Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Facing the Mirror

May 28, 2020

The latest in celebrity outings happened late last week when late-night talk show host and comedian Jimmy Fallon was criticized for a Saturday Night Live skit he did 20 years ago where he impersonated Chris Rock.

For clarification, Jimmy Fallon is white and Chris Rock is black. In impersonating Chris Rock, Fallon wore blackface and it was this in particular that earned the ire of certain people. Dutifully, Fallon issued a heartfelt apology for his offensive actions. That is the expected response whenever anybody anywhere anytime criticizes you for something they decide was racist.

I was pleased to see that actor/comedian Jamie Foxx came to Fallon’s defense, drawing an important distinction between appearing in blackface to make fun of an entire race, and doing a particular impression of a particular person who happens to be of another race. Fair warning if you click on Foxx’ response above it is not exactly child-friendly. While doing a comedy sketch is unpardonable, public profanity is perfectly acceptable these days.

Foxx makes an important distinction. Fallon was impersonating a particular individual who happens to be black. He was not doing a caricature of all black people. I tend to agree with Foxx that Fallon’s impersonation was pretty good, though understandably tastes will vary. Comedic tastes may vary widely, but just because you didn’t find his impersonation very good or funny shouldn’t (and hopefully wasn’t) be the basis for alleging racism.

Is it impermissible to impersonate any other race but your own? I imagine it should have a great deal to do with what the purpose is, although we have to admit at the same time that what is considered an acceptable intention in one age may not be considered acceptable in another age – even just 20 years later.

Still, if the overriding principle is that nobody should ever portray another race other than their own, this principle should be evenly applied rather than targeting white people impersonating black people.

Is anyone calling for public apologies and/or self-immolation from the Wayans brothers and their whiteface movie White Chicks? That movie is only 16 years old and they were impersonating a particular kind of white female, but not specific white females. Seems like this ought to be grounds for an outcry, right?

Or Martin Lawrence might be called out for putting whiteface on as a recurring character on his TV show, Martin? Again, not impersonating a person but a kind of person. Appropriate?

Whoopi Goldberg in The Associate?

I’ll leave off pointing out Eddie Murphy or Dave Chappelle because their purposes were ostensibly to expose racism.

But we certainly needn’t limit it to white and black people impersonating each other. What about the universally lovable Tom Hanks? Should he be blackballed for dressing up as a woman for Bosom Buddies?

Pretending to be someone you’re not is not necessarily criminal. We teach kids to do this for Halloween. What you do with your impersonation could indeed be very, very wrong. That judgment has to be exercised within the current cultural conditions, though, and it’s unfair to call out a racist impersonation if it was not considered racist at the time – admittedly a complicated if not Gordian Knot to unravel.

It would be more helpful in the pursuit of better race relations to have conversations about these things rather than flinging hateful accusations to elicit knee-jerk reactions. This matter with Jimmy Fallon is going to quickly disappear, as it should. But it’s unfortunate that it was raised without an ability or desire to actually engage in discussion about whether what he did was racist in general, was racist 20 years ago, or racist only now. A chance to educate about comedy and that funny doesn’t always equate to insulting.

No word from Chris Rock on what he thinks of the allegations or what he thought or currently thinks of Fallon’s impersonation. Hopefully he’ll have something helpful and witty to contribute, something fitting for a man with a keen insight into human nature as well as race relations.

Rushing Back to Church

May 27, 2020

Our congregation will be gathering for worship this coming Sunday for the first time in about 10 weeks. It’s the longest I’ve ever gone without worshiping, either as a parishioner or a pastor. I can safely say the say for the majority of my members. Though some remember living through polio quarantines earlier in their lives, those were of a far more limited scale. For most all of my folks this is the longest they’ve had to go without Church in their lives.

But for those for whom weekly worship isn’t part of their routine, it might seem as though the push to reopen churches is a curious thing. Hence an article like this one, characterizing the push for a return to worship as a rush.

I thought it was interesting the article drew a distinction between Christian activism on this issue and comparative silence from Jewish and Muslim Americans. I can’t verify whether that’s true or not, since I’m not in the communication chains for those groups. If it is true, perhaps the issue is different definitions of what worship is.

I’ll hypothesize here – for lack of better certainty – that in Jewish and Muslim circles weekly worship is seen primarily as social and educational. A time to be with friends and family and a time to grow in their understanding of the faith. That might be in very loose terms or very traditional and religious terms. Weekly gatherings are, in that sense, somewhat optional. They aren’t receiving something in weekly worship they couldn’t receive in other forms on their own, in private, through the Internet or Zoom meetings. Of course they miss the in-person fellowship, but maybe they aren’t missing anything else.

For Christians, the historic understanding is that worship is more than just educational and more than just fellowship. We love to gather with our church family, to be certain. We look forward to catching up with one another, planning brunch afterwards, hobnobbing over coffee in the fellowship hall.

But the most important thing about Christian worship is we claim things happen there that don’t happen in other places – at least not in the same way. Which makes Christian worship – at least for those who understand the historic practice and theological underpinnings – essential and necessary, not simply a pleasantry we can do without as the mood strikes us. Granted, a lot of Christians have exactly that latter opinion of worship. Tragically even Lutherans – and even some of my parishioners – have that perspective.

Traditional worship understands worship as a time when God gives to us. This is the proper emphasis – what God gives to us. We respond in thanksgiving and worship, but the initiative is on God’s part, not ours. He gathers us in order to give us his gifts. Those gifts come in two forms – Word and Sacrament. We hear his Word and receive his grace in the Sacraments, and this happens only in worship as He gathers us together.

Yes, the Holy Spirit is always with us. Yes, we can read the Bible at home and have his Word. Yes, we live in his grace and forgiveness at all times, and so, strictly speaking, don’t need to receive the Sacrament of Confession and Absolution. We don’t have to have Holy Communion as another means of God’s grace and forgiveness. We can exist in the faith without them. But it is neither safe nor healthy to do so for extended periods of time. Actually engaging in corporate confession is much more powerful than whether I remember to confess my sins before I fall asleep at night. Hearing the declaration of a Called pastor/priest that my sins are forgiven is much stronger than just reminding myself of that reality.

And of course Holy Communion is a corporate event – unless overriding other issues prevent someone from receiving it as such. Jesus instituted it as a corporate event and the Church has understood it should be celebrated as such. Am I forgiven and in the grace of God whether I receive the Eucharist or not? Of course. But to taste forgiveness, to smell it, to gather around the Lord’s table with my brothers and sisters in Christ? That’s a worship thing.

For Christians – at least those who understand worship as it has been designed and practiced for centuries – worship is essential. We come together to be strengthened, to receive the gifts of God before heading back out to our homes and neighborhoods and classrooms and workplaces. It grounds us in our identity in a way watching online or on the television can’t and doesn’t. We can pretend it does, but we’re wrong – and there’s certainly no shortage of psychological studies to back that up. Being together in person is different than being together virtually. It’s how we were designed and made, and while we might like to think our iPhones replace that, they haven’t. If anything, they’ve highlighted just how badly we need it!

Pandemic Possibilities

May 21, 2020

It’s not much of a secret that I love to drive. Since getting my license at 16 my love of the road has never waned. My wife indulges me and my corresponding discomfort at being a passenger, allowing me to do the bulk of driving when we’re together despite the fact she’s more than capable herself. And though I argue my reputation for a lead foot is exaggerated, it is not without a kernel of truth.

In addition to owning a couple of pretty speedy cars myself over the years, and pushing cars not known for speed (I once coaxed a late 80’s base model Nissan Sentra to over 100 mph cruising back from the Mogollon Rim to Phoenix), I’ve had the opportunity to drive race cars – though not as fast as I would have liked to.

So it shouldn’t be surprising I have a fascination with the Cannonball Run – a highly illegal competition to see who can cross the United States from Manhattan, New York to Redondo Beach, California in the least time. This requires driving at insane speeds for sustained periods of time. It requires a bankroll to get a fast car and then modify it to decrease refueling stops and escape detection of radar traps and other possible hazzards.

Not surprisingly, during the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding stay at home orders, roads have been a lot clearer than they would be normally. As such, there has been a flurry of activity as people attempt to set a new record for the Cannonball Run. And in the last five weeks, the record has been broken seven times. The new record is said to be under 26 hours to travel the 2800 mile journey. I’ll save you breaking out your calculator – that means an average speed of 107 miles per hour for the journey. And since it is necessary to refuel, it means that there are times when the speed is actually higher than that to compensate.

Impressive.

Yes, dangerous and illegal, but still, impressive!

ANF: Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus

May 20, 2020

The ongoing saga of my life-long effort to read through all the Ante-Nicene Fathers’ writings….

The first volume of the ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF) set concludes with a collections of quotes and paraphrases of Irenaeus from fragmentary documents as well as other authors.  These 55 snippets are various in nature, some conveying complete thoughts and others without much meaning in and of themselves but clearly part of larger works which have either been lost to history or remain to be discovered or translated.

Some notable inclusions:

Section III – contains a remembrance of Polycarp’s visit to Rome during the papacy of Anicetus.  They disagreed on the proper day to observe Easter, yet refused to let their different traditions cause a rift between them.  So firm was their commitment to unity rather than division that St. Anicetus allowed St. Polycarp to preside over the Eucharist celebration in the Church in Rome.  The translator references the Council of Arles in 314 AD as commemorating this by decreeing formally that the holy Eucharist should be consecrated by any foreign bishop present at its celebration, but I can’t find corroboration for this assertion.

Section XIThe business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death.  (as quoted by John of Damascus, likely from a work of Irenaeus entitled Miscellaneous Dissertations, which is referred to by Eusebius).

Section XVI – There may be some uncertainty as to  whether this is really from Irenaeus or not, but in treating the topic of the Fall in Genesis 3, Irenaeus lauds Eve not as the weaker of the the humans but the stronger.  She resisted Satan’s temptations for some period of time, even arguing with him, while Adam ate immediately when she offered him the forbidden fruit without any objection or apparent misgivings.

Section XXIV – He asserts that Matthew’s Gospel was intended for Jewish readers.

Section XXXII – Quotes a tradition from Josephus, that Moses was not just brought up on the Egyptian Pharaoh’s palace, he served as a general in a military effort against the Ethiopians.  Because of his victory he married the daughter of the Ethiopian king.  The translator offers this tradition as perhaps an explanation of St. Stephen’s words  in Acts 7:22, emphasizing Moses’ esteem and wisdom before being selected by God to confront the Pharaoh.

Section LV – A fascinating commentary on the mother of James and John asking Jesus to grant her sons special favor  in glory (Matthew 20:17-28).  Usually, commentators look poorly upon her request, coming as it does so immediately upon Jesus’ prediction of his upcoming suffering and death.  It seems to be the height of not  just pride or grasping for  honor or glory, but terribly poor  timing!  But Irenaeus looks at it differently.  He instead praises their mother.  While we often focus on the first part of Jesus’ prophesy, that he will be tried and condemned to death and be flogged and crucified, the mother hears only the last words.  So firm is her faith – according to Irenaeus – that she considers the tribulations and sufferings of Jesus truly as inconsequential compared to the glory they will bring to him and his followers.  Precisely because she makes the request at this particular point, rather than after the resurrection is a praiseworthy demonstration of faith on her part!  The Saviour was speaking of the cross, while she had in view the glory which admits no suffering.  This woman, therefore, as I have already said, is worthy of our admiration, not merely for what she sought, but also for the occasion of her making the request.  

With this, I’ve completed the first volume of the  Ante-Nicene Fathers.  Thank you again too Lois for her generous gift.  At this rate, I may indeed finish them before I die – just barely!

 

ANF: Against Heresies

May 19, 2020

The ongoing saga of my life-long effort to read through all the Ante-Nicene Fathers’ writings….

While it ends abruptly enough for scholars to suspect there was originally a more formal ending.  what we have in extant of Irenaeus’ major work is impressive enough.  Five volumes devoted to explaining the heretical teachings of several prominent schools of early Gnostic Christians and then demonstrating the falsity of  these heresies in the light of Scripture and apostolic tradition.  I’ve been fascinated with this work for years, and while I’m glad to have finished it, there is also an element of disappointment.  Against Heresies is not a generic work but very focused on dealing with the major heretical movements of Irenaeus’ day (and rightly so).  As such, much of it is not terribly helpful in dealing with more modern heresies.

Specifically Irenaeus is most concerned with the heresies of the Valentinians.  These are the followers of Valentinius, who premised a secret  knowledge of an extended cosmology well beyond  what Scripture lays out.  The entire first volume of Against Heresies is dedicated to describing in detail what Valentinius taught and his followers believed and then expanded upon.  These followers included Cerdon but more importantly Marcion and then the Montanists.

Along the way are fascinating insights to the life of the early Church and the fervency with which the Church was concerned with the Word of God as the only reliable source of knowledge.  These and other heretical groups attempted to draw from select portions of Scripture as proof of their false teachings, and Irenaeus destroys their attempts with an early example of a basic exegetical principle  – let Scripture interpret Scripture.  His list of the popes in Rome from St. Peter to Irenaeus’ day  is the most reliable source for this information.

I can’t advise anyone who isn’t a scholar of the early Church or a student of Greek or Latin or a doctoral student looking for thesis material to read this work.  It  doesn’t apply well today, when Scripture is held in such low esteem not only by non-Christians but many Christians as well.  Using Scripture and logic Irenaeus is convinced he has aptly destroyed the positions of his opponents, another concept difficult to translate into our day of subjective truth and very little understanding of logic and argumentation.

 

Everything Is Political

May 13, 2020

I opined earlier this week about the goal of restarting church worship without polluting the effort with agendas beyond what is best for the people of God in a particular community setting.  As opposed to other religious groups who are issuing press releases and petitions and doing press conferences, I think a congregation’s leadership needs to assess what is best for their members and  make their decisions accordingly.  Quietly.  For their members, not for the public.  For their members, not in a desire for publicity and gaining members.  For their members and not for political reasons.

A reader wrote to say that in their opinion the entire COVID-19 handling is a political issue.

And I agree completely.

Politicians of all stripes and persuasions are attempting to use the COVID-19 situation for personal betterment in their careers as well as jockeying for control of and for their political parties and agendas.  I don’t believe anyone is innocent of this, and of course the media reports on this in a particular light and with particular agendas as well.  COVID-19  has been, is now, and will continue to be handled politically.  The Church should strive to recognize this and adjust her actions and check her motivations constantly, but politics will inevitably be a part of those decisions at one level or another.

Because everything is political.

This is both good and bad.

As creations of the personal God of the Judeo-Christian Bible, we are designed to be political.  Genesis 1-2 informs us we are creatures, so we are not at the top of the food chain in terms of ordering our lives.  We were designed for a particular political order, an order where we lived in harmony and obedience to the Creator’s design for ourselves and one another and the world around us.  We were designed with a need for an order, an order woven into the very fabric of creation.  Politics in this sense is not an evil or even a necessary evil.  It’s how we were created – with a need to be ruled, and an ability to determine either obedience to or rebellion against that rule.

In rebelling against this in Genesis 3, we opted against obedience and for an effort to establish our own rule.  At best, we thought we could improve upon our Creator’s design of us.  At worst, we sought to displace our Creator and supplant him and his design with our own.  We sought self-rule in the purest and most disastrous sense.  In doing so, we broke the design of the Creator and have ever since been struggling to adapt ourselves to this broken creation – and politics is no exception to that.  Perhaps it is the most primal embodiment of that struggle.  Who will rule and how will they rule?

God made it clear our replacements for his perfect rule would not be pleasant.  Creation itself would now be in rebellion as well against the stewardship  of humanity (Genesis 3:17-19).  Our very bodies would be in rebellion, leading ultimately to death (Genesis 3:16).  And though designed to be in perfect partnership with one another, that partnership was now damaged greatly by sin, resulting not in cooperation but a struggle for  dominance and control of one another (Genesis 3:16).

So everything is political, a struggle for control whether well-intentioned or blatantly self-serving.  We struggle for control  of ourselves and others on both individual and group levels.  This is true in the Church as it is in the larger culture and society.  No action, no goal, no plan can ever be claimed to be completely without sin, completely without some small trace of that primal selfishness that dominates our lives in ways large and  small.  The goal or plan might be laudable.  It might be the best possible plan, but in some way either in the plan or implementation the sin inherent in every one of us will make it’s way into and through the plan.  We must do the best we can, hopefully with the humble acknowledgement that the closer we try to adhere to the original plans of the Creator, the better off everyone will be ultimately.

But our aim is poor, since even that is affected by sin.  So it is that those claiming to act on our behalf and for  our well-being are not immune to the sins of pride and ego that lead them to apply their own policies and directives unevenly, to stray even from their self-crafted processes and mechanisms.  The temptation is almost overwhelming, and again this happens in the Church as well as in the secular realm.

So yes, I want to try and avoid other motivations as much as possible.  But of course that  won’t be perfectly possible.  That should lead me to a humility and willingness to listen to many voices.  It will also necessarily lead me to searching out my sin in the situation and repenting of it, and finally lead me to trust in that forgiveness not as a justification for doing whatever I feel like and indulging my sinfulness, but in a freedom that allows me to move forward making those adjustments to my attitude or my practices that are closer to the mark of the Creator’s plan, even if never a bullseye.

Everything is political because we are designed as political creatures.  We just  need to remember that we were not designed neutral in terms of politics.  We were designed to exist best under a particular rule, and to exercise our roles with one another in light of that particular rule.  Only by keeping that original rule in mind to the best of our ability can we hope to even hit  the edge of the target, let alone the center.

Don’t Tell Me I’m Brave

May 12, 2020

“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.  Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. “

 ~ C. S. Lewis ~

Trying to navigate the tricky line of when and how to reopen our country for life is complicated.  As articles  such as this point out, there are widely divergent views.  As articles rarely point out, it isn’t necessarily an either or situation.  Maybe we aren’t faced only with massive loss of life due to the pandemic or total economic and political meltdown due to the pandemic.  Maybe we’re faced with both.  Maybe we’re faced with neither, but rather a  milder mixture of the two.  Only time will tell, and we have to make the best choices we can.

But in the aforementioned article I find it fascinating that fear is now cited as a reason for not opening things back up again.  People are afraid, the logic would seem to go, and pushing them to return to work is going to cause them actual pain and damage.  We’ve all been traumatized, in other words.  Shell-shocked.   PTSD.  Whatever you want to call it.  As a nation we’ve been bludgeoned into a fragile psychological condition that now needs to be tended to softly and gently through continued government payouts rather than the cold, harsh reality of economic (particularly capitalistic) mechanisms.

That’s part of my fascination with what our media has done over the past two months.  You can argue about whether it was at the bequest of (some) of the political powers that be or whether it drove (some) of the political powers that be to their current stance on how to move forward.

First, yes.  People are afraid.  Some of them are terrified.  Nearly all of them are nervous.  If not for themselves than on behalf of others.  But that fear has been driven by our media and our politicians.  I’ll be lenient in granting that initially that fear might have been justified when we didn’t really know what was happening other than that a lot of people were dying in China and Italy.  But the fear went beyond that, and continues to go beyond that.  Fear is what should keep us locked in our houses.  Fear is what should keep us behind face masks.  Fear is what should keep us six feet apart from one another.  Fear is what should prompt  us to isolate not just for ourselves but out of fear we might somehow expose someone else to the virus who would be more vulnerable.

But this fear has been stoked steadily for two solid months.  Only recently have headlines in newspapers begun to mention other topics.  Still COVID-related stories are the majority of what we see and hear in the news.  Fear is natural, but people have been made afraid as well.  When fear is  all you push, don’t be surprised that people become fearful.  But also don’t then use  that fear to justify furthering policies that will only reinforce and strengthen the fear.

Now fear is not a glamorous thing.  It never has been in human history, but here’s part of the weirdness.  We’ve been made to feel as though our cowering in our houses is somehow brave.  We’re doing brave work as we lose our jobs and our businesses and fall back on unemployment and welfare.  That’s brave.

But it’s not.  It’s sad.  It might be necessary to some extent.  But  it’s not brave.  In part because very few people chose  to lose their job or their life’s work.  We were forced to stay home.  Ordered to.  Threatened with fines or imprisonment if we disobeyed.  We were shouted at through bullhorns and from helicopters over the beaches.  We were stigmatized by our fellow citizens.  This is not bravery.  At best it can be called obedience, but simply following orders is not necessarily brave in and of itself.

How can this be?

Because while we are told we are somehow brave and strong for ordering our food to go, we have also been inundated with real images and definitions of bravery.  Doctors and first responders get most of that glory.  They’re on the front lines, we’re told, fighting against the Coronavirus to keep us all safe.  That’s the definition of bravery.  It’s not an incorrect definition, either.  And that definition gets extended to a far lesser extent to those who work in essential industries.  Grocery store clerks and Amazon warehouse employees and all the other people who keep working so that those who have the ability to work at home or are already retired can order their food and groceries delivered and feel brave.  We’re told what bravery looks like, and it shows us that we ourselves have not been brave.

But we could have been.  And we could still be.

But it’s going to take the same mechanisms to change us that were used to create the fearful, nervous population we’ve become.

If the media and the politicians quit trying to paralyze us with fear and instead do what America has traditionally done – turn people loose to be heroic.  To go back to their jobs and bring their employees back.  Wear masks.  Avoid hugs and social distance.   So be it.  But be brave about it, not fearful.  America exists uniquely in history because it empowers people rather than disarms them.  You want to launch a business?  Go for it.  There’s no issues of pedigree or governmental control that should be able to stop you.  If you succeed, you might become wealthy and others might benefit from your drive and the product or service you offer.  If nobody wants what you’re offering, you’re free to change directions and try something else.

There’s the risk of failure to be sure, but the potential rewards of even moderate success are almost unheard of in massive portions of the rest of the world.  And people from all over the world still yearn and dream to  come to America to have this  freedom.  The freedom to be brave.  The freedom to succeed.  Even the freedom to fail.

Quit scaring people  into staying home while lauding the virtues of those who don’t.  Yes, they’re essential all right.  But in employing those terms you’ve just decimated the vast majority of your population with the reality they aren’t essential.  What they have to offer isn’t as good as or necessary as what doctors and nurses and policemen offer.

But this isn’t true.

Those people  are able to offer what they offer because other people offer things those people need.  Bookstores to order books to either grow in their knowledge and skill or relax and unwind and escape from the stressfulness of their career.  People who can cook great meals because doctors don’t have time to.   People who create spaces for people to relax and be together in like restaurants and coffee shops.   In myriad ways people contribute to the greater good, and to draw a  line with a magic marker that says these people are essential (whether they want to be or not) and the rest of you aren’t is just another way of instilling fear.  Destroying self-worth.  Turning people fearful.

Life is full of risks.  Full of dangers.  We have nowhere near the level of control we’d like to have, or even think we have and this is true of individuals as well as governments.  A great deal of the fear at play in our culture right now is driven by coming face-to-face with mortality, with the idea that we can die at any time and not necessarily be able to stop it.  We are mortal and frail.

That recognition leads to one of two courses.  One is fear.  Hiding and cowering and trying to protect ourselves from anything and anyone that could be dangerous.  Only to discover  that everything and everyone – even ourselves – can be dangerous, can’t be had or enjoyed without risk of harm physically or emotionally or psychologically.  Safety is an illusion because keeping yourself safe from one set of things opens you up to risk from another set of things.

The other course is to develop bravery.  Courage.  A willingness to go out and do what needs to be done, or to do what you’re able to do.  Knowing you might fail, but knowing you might also succeed.  Being rewarded for your willingness to take risks or innovate rather than simply do what other people tell you to do.

Fear is natural.  But fear can either be cultivated and nurtured or it can be weakened and sapped.  More than any previous challenges in or to our nation, this is the crossroads we stand at.  Do we remain fearful, waiting for others who are brave and strong to rescue us?  Or do we pick up our shovels or rakes or cable crimpers or bar  code scanners or measuring cups and set about rescuing ourselves and, in the process, rescuing one another as well?  Do we not only tell stories about knights facing great dangers, but encourage one another to put on their armor and mount their steeds and head out onto the field of battle for themselves?

Life isn’t fair, it isn’t easy, and it isn’t safe.  What equality, what comfort, and what protection we’ve been able to create is only because of generations of men and women just like us doing what needed to be done and doing it well.  Demonstrating not just bravery and courage but also how essential they are.  Why should we wait for someone else to tell us we’re needed or not needed?  Isn’t that how great swaths of governments around the world and throughout history have operated?  Telling people what they had to do or how they had to do it instead of letting the people figure it out for themselves?  Isn’t that why people want to come here, become Americans?  So they can make those decisions for themselves?  Be free to work hard and reap the benefits of that hard work?  Fail but learn from that failure and grow stronger and wiser for their next effort?

This is the home of the brave, according to our national anthem.  It’s time we remember that.  Claim it.  And start acting like it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Earliest Popes

May 7, 2020

Raised a Lutheran, I have an uneasy relationship to the doctrine of apostolic succession.  This doctrine of the Roman Catholic church claims that the line of Popes extendes backwards in history in unbroken succession all the way to the Apostles.  Therefore, each Pope carries the same apostolic authority as the apostles themselves.

The difficulties Lutherans have with this are several-fold.  First of all, nothing in Scripture defines, mandates, or gives greater value to any  sort of apostolic succession.  While the New Testament makes reference to several types of offices within the Church it does not provide a template for how people are placed into these positions.

Secondly, even if apostolic succession could be said to have any sort of ideal value, the abuses of the papal succession through history demonstrate the objective value of this succession to be severely compromised.  The Western Great Schism, when two popes were simultaneously installed and claimed exclusive authority in the 14th century comes to mind.

Thirdly, on a more pertinent basis to Lutherans, if apostolic succession were somehow Biblically required, we don’t meet that criteria since we have broken off from  the Roman Catholic Church.  This would also apply to every other Christian group outside of the Roman Catholic Church (and to be clear, the Roman Catholics are  not the only ones who maintain a form of apostolic succession but they’re easily the biggest, most obvious group).

Personally, it seemed sketchy to me that we knew who the immediate successors of St. Peter and the other apostles were, since I had never studied this historically.

Well, as I’m currently working my way through Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, low and behold here is where that list is most clearly articulated.  In Book III, Chapter III.3, Irenaeus lists the popes  in power up until his lifetime  (this information is also published in the Annuaria Pontifico, a yearly publication of the Roman Catholic Church that details all officials in the Holy See.  Publication of this began in the early 18th century though, and therefore  relies on other writers and historians – such as Irenaeus – for information on the ancient Church:

  • Linus– Irenaeus claims this is the same Linus mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21, the only place he is mentioned in Scripture.  Tertullian makes the claim Clement succeeded the apostles but this is not as well testified to as Linus.  Linus is said to have presided over the Church from somewhere between 64 and 79 AD, though the dates are fuzzy.  While there are a variety of traditions regarding Linus’ rule, few if any of these can be verified.  He is claimed to be the first Roman pope, hailing from Tuscany, and likely designated by Peter and/or Paul before their executions in Rome.
  • Anacletus – Historical documents make mention both of an Anacletus as well as a Cletus and it is uncertain if these were one in the same person.  Little is known of Anacletus, he is not mentioned in Scripture, and he is said to have ruled from the death of Linus until his death in roughly 91AD.
  • Clement – Although Tertullian and later writers claim Clement directly succeeded the apostles the better historical attestation is that he was third in succession.  This is the first pope we have much definite historical data for.  He is presumed by many to be the same Clement mentioned by St. Paul in Philippians 4:3.  We have one writing of his that is widely presumed to be authentic – a letter to the church in Corinth.  Other writings are attributed to  him but are also widely disputed.  It is interesting that in relying on the history provided in the translation of these Church Fathers, Clement is presumed to be the successor to the apostles.
  • Evaristus– Not mentioned in Scripture and no historical data about him other than he was fourth in succession after the apostles and died in roughly 107AD.
  • Alexander– Not mentioned in the Bible and other data about him is uncertain.  he is said to have ruled about 10 years, until about 116 AD.  Some believe the site of his martyrdom and burial (traditionally ascribed  as a martyr’s death of decapitation) was discovered by archaeologists in 1855, but this is also disputed.
  • Sixtus– (also spelled Xystus in several ancient documents) He ruled for roughly 10 years until 127AD.
  • Telephorus– Irenaeus indicates he was “gloriously martyred” but we have little other information than this.  He is believed to have ruled until 136AD.
  • Hyginus – Said to have ruled until about 142AD.  Little reliably is known about him but he is said to be of Greek birth.
  • Pius– Said to have ruled from roughly 140AD to 154AD.  Heresies that began to bubble up during the rule of Hyginus continue and expand during Pius’ rule.  This includes Valentinius, Cerdon, and Marcion, all Gnostic teachers who attempted to legitimize their mythologies through metaphorical interpretations of certain verses and details of Scripture, and against whom Ireneaus directed his best known work.
  • Anicetus – He followed Pius and ruled until about 168AD.  Anicetus is said to have debated the proper date to celebrate Easter with St. Polycarp, who  knew St. John personally.  Pope Anicetus maintained the practice in Rome of always celebrating Easter on a Sunday, since the first Easter fell on a Sunday.  St. Polycarp followed the tradition of celebrating Easter on 14th of Nisan, regardless of what day of the week it was, since that was the date of Jesus’ resurrection.  Neither was able to convince the other and both parted amicably and followed their respective traditions, though this issue would continue to be a source of contention between the Western and Eastern churches.
  • Soter – He follows Pius and ruled until 175AD.  Little else is reliably known about him.
  • Eleutherius – Is said to have followed Soter and ruled until about 189AD.  During this time the heresy of the Montanists continued to spread.  Montanus claimed prophetic powers along with two women, Maximilla and Prisca/Priscilla.  They claimed the ability to be mouthpieces of God, not simply speaking in his name but channeling his words as though possessed by Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.  This sect was eventually condemned by the larger church for this emphasis on continued prophetic revelations, moreso than for any particular false doctrine, at least  according to the earliest available (and not entirely reliable)records.

These are the men indicated first by Ireneaus as succeeding the apostles themselves in leadership of the church based in Rome.  There are other sources and lists of the earliest popes often with conflicting or alternate dates, but these sources are deemed less reliable due to their later origins and our inability to determine what their information was based on.

ANF: The Martyrdom of the Holy Martyrs

April 30, 2020

The ongoing saga of my life-long effort to read through all the Ante-Nicene Fathers’ writings….

This brief writing details the prosecutorial examination particularly of Justin Martyr, Chariton, Charito (a woman), Euelpistus, Hierax, Paeon, and Liberianus.  Each one freely acknowledges their faith in Jesus Christ under examination, knowing full well the punishment for this is death.  Even when this is pointed out to them they refuse to recant their faith.  They are sentenced to scourging and then decapitation.  The translator notes this seems to ignore  the possible or likely Roman citizenship of these people, but also points out that, as per Acts 22, sometimes Roman citizens were not protected from certain laws.

The translator also notes another variant on this document where Justin Martyr is said to die by drinking hemlock, the traditional fate of Greek philosophers who went astray in their teachings.  However there is no way to prove or disprove this account and it is considered by many to be a false ending designed to give greater honor to Justin.

Good to Remember

April 22, 2020

I’m working my way slowly through Irenaeus’ Against Heresies.  I came across this beautiful reminder in Book 1:

For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can but little, diminish it.

Something for all preachers to remember and apply regularly either for humility or comfort!