St. Athanasius

336

Welcome to the 4thweek of the Discussion group series on the Church Fathers. In our last session, we discussed St. Justin Martyr’s beautiful illumination on the Logos; being Christ, it relationship to Creation, and its philosophical connection to divine truth. St. Justin Martyr’s narrative brough forth some thoughts on the proofs of God, namely St. Thomas Aquinas’ 3rdway—“Why is there something rather than nothing.” It also caused us to engage pagan philosopher’s ideas about God and their understanding of God.

When attending University of Illinois, I remember taking a class on Plato, and, of course, we had to read Plato’s Phaedrus. However, to be honest, I don’t remember much of the text, Plato’s development of his ‘theory of forms’ is developed over many texts starting with the Phaedo, Phaedrus, and the Republic. In Plato’s Phaedrus, I came across a particular text that Plato puts coming from the mouth of Socrates, “Madness from a god is finer than self-control of human origin.[1]” In the TV miniseries, The Man Who Became Pope, Karol Wojtyla—the future John Paul II—is quotes the phrase in a more Christian context saying to KGB agent saying, “Madness that comes from God is so much better than wisdom of human origin.” Bishop Wojtyla, in the film, brings to the attention of the Soviet atheist that Plato was the Father of Reason echoing our past conversation on Justin Martyr’s incorporation of pagan philosophy with the Logos.

Our past discussions show us that really the primary outcome of learning the history of the Church Fathers is to gain a better understanding of the revelation of God. Our next discussion further develops this revelation as St. Athanasius is the next person of interest for our group. In many ways, St. Athanasius carries the tradition of St. Justin Martyr by developing further the idea of the Divine Word and the Word’s eschatological role in salvation history.

Who and why was St. Athanasius important?

Pope Benedict XVI writes, “Athanasius was undoubtedly one of the most important and revered early Church Fathers. But this great Saint was above all the impassioned theologian of the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word of God who – as the Prologue of the fourth Gospel says – “became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1: 14).”[2]
St. Athanasius was born around 300 A.D, his exact date of birth is debated among scholars,  and died on May 2, 373 A.D. Fr. Christopher Rengers writes in his book, The 35 Doctors of the Church, “nothing is known of his family. From the thoroughness of his education, it is presumed that he came from well-to-do parents who could afford a good education. But he could have received much of this through the influence of Alexander (Patriarch of Alexandria)”[3]Pope Benedict believes that this education occurred before any contact with Bishop Alexander of Alexandria.[4]Prior to the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., in 318 A.D, Athanasius wrote his most famous work called On the Incarnationin which Marcellino D’Ambrosio articulates as “one of the great theological classics of all time.”[5]However, it must be expressed that there is some debate when the classic text was written; D’ambrosio dates it to an earlier period due to addressing the topics brought forth by Arius and the Arian heresy, but not ever naming Arius distinctly.[6]

The issues brought forth by St. Athanasius and settled during the Council of Nicaea would appear to us modern Catholics as non-controversial, but Catholics of the modern age have to realize that much of our creedal traditions were forged during these pivotal years. Fr. Rengers explains, “A GREAT controversy that involved emperors, popes and bishops, that stirred up intrigue and bloodshed, that shook Christianity to its depths, centered on one simple, sure answer in the Catechism. The answer goes very simply: ‘The chief teaching of the Catholic Church about Jesus Christ is that He is God made man.”[7]Fr. Renger goes on, “Because of his championship of this fundamental truth he is called ‘The Father of Orthodoxy’…St. Athanasius defended the divine Sonship at the cost of immense personal discomfort, suffering and danger. His whole live was shaped around his defense of the divinity of Christ.”[8]

 

St. Athanaius’ orthodoxy exhibited in his work On the Incarnation and others that defended the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ caused him a lot of turmoil in his live. D’Ambrosio reminds us that “during the forty-five years he was bishop, he was banished five times for a total of seventeen years in exile. By the time he died in A.D. 373, he had outlasted most of his enemies. He fought tirelessly, sometimes almost singlehandedly, for the truth of the Catholic faith taught at Nicaea.”[9]During one of his many exiles, St. Athanasius “was pursued up the Nile, When the imperial officers were gaining on him, he ordered his boat turned around. At the time it was still hidden from the pursuers by a bend in the river. When the two boats crossed paths, the Roman officers, not personally knowing Athanasius shouted out, asking if anyone had seen Athanasius. St. Athanasius himself answered them: “He is not very far off.” It’s important to ponder this story, for it reveals that in our future struggles, we must use our intelligence to not only defend ourselves from our enemies, but also to defend the faith.

Arius was a priest in Alexandria who “threatened authentic faith in Christ, declaring the Logos was not a true God but a created God, a creature “halfway” between God and man who hence remained for ever inaccessible to us.”[10]Jimmy Akin explains Arianism very well in his book, The Fathers Know Best, writing that the heresy was “Founded by Arius, a priest of Alexandria, Egypt, in the early 300s. Arius held that originally the Son of God did not exist. There was a time in which there was a single divine Person who became the Father when he created the Son out of nothing. The Son was the first of all created beings and thus separate from the Father in being. The heresy was condemned at the first ecumenical council—Nicaea I in 325—but the controversy intensified and lasted much longer.[11]

 

What would be the result if Arius’ assertion were true?

D’Ambrosio explains “If Christ is simply a demigod, an intermediary who is something less than God, he is not really Emmanuel, God with us, Rather, he is an emissary sent by God…the emissary conveys the orders of the Sovereign but does not himself know the Sovereign intimately, he cannot reveal God to us as he really is. We are condemned to obey God but to never really know him.”[12]

The idea of the Incarnation and Divinity of Jesus is important to Christianity that D”Ambrosio explains it as “the linchpin of our salvation. If Christ were only a creature, the Gospel would truly be such a good news after all.”[13]In many ways, it has always been sin that is easily visbible in the world. The good news of the Gospels gives us hope that the hole that has been caused by our sin against God will be healed by God with our cooperation, as St. Athanasius explains so beautifully in his work On the Incarnation.

I am reminded of the consequence of Christ being a creation of God and also of an essay written by G.K. Chesterton on Original Sin.

Chesterton writes:

ONCE upon a time when Mr. H. G. Wells was setting forth on his varied and splendid voyage from Utopia to Utopia, he announced as a sort of watchword or war-cry that the new world would have nothing to do with the idea of Original Sin. He did not specially speak, and, indeed, there was no reason for him to speak, about his other beliefs or unbeliefs. He had not then compared the Trinity to a dance; but neither had he called adoring multitudes to the shrine of the Invisible King. But, standing at the end of the great scientific nineteenth century, he thought it time to announce that the one doctrine he did not believe in was Original Sin. Standing at the beginning of the still more scientific twentieth century, Mr. Aldous Huxley calmly announces that the one doctrine he does believe in is Original Sin. He may be a sceptic or a heretic about many things, but on that point he is quite orthodox. He may not hold many theological dogmas, but about this dogma he is quite dogmatic. There is one fragment of the ancient creed which he not only clings to, but declares to be necessary to all clear minds of the new generation. And that is the very fragment which Mr. Wells threw away thirty years ago, as something that would never be needed any more. The stone that the builder of Utopia rejected . . .”[14]

 

It is St. Athansius work, On the Incarnation,were he lays down both the importance of the divinity of Christ and his necessary sacrifice to make the world anew as a result of humanities sin against God.

On the Incarnation

 

In Athanasius’ work, the first 5 sections discuss creation and the fall of man. In the text, we are reminded of the God’s only prohibition and the result of ignoring such an edict from God.

Section 3

“First of all believe that God is one, which created and framed all things, and made them to exist out of nothing.” 2. To which also Paul refers when he says, “By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the Word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which do appear.” 3. For God is good, or rather is essentially the source of goodness: nor could one that is good be niggardly of anything: whence, grudging existence to none, He has made all things out of nothing by His own Word, Jesus Christ our Lord…and He did not barely create man, as He did all the irrational creatures on the earth, but made them after His own image, giving them a portion even of the power of His own Word; so that having as it were a kind of reflexion of the Word, and being made rational, they might be able to abide ever in blessedness, living the true life which belongs to the saints in paradise. 4. But knowing once more how the will of man could sway to either side, in anticipation He secured the grace given them by a law and by the spot where He placed them. For He brought them into His own garden, and gave them a law: so that, if they kept the grace and remained good, they might still keep the life in paradise without sorrow or pain or care, besides having the promise of incorruption in heaven; but that if they transgressed and turned back, and became evil, they might know that they were incurring that corruption in death which was theirs by nature: no longer to live in paradise, but cast out of it from that time forth to die and to abide in death and in corruption.[15]

 

Section 5

 

Here, St. Athanasius reminds us, that by committing this sin against God by ignoring his edict, we, in fact, lost existence with God being cast out of the garden by inventing wickedness

 

as Wisdom also says: “God made man for incorruption, and as an image of His own eternity; but by envy of the devil death came into the world.” But when this was come to pass, men began to die, while corruption thence-forward prevailed against them…having to begin with been inventors of wickedness and called down upon themselves death and corruption; while later on, having turned aside to wrong and exceeding all lawlessness, and stopping at no one evil but devising all manner of new evils in succession, they have become insatiable in sinning[16]

However, in sections six through ten, St. Athansius explains God’s resolution for the salvation of humanity. He explains, in section six, that he cannot go back on his word in Genesis, in regards to his prohibition, humanity must die; however, if God were to leave his creation as thus it would show God to be limited in his own nature.[17]

It is in the section six of On The Incarnationthat we come to a theological crossroadsbetween St. Athanasius and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Arguably, the greatest thinker, philosopher, and theologian of the Catholic Church, St. Thomas Aquinas argues for a theological position which appears to challenge St. Athanasius’ work in On the Incarnationabout the necessity of The Word becoming flesh. In the Summa, St. Thomas remarks that the Incarnation is not necessary, but fitting; however, in On the Incarantion, St. Athanasius, by explaining that God cannot go back on his word in Genesis, there is only one fitting method for deification, or theosis of humanity in salvation history. For all practical purposes, as I’ve quoted both sources, they appear contradictory, but they are not under the proper understanding of what each saints means by necessary.

The scope of St. Thomas’ understanding is in understanding of cosmology. As God created the universe from nothing and is also all knowing. St. Thomas is correct that the omnipotent eternal God would be aware of humanities sin prior to it’s act and could choose whatever course for salvation as he acts in a state of pure actuality—never in a state of potentiality. Therefore, if it was fitting and proper for God after our sin to send his only begotten Son into the world to ransom us from our sins, then it follows under the lines of St. Athanasius argument. St. Athanasius argument merely doesn’t equate for the idea that God didn’t even have to create humanity, the world, declare his commandment not to eat from the tree, etc. Therefore, it is only necessary to the degree that God desired in His plan. In some manner, there becomes a mystery that Christ has always been the plan, it becomes both necessary and fitting that Christ shall ransom us from our sins, as God is ever knowing. In this framework, St. Athanasius’ necessary means so in the second sense

 

Development of the Doctrine of the Trinity

St. Athanasius writings were also responsible for much of the development and understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. In the Liturgy of Hours, the reading for Trinity Sunday is taken from St. Athanasius’ First Letter to Serapionin which he writes:

It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the Apostles and guarded by the Fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian, either in fact or in name…We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being (note: Christ’s Divinity here). It is a wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the Holy Trinity is preserved…”[18]

How would any of you describe the Holy Trinity?

One time I was having a discussion with an atheist who had popped in the comment section of my blog who presented a challenge to all Christians. The challenge stated, “Name one unique idea created by Christianity.” After some other bloggers had offered ideas that were dismissed, and after I had presented Transubstantiation— only to be dismissed (even though it is unique)— I also presented the most glaring central doctrine of the Church, The Holy Trinity. However, the atheist rejected this as not being an original idea as he gave what he referred to as the Hindu trinity known as Trimurti. After I had looked into the Trimurti, I concluded that the Christian Trinity is truly unique, and this comparison to the Trimurti was a false equivalent.

 

Now to claim this is a false equivalent, one must have a better understanding of the most Holy Trinity. In the case of the Trimurti, the three gods are exactly that, three distinct gods that are reincarnated into an avatar known Datta, but regardless, Brahma still takes center stage in that religion. I explained their difference ultimately using the Athanasian Creed, Fr. Rengers reminds us of the Athanasius Creed, “consisting of 40 rhythmic statements, had been used in the Sunday Office for over a thousand years.”[19]—which I wish we would use more often— “So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God…So there is One Father, not Three Fathers; one Son, not Three Sons; One Holy Ghost, not Three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore or after Other, None is greater or less than Another.”

 

During the conversation, I wish that I had the modern example given by Michael Pennock in This is Our Faithof a woman who is three different persons, although she is one woman. She is a Mother, a wife, and friend. I also wish I was more familiar with St. John’s of Damascus example, “The Father is the sun with the Son as ray and the Holy Spirit as heat.” All very distinct concepts, but from one source, and with one will. It is entirely different, a central doctrine and great mystery that is truly original to Christianity.
Finally, a great foundation for understanding the Holy Trinity rests in focusing on the Incarnation, The Word of God, Christ Jesus, Our Lord and Savior. Of course, as I’ve mentioned previously, unless we are fluent in ancient languages, we must read St. Athanasius in translation. However, one of the greatest teachers of our faith, and perhaps one day will be honored as a Doctor of the Faith, Bl. John Henry Newman writes on the Incarnation:

“This was the new and perfect tabernacle into which He entered (the body); entered, but not confined, not to be circumscribed by it. The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; though His own hands ‘made it and fashioned it,’ still he did not cease to be what He was, because He became man, but was still the Infinite God, manifested in, not altered by the flesh. He took upon Him our nature, as an instrument of His purposes, not as an agent in the work. (The Incarnation is not a creature) What is one thing cannot become another; His manhood remained human, and His Godhead remained divine.”[20]

[1]http://web.stanford.edu/~mvr2j/ucsccourse/Phaedrus.pdf p. 523

[2]Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine(Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2008),58.

[3]Christopher Rengers and Matthew E. Bunson, The 35 Doctors of the Church(Tan Books: Charlotte, 2014), 2.

[4]Pope Benedict XVI, 59.

[5]Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers(Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014),162.

[6]Ibid, 163.

[7]Renger and Bunson, 1.

[8]Ibid.

[9]D’Ambrosio, 177.

[10]Pope Benedict XVI, 59.

[11]Jimmy Akin, The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church(San Diego: Catholic Answers, 2010), 85.

[12]D’Ambrosio, 165.

[13]Ibid, 164.

[14]http://www.gkc.org.uk/gkc/books/GKC_Come_to_Think.html#c28

[15]Athanasius of Alexandria, “On the Incarnation of the Word,” in St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Archibald T. Robertson, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 37–38.

[16]Ibid, 39.

[17]On the Incarnation, 6.

[18]Rengers and Bunson, 8.

[19]Ibid.

[20]Dave Armstrong, Quotable Newman(Sophia Press: Manchester, 2012), 197.

St. Justin Martyr

Иустин_Философ,_Афон.jpg

Welcome to Our Saviour’s Parish. We’re in the third week of our discussion series. In our first week, we covered the oldest known catechism of the church—the  Didache, and followed it up last week with St. Clement of Rome. By examining these periods of our early Christian history, we’ve been able to uncover the early foundations of Christians living the philosophy of community rather than living as individuals, the concept of commandments, the early practices of baptism, Apostolic succession, Christian unity, the primacy of the Pope.

As I was reviewing the text for our discussion series, I found it hard to choose Church Fathers, as all played a pivotal role in the early years of Christianity. So the first week, I chose the Didache for the reason to show that early Christians did in fact believe in the same things that we profess today. The second week, I chose Clement to show the importance of Apostolic succession and the Papacy to early Christians. So when deciding on our third weeks topics, I landed on St. Justin Martyr, for the reason that in his written work The First Apology, he illustrates to us a liturgy that is very similar to our contemporary mass.

St. Justin Martyr is important for many reasons, in fact, Pope Benedict XVI says that he is “the most important of the second-century apologist Fathers.”[1]Of course, St. Justin’s fate is usually paired with his fate; however, it’s also important to note him, as many were in the early years, as a convert to the faith. Reviewing our text, we learn that Justin Martyr was born “about twenty miles to the north of the City of David in the ancient biblical town of Shechem”[2]around the year 100 A.D.

D’Ambrosio explains that Justin grew up in a pagan family, and during the time, it would be desirable to become one of the popular cloak wearing philosophers who were gathering their many disciples.[3]In the last month, listening to one of Bishop Robert Barron’s podcasts, Bp. Barron that if any of us desire to become men and women who are learned in our craft then we must put in the time. So Naturally, Justin’s desire to become a philosopher led him to the great libraries of Alexandria and Ephesus to perfect his craft.[4]During his time in these great cities of learning, Justin would be introduced to “numerous systems of thought—The Stoics, then Pythagoras, then finally Plato,” who would so heavily influence the thought of St. Augustine.[5]

Whilst learning from these various schools of thought, it was during this period in which St. Justin Martyr would be converted to the Christian faith. Pope Benedict gives a stirring account of Justin’s conversion story of a trailing old man saying, “he himself (Justin Martry) recounts in the first chapters of his Dialogue with Tryphon, a mysterious figure, an old man he met on the seashore, initially leads him into a crisis by showing him that it is impossible for the human being to satisfy his aspiration to the divine solely with his own forces. He then pointed out to him the ancient prophets as the people to turn to in order to find the way to God and ‘true philosophy’. In taking his leave, the old man urged him to pray that the gates of light would be opened to him.” The story foretells the crucial episode in Justin’s life: at the end of a long philosophical journey, a quest for the truth, he arrived at the Christian faith.”[6]

It’s easy for modernity to dismiss this story as nothing more than pious legend; however, if we take it at face value, can we not ask who was this mysterious old man? Are there mysterious in our lives that have led us closer to Christ? Have we encountered God and should we speak more to these revelations with our fellow Christians?

One of the great aspects of the Catholic faith is that is not an either; or religion, we’re not required by our Church to choose between faith and reason, but rather, we’re given the opportunity to have both; and; this system of thought has been exhibited in recent years by the 1998 encyclical of our patron, Pope St. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio. The foundation of the tradition of faith and Reason in our church is very much rooted in the writings and life of St. Justin Martyr. As Catholics, we’re accused of being superstitious by tired stereotypes forged by anti-Catholic rhetoric; however, the truth is that we’re not required to be anti-science but rather pro-science. Furthermore, we can’t be afraid of science because in studying the creations of God we can only move closer to God, the creator of the world, and ultimately nothing can be discovered that would invalidate Him. Of course, this train of thought, is what led men like Fr. Georges Lemitre—the Father of the Big Bang Theory and Augustinian Friar Gregor Mendel—the Father of Modern genetics.

We’re also charged with taking up the principles of Logic and philosophy, more of the realm of St. Justin, as D’ambrosio explains, “Justin did not then take off his philosopher’s cloak. Rather, he believed that it was only after baptism that he was finally entitled to wear it. In Christ, he had found the answer to every question, the key that unlocked all doors, just as the old man had promised.”[7]
After Justin’s conversion to Christianity, his desire for knowledge led him Ephesus where St. John the Apostle lived and died, and then from there, to Rome where St. Paul and St. Peter met their reward in which Justin would later take a share in it. It is at Rome where St. Justin Martyr writes two of his most important defenses of the faith, or apologies. Of course, an apology in the traditional sense doesn’t carry the same connotation as in our modern language,. Pope Benedict XVI explains, “the apologists had a twofold concern: that most properly called “apologetic”, to defend the newborn Christianity (apologhía in Greek means, precisely, “defence”), and the pro-positive, “missionary” concern, to explain the content of the faith in a language and on a wavelength comprehensible to their contemporaries.”[8]

Pope Benedict XVI further explains that it was the message of his apologies and its criticisms of pagan culture as “He founded a school in Rome where, free of charge, he initiated students the new religion…considered as the true philosophy. Indeed, in it he had found the truth, hence, the art of living virtuously. For this reason he was reported and beheaded in about 165 A.d. during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor to whom Justin had actually addressed one of his Apologia.”[9]

Generally, Apologists, because their job description entails the defense of the faith, they’re works are generally reactive to the charges of the non-believers. Justin’s responses are no different in this aspect, from D’ambrosio we learn that the calumny of the day expressed charges of incest and cannibalism, “Rumors had arisen, based on Christians’ terminology, that their secret meetings were “love feasts” between “brothers and sisters” who “consumed the flesh and blood of a man called Christus.”[10]These types of accusations continue through St. Augustine’s day to our present “meme” culture. The First Apology starts off, as D’ambrosio explains, “by blasting the idolatry and sexual immorality of the pagan society of his day…adultery and promiscuity, including homosexual liaisons and pedophilia, were rife in the empire at this time.”[11]By studying Church history, we learn that the culture of “free love” or the modern version “love is love” brought forth by the sexual revolution of the late 60s is not a result of modern progression from the dark ages, but rather, a regression to the pagan moral system of hedonism.

Justin challenges the majority culture of the day with a polemical response accusing the pagan faithful of immoral behavior as exhibited in D’ambrosio’s book:

“as for us, we have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do any one an injury, and lest we should sin against God, first, because we see that almost all so exposed (not only the girls, but also the males) are brought up to prostitution…And you receive the hire of these, and duty and taxes from them, whom you ought to exterminate from your realm. And any one who uses such persons, besides the godless and infamous and impure intercourse, may possibly be having intercourse with his own child, or relative, or brother. And there are some who prostitute even their own children and wives, and some are openly mutilated for the purpose of sodomy;[12](1 Apology 27.)

 

St. Justin also by discrediting the accusations of incest by Christians gives a magnificent opus of the purity and dignity that is exhibited in Marriage founded on Christian principles taught by Jesus Christ himself:

“Concerning chastity, He uttered such sentiments as these: “Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart before God.” And, “If thy right eye offend thee, cut it out; for it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of heaven with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into everlasting fire.” And, “Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced from another husband, committeth adultery.”4And, “There are some who have been made eunuchs of men, and some who were born eunuchs, and some who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake; but all cannot receive this saying.” So that all who, by human law, are twice married,6are in the eye of our Master sinners, and those who look upon a woman to lust after her. For not only he who in act commits adultery is rejected by Him, but also he who desires to commit adultery: since not only our works, but also our thoughts, are open before God. And many, both men and women, who have been Christ’s disciples from childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years; and I boast that I could produce such from every race of men. For what shall I say, too, of the countless multitude of those who have reformed intemperate habits, and learned these things? For Christ called not the just nor the chaste to repentance, but the ungodly, and the licentious, and the unjust; His words being, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” For the heavenly Father desires rather the repentance than the punishment of the sinner. And of our love to all, He taught thus: “If ye love them that love you, what new thing do ye? for even fornicators do this. But I say unto you, Pray for your enemies, and love them that hate you, and bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.”8[13]
What one finds in St. Justin’s text is a belief system pulled straight from scripture. First and foremost, it indicates the early Christian understanding on Jesus’ concept of what constitutes as marriage, as Justin is responding to the promiscuity of pagan culture.  In Matthew Chapter 19, as a response to the Pharisees challenging Christ in regards to Moses’ allowance for divorce, Jesus gives a definition of marriage based on Genesis chapter three. The only indication from Christ for a properly ordered relationship, in accordance to God’s creation, is a relationship ordered by biological compatibility and one predisposed to life, anything other type of relationship is one that does not reflect the proper sense of Christian community, but rather, pleasure of each single individual; and therefore, in the most proper sense is not true love.

So, If we compare what we’ve learn from our study of the Didache with the writings of St. Justin Martyr, D’ambrioso articulates that “Justin insists that Chrstianity is not just a belief system but a whole new way of living.”[14]A Christian must choose either the way of life or the way of death. In many ways, the struggle between the two choices sets up much of the frame work of St. Augustine’s text the City of God. We must ultimately between the City of God or the City of Man, while living in the City of Man.

The second biggest accusation towards the Christian faithful is the charge of cannibalism, which much of this was brought about by the secretiveness of the liturgy of the Eucharist. Strangers were not allowed to witness such rites and those learning the faith, known as catechumens, were compelled to leave during the meal part of the liturgy—a practice which still occurred in the old form of the Mass.  What is important to note about St. Justin’s explanation in regards to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, by revealing the Mass to the Emperor, is that it very much the same liturgy used during current Masses in our post-Vatican II era. In this manner, one could make the argument that our current Liturgy is much more ancient than the Tridentine Latin Mass. As I’ve heard our more traditional brothers and sisters articulate that “the mass of all ages” has been responsible for more saints than any other form, should we perhaps reassess such a claim in light to Justin’s description of the mass which was used by the Second Vatican Council to “renew the Mass according to the most ancient pattern of the Roman liturgy as recorded by Justin.”[15]

The entire period of patristic era of the Church Is filled with nothing but Saints.

 

Justin explains the Church’s liturgy:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; (Liturgy of the Word) then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs(Homly), and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray(Creed and Prayers of petition), and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability,2and the people assent,(Liturgy of the Eucharist)saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each(Communion), and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.[16]

 

Finally when Justin Martyr refutes the challenges of cannibalism, D’Ambrosio notes that “Justin refrains from any empty symbolism.”[17]

“For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.[18]

The vital lesson to take from Justin’s life is to consider whether we’ve chosen the way of Christian life, the Christian community—the body of Christ. And if we have chosen the way of life, how have we held true to these beliefs? Do we retreat from our dominating secular culture in regards to defending orthodox Christian beliefs? Or are we willing to challenge that culture, just as St. Justin Martyr did even if it means to die for it.

In the end, it was the critique of Cynic philosopher Crescens of St. Justin Martyr in his Second Apologia that led to being brought forth to Rusticus, the prefect of the Rome.[19]As exhibited in D’Ambrosio’s book, an account of Justin’s witness to Christ exists to this day:

Rusticus—“You are then a Christian?” Justin—“Yes, I am.” The judge then put the same question to each of the rest, viz., Chariton, a man; Charitana, a woman; Evelpistus, a servant of Cæsar, by birth a Cappadocian; Hierax, a Phrygian; Peon, and Liberianus, who all answered, “that, by the divine mercy, they were Christians.” Evelpistus said he had learned the faith from his parents, but had with great pleasure heard Justin’s discourses. Then the prefect addressed himself again to Justin in this manner: “Hear you, who are noted for your eloquence, and think you make profession of the right philosophy, if I cause you to be scourged from head to foot, do you think you shall go to heaven?” Justin replied, “If I suffer what you mention, I hope to receive the reward which those have already received who have observed the precepts of Jesus Christ.” Rusticus said, “You imagine then that you shall go to heaven, and be there rewarded.” The martyr answered, “I do not only imagine it, but I know it; and am so well assured of it, that I have no reason to make the least doubt of it.” The prefect seeing it was to no purpose to argue, bade them go together and unanimously sacrifice to the gods, and told them that in case of refusal they should be tormented without mercy. Justin replied, “There is nothing which we more earnestly desire than to endure torments for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; for this is what will promote our happiness, and give us confidence at his bar, where all men must appear to be judged.” To this the rest assented, adding, “Do quickly what you are about. We are Christians, and will never sacrifice to idols.” The prefect thereupon ordered them to be scourged and then beheaded,[20]

[1]Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine(Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2008),17.

[2]Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers(Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014), 47.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid.

[6]Pope Benedict XVI, 17.

[7]D’Ambrosio, 48.

[8]Pope Benedict XVI, 17.

[9]Ibid, 18.

[10]D’ambrosio, 49.

[11]Ibid.

[12]Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 172.

[13]Justin Martyr, 167.

[14]D’Ambrosio, 50.

[15]Ibid, 55.

[16]Justin Martyr, 186. 1 Apologia 67.

[17]D’ambrosio, 55.

[18]Justin Martyr, 185. 1 Apologia 66.

[19]D’Ambriosio, 56.

[20]Alban Butler, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, vol. 2 (New York: P. J. Kenedy, 1903), 463.

 

 

St. Clement of Rome

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Welcome to Our Savior’s Parish second week of our six week discussion series on the Church Fathers, I ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words, your words, and our ears to further our understanding of the founding and early history of the Church.

The first Church Father that we’ll examine is Pope St. Clement I of Rome. Of course with any person of antiquity, often what we know about the individual is pieced together by various sources, some of which may occur a generation or two after an individual has died.

Clement of Rome “Probably wrote in early 70,” as Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin wrote in his book The Father’s Know Best, and that“Various ancient sources place him as the first, second, or third successor of St. Peter. (Most commonly, he is held to be the third, after Linus and Cletus.) He was the author of a single surviving Letter to the Corinthians, which is often dated around 95 A.D,” but Akin believes “this is too late a date.[1]

Pope Benedict XVI gave several audiences on the topic of the Church Fathers and specifically on March 7th, 2007 he spoke on Clement of Rome in which he said, “St Clement, Bishop of Rome in the last years of the first century, was the third Successor of Peter, after Linus and Anacletus. The most important testimony concerning his life comes from St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons until 202. He attests that Clement “had seen the blessed Apostles”, “had been conversant with them”, and “might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes” (Adversus Haer. 3, 3, 3).[2]

A magnificent introduction to the Father that we’ll spend this evening getting to know more about. One point that we can take from Pope Benedict’s reference to St. Irenaesus’ words is that the early Church viewed Clement of Rome with the utmost respect, as well as, because his relationship with the Apostles, Clement was viewed with a special authority in their community. Pope Benedict explains, “The authority and prestige of this Bishop of Rome were such that various writings were attributed to him.”[3]As we learn more tonight, let us keep that in mind when reviewing some of the content of his Letter to the Corinthians.

The letter from Clement of Rome to the Church of Corinth, in which he didn’t sign, is also called by scholars The First Epistle of Clement to Corinthians. The reason that we know today who authored this letter is from various sources in the 2ndcentury A.D. who attribute him to the work. The letter written by Clement is a response to an uprising of young Christians who sought to remove and replace established leaders in the church of Corinth in response to the Roman persecutions under the Emperor Domitian.[4]At this point, in regards to the historical record, we find a disagreement between Mr. Akin and Pope Benedict. As mentioned before, Akin believes that the Letter to the Corinthians’ dating at 95 A.D. is too late. He mentions in his book, “William Jurgens (American Catholic historian) points to internal evidence that places it no later than 80 or so (the date he favors) and possibly up to ten years earlier. John A. T. Robinson (New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop) shows internal evidence that places it in the first part of the year 70. Specifically, Clement refers to sacrifices still being offered at the temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed in July of 70. Clement also refers to the repeated crises that have prevented him from writing to the Corinthians until now, which is a likely reference to the violent “year of four emperors” in 69.[5]

Pope Benedict writes that the “These “calamitous events” can be identified with Domitian’s persecution: therefore, the Letter must have been written just after the Emperor’s death and at the end of the persecution, that is, immediately after the year 96.”[6]

Who’s right? Well to be fair, Pope Benedict doesn’t present any evidence with his assertion, this makes Akin’s point appear more convincing. However, Pope Benedict’s view is the historical consensus as conceded by Akin.

Now, turning to our reference book for our Lecture Series, When the Church Was Young, the author, in regards to the youthful uprising, Marcellino D’Ambrosio poses two questions for the letter of Clement to answer:

#1 Was such a move by the young Christian upstarts legitimate to remove the established leaders of the church of Corinth?

 

#2 Is the leadership in the Christian community simply a function of popularity, talent, or political power?[7]
At this point, I’ll turn to those here who may have examined the material on how Clement answered these questions.

D’Ambrosio articulates that “in the letter, Clement insisted that the Apostles had intended an orderly succession of authority in the Church…this process of succession from the apostles was to be presented unbroken. This provides us (the faithful) with the earliest written reference to the idea of apostolic succession”[8]that was conveyed quite possible at the time by the active Bishop of Rome, depending on where one dates the letter, who would have known the teachings of the first Bishop of Rome and St. Paul on a personal level.

I believe that D’Ambrosio gives a context clue for a letter date which indicates that he believes that Clement was already Bishop of Rome, and since he’s not here to ask, I say it’s fair game to speculate a bit. If you’re still listening up to this point you may have mentally asked yourself, “Does twenty years matter with dating?” If the dating by scholars to 95 A.D. continues to hold true, this letter could possibly be one of the first historically documented records of the doctrine of Petrine Primacy prior to its more solid conception under Pope Leo the Great. In this regard, we see a reversal of Galatians 2 where the successor of Peter corrects and takes “it upon himself to speak to the members of a Church founded by the Apostle Paul…that they needed to restore the properly authorized leaders of the church.”[9]

 

The Letter of Clement reads:

The apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus12Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments,14then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit,16to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, “I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons2in faith.”[10]

 The Letter of Clement gives us from a disciple of Peter and Paul the foundational premises of two Catholic doctrines namely, Primacy of the Pope and Apostolic Succession. At this point, I’d like to pivot directly to Apostolic succession. I believe it to be important to understand this idea as a way for us to grow even deeper in our faith together. On a personal note, I arrive at my faith by two means, the first, is being a combination of St. Thomas Aquinas’ 3rdway “Why is there something instead of nothing?” and his 1stway a “Prime mover.” At this point, I’ve reasoned that there is God, the necessary being, but now I ask, “Who is this God and what can I know about him.” Apostolic Succession, teaching, authority etc. are vital to me to answer these questions. If you listen to Podcasts, Bishop Robert Barron has one, and he constantly explains that Jesus’ teachings are great but the most important aspect of Christianity is not what Jesus said but who Jesus claims to be. He claims to be God by the way. So How do we know if Jesus is who says is? Well, he called twelve apostles and appointed them to be fishers of men. Those same men were invested into the priesthood of Christ and bearing the same message that Christ is God they “laid hands” on those to succeed them and those men did the same until our present day.

Now, stop, and ask yourself, Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God? I say, yes, and the reason why is that I have assented to this truth because a Risen Lord appeared to the Apostles, they chose to die for this truth and their disciples chose to die for it as well. And that message, as well as the priesthood through unbroken succession, is with us today.

This truth has been preserved for us by Clement of Rome and by the Holy Spirit. Not convinced?

We can discover by reading his Apologia Pro Vita Sua that it was the Church Fathers and Apostolic Succession that convinced one of the towering intellectuals of the 19thcentury, Blessed John Henry Newman, to convert from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. No big deal, right? For Newman to convert to Catholicism was a social death sentence to arguably the brightest mind in England at the time.

Newman writes, far more elegantly than I, “All sects think it necessary that their Ministers should be ordained by other Ministers. Now, if this be the case, then the validity of ordination even with them, rest on a succession; and is it not plain that they ought to trace that succession to the Apostles?”[11]Furthermore, “A body of doctrine had been delivered by the Apostles to their first successors, and by them in turn to the next generation, and then to the next.”[12]“We say, ‘therefore the Apostles live in their successors.’ Christ implies, ‘therefore the body never died, and therefore it will rise again.’[13]
The unity of the Body of Christ rests on Apostolic Succession, this is what Clement of Rome means to explain to the young Christians in Corinth, this is what is at the heart of Jesus’ priestly prayer in the Gospel of John chapter 17.

Jesus says,

20 “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. 22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.[14]

So, how was Clement of Rome’s letter received? The Corinthians had a most grateful response to the “fatherly” correction[15]as they continued to read his letter as part of their Sunday worship for the next several hundred years.”[16]

The letter of Pope St. Clement I has survived to us today initially because it has been translated from Greek to many different languages. However, during some point in the history of the Western Church the letter was lost until in 1623 when the Patriarch of Constantinople gave the King of England a 5thcentury Bible called the Codex Alexandrinus which contained Clements letter calling for unity through Apostolic Succession. [17]

D’Ambrosio makes an interesting observation that “unfortunately, Clement’s letter was not available during the prior century when great arguments shattered the Christian unity in the West.”[18]

[1]Jimmy Akin, The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church(San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers, 2010), 56.

[2]Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine(Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2008), 7.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers(Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014), 5.

[5]Akin, 57.

[6]Pope Benedict XVI, 8.

[7]D’Ambrosio, 6.

[8]Ibid, 6-7 Some scholars believe Clement to be referenced in scripture in Philippians 4:3 “Yes, and I ask you also, my true yokemate, to help them, for they have struggled at my side in promoting the gospel, along with Clement and my other co-workers, whose names are in the book of life[8]

[9]D’Ambrosio, 7.

[10]Clement of Rome, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” in The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Visio Pauli, the Apocalypses of the Virgil and Sedrach, the Testament of Abraham, the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, the Narrative of Zosimus, the Apology of Aristides, the Epistles of Clement (Complete Text), Origen’s Commentary on John, Books I-X, and Commentary on Matthew, Books I, II, and X-XIV, ed. Allan Menzies, trans. John Keith, vol. 9, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1897), 241–242.

[11]Dave Armstrong, The Quotable Newman(Sophia Press: Manchester, 2012,) 37.

[12]Ibid.

[13]Ibid, 38.

[14]New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 17:20–23.

[15]D’Ambrosio, 8.

[16]Ibid, 9.

[17]Ibid.

[18]Ibid.

The Church Fathers and The Didache

Church_Fathers_Order_left_part_-_Google_Art_Project-e1443700340891

Welcome to Our Savior’s Parish six week discussion series on the Church Fathers, I ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words, your words, and our ears to further our understanding of the founding and early history of the Church.

Overall, I have studied the discipline of history, so my hope is to share some of what I’ve learned with all of you. Furthermore, our discussion group here can evolve into whatever will meet our spiritual needs. My intentions to form such a group was to give an opportunity to those who work and have families to grow a truly Christian Community within our local parish—our part of the Body of Christ. Father Tom and I thought it wise to begin with only six-weeks for discussion, but I am willing to meet any and every week parishioners want to attend. If this goes well, I’d like to do future discussion themes on History of Christmas, On Prayer, The History of the Crusades, the historicity of the Exodus and more. I encourage others, if they want and feel the stir of the Holy Spirit, to lead our discussion group even during this coming six weeks. And finally, before we get started, our group can continue entirely as a discussion group but if it needs to fill other spiritual needs, we can also pray for one another and we can help others in our community, again, this group can certainly evolve into the ministerial needs of all of us who walk through those chapel doors. Our discussion topics for the six weeks begin with Tonight’s topic on the Didache (Early Catechism) followed by St. Clement of Rome, St. Justin Martyr, St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, and ending with St. Augustine.

So, who are the Church Fathers? Well, in a six-week series, it would be impossible to cover them all, so I’ve selected six topics to cover each week to gain a better understanding of what and who were these early Christians.

What exactly is a Church Father? Who is included? One definition that I’ve heard is that the Church Fathers are basically the followers of the Apostles. However, the problem with this definition is that some Church Father’s like St. Augustine lived nearly 350 years after the Apostles. In Marcellino D’Ambrosio’s book When the Church was Young, the author writes, “One often finds the following standard definition in encyclopedias and text books ”The Fathers of the Church are those characterized by orthodoxy, holiness, antiquity, and Church approval.”[1]D’Ambrosio goes on to mention that this definition is of course ambiguous as there are several Church Fathers who have not been canonized as saints like Origen and Tertullian.

The definition that is finally articulated by D’ambrosio in his book is “The Church Fathers are those great Christian writers who passed on and clarified the teaching of the apostles from approximately the second through the eighth centuries.”[2]I believe this to be a very distinct and thorough definition but if one is looking for a more generalized definition, Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin provides a more generalized definition explaining, “In time, the concept (Church Fathers) came to be applied in a general way to those who shaped the faith and practice of the Church in its earliest centuries. They became “Fathers” not only for their own age but for all ages that would follow. Some of these—the ones who heard the preaching of the apostles themselves or lived very shortly after the time of the apostles—came to be called the “Apostolic Fathers” or “Sub-Apostolic Fathers.” Together with the Fathers of later ages, they were important witnesses to the apostolic Tradition.[3]
Why is studying the Church Father’s important? First off, by learning about their lives and studying their writings, we learn why we belief the doctrines of our faith, how those doctrines developed when both Christ and the Apostles were gone and how to defend what we believe.

For example, similarities can be drawn from ancient Arian heresy’s denial of Christ being consubstantial (ever wonder why we use this word in the Nicene Creed?) with the Father and Jehovah Witness beliefs on the Trinity that Christ was a creation of God—rather than begotten of the Father, and his subordinate to Him. By studying the Church Fathers, we can learn from them that the Church in its earliest conception believed Jesus to be also one with the Father and how to articulate that to those who we encounter in the world. Simply, knowing the Fathers and what they taught, gives us the tools to better evangelize the world.

Blessed John Henry Newman, the famous English convert, lays out in one of the most graceful pieces of work in the English language the Apologia Pro Vita Suathe reason for his courageous conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism lie with the Church Fathers.

Newman writes, “When they (the Church Fathers) speak of doctrine, they speak of them as being universally held. They are witnesses to the fact of those doctrines having been received not here or there, but everywhere. We receive those doctrines which they thus teach, not merely because they teach them, but because they bear witness that all Christians everywhere then held them…they do not speak of their own private opinion; they do not say, ‘This is true, because we see it in Scripture’—about which there might be differences of judgment—but, ‘this is true, because in matter of fact it is held, and has ever been held, by all the Churches, down to our times without interruption, ever since the Apostles.”[4]

 

In all honesty, we could spend six weeks alone what Bl. John Henry Newman had to say about the Church Fathers but there are two lessons from Newman that I want to share with you tonight.

#1 The revelation to the truth of the Church Fathers so heavily influenced Newman to convert to Catholicism in 19thcentury England, which amounted to the end of his professional academic career of man who was arguably the premier academic of his time in England.

#2 Reflecting on Newman’s words in regards to our own doctrine of the Eucharist, we can understand that the teachings of the Church Fathers, and as such, the Apostles, reflects the Catholic understanding of the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in accordance with the discourse of the bread of life. As from the Church Fathers to the 16thCentury this was the understanding of all Christians until Zwingli diverted from Real Presence doctrine.

The first topic of discussion is not a single Church Father, but rather a 2ndcentury document called the Didache based on part of one of the oldest known Catechisms in existence called “The Two Way.”[5]The Two Way, as explained by Thomas O’Loughlin, Professor of Theology at the University of Nottingham, gave early Christians a choice between a way of life, either a way of life or death.[6]What the Didache tells us is how early Christians worshiped God and whether our development of our faith is either very different from the faith of early Christians or very much alike. An interesting fact about the document known as the Didache, which means “teaching” in Greek, is that it has been lost for nearly 1000 years before being found by a monk in Istanbul in 1873. The particular Orthodox monk’s name that discovered the Didache was Philotheos Bryennios; “born in Constantinople in 1833.”[7]

Bryennios’ story for me is an inspiring story, as a student of history, I’ve been taught various historical methods to aid my prowess as a historian. In his Book, Professor O’Loughlin explains that Bryennios had such a great aptitude as a scholar that his superiors found funding for him to attend a prestigious school in German to mold his budding skills as a scholar.[8]Interesting enough, it were these skills that gave him the simple perseverance while researching in the library of the Constantinople house of the Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre by simply looking through an entire manuscript that was already well known by scholars at the time.[9]

Now, from a historical perspective, I have to ask, what can be learned by the discovery of such a document? Did we discover that in fact Catholic theology had drifted far away from early Christians or did it faithfully adhere to the early doctrines of the early Church?

Let’s take a look and find out.

 

Thomas O’Loughlin gives a great foundation for understanding the Christian context of the Didache by framing it within the backdrop of the Judaic understanding of Deuteronomy 30:14-18. RSV

14 But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

 

15 “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you this day, that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.[10]

 

Prof. O’Loughlin explains that “the people of Israel are presented with this choice: the way of covenant which leads to life and rejoicing in good things, the way of death which is the result of choosing another way and ignoring the commandments.”[11]As explained, by O’Loughlin, this challenge that was initiated by the Hebrews and adopted by early Christians by ending the idea of cosmic fatalism—being collateral damage of pagan gods—was revolutionary to a great many people in the world; therefore, was extremely attractive to new converts.[12]
The document reminds us that early Christians viewed themselves not as single individuals but rather as a community, as the advent of this type of thinking was created during the 16thand 17thcenturies in the period commonly referred to as the Enlightenment. During the Enlightenment, the primary concerns of many philosophers and politicians was natural law and natural rights being inalienable to nature and essence of  humanity by the natural order of our creation. However, the detriment of this type of thinking has led to extreme philosophies of individualism, materialism, and scientism.

The Didache, in many ways, reminds us that our Western civilizations continue to move away from orthodox (small “o”) Christian thinking and culture. O’Loughlin says, in accord with choosing the way of life—following Jesus Christ—“the individual had to accept the way as a member of the people, but was the whole community that had to choose to sset out on the way of life. Moreover, when individuals abandoned the commandments then the whole community was in jeopardy.”[13]

It’s natural to ask how this idea of community pertains to Christians in our 21stcentury Church; the idea is very much rooted in Catholic “Body of Christ” Theology. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in section 787-789:

II.        The Church—Body of Christ

The Church is communion with Jesus

787From the beginning, Jesus associated his disciples with his own life, revealed the mystery of the Kingdom to them, and gave them a share in his mission, joy, and sufferings. Jesus spoke of a still more intimate communion between him and those who would follow him: “Abide in me, and I in you.… I am the vine, you are the branches.”216And he proclaimed a mysterious and real communion between his own body and ours: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (755)

788When his visible presence was taken from them, Jesus did not leave his disciples orphans. He promised to remain with them until the end of time; he sent them his Spirit. As a result communion with Jesus has become, in a way, more intense: “By communicating his Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as his body those brothers of his who are called together from every nation.”219(690)

789The comparison of the Church with the body casts light on the intimate bond between Christ and his Church. Not only is she gathered around him; she is united in him, in his body. Three aspects of the Church as the Body of Christ are to be more specifically noted: the unity of all her members with each other as a result of their union with Christ; Christ as head of the Body; and the Church as bride of Christ.[14]

 

Recently, I’ve read the Spiritual Diary of St. John Paul II; published for the first time in English. The future Saint wrote about the importance of Christian community in 1978 in his notes, “’Koinonia,’ the community, is the third principle dimension of Christian existence.”[15]John Paul II would return to this theme many times in his diaries and in 1984 wrote reminding us now the dangers of living as an individual in our contemporary society that “Humankind threatened by ‘deindividuation! Contemporary Man. Christianity couters this with the reality of ‘communio’ the communion with God through Jesus Christ, through the mystery of incarnation; the communion of saints.”[16]

Naturally, this is why I have sought to call all of us here together, I desire to foster this community amongst ourselves, but there’s even more that we can do build our community. We need to follow Christ. Remember, the Apostles asked Jesus, “Where are you going?” He replied, “Come and See.” We encounter Jesus at every mass during the Liturgy of the Eucharist in our community, we become a part of the Body of Christ during our baptism, but we grow even closer to him by partaking of His body in the Eucharist. As such we use the same language during the mass, we call our celebration of the Eucharist “communion” and before receiving the sacred Body, it is held up the words “The Body of Christ” are spoken prior to reception.

Marcellino D’ambrosio explains in his text that the Didache serves as a good catechism in addressing particular questions about God’s commandments. For example, What does “Thou Shall not Kill” actually mean when God commands the Hebrews to kill the Canaanites? What does “Thou Shall not commit Adultery” mean to the unmarried? [17]

The Didache addresses both of these topics:

Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not corrupt boys, do not fornicate (have relations outside of marriage); do not steal; do not practice magic; do not go in for sorecery; do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.[18]

 

D’Ambrosio explains that this is earliest known documentation in Christian literature that murder in accordance with the fifth commandment includes abortion.[19]The document also references a code for sexual relations. Modernity attempts to profess that its views on human sexuality is new and progressive, but this could not be farther from the truth as explained by the Didache’s explanation on the sixth commandment for “In the Greco-Roman society of the time, religion had little to do with sexual morality. Adventuresome sexual exploration was the fashion.”[20]

One of the most interesting facts that we find in the Didache is the instruction of Baptism. When I was a teenager, there was a church that would have bonfires after every football game and most of the high school kids would go to eat free pizza and roast marshmallows. After awhile, the youth minister of this particular church began to attempt to convert us to his faith. The go to point of this particular youth minister was that because we Catholics, and other mainstream Protestants, were not immersed when we baptized like Jesus in the Jordan River then our baptism was not valid.

So why do we believe our Baptism to be valid? Again, I cannot stress this enough, studying the early Christians allows us to defend our faith. First off, scripture doesn’t necessarily say that Jesus was immersed, it says that “he went up immediately from the water,”[21]“And when he came up out of the water,”[22]So imagine yourself on a riverbank, you have go down a hill to get into the river and to get out of the river you “went up” from it, or you come “up out of the water.” Now, it’s very possible, and even probable that Jesus was immersed, but just because the Gospel records a particular event doesn’t mean it’s a formula. In fact, the only formula for baptism in the Gospel is given at the end of the Gospel of Matthew:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”[23]

Now, this could just be my particular interpretations of these particular text, I would imagine the youth minister in Mt. Sterling would tell me that these are Catholic apologist proof texts. So, I ask, what were the early Christian understanding of baptism.

The Didache reads:

“Baptize in running water, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spririt.” (note that the only no negotiable is based on scripture) If you do not have running water, baptize in some other (form of water). If you cannot in cold, then in warm, If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”[24]

The early Christians only understood two necessities: #1 The Scriptural Formula and #2 Water. Different variables of water were allowed and sprinkling was also allowed by early Christians.

D’Ambrosio illustrates in the text that early Christians wanted to differentiate from Jews by changing their patterns of fasting by fasting on different days of the week. “This Wednesday and Friday fast became virtually universal in the early Church and is preserved by the Eastern churches to this day.”[25]The Didache also instructs Christians to pray three times per day by praying the Lord’s prayer, as well as coming together not on the Sabbath day but on Sunday—the day of Resurrection:

“Assemble on the Lord’s Day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with this fellow is not to take part with you until they have been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled.”[26]

It important to note that early Christians had a Eucharistic doctrine, as well as placing importance on the sacrament of confession. The understanding of such believes can be found in the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[d] 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened[e] so that we may not be condemned along with the world.[27]
What Catholics can take from reading and understanding the Didache is that our practices can be proven to be true by both scripture and by the historical record of the practices of early Christians. Let us by recognizing are connection with the past continue to grow in faith and defend our faith as a faith that is founded on the historical record.

[1]Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers(Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014), 1.

[2]Ibid, 2.

[3]Jimmy Akin, The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church(San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers, 2010), 23.

[4]Dave Armstrong, Quotable Newman(Sophia Press: Manchester, 2012), 169-70.

[5]D’Ambrosio, 11.

[6]Thomas O’Loughlin, The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians(Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010), 30.

[7]Ibid, 1.

[8]Ibid, 3.

[9]Ibid, 5.

[10]Deut. 30:14-18 RSV

[11]O’Loughlin, 29.

[12]Ibid.

[13]Ibid, 30.

[14]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 208.

[15]Pope St. John Paul II In God’s Hands: The Spiritual Diaries of Pope Saint John Paul II (London: Harper One, 2017), 134.

[16]Ibid, 229.

[17]D’Ambrosio, 12.

[18]Didache 2:2 Some argue that abortion was allowed in Judaism; however, we must also keep in mind that Divorce was allowed in Judaism as referenced in Mt. 19, but Christ explains the reasoning why Divorce displeases God. Regardless of Judaic arguments for or against abortion, our faith asserts that the Church has been given the authority to teach God’s will.

[19]D’Ambrosio, 13.

[20]Ibid.

[21]Mt. 3:16

[22]Mk. 1:10

[23]Mt. 28:19

[24]Didache 7:2

[25]D’Ambrosio, 15.

[26]See Didache 14:1-3

[27]1 Cor. 11:27:32