Gregory of Nyssa on Scripture & Tradition

I’m reading Gregory of Nyssa for my dissertation, and I found his view of Scripture and Tradition quite intriguing.  Admittedly, I’ve only read a couple of his short, dogmatic treatises so far, but I’ve been struck by how often he appeals to Scripture, rather than to Tradition.  But, he also appeals to Apostolic Tradition, and not to Scripture alone

From On the Holy Spirit: “We shall answer nothing new, nothing of our own invention, though they challenge us to it; we shall fall back upon the testimony in Holy Scripture about the Spirit, whence we learn that the Holy Spirit is Divine, and is to be called so … We say nothing different from that which Scripture says” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, pg. 316). Continue reading

Visit to OCA

Last Sunday, I was able to visit a parish of the Orthodox Church of America.  It was wonderful to hear all the Slavic languages afterwards during the fellowship time, a reminder that the Church encompasses all nations.  But, it was also a reminder of the “ethnic problem” in some Orthodox churches.  I’m no expert, but it seems that the Orthodox churches are still tied up too much with ethnic heritage.  One source I read said there was tension between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church because the Russians “validated” the OCA, without consulting the Patriarch of Constantinople.  Another reminder that not even the “catholic” churches are completely unified.  May the Lord bring increasing unity to All His Church!

On a more practical note, this was the first Divine Liturgy I’ve participated in.  I like the standing (a Biblical posture for prayer), the incense (it’s in Revelation, so why not use it?), and all the vestments.  Sometimes Anglican and Roman Catholic vestments just look gay.  (My apologies to any RC or Anglican readers, but what’s with the lace, anyway???).  The Orthodox vestments were royal and priestly (kinda like 1 Pt. 2:9), and I liked the icon of Christ on the back of the priest’s robe.  It was a visual reminder that the priest represents Christ to us.  The priest prayed for long stretches of time with his hands raised to heaven (also Biblical).  But, I don’t know why they closed up the iconostasis while the priest and clergy partook of the Eucharist.  Can anyone enlighten me? 

The singing was a bit lacking.  As a Protestant who has been taught the “priesthood of all believers,” I think everyone in the congregation should sing.  I couldn’t quite figure out who was singing and who wasn’t, since it wasn’t very vigorous.  I also didn’t hear many men singing.  Is this normal in Orthodox churches?

Of course, we couldn’t receive the Eucharist, but it was a profoundly moving experience, nonetheless.  Although I’m not at all sure about the propriety of the spoon thing, it was a moving picture of our total dependence on Christ for our spiritual nourishment.  We are like babies, coming to him for our food.  I was also moved, almost to tears, by a little girl and the elderly ladies bringing the Blessed Bread (Antidoron?) to us.  It was a wonderful experience of the Church as a family, each serving the other.  The clinking of the spoon and the chalice also made it sound like a meal. 

There’s definitely much we can learn from the Orthodox, and I’m thankful for the opportunity we had to participate in that service. 

Polycarp & Ignatius

In Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians, he commends the letters of Ignatius of Antioch: “The Epistles of Ignatius written by him to us, and all the rest [of his Epistles] which we have by us, we have sent to you, as you requested. They are subjoined to this Epistle, and by them ye may be greatly profited; for they treat of faith and patience, and all things that tend to edification in our Lord,” (chap. 13).

Now, Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John. Further, Ignatius is the first voice for explicit episcopacy in Church History. I can’t address questions of interpolations in the letters of Ignatius, but I do know that some Protestant historians argue that Ignatius was expounding a relatively new arrangement for church government. The theory goes that since Ignatius is at such pains to stress the importance of the bishop, then he is arguing for a novel structure. If episcopacy was already the norm, then why would Ignatius need to jump up and down on it? I need to examine this argument further, but here’s a thought regarding the relationship between Polycarp and Ignatius.

As the quote above shows, Polycarp approves the epistles of Ignatius. If, as one theory alleges, Ignatius was propounding a novel conception of church governement, why does Polycarp not qualify or censure Ignatius? Perhaps Polycarp approved Ignatius’s strong statements on the role of bishops, and thus did not need to say anything about it?

Eucharist, Bishop, Church (Preface, 1)

In his “Preface to the 2nd Edition,” Zizioulas states part of his objective in republishing his dissertation–he wants to help restore the ancient authority of the bishop in the Eucharistic assembly.  He writes:

“Unfortunately, many Orthodox have it firmly entrenched in their mind that the bishop is in essence an administrator, and that in his liturgical function, including indeed the Divine Eucharist, he is not a person constitutive of the Mystery but more or less decorative someone who is invited to ’embellish’ the whole service by his presence and his vestments.  Precisely because of the weakening of the ancient conception which this work demonstrates in such detail, namely, that the bishop is in essence the only president of the Divine Eucharist and that no Divine Liturgy is thinkable without reference to the bishop in whose name it is celebrated, ordination as priest has come to be regarded by many as sufficient for someone to celebrate the Divine Eucharist and transmit grace to the people without any clear dependence on his bishop.  Continue reading

Eucharist, Bishop, Church (1)

In the introduction, Zizioulas states his broad project:  “… our theology can no longer fall back on the sources of its own confessional riches.  The gradual abandonment of the confessional mentality of past generations and the recognition of the need for our theology to be an expression not of one confession but of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church herself, now directs the course of theological study towards the sources of the ancient undivided Church (1).”

This is something Protestants should be able to agree with.  The first generation of Reformers constantly appealed to the church fathers and early councils as authoritative sources.  Only the most ingrown and cloistered Reformed fundamentalists would say that the Reformed tradition is sufficient by itself.  In fact, we cannot do this when the majority of major Reformed confessions all appeal to the 3 Creeds (Apostles’, Nicea, and Athanasian) either explicitly and implicitly.  (The Westminster Confession is a notable departure from this Reformed consensus.) Continue reading

Eucharist, Bishop, Church

What really prompted me to start this blog was reading John D. Zizioulas’s Eucharist, Bishop, Church:  The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries.  This book was originally Zizioulas’s doctoral dissertation, done in the sixties, but recently translated and published.  In order to give some structure to my meanderings, I want to go through this book slowly, posting relevant portions and asking questions of the book.  I’m also reading through the Church Fathers, and hope to post sections from the Fathers which challenge my Protestant worldview. 

For the past decade, I’ve been working, worshipping, and thinking through what various people label “Reformed Catholicism,” “Protesting Catholicism,” or “High Church Calvinism.”  I love this world, and have almost joined the Anglican Church on a few occasions.  Eastern Orthodoxy holds quite a bit of attraction, but I can’t get over the icons and veneration of the saints.  I’m too much of a Protestant to even think about joining the Roman Catholic church, though I read Roman Catholic authors without discrimination. 

As Thomas Kuhn noted in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, every piece of information that challenges a paradigm must either be integrated into the current paradigm.  Alternatively, if enough pieces accumulate which don’t fit into the paradigm, it collapses.  It seems to me that this is intuitively true about human thinking in general.  At the least, it describes how my mind works.  So, this blog is a record of the information that is accumulating in my “Reformed Catholic” worldview.  I don’t really have an agenda other than to learn as much as I can, and to worship God as faithfully as I can.  It would be wonderful if I could fit everything into my current paradigm.  Maybe others can help me do that. 

Please feel free to answer my questions or suggest other sources.  But, please go elsewhere to heckle and proselytize.