…it is a new thing I am attempting, namely, to show that a knowledge of the Talmud and of the talmudic writers is of extraordinary help in the elucidation of the New Testament.Before that, though, quoting Grotious’s view from the De jure that:the Hebrew writers can contribute not a little to our understanding of the meaning of the books belonging to the old covenant,Coch continues by saying that the Talmud, the “Doctrinalis,” or the “authorized teaching” of the Jews, as he refers to it at this point, has its usefulness for the understanding of the law in all its facets: ceremonial, natural, and that fixed by convention (“positivus”).Where, but the Jewish Talmud, can the learned traditions handed down by our forefathers be sought? Indeed, these are relevant, whether for a fuller understanding of Mosaic law, ritual as well as judicial and moral; or for an illustration of exotic (?) laws; or for shedding light on accounts of the Jewish commonwealths [e.g, Josephus(?)]; or, what is most important, for confirmation of the account in the Gospels, where there is abundant mention of Jewish customs, law and traditions.
An article by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev of the Russian Orthodox Church [link] points out that the Revolution of 1917 did not spring out of thin air and impose atheism on Russia, rather, the society and even the Church itself was becoming atheist and hollow already:
It has been said that Russia was baptised but not enlightened. Indeed, as far as the 19th century is concerned, it is clear that enlightenment was very often in conflict with religion: the masses of illiterate peasants kept their traditional beliefs, but more and more educated people, even from a purely religious background, rejected faith and became atheists. Chernyshevsky and Dobroliubov are classic examples: both came from clerical families, both became atheists after studying in theological seminaries. For people like Dostoyevsky religion was something that had to be rediscovered, after having been lost as a result of his education. Tolstoy, on the other hand, came to a certain type of faith in God but remained alien to the Orthodox Church. It is clear, when one looks at the pre-revolutionary period, that there was a huge gap between the Church and the world of educated people, the so-called intelligentsia, and this gap was constantly growing.
The Archbishop goes on to cite some specific examples from that time of creeping atheism:
I remember reading a book by Father Georgy Shavelsky, the Protopresbyter of the Russian Army and Navy under Nicholas II. Himself one of the senior members of the Holy Synod, he testified that the Synod was in fact very far from the life of people, that it did very little (if anything) to prevent atheist propaganda from spreading among ordinary people. To show how little remained of the people’s traditional devotion to God, Shavelsky cites the following example: when attendance at the Liturgy became, by a special imperial decree, no longer obligatory for Russian soldiers, only ten per cent of them continued to go to church.
Another testimony of the same kind is that of Metropolitan Veniamin (Fedchenkov), who became the Bishop of the White Army after the revolution. He writes that none of the students of the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, where he had studied, ever went to see Father John of Kronstadt, and that some of the students were atheists. He describes the atmosphere of spiritual coolness inside the Orthodox Church, the lack of prophetic spirit. He claims that it was not by mere chance that there arose people like Rasputin:
against the common background of indifference towards religion he appeared as a charismatic figure and was at first accepted as such by the ecclesiastical authorities, who then directed his steps to the imperial palace.
The third testimony which I would like to draw on here is of a more personal kind: it is that of Father Sergei Bulgakov. Himself the son of an Orthodox priest, after studying at a theological seminary, he became an atheist, following the steps of Chernyshevsky and Dobroliubov. In his autobiographical notes he asks himself how this happened, and answers: “It happened, somehow, almost at once and in an imperceptible manner, as something taken for granted, when the poetry of my childhood was replaced by the prose of the theological seminary… When I began to doubt, my critical thoughts were not satisfied with traditional apologetics, but rather found them scandalous… My revolt was strengthened by the compulsory devotion: these long services with akathists (and ritual devotion in general) did not give me satisfaction.” Fr Bulgakov gave up his religion easily, without a fight, and neither his clerical origins nor his theological education helped him to resist the temptation, of atheism and nihilism.
He then points out that many people joining the Church today in Russia still don’t believe in God, but are following a fad:
It seems to me that, though the numbers of believers has immensely increased during the last years, Russia is still far from being a Christian country. To be baptised, to be Orthodox has become a fashion. I would not be surprised if the majority of people, when asked whether they are Orthodox, would now give a positive answer. This does not mean, though, that they all go to church. It only means that most of them have assumed a new outward identity to keep up with the ongoing ‘religious revival’. I remember asking one teenager who came, together with her mother, to be baptised: ‘Do you believe in God?’ ‘No,’ was her answer. ‘Why then do you want to be baptised?’ I asked. ‘Well, everybody gets baptised nowadays,’ she said. This case, one of many, illustrates that many people take religion in a very superficial manner, sometimes without even believing in God. Remaining inwardly atheists, they become outwardly Orthodox.
He warns against a type of reactionary Orthodoxy that I see all too much of in the news:
The second danger is that. of militant Orthodoxy, which would be a post-atheist counterpart of militant atheism. I mean an Orthodoxy that fights against Jews, against masons, against democracy, against Western culture, against enlightenment. This type of Orthodoxy is being preached even by some key members of the hierarchy, and it has many supporters within the Church.
This leads me to think that Russia suffered greatly in missing out on the Reformation. The Bible was never put squarely into the life of the people and the Church missed out on a great opportunity to be soaked in the Scripture. In the same way I believe that the modern Russian Orthodox Church misses exposition of the Scripture and reevaluation in the light of the Word. Of course I could be wrong. Perhaps there are movements within Russia that are moving ad fontes back to the Scriptures, but what I see is a reactionary movement that glories in the past and believe in a crystalized version of unchanging doctrine. I believe all this is greatly to the disadvantage of the Russian Church and nation. May God grant them more light and the ability to change where they need to.
You are not impressing anyone when you claim that you don’t have the ability to read the Bible for itself but you do have the ability to study all of Christian history and identify the supernatural office that can tell you what to think.
If you can really read and argue from history in the hope of persuading others, then why not simply argue for your views from Scripture? If you aren’t following your own authority in deciding which church to submit to then how are you following your own authority when you read the Bible and believe what it says? If you are willing to argue over the meaning of the last papal writings, why not argue over the meaning of Scripture?
Coming in November, Peter Leithart’s new book:
1 Sanguinary Edicts
2 Jupiter on the Throne
3 Instinctu Divinitatus
4 By This Sign
5 Liberator Ecclesiae
6 End of Sacrifice
7 Common Bishop
8 Nicaea and After
9 Seeds of Evangelical Law
10 Justice for All
11 One God, One Emperor
12 Pacifist Church?
13 Christian Empire, Christian Mission
14 Rome Baptized
I CAN”T WAIT!!!!
Rod Dreher makes several salient points about converts to Rome and Orthodoxy:
Yes, but in my personal experience, the Catholic Church in America has only a facade of unity. Every Catholic parish I’ve been a part of has been basically Protestant, insofar as most of the people seemed to believe that they had a right to believe whatever they wanted. The unity was fairly superficial. Mind you, I’m in no position to say to what extent the Orthodox Church in this country is any different, because my experience is relatively short and limited almost entirely to my own parish. But I would be surprised to learn that we Orthodox on the whole were much different in that regard.
I’ve said the same thing myself: Catholicism in the USA is just Protestantism with a different name. You have gay Jesuits, hardcore Trad Opus Dei types, the First Things crowd, EWTN, liberals like the Kennedys, and on and on. There is no unified, glorious Church. It’s an illusion in the mind of the convert who lives in the world of ideas. Dreher continues:
I keep telling Protestants I know who want to convert to Catholicism that I don’t want to get in the way of their decision — though I would like them to consider Orthodoxy — but that they should realize that they’re probably not going to find an escape from modernism in their local parish. The church of Pope Benedict and First Things magazine, and your favorite conservative Catholic bloggers, is not the church you’re likely to encounter down the street. If you’re convinced of the case for Catholicism, then you almost certainly have to become Catholic — but go in with your eyes open. Similarly with Orthodoxy, we have, like Catholicism, the institutional and historical tools for resisting modernism, but if the pastors and the people remain indifferent or hostile to them, Protestants searching for solid ground to stand on may be unpleasantly surprised.
Again, this is not an argument against becoming Catholic or Orthodox. But it is a warning that it’s impossible to escape modernity and its challenges to tradition and traditional faith. When Father Dwight says that the fissiparous nature of individualist modernist faith will eventually give way to disbelief, because it’s not anchored in communal experience, I agree with him in principle, but would ask him what his prediction is for Catholic parishes that are populated by individualists in religion? (N.B., Father Dwight recognizes in his post that modernist Catholic priests shouldn’t be surprised when people quit coming to mass.) Similarly, I am aware of several Protestant congregations who are far, far more unified in belief than any Catholic parish I’ve been a part of, no doubt because those Protestants who don’t share the core convictions of that congregation found another congregation to attend. Mind you, without a Magisterium (Catholic) or a high view of the authority of Tradition (Orthodox) to hold on to, I don’t know how those congregations over time will remain grounded in their particular judgments. But having the theological mechanism for stability, as the Catholics and the Orthodox do, is no guarantee either.
This makes lots of sense. Because Protestant churches in our day are usually based on shared convictions such as worship style or theology, we have much more unity (at the micro level) than Catholics do.
I have a friend who left the Greek Orthodox church to which he belonged, because he was desperate for a spiritual encounter with the living God, as opposed to the empty formalism of his home parish, which, as he puts it, was more interested in worshiping Greekness than in worshiping God. He became a born-again Evangelical. Despite all the legitimate criticism that can be leveled at American Evangelicalism re: its lack of stability and susceptibility to cultural trends, is it really the case that children raised in a traditional church that has valid sacraments but is spiritually dead are going to have a better chance of living as Christians there than they would in an Evangelical church that has all the trappings of modernity, and an essentially modernist, individualist theology, but that for whatever reason has chosen a theologically traditional set of principles around which to organize, and lives it out in a vigorous, vibrant way?
This is the rub. Tradition and liturgy are life to me and those like me who seek to escape the modern church wasteland, but they were death to my Mom who wanted relationship with God and wasn’t taught that in the Lutheran Church of her day (though she could have had it, had they rightly understood their own past). We can’t re-pristinate the past and create some perfect model that never existed. We can meld the best liturgy and tradition with our modern condition, all the while being bathed in the Scripture as the ultimate norm.
In Wright’s commentary on Romans, he says:
Foreknowledge is a form of love or grace; to speak thus is to speak of God’s reaching out, in advance of anything the person may do or think, to reveal love and to solicit an answering love, to reveal a particular purpose and to call forth obedience to it…More particularly, this foreknowledge produces God’s foreordaining purpose…What we have here, rather, is an expression, as in 1:1, of God’s action in setting people apart for a particular purpose, a purpose in which their cooperation, their loving response to love, their obedient response to the personal call, is itself all-important. This is not to deny the mystery of grace, the free initiative of God, and the clear divine sovereignty that is after all the major theme of this entire passage, here brought to a glorious climax. But it is to deny the common misconception, based on a two-dimensional rather than a three-dimensional understanding of how God’s actions and human actions relate to each other, that sees something done by God as something not done by humans, and vice versa….Woe betide theology if discussions of grace take their coloring from the mechanistic or technological age where all actions are conceived as though performed by a set of machines. God’s foreknowledge and foreordination, setting people apart in advance for particular purposes, are not equal and opposite to human desires, longings, self-questionings, obedience, and above all love. You do not take away from the one by adding to the other….Christian faith, ultimately irreducible to any analogy, and certainly not reducible to terms of “yet another odd paradox,” involves wholeheartedly and responsibly answering the call of sovereign love, gratitude, and obedience that come from the depths of one’s own being and are simultaneously experienced as a response to sovereignty, a compulsion even, to which the closest parallel remains that of the highest love. (on Rom 8.18-30)
He affirms predestination, but seeks to guard from an overly-deterministic mindset – something where I believe the Reformers agree with him, despite perceptions to the contrary.
In a footnote of his Romans commentary, Wright comments on Douglas Moo’s recent commentary which adopts the standard view of predestination in Romans and says:
…Moo allows his discussion to be overshadowed by the anachronistic debates between Calvinism and Arminianism…
Some of his comments:
“Paul is not, then, producing an abstract essay on the way in which God always works with individuals, or for that matter with nations and races. This is specifically the story of Israel, the chosen people; it is the unique story of how the creator has worked with the covenant people, to bring about the purpose for which the covenant was made in the first place. It is the story, in other words, whose climax and goal is the Messiah;
…These sections tell the story of Israel’s patriarchal foundation (vv. 6-13), then of the exodus (vv. 14-18), and then of God’s judgment that led to exile and, through it, to the fulfillment of God’s worldwide promise to Abraham (vv. 19-24).
9:11-12. The second explanation occupies center stage in this brief telling of the Jacob/Esau story: it cannot be that God’s selection of Jacob had anything to do with Jacob’s merits, since the promise was made before he and his brother were born. God’s choice has nothing to do with merit observed.
Nor (to meet the objection of a latter theology) could it have been foreseen, and hence explained in terms of God’s knowing how the brothers were going to turn out; Jacob’s behavior as a young adult, cheating and twisting this way and that, would scarcely have earned him favor with an impartial deity. The point is, though, that Paul is not here discussing what an abstract, impartial deity would or should have done; he is discussing the long purposes of God for Israel, and through Israel for the world. Central to those purposes is the principle that all must be of grace, “not of works, but of the one who calls.”
Paul is not, then, using the example of Pharaoh to explain that God has the right to show mercy, or to harden someone’s heart, out of mere caprice. Nor is it simply that God has the right to do this sort of thing when someone is standing in the way of the glorious purpose that has been promised. The sense of this passage (9:17-28) is gained from its place within the larger story line from 9:6-10:21–that is, as part of the story of Israel itself, told to explain what is now happening to Paul’s “kinsfolk according to the flesh.”
As in the parable of the sheep and the goats, there is an imbalance between what is said about the “vessels of wrath” and what is said about the “vessels of mercy” (Matt 25:34, 41). The former are “fitted for destruction,” leaving it at least ambiguous whether they have done this to themselves by their impenitence or whether God has somehow been involved in the process. The latter, though, have been “prepared for glory” by God himself.
“It isn’t a matter of willing, or running, but of God’s mercy” (v. 16); that text alone, even without its context, can bring solace to a troubled and anxious heart. That, indeed, is part of the point of expounding God’s sovereignty: not to terrify us with the sense of an unknowable and possibly capricious deity, but to assure us that the God of creation, the God we know in Jesus Christ, overflows with mercy, and that even negative judgments have mercy in view all along, if only people will have the humility and faith to find it where it has been placed. To be able to rest in the sovereign mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ is one of the most valuable aspects of the Christian’s calling.”
Mark Horne has a helpful post on why he is not a Roman Catholic. An excerpt:
- Idolatry is a huge sin and praying through icons (whether 3d or 2d) is idolatry. I cannot possibly engage in such a practice, allow anyone in my guardianship to do so, or excuse such a thing, without falling into rank unbelief.
- Necromancy is almost as huge a sin and praying to the departed saints is necromancy. See #1 above. People raised thinking bigamy is Christian may be true Christians, but people who know better are living in sin and without hope of eternal life unless they repent of such behavior.
- The way some Roman Catholic constituencies provide ministry opportunities for defectors from Protestantism is, of course, tempting–but it can hardly count as anything more than thirty pieces of silver if #1 and #2 hold. If one must be marginalized and impoverished in the Protestant world due to sectarian sins, well, God has called many Christians and their families to far worse martyrdoms.
- Claiming unity can be achieved by everyone else joining one’s own denomination is exactly the sect spirit that is so loathsome in many Protestant groups, and it gains no more attractiveness in Rome.
While Mark’s honesty will offend many who justify idolatry by appealing to John of Damascus, we have an opposite example in the Internet Monk’s interview with Bryan Cross, someone who has made that plunge into idolatry. I don’t know why these issues are never raised in these ecumenical interviews. Many Protestants still seem to assume that justification is the core issue between us and Rome, while in fact idolatry is and always has been one of the central concerns of the Reformation, if one that is often ignored today.
Over at Christianity Today there is an article on Protestants who defect to Rome. Bishop N.T. Wright is quoted in the article, but his full quote is not provided. Here is his full quote:
a. I’m on sabbatical writing Volume IV of my big series, on Paul; so I don’t have time for more than a quick response.
b. ‘Sacramental, transformational, communal, eschatological’? If you gave me that list and said ‘Where in the Christian world would you find that?’ I could easily and truthfully answer: (i) in the best of the Reformed tradition — spend a couple of days at Calvin College, or read Jamie Smith’s new book, and you’ll see; (ii) in much of the best of the charismatic movement, once it’s shed its low-church prejudices and discovered how much God loves bodies; (iii) in the best of… dare I say it… Anglicanism… ; (iv) in some bits (not all) of the Emerging Church movement . . .
c. Trent said both much more and much less than this. Sacramental, yes, but in a muddled way with an unhelpful ontology; transformational, yes, but far too dependent on unbiblical techniques and practices; communal, yes, but don’t let the laity (or the women) get any fancy ideas about God working new things through them; and eschatological?? Eschatology in the biblical sense didn’t loom large, and indeed that was a key element in the Reformers’ protest: the once-for-allness of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection as producing, not a new system for doing the same stuff over and over, but a new world. Trent, and much subsequent RC theology, has had a habit of never spring-cleaning, so you just live in a house with more and more clutter building up, lots of right answers to wrong questions (e.g. transubstantiation) which then get in the way when you want to get something actually done. In particular, Trent gave the wrong answer, at a deep level, to the nature/grace question, which is what’s at the root of the Marian dogmas and devotions which, despite contrary claims, are in my view neither sacramental, transformational, communal nor eschatological. Nor biblical. The best RCs I know (some of whom would strongly disagree with the last point, some would strongly agree) are great conversation partners mainly because they have found ways of pushing the accumulated clutter quietly to one side and creating space for real life. But it’s against the grain of the Tridentine system, in my view. They aren’t allowed to say that but clearly many of them think it. Joining in is just bringing more of your own clutter to an already confused and overcrowded room…
d. I am sorry to think that there are people out there whose Protestantism has been so barren that they never found out about sacraments, transformation, community or eschatology. Clearly this person needed a change. But to jump to Rome for that reason is very odd. It reminds me of the fine old German NT scholar Heinrich Schlier, who found that the only way to be a Protestant was to be a Bultmannian, so, because he couldn’t take Bultmann, became a Roman Catholic; that was the only other option in his culture. Good luck to him; happily, most of us have plenty of other options. To say ‘wow, I want that stuff, I’d better go to Rome’ is like someone suddenly discovering (as I’m told Americans occasionally do — sorry, cheap shot) that there are other countries in the world and so getting the first big boat he finds in New York to take him there . . . when there were plenty of planes lined up and waiting at JFK. Rome is a big, splendid, dusty old ocean liner, with lots of grand cabins, and, at present, quite a fine captain and some excellent officers — but also quite a few rooms in need of repair. Yes, it may take you places, but it’s slow and you might get seasick from time to time. And the navigators have been told that they must never acknowledge when they’ve been going in the wrong direction . . .
e. I spent three very happy weeks as the Anglican observer at the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops last October. They were talking about the Bible: about how for so long they have more or less banned the laity from reading or studying it, and how now they want to change all that, to insist that every Catholic man, woman, child, cat and dog should have the Bible in their own mother tongue and be taught to read it, study it, pray with it, individually and together. Hallelujah! Who knows what might happen. Question: why did nobody say this in 1525? If they had, we’d have been saved a lot of bother.
Let’s engage cheerfully in as much discussion with our Roman friends as we can. They are among my best ecumenical conversation partners, and some of them are among my dear friends. But let’s not imagine that a renewed biblical theology will mean we find ourselves saying ‘you guys were right after all’ just at the point where, not explicitly but actually, they are saying that to us . . .
Aside from what may be an implicit endorsement of women’s ordination in there, that’s pretty good stuff! I particularly like his rejection of Mariolatry in Rome. Perhaps Rowan Williams should listen to Bishop Wright more.
Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection:
I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.
St. Cyril, Glaphyrorum, in Genesis, lib. ii.
That which the holy Scripture has not said, by what means should we receive and account it among those things that be true?
St. Theodoret, Dialogue I. The Immutable
Orth.—Do not, I beg you, bring in human reason. I shall yield to scripture alone.
Eran.—You shall receive no argument unconfirmed by Holy Scripture, and if you bring me any solution of the question deduced from Holy Scripture I will receive it, and will in no wise gainsay it.
Orth.—I would not so say persuaded only by human arguments, for I am not so rash as to say anything concerning which divine Scripture is silent.
St. Chrysostom says those who don’t use the Scriptures to establish doctrine are thieves:
Observe the marks of a robber; first, that he doth not enter openly; secondly, not according to the Scriptures, for this is the, “not by the door.” … And with good cause He calleth the Scriptures “a door,” for they bring us to God, and open to us the knowledge of God, they make the sheep, they guard them, and suffer not the wolves to come in after them. For Scripture, like some sure door, barreth the passage against the heretics, placing us in a state of safety as to all that we desire, and not allowing us to wander; and if we undo it not, we shall not easily be conquered by our foes. By it we can know all, both those who are, and those who are not, shepherds. But what is “into the fold”? It refers to the sheep, and the care of them. For he that useth not the Scriptures, but “climbeth up some other way,” that is, who cutteth out for himself another and an unusual way, “the same is a thief.”
Seest thou from this too that Christ agreeth with the Father, in that He bringeth forward the Scriptures? On which account also He said to the Jews, “Search the Scriptures” and brought forward Moses, and called him and all the Prophets witnesses, for “all,” saith He, “who hear the Prophets shall come to Me”; and, “Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me.” But here He hath put the same thing metaphorically. And by saying, “climbeth up some other way,” He alluded to the Scribes, because they taught for commandments the doctrines of men, and transgressed the Law ( Matt. xv. 9 ); with which He reproached them, and said, “None of you doeth the Law.”