 St. Alfred the Great
  • 11/3 Richard Hooker
  • 11/16 St. Aelfric
  • 11/23 St. Clement of Rome
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The Bible is History

This is part five of sixteen in a series, “The Bible Is…

One of the popular stereotypical views of the Bible is that it’s a collection of dull historical writings, and worse, not even accurate historical writings.  The answer to this view and concern is multi-sided: much of the Bible is indeed historical in nature, though its narrative purpose is not usually simply to report names and dates and events, and pre-modern historical writings are of a sharply different nature than the modern historical writing style.

Just over half of the books of the Bible could be read as if they were historical narrative accounts of past events, dates, and persons.  However, of these, many of them have a different purpose or focus than simply relating history.  The Torah, for example, contains much historical material, but is presented subordinate to the purpose of explaining the covenant God made with his people through Moses.  Events leading up to, and surrounding, the giving of that covenant were important to include to fill out the greater picture, but that also indicates to the reader that one should not attempt to study those writings as if they were purely historical.

Even the books that are primarily about history do so with a particular emphasis and perspective.  Where modern historical writing tends to prefer objectivity in perspective, attention to chronological order, and accounting for social movements and trends that provide a larger view of the historical subject, pre-modern historical writings can be quite different.  Written more like a story, ancient histories like those found in the Bible unapologetically speak from a specific perspective, tweak the minor details and even chronological sequence of events in order to make a point, and ignore other seemingly-important factors that are deemed outside the scope of the written work.  This is especially important for the reader of the Old Testament to understand.  Israel and Judah were very small and generally inconsequential states in the ancient Middle East, yet the Scriptures that speak of their history give almost no information about the large neighboring kingdoms empires except when direct confrontation (usually invasion) takes place.  The premiere examples of historical books in the Bible are Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Luke, and Acts.

Joshua is the book that focuses on the story of Joshua, the successor of Moses, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land and led their armies to conquer the local populations who had descended into the most heinous forms of idolatry, including child sacrifice.  The book begins at a slower place, describing individual battles and cities at first, but then speeds up through time, describing the conquest of whole regions in shorter and shorter sections.  A lengthy portion of the book also describes the boundaries set between the twelve tribes – making for dull reading for the Christian today, perhaps, but giving vital geo-political information against which the details of later inter-tribal squabbles can be better understood.

Judges the book that summarizes the centuries between Joshua’s life and the establishment of the Israelite monarchy.  A “judge” in this book is a leader, sort of like a federal President appointed by God to organize the twelve tribes together for a limited time.  Perhaps summarizing this period of history through a symbolic number, a total of twelve such judges are named, though some receive considerably more attention in the book than others.  The final chapters of this book contain additional stories and incidents that are meant to illustrate the spiritual low to which Israel had fallen during this period.  Indeed the entire book is written with a negative view, making periodic references to their lack of a good king to lead them.

Ruth is a very short book telling a single story about an Israelite widow, named Naomi, and her daughter-in-law, Ruth.  It takes place during the later portion of the Judges history and is steeped in cultural references that are difficult to understand without familiarity with Law (Torah).  Its purpose, within Old Testament history, is largely to give a prelude and backstory to King David and his family.  The significance of this for Christian readers is extended to the fact that King David was also the kingly prototype for Jesus, as well as one of his ancestors along with the characters in Ruth.

1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings are a set of books that tell the history of Israel and Judah from the transition from tribal judges to the monarchy under King Saul (1 Samuel), then the monarchy under King David (2 Samuel), then the monarchy under King Solomon and the following couple centuries until the final conquest of Jerusalem in 586BC (1 & 2 Kings).  In some traditions these four books are named 1 through 4 Kingdoms, noting their continual narrative.  Throughout these books, the actions of various kings are overtly evaluated and judged by the author as good or bad, faithful or faithless, clearly making this a religious history, not a political history – events that a modern historian might consider more important may hardly get mentioned in these books, or at least get described in very different ways.

None of these books have identified authors, editors, or compilers, as is the case with several other Old Testament books.  Ancient tradition, such as found in the Jewish Talmud, posit that Joshua, Samuel, and Jeremiah authored these books, though we have no way of confirming these theories.

In the New Testament, each of the Gospel books are historical in nature, though more strictly speaking are a sort of carefully constructed biography.  Of the four, the one most apparently chronological in writing style is Luke’s Gospel book.  Matthew, Mark, and John each have distinct structures and purposes in their Gospel books; Luke simply opens his book stating his desire to “compile a narrative” and “write an orderly account… that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (1:1-4).

Saint Luke also wrote a sequel to his Gospel, which we call The Acts of the Apostles.  That book begins with the ascension of Jesus, overlapping with the end his Gospel, and then spends roughly half its pages following Saint Peter’s ministry in Jerusalem and Judah, and the second half following Saint Paul’s ministry across the Mediterranean world.  Taken together, Luke and Acts give us a beginning nearly two years before Jesus’ birth and ending with the preaching of the Gospel in the very heart of the Roman Empire – Rome itself.  The progression from mysterious prophecy and promise to the advance of the Gospel across the known world shows us the power and triumph of Christ over the powers of this world.

So reading the historical material in the Bible should never, for the Christian, be merely a matter of learning past names, dates, and events.  Rather, we see the story of God’s work unfolding through time.  This witnesses to God’s constancy, faithfulness, order, purposeful will, and ultimate victory and providence over all.  These are not stories for us to memorize and moralize; this is the story in which we are to find and place our own.

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Oblation: a death on purpose

a Good Friday devotion on Hebrews 10:1-25

Amidst the more familiar Bible readings in Holy Week, especially the Triduum (Thursday through Saturday), Good Friday offers us this rather ‘theological’ passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Let’s not let the rich and dense writing style pass us by; there is a beautiful Gospel to behold herein!

Verses 1-4 set up a problem: the Old Covenant sacrifices don’t completely cleanse the priests and people from their sins.  The blood of bulls and goats just isn’t enough to cover the depth of human sin.  So these sacrifices mainly just end up being reminders of, or memorials to, the sins of the world.

Verses 5-10 describe the solution: a New Covenant sacrifice that will cover the full depth of human sin.  Rather than animal blood, a human body is needed for sacrifice (v5).  Simply offering the sacrifices is not enough, the priest offering them needs to be, himself, perfectly doing the will of God (v9).  Thus we find our only recourse is in the self-offering of Jesus Christ.

Verses 11-18 narrow in on the singularity of this sacrifice.  The Old Covenant sacrifices were repeated regularly: some daily, some weekly, some just on annual holidays.  Their repetition, though, speaks to their imperfection (v11).  Christ’s sacrifice happened only once – it only needed to happen once and it could only have happened once.  That single offering is enough to bring to complete forgiveness and holiness those for whom it’s offered (v14).  The law and love of God is written onto his people’s hearts and minds (v16).  Such a full assurance of forgiveness is highlighted by the lack of repetition (v18).

Verses 19-25 describe our role in all this.  Three invitations are spoken to us here: draw near (v22), hold fast (v23), and consider (v24).

  1. Draw near to God with confidence! Jesus is a perfect high priest; through his blood and his flesh (that is, through his death) a direct relationship is forged between us and God; and through his blood and his flesh in Holy Communion, we are “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (v22) and assured of God’s faithfulness to us.
  2. Hold fast to Christ in hope! The confession of our faith, both formally in reciting our common Creeds and informally as we proclaim what the Lord has done for us as individuals, is a sure faith that need not waver.  All flesh is as grass, but “he who promised is faithful” (v23).
  3. Consider how to stir one another up to love and good works. We all need encouragement in various ways and at various times.  We need reminding of the goodness of God.  “Not neglecting to meet together” (v25) is certainly one the most important parts of this; as it is in the liturgy of the Word and the Altar that we most directly hear and receive God’s promises.  We therefore can be encouraged by one another individually as well as corporately; a need which will only increase as we see the last “Day drawing near” (v25).

There is so much more in this text, not to mention its larger context in the book of Hebrews, but I hope these thoughts suffice to draw out some of the beauty of this letter.  Jesus is our perfect Priest.  What he has done is perfect and final, and we can put complete and utter trust in that work.  It’s simply our part to celebrate him in worship, exercise the faith he has given us, and help others to do the same.

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The Bible is the New Covenant

This is part four of sixteen in a series, “The Bible Is…

Throughout the Old Testament, written before the time of Christ, are hints and promises that the Covenant made with God’s people will be replaced with a better one.  The New Testament, the books written in the wake of Christ’s ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension, describe the life and situation of the New Covenant.  It is not like the Old, which had the five books of the Torah to introduce the Covenant explicitly; rather, the idea of the New Covenant is assumed throughout the New Testament writings, and made explicitly clear only at certain points along the way.  At the last supper Jesus declared the New Covenant was about to be ratified, in several of Saint Paul’s epistles there are contrasts drawn between the Old and New Covenant situations for God’s people.

One of the New Testament books that most directly deals with this contrast is the epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians.  This short epistle was written to a congregation rocked by serious controversy: a sect called the Judaizers were insisting that all Gentile Christians (those not of Jewish descent) had to be circumcised and become Jewish in order to be proper Christians.  The thrust of Paul’s rebuttal to this was simply that in Christ we are all brought into the New Covenant, which sets aside the Old.  For the novice reader of Scripture, therefore, it is prudent to read this epistle after reading the Torah, so that the place of the Old Covenant can be properly understood in the Christian context.

Two major lines of argumentation are drawn up in the epistle to the Galatians.  The first is that of Paul’s authority as an Apostle.  In being an Apostle, one specially sent out by Christ, he was (and remains today) a faithful and accurate teacher of Christ’s New Covenant.  The Judaizers were questioning his authority, preferring to lift Moses up above him, and worse, above Christ.  Rejecting Christ’s superiority over Moses was to miss the point of Christianity.  The second argument was that that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the New Covenant.  Therefore it was pointless (if not outright blasphemous) to yoke oneself to Old Covenant laws and practices wholesale.  The Covenant brings us a newfound freedom in Christ – freedom from the bondage of sin, freedom from the blunt guiding hand of the Torah, freedom from the ultimately-insufficient animal sacrifices for sin.

In the grand scheme of things, it is important to see the New Covenant in the Bible; without it we don’t have Christianity.  We either devolve into a modified version of Judaism (with all of the religious difficulties and none of the benefits) or stumble into a tangled mess of seemingly-contradictory teachings that eventually drives one away from the biblical text entirely.  Learning and discovering the New Covenant – the distinctly Christian relationship with God through Jesus Christ – is an essential part of reading the Bible.  Without it, confusion will reign.

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The Bible is Teaching, or Law

This is part three of sixteen in a series, “The Bible Is…

The first five books of the Bible are collectively known as the Books of Moses, the Pentateuch (five books), and the Torah.  Torah is typically translated as “law” but it also means “teaching” or “instruction.”  Together they set out the Covenant of Moses – a sort of treaty or contract by which God established Israel both as a tribal nation-state and as a cultural-religious identity.  The Ancient Near Eastern covenant treaty literary format is found both at the macro-level, spanning all five books, and the micro-level, found within multiple books, especially Exodus and Deuteronomy.

The literary components of a covenant treaty are: 1) prologue or backstory, 2) the giving of stipulations, 3) swearing upon witnesses, 4) a document clause, and 5) blessings and curses.

The book of Genesis functions as the prologue or backstory, setting the scene for the giving of the covenant in the book of Exodus.  Genesis has already been addressed in Part Two.

The book of Exodus, so named because the exodus from Egypt is the central event described in the book, divides roughly in half; the first 19 chapters providing the historical narrative leading up to the giving of the covenant on Mount Sinai.  The remaining chapters describe the initial giving, breaking, and reissuing of the covenant, especially centered around the Decalogue (or ten commandments) given to Moses and the people written by God’s own hand.  The final chapters of Exodus describe the design and craft of the Ark of the Covenant and the Tent (or Tabernacle) of Meeting, wherein God would dwell among his people, and the Old Covenant worship would be centered.

The book of Leviticus is exclusively made up of laws and commands.  It, too, divides roughly in half dealing first mostly with religious ceremonial laws, and second mostly with civil laws.  It is from that early emphasis with the Levitical priesthood and its regulations that the book derives its name, Leviticus.  If it weren’t for the interspersing of various moral laws along the way, this book would be functionally obsolete for Christians in light of the New Covenant made by Christ Jesus.  As it is, the majority of its chapters are instructive primarily for Old Covenant ritual and their foreshadowing of Christ and his sacrifice.

The book of Numbers begins and ends with a lot of numbers: a census is taken early in the 40-year desert wanderings of Israel, and another taken towards its end.  Counting the people of Israel, particularly the men of fighting age, was part of the preparation to move in to the Promised Land.  The majority of the book in the middle, however, is a series of stories and events that take place during most of the 40-year period between the exodus from Egypt and the entrance into the Promised Land, resulting in a number of “hidden gems” – valuable and instructive stories that the casual reader misses after getting bogged down in the census records and skipping the rest of the book.

Deuteronomy is a Greek compound word: duetero means “second” and nomos means “law” or Torah.  Thus the book of Deuteronomy is about the second giving of the Law or Covenant of Moses.  It’s a summary of what has happened and been taught in the previous three books, rolled up into one book.  There are multiple angles from which this book has been understood: some see it as a “pious forgery”, written centuries later for King Hezekiah when he was restoring Judah to orthodoxy, some see it as a series of addresses or sermons given by Moses at the end of his life, and others see it as formal covenant treaty document as it recapitulates all five literary ingredients of that writing style.  In any case, its emphasis on summing up the Torah makes Deuteronomy a good book to study instead if Leviticus and Numbers prove difficult to get through.

On their own, the books of the Torah can be difficult for the novice reader to make sense of, especially in terms of discerning the types of law and instruction that either find their fulfillment in Christ and thus no longer bind us versus those that are morally applicable to all for all time.  Despite these challenges, these are important books to read before proceeding through the rest of the Old Testament; all the other books, especially the Prophets, appeal back to the Torah as the foundation of their religious worldview.  The historical books show how God’s people did and did not obey the Torah, the poetry shows how the Torah was expressed religiously, the Prophets preached and applied the Torah to the people in their own ministry contexts.

The New Testament writings, also, look back upon the Torah with a particular interest.  It is most important for the Christian to understand who Jesus is, which is why we began with the Gospel of Saint Mark, but to proceed much deeper into the Scriptures, familiarity with the Torah is of great importance.

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How to Spot a Wolf: The Call

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” – Matthew 7:15

The purpose of this series is not to tear down and accuse anyone of heresy, but to cut straight to the warning signs of a wolf in sheep’s clothing in an event or organization.

Today I’m looking at “The Call”, and its 40-day fast event scheduled for this year. I offer these red flags in order of visibility, not necessarily in order of importance.

Red Flag #1: no clear leadership

The call to fast is a serious one, both in the Bible and in the Church Age.  Yes, “The Call” is an invitation, not a command, but it heavily utilizes Old Testament language (particularly from Joel chapter 2) to “proclaim” this fast.  But who is making this proclamation?  An organiation, not a church.  This is stepping on the toes of the Church, when a parachurch ministry organization sees fit to act as if it were a church in the fullest sense.  This lack of respect for the rest of the Church is also made apparent in other ways on The Call’s website, such as in its careful use of the word Ekklesia instead of Church, and lack of clear connection to the ministry of any church or denomination. This is a maverick operation, and thus must raise a red flag for the discerning Christian.

Red Flag #2: the Church’s success is dependent upon political circumstances.

The description begins with a huge theological statement: “we have only a short window in the days of President Trump for the greatest revival and awakening in America’s history. Without it, I see no future for America. We must seize our divine moment.” The mission, ministry, and success of the Gospel has no reliance upon earthly rulers. There is nothing special about any one President’s administration; the Spirit will advance the Gospel of Christ with or without a given state’s cooperation. It is good to be urgent about prayer and fasting, and fervent about spiritual devotions, but appealing to political circumstance as any sort of critical component to the success of Christianity is simply idolatrous.

Red Flag #3: the Church’s success is depending upon human effort

As the event’s author goes on, he cites as one of this encouragements a book chapter entitled “Fasting Precipitates the Latter Rain.” There may be a more nuanced explanation for this, but context suggests that this means that “the latter rain” (a buzzword for spiritual blessing and growth) needs fasting in order to take place. The Holy Spirit, as much as he seeks our cooperation in His work, does not need us in order to succeed. The Gospel is the work of God; we are not precipitates of God’s success, maybe we’re catalysts at best. If something or someone demands something of you in order for God to accomplish something, they don’t know the sovereign power of God!

Red Flag #4: re-appropriating Old Testament prophecies for modern application

“The Call” goes on to discuss the rise of the modern nationstate of Israel, attributing prophetic significance to it. It takes the Old Testament character of King Cyrus and turns him into an archetype that can be applied to any number of other figures, most noteably in recent times, President Trump. Such lack of ability to understand the Old Testament Prophets in the context of the Old and New Covenants results in all sorts of wonky “prophecies” about the present and near future which are entirely erroneous. Old Testament prophecies tend to find their fulfillment in Christ, especially at/on the Cross. The tendency to keep looking for more Cyrus’s to rescue God’s people reveals a lack of trust in the victory of Christ on the Cross, and (at best) distracts the Christian from fruitful reading of Scriptures and living a Cross-centered life.

Red Flag #5: nostalgia about failed religious movements

“The Call” seeks to catalyze a Third Great Awakening in this country, which is a fine enough desire, but it also is described to be pursuing a new “Jesus People Movement.” The Jesus Movements of the 60’s and 70’s were theological and spiritual dead ends. They did not increase the Church in the long run. People got excited about the idea of Jesus – or too often, their own idea of Jesus – and did some radical things in His name, but ultimately did not make a lasting impact on the life of God’s people, the Church. What we should learn from this is that the individualistic disconnect from the greater Body of Christ is a waste of time. As God’s people, we must as act as one Body, with Christ as our head. While renewal and refreshment are laudable goals and desires, seeking a “new outpouring of the Holy Spirit” as if He is not already fully present in the Word and Sacraments entrusted to the Church is rather sacrilegious.

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