Thursday, December 28, 2017

On the Icons

I was asked recently why we Orthodox have so many paintings of the Saints, and how do they not fall under the condemnation of idols and graven images pronounced in the Law.  Here is my answer:

We have them for the same reason people keep paintings or (nowadays) pictures of their loved ones: to remember them.  Icons -- which is what we call the paintings, from the Greek word for "image" -- represent the one depicted, and make them present to us in a way.  The one depicted is called the Prototype.  These are not graven -- that is, sculpted -- but painted.  But let's grant for the sake of argument that it includes paintings as well, since it also says, "or any likeness."  The prohibition in the Law against images is a prohibition against false worship, not against images per se.  (There were images in the temple commanded by God.)

It is written,

Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.  And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice. ... And the LORD said unto Moses, 'Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish...' ... So Moses went down unto the people, and spake to them.

 And what did He speak, by the mouth of His prophet?

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

This is His concern: that the worship of His people be the worship of HIM, in Truth, and not according to their own imaginations.

For this reason He commands,

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God...thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain...

That is, you shall not apply this name, "the LORD thy God," to empty things of your imaginations.  (Nor to yourselves, if the name is not in you.)

As He says elsewhere, 

... the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing ...

And by Jeremiah,

Learn not the way of the heathen...For the customs of the people are vain:

Which customs?

for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.  They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

But this is vanity, because

They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go.  Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. ... Every man is brutish in his knowledge: every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.  They are vanity, and the work of errors: in the time of their visitation they shall perish.

He contrasts these empty things and their impotence with the fulness and power of the Godhead, specifically as manifested in His Name:

The portion of Jacob is not like unto them: for He is the former of all things; and Israel is the rod of His inheritance: The LORD of hosts is His name.  ... Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O LORD; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. ... But they are altogether brutish and foolish: the stock [that is, the wood carved as related earlier] is a doctrine of vanities.  Silver spread into plates ... and gold .. the work of the workman, and the hands of the founder: ... they are all the work of cunning men.  But the LORD is the true God, He is the living God, and an everlasting king ... at His wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.

And the Word of the Lord -- the Voice of the Lord -- bears and manifests the power of the Name:

When He uttereth His voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, and He causeth vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; He maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of His treasuries.

 Which things all happened, when He gave the commandment:

And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet [that is, announcing the King], and the mountain smoking.

But they could not bear it, but

removed, and stood afar off.  And they said unto Moses, 'Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.'

They couldn't bear even to hear Him, let alone see Him. How then could they think that any images they could make would even begin to be true?

And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. ... Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure ...

And that this is the whole point of the great elemental impressions, Moses confirms,

Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.  And [so] the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.

And what is this darkness, but the emphasis on the hidden and unrevealed nature of the one with Whom Moses spoke?  For as of yet He had not Revealed Himself; He had not unveiled; there was no Revelation of Jesus Christ at that time.  Therefore, He said to them, through Moses,

Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.

For He had not yet descended to earth and walked among men.  Therefore He says (clarifying and reiterating what He had said before),

Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.

It is not their job to make gods, but His.  And even if they tried to do so, they couldn't because they had not seen any likeness to be made: the only things they could imagine or begin to imagine were all the creations of His hands, empty things, and not He Himself, the fulness of the Godhead.

Instead, He commands them to build an altar.  And not just any altar, but an altar of earth: foreshadowing His incarnation in the earth of Adam's flesh, and also His coming upon earth to be sacrificed.  Thus He tells them that if they will make an altar of stone, and not earth,

thou shalt not make it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.

Thus signifying His birth from the Virgin, as also the Prophet Daniel interpreted to King Nebuchadnezzar:

And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.  Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.

And to this He Himself also gave witness, when He walked among us,

I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.

Which, the evangelist tells us, He spoke of His body.

Now His body is more than just the flesh born of Mary, but also the Church, comprised of those who are themselves born again, with the circumcision made without hands, for He Himself is

the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth ... and He is the head of the body, the Church: Who is the Beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all He might have the preeminence.  For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things to Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.  And you, that were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy [i.e. Saints] and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight.
For in Him dwelleth the fulness of the Godhead bodily.  And ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power: in Whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead.

And so the saying, "I will build another temple, made without hands", which He spoke of His body, signified by unhewn stones, is fulfilled in His rising from the dead, raising those who are in Him by baptism, having received the promise of the circumcision of their hearts, made without hands, the operation of God,

To Whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
Thus far the stone, but let us return to the earth for a moment.  He says of the altars of earth that they are to make,

and [thou] shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen

Now what do we have to do with these: burnt offerings, and peace offerings, sheep, and oxen?  Nothing.

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.  ... Wherefore when He cometh into the world, He saith, 'Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, "Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God."' Above when He said, 'Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; then said He, 'Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.'  He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.  By the which will we are sanctified [that is, made Saintsthrough the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 

This, then, is what it means, "Make an altar of earth, and offer on it your sacrifices":

By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.

For then it was said,

Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes


thou shalt cleanse the altar, when thou hast made an atonement for it, and thou shalt anoint it, to sanctify it 

But now,

Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts

For He wishes to record His Name in this altar made of earth, whereon, by Him whose love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, the oil of gladness, which is given unto us, and by whom we are anointed, and by which we are made the temple of God, for:

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

And again,

What?  Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 

And finally,

Him that overcometh [note: this is the Church Militant] will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.

Wait a minute?  Weren't we talking about images?  And bowing down to them?  How did we get on altars and names and Saints?

Why do we bless images of the Saints, and why are we blessed by them?  Why do we bow down to them?  Why do we offer incense to them?  Why do we sing hymns of high praise to them?

Because in all these things, we are not offering to the Saints, but to the Image and Likeness of God, now seen.  We praise His mighty acts in them, now manifest, for

He is holy in all His works.

Now, we

Praise God in His Saints, praise Him in the firm foundation of His power.

Because He has said,

Ye are gods.

That is,

To them gave He power to become the sons of God.

Now, therefore,

Before the gods I will sing praise unto thee.  I will worship [that is, bow down] toward thy holy temple.

In them, we bless His Holy Name, which He has recorded upon them, are blessed by them as well, for in the middle of all this talk of images and altars and earth and stone, He gave us this most precious of promises:

in all places where I record my Name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.

So no, we do not make images of falsehood, nor bow down to them and worship the vanities of the nations.  Rather, we record and remember the images that He has created, altars of earth upon which we offer our sacrifices of praise to God continually, the fruit of our lips giving praise to His Name, images of the Image of God, which we have now seen, whose coming in the flesh we hereby confess, and Whom, together with His Father Who is from everlasting and His All-Holy and Life-giving Spirit, we praise, and worship, and glorify, unto the ages of ages.  Amen.

Monday, November 20, 2017

"The Bible Says", and Other Terrible Sayings

Often, in the Protestant milieu, one hears such things as, "The Bible says ... ", followed by their pet heresy or denial of the Truth.

This is patent silliness.  The Bible doesn't "say" anything.  It just sits there on the desk.  Opened or closed?  Doesn't matter, although in many cases it is closed anyway!

The Bible does not speak, but the reader.

The Bible itself (I mean the book with pages that sits on your desk) is but impressions of ink on paper.

It is the reader that speaks, or the one who gives the interpretation also, not the Bible itself.

One might object, of course, to my blatant pedantry.  Why am I being so silly?

When colloquial understanding is in accord with Truth, one need not dig deeper and examine the usage.  But when it is turned against the Truth, as this kind of statement often is, precision of language is paramount.

Here's why it's a big deal.

I saw this sentiment asserted recently in this form:
We, as Christians, should never be dogmatic where the Bible is silent. ... There sure would be a lot less drama.
To which I replied,
There would also be a lot less dogma.
The response came back,
Wouldn’t that be a good thing? 
This is the end of that saying: the reduction of dogma to the "bare essentials".

Now, I understand that "dogma" here is not being used in the technical sense, but it is being used in the general sense of "authoritative teaching" -- that is, teaching not as the scribes and Pharisees, who would say, "regarding this verse, this rabbi says that, but this other one teaches this other thing", "line upon line, precept upon precept", by which they would fall down and go backward, but rather teaching according to the Truth, as the prophets.  (Thus saith the Lord!)  Not, that is, by striving about the law with vain jangling in profane and vain babblings, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth, increasing unto more ungodliness, but rather with authority, unto the salvation of the souls of the hearers.

The maker of this statement says, essentially, that such authority is not available to the Christian teacher; unless the thing on which he speaks is written in the Scripture, it cannot be taught authoritatively.

The difficulty is, interpretation is, by definition, not written in the Scripture.  So this one, and also all who hold the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (which is what this is, in "popular" format) deny the possibility, whether they realize it or not, of authoritative interpretation, and reduce the Great Church to the rabbinical synagogue.

If the reader speaks the words of the Bible only, and the sense is not given, nor the hearers caused to understand (Neh 8:8; Acts 8:30, 31), he is as one that speaks words into the air only, and therefore as a barbarian to the hearers (for they know not the meaning of the voice), and there is no profit.

"So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood", Paul says, "how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air."

And lest one might say, "But by this he means the Scriptures, precisely!", Peter answers against such an one, saying that in both the writings of the beloved brother Paul, _as well as in all the other scriptures(!)_, there are many things "hard to be understood", which many who are unlearned (that is -- those who have heard, but have not learned the proper understanding, which by the way is not written or else the writings would not be hard to understand) and unstable wrest to their own destruction, "understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm."

Note carefully how, Peter, the prince of the Apostles and first confessor of the true faith, upon whose faithful confession Christ builds His Church, says that the Scriptures themselves are in many places "hard to be understood", and not "easy to be understood".

So the one who utters only that which is in Scripture, "never being dogmatic where the Bible is silent", is often as one that speaks in an unknown tongue, and as a barbarian to the hearer, and even to himself in many cases.

Nay rather, authoritative teaching (i.e. dogma) beyond what is written is thoroughly necessary, for the edifying of the body, unless what is spoken be of no profit. Thus the Apostle says not, "say only the words of Scripture", but rather, "hold the things which you have been taught, whether by word, OR our epistle."

And in another place, "the rest I will set in order when I come."  That is to say, "I have not written everything you need for life and salvation, but only what is sufficient to get you started back in the right direction until I arrive to complete your instruction."

And in yet another place, he says, "hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. ... and the things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also."  Note carefully that he does not say, "hold fast the things which I write unto you only", but, "the things which you heard of me among many witnesses" -- that is, not only what was written, but the rest which he had set in order when he came, as he said previously, and which he says elsewhere that he taught in all the churches of God.

For Timothy, he says (to whom he wrote, above), had fully known his doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, etc.

Now, that we might not discount the greatness and primary importance of this, and rely only our own sight and understanding of what we read, he reminds him and acknowledges that he (Timothy) has known the holy scriptures from his youth.  But he does not begin there, nor end there.

Rather, he founds Timothy's assurance and faith, by which, he says, the Scriptures are able to make him wise unto salvation, not the other way around, as though his assurance and faith would come from his wisdom in the Scriptures! ... Rather, I began to say, he founds Timothy's assurance and faith firmly on something else entirely.

His assurance of faith, he says, lies not in the mere fact of his having heard, read, or even thoroughly memorized the words of Scripture, but rather is firmly rooted in his knowledge of those from whom he learned his _understanding_, viz: "knowing OF WHOM thou hast learned", and in his continuance in what he learned from them.

All scripture is indeed given by inspiration of God, and is truly "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto good works."

But it is not thus profitable unless the interpretation is given, and given rightly divided.

Yet the interpretation is not always (or even commonly) written elsewhere, but received, dogmatically and traditionally (i.e. from faithful men who were taught by faithful men), from the Apostles, who received it from Christ Himself, with the Spirit.

So let the spiritual ones who hold the faith and life and doctrine of the Apostles teach such authoritatively, in the Spirit, with the understanding, even if it is only five words at a time.

And do not forbid them from so speaking by some pretense of being faithful to the Scriptures!  Such limitation is not faithfulness at all, but diabolical confusion and darkening.

True, God is able to make even the rocks to speak, if we should be silent, and to make of them children of Abraham.  But though He is able, He has has not called the rocks to the building, but has called us to be living stones, building our most holy faith on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, a building unto God in the Spirit, having received from Him an understanding.  Let those who build on the foundation be careful that they add the gold, and silver, and precious stones of the Apostolic Tradition, and not the wood, hay, and stubble of uncertain words and opinions, no matter how well studied.

Friday, July 28, 2017

On the Traditionalist/Perennialist School

At one point, I studied, absorbed, and even kind of believed the teachings of an early 20th century philosophy known as Perennialism, or The Traditionalist School.  (The two are not the same, but they are interrelated, and for the purposes of this post, we will treat them the same.

The basic tenet is that all of the major religious traditions, at their best, lead to or impart knowledge of the Transcendent, commonly known as "God", even if they disagree with each other, they do so because God set it up that way.

Well the funny thing about the Traditionalist school is that it furthermore posits that to actually acquire the knowledge of that transcendent reality from the major traditions, you have to PICK ONE.  You can't smorgasboard or cherry-pick or try to learn from all of them, but you have to pick one, enter into it, and forget the rest.

Well, someone asked me if this is compatible with Christianity or not (Christianity is considered by that school as one of the major Traditions it speaks of).  I said, "Well, as far as being compatible with Christianity, 'pick one' totally is, as long as you pick Christianity. 🙂"  I continued:

As for the general idea of all the major religion traditions at their best being oriented toward the one transcendent reality/God, yes and no.  Christianity does have the idea of the "spermatikos Logos" -- the seed of the Word.  That is, that although God gave the oracles directly to the Jews, He nevertheless planted eternity, and a thirst for the Word, and even some hints in the right direction, among the nations as well, and that the heathen philosophers did their best with this, resulting in Buddhism & Taoism in the East, Aristotelianism & Platonism in the West, etc.

However, where we differ is that while the Traditionalist school teaches that you can come to knowledge of the transcendent through any of those traditions (pick one), Christianity teaches that these were and are (even including Judaism) planted and formed by God to effect the incarnation of that transcendence, that is, so that the transcendent could transcend itself, and draw creation into itself.  The philosophies of the heathen were the pinnacle of what man could achieve in his created limitedness.  To rise to the transcendent, the transcendent had to condescend to lead us upward.  None of those could accomplish that, or pull Him down (For "'Who has ascended into the heaves?', that is, to bring down Christ.")  But the Logos Himself could, and did.  Once the Logos became incarnate, the call went forth to leave the paths of (relative) ignorance, and limitedness, and unite ourselves to Him, and He, then would bring us to the Father.  The other traditions are useless, except insofar as they bring us to Him; but once we are brought to Him, we must "leave our nets" -- that is, the systems of our philosophy, by which we try to catch the substance of our lives -- "and follow me".  "So they left all, and followed Him."