Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Christian Heritage - August 21-24

The Laws of Christ

"Christ's laws are life-giving, and what he commands is pure nourishment for us. He feeds us with health, joy, honor, and peace through the laws he lays down for us to live by. For as the prophet says: In you is the fountain of life, and by your light we shall see light. For the life and the vision which are true being, and the works which are in accordance with such being, are born in and come forth from his laws, both those he grants us through grace, and those he prescribes for us as ordinances. Hence also the complaint against us, so just and so deeply-felt, which he makes through Jeremiah: They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and have hewn out for themselves cisterns, cracked cisterns, which hold no water. For although he is our guide to true pasture and well-being, we choose to go our own way, which leads to death; and although he is the fountain, we search for wells; and although that fountain is always flowing, we prefer cracked cisterns which hold no water. And undoubtedly, as Christ's commands are the real nourishment of our life, so the wrong choices we make, and the ways we follow when led by our own whims, deserve no better description than that given them by the prophet."

Luis de León, O.S.A. (AD 1527-1591), The Names of Christ I, 1

One my aphorisms, which I began using in high school, is a variation on Romans 6:23 -- "the wages of sin is death" -- infused with a heavy dose of the salty bluntness of the book of Proverbs. It runs like so: "The wages of folly is pain." I caused myself so much pain -- sheer, jaw-clenching, eye-squinting physical pain -- for the unbridled folly I wallowed in as a teen that I saw this aphorism almost as divine revelation. Fools get hurt, it's that simple. The joy of maturity is that while some of the physical pain has washed away, I now wallow in new pens, drinking deep of new pain: emotional and relational folly breeds pain of the same suit. All pain is mirror for the life of the soul. Folly breeds pain; sin breeds death.

Nature and Resurrection

"Look at how for our consolation the whole of nature rehearses the future resurrection. The sun sets and then is born again; the stars disappear and then return; the flowers die and come to life again. So it will be with our bodies of the dead in their graves. As trees hide their greenery in winter and display their withered branches, so all things that die are preserved and raised to life again. Much more then is this true of human beings, who were given mastery over everything that dies, so that they might have mastery also over everything that rises to new life. This is why the Son of God clothed himself in human nature and raised it from the dead.

"Therefore, since the resurrection of the body is certain, and since punishment awaits the faithless while the faithful have the promise and hope of a heavenly kingdom, it remains for us to devote ourselves to good works and persevere in all holiness, faith, and uprightness, so that we may rise not to punishment but to glory. "

Gregory of Elvira (AD 357-392), Treatise on Holy Scripture: PLS 1, 458-459

Some people fear such egregiously natural revelation -- a la C. Van Til, S. Hauerwas, etc. -- but obviously Gregory didn't. Gregory of E fought against Arianism and defended the Nicene Creed in action and in writing. He was an exegete who wrote principally on the Old Testament. I recommend C.S. Lewis's book _Miracles_ for an interesting and very penetrating discussion of the similarities -- valid or invalid -- between the Gospels and their contemporary pagan thought.

What God Did for Us

"As one of Christ's ambassadors, the apostle Paul pleads his cause in the words: For our sake God made the sinless one into sin. If God had done nothing more for us than to give up his Son for those who scorned him, we should still need to marvel at the greatness of the gesture. But in addition to this tremendous generosity, God permitted him who did no wrong to be crucified for wrongdoers. The sinless one, who was holiness incarnate, God made into sin: that is, he allowed him to be judged as a malefactor, to die as one accursed, for a man hanged upon a tree is accursed by God. Such a sentence was far worse than mere death. Saint Paul implies this elsewhere in the words: He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Let us constantly remember, therefore, the many blessings we have received from him."

John Chrysostom (AD 347-407), II Cor. 11, 3-4: PG 61, 478-480 [link current;y unavailable due to internal server error at Villanova web page -- EBB]

Bartholomew, The Apostle

"When people begin to feel they have a soul, and a work to do, and a reward to be gained, greater or less, according as they improve the talents committed to them, then they are naturally tempted to be anxious from their very wish to be saved, and they say: 'What must I do to please God?' And sometimes they are led to think they ought to be useful on a large scale, and go out of their line of life that they may be doing something worth doing, as they consider it.

"Here we have the history of Saint Bartholomew and the other apostles to recall us to ourselves, and to assure us that we need not give up our usual manner of life, in order to serve God; that the most humble and quietest station is acceptable to him, if improved duly
— nay affords means for maturing the highest Christian character, even that of an apostle. Bartholomew read the scriptures and prayed to God; and thus was trained at length to give up his life for Christ, when he demanded it."

John Henry Newman (AD 1801-1890), Plain and Parochial Sermons II, 336-337

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