Archive for the 'Correspondence' Category

Reflections on the Triunity of God

I have been asked to offer my thoughts on the Christian Trinity.  “Trinity” may be thought of as a conflation of Triple-Unity, or Tri-Unity.  It simply means three-in-one.  In this case it refers to three aspects of the Christian God:  God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  This question has been prompted by a presentation of the Trinity found on the web site http://www.PleaseConvinceMe.com (http://pleaseconvinceme.com/2013/the-triunity-of-god-2/ by Aaron Brake).  My reply will make more sense if one first reads Brake’s article.

An additional resource which I would offer for consideration is Prof. Bart Ehrman’s 22nd lecture (“Did Early Christians Accept the Trinity?”) of his Great Courses production “The Greatest Controversies of Early Christian History” (course #6410, which may be purchased on the http://www.GreatCourses.com web site).  For those interested in New Testament studies, Ehrman’s college text book, “The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writing” is available from Amazon and other book sellers.  This text book is widely used in seminary courses throughout the United States.  Of course, it also reads like a text book.  Ehrman has also authored a large number of popular books which are widely available and perhaps easier to read.

Much of what I have to say will be in response to what I have read (June 2013) in Mr. Brake’s article.  Brake offers a number of scriptures in support of his views regarding the Trinity.  Discussing these will account for the majority of my following response.  But before going to that depth, I would like to begin with a number of more general observations.  My hope these will help frame my commentary, and make it more understandable.  Please bear with me.

 

Finally, I will conclude with Erik’s Conclusion, which those who tire of reading the details, may wish to skip.

 

Dating the Books of the Bible and Authorship

Under the heading, “History of the Trinity,” “First Century,” “The New Testament” the author states “Less than thirty years passed from the death of Christ before we have written evidence of the Trinitarian formula from Matt. 28:19 being used as a regular baptismal rite.”  There are some scholars who place the Gospel of Matthew (not written by Matthew) this early, but most do not share this opinion.  It is too early.

Jesus was crucified sometime around 30 CE (“CE” means Common Era, and corresponds to AD).  Paul’s letters are our earliest surviving Christian texts, written in the 50’s and 60’s (about half of which are thought to be authored by Paul).  Most scholars place the writing of Mark (the earliest of the gospels) around 60-70.  Given that both Matthew and Luke used Mark as one of their sources, they must be dated later, and given sufficient time for hand-written copies of the Mark’s gospel to be circulated.  So perhaps Matthew was as early as 65 CE or so, but it seems more reasonable to my mind to place it somewhere between 70-80.  So too with Luke/Acts.  (It is widely thought the same person wrote Luke and Acts, which dates Acts immediately after Luke.)  John is the latest of the gospels, and is usually dated between 80-95 CE.  As a point of comparison, Revelation is typically dated to 95 CE, and the later letters, such as 1, 2, 3 John, and 2 Peter are dated anywhere from 70-110 CE or so.  Given the theology these later letters tend to offer, I suspect they are dated from the time of the Gospel of John and later.

All of the New Testament was written in Greek.  All of the gospels are written anonymously.  We do not know who wrote them, but the vast majority of scholars agree it is highly unlikely they were written by any of the apostles or their immediate associates.  These books were only granted their apostolic authorship centuries later when such authorship strongly influenced which books were accepted into the canon/bible.

Therefore, while one may cite the gospels as the best evidence of early Christian thought (with the understanding that the authentic letters of Paul are the earliest such records), I do not think it is fair to intimate that Matthew was written “less than 30 years” after the crucifixion of Jesus.  To my mind this is unlikely and misleading.  One must grant however, it is within the realm of possibility.

The Coptic Gospel of Thomas

The Coptic Gospel of Thomas presents an interesting discovery.  This is one of the ancient books found in Egypt near the village of Nag Hammadi in the late 1940’s.  This collection of books is called the Nag Hammadi Library.  This gospel was written in Coptic, which is a combination of Egyptian and Greek, and was translated from sources written in Greek.

The Gospel of Thomas is very different than other gospels we have.  There is no narrative.  It is simply a collection of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus.  About half of these are very similar to sayings of Jesus found in the four gospels of the New Testament.  Others are quite different.  I find all of them to be quite thought provoking, and worthy of reflection.

Scholars hold widely differing opinions regarding this text.  All agree it is sourced from early writings, but they differ on what dates to assign.  The latest generally date it to the 2nd century.  Some scholars think some of the sayings date much earlier, perhaps as early as the oral traditions originating within a few years of the death of Jesus.  The late professor Ron Miller believed perhaps a third of the sayings date very early, into these oral traditions, certainly pre-dating the letters of Paul, while the remaining sayings date later into the 2nd century.  Miller’s position is the most logical argument I have heard to date.

A Note Regarding Paul’s Letters

Paul’s writings account for nearly half of the books found in the Christian New Testament (13 of 27).  This is one reason some suggest that Paul is really the proper founder of the Christian religion, as opposed to Jesus.  However, this fails to take pseudepigraphical works into account (books or letters written by one person in the name of another; a fairly common practice in the ancient world, certainly as compared to our modern era).  This insight significantly weakens this proposition, but Paul still wrote at least six letters found in the New Testament, and perhaps as many as nine.  This means Paul penned between 22% and 33% of the books or letters of the New Testament, which is still a significant percentage, and a greater influence than any other single author of the New Testament.

It is also fair to observe Paul’s letters must have been significant to persons in the earliest years of the Jesus Movement.  It took a lot of resources to hand-copy a letter in the ancient world.  First one had to find someone able to write (estimates range from 5% to 15% of the population had such skills; the ability to author sophisticated letters and books would have been a much smaller percentage of the population).  Then the time and materials had to be allocated to reproduce the manuscript (manually written script).  That Paul’s writings survive, and in such numbers, are evidence of their wide circulation.  It seems obvious these were considered important texts by many of the earliest Christians, and later by the earliest formalized Christian churches.

For these reasons, I feel it is very important to distinguish which letters are really written by Paul, and which are clearly not written by Paul.  Of Paul’s 13 Epistles (which simply means, letters), six are considered to be authentic.  This is only rarely contested.  These authentic letters of Paul are:

1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, and Philemon

Of the remaining seven letters, several are contested and several nearly all scholars regard as pseudepigraphical (forgeries, certainly in the sense of declared authorship; but perhaps not in the sense content – this is a judgement each reader must determine for themselves, and is a source of great debate).  The contested letters of Paul are:

2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians

Those letters which almost no one considers having been written by Paul are:

1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews

I would emphasize that almost no serious theologian believes Paul wrote 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, nor Hebrews.  Hebrews is not even a letter, it is almost certainly part of a sermon.  In addition to this, its author misunderstands key points of the Jewish scriptures it cites – a mistake Paul would never have made, given he was a former pharisee.  Had Hebrews not (mistakenly) been thought to have been written by Paul, it most likely would not have even been included in the New Testament canon.

1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are known as the “Pastoral Epistles” (these are the letters addressed to individuals, as opposed to an ekklesia (group, gathering, congregation, or church)).  These letters address questions which presuppose a formal, hierarchical church structure, which did not exist in Paul’s day, so these are clearly not written by Paul.  We can also see the hand of censorship and male domination in them, which is antithesis to Paul’s theological positions in his authentic letters.

For these reasons, these Pastorial Epistles are obviously dated to a later period, and to my eye are obviously not written by Paul.  Furthermore, because they are highly biased and prejudiced texts, I also am very leery of taking what they have to say to heart.  My opinion is these three books must be read with a very critical eye.

And more generally, for those who are trying to follow the teachings of Jesus, as opposed to the formal, organized church which come into existence much later, we must also read all of the latest books of the New Testament with an increasingly critical eye.  We must ask to what degree do they observe the teachings of Jesus, and to what degree do they speak to more earthly concerns, such as church hierarchy and subjugation of women?

Inerrancy of the Bible – Context, Context, Context!

Many Christians -I hope unintentionally- depreciate the Hebrew bible by calling it the Old Testament, implying the covenant between the Israel and God is invalid, superseded by Jesus Christ and the message of the New Testament.  I find this needlessly offensive, and for this reason make a conscious effort to refer to the “Old Testament” as the Hebrew bible.  Christian canonical texts, I prefer to either call the Christian bible, or the New Testament.

The Hebrew bible and Christian bible simply are not be inerrant.  Both bibles themselves demonstrate this point in that they contain obvious contradictions.  This is conclusive evidence.  Both also at times wax poetic, employing metaphoric language.  This is perfectly fine, but we cannot reasonably hold the position that these scriptures are inerrant.  Inspired?  Texts of deep spiritual value?  Certainly so!  But written by men (and few, if any, women).  Not written by the Hand of God (which is an example of metaphoric language).

My seminary classes have taught me each book of the bible should be read in light of its own context, taking into account when it was written, by whom, to whom, and for what reason.  Before we engage a given scripture, we should be aware of these elements of the book or letter from which we are reading.  This provides the frame work which allows us the best opportunity to understand the scripture.  When was it written?  What was happening in the surrounding culture at that time?  By whom was it written?  Do we know the author?  Were there multiple authors?  To whom was it written?  Who is the intended audience?  For what reason was it written?

I have come to completely agree with the assertion each book of the bible must be read based upon its own merits.  If we simply conflate them all, smashing them all together, we miss the subtle points each attempts to make, and in many cases we miss the emphasis each individual book or letter wishes to make.  These are subtle yet important clues guiding us to a more thorough understanding of each text.

Consider the Genealogy of Jesus.  Doing so shows us example both of discrepancies between the texts, and of the importance of knowing the context in which, and for which, the various texts were written.  Knowing the context offers us additional insight as to the intended message of the text.

Matthew opens by tracing Jesus back to Abraham, so as to emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus.  Luke 3:38, traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Adam (of Adam and Eve fame), and in fact, to God himself!  The best reason I have heard for doing so, is to establish Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) for *all* those decedent of Adam (every living person, in other words).  As opposed to emphasizing the Jewishness of Jesus, Luke emphasizes the human-ness of Jesus;  and simultaneously, Jesus’ divine heritage, in that his genealogy begins with God himself.  Some may claim this demonstrates that Jesus was simultaneously Man-and-God.  Perhaps.  But if so, you and I are equally so  (being equally decedents of Adam, in this context).

Trinitarian Heresies

Under the heading of “Trinitarian Heresies” the author, Mr. Brake, notes several interpretations of the Trinity which he considers mistaken.  One of these heresies is called Modalism, which is an attempt to understand God as manifesting in modes of existence.

Please note:  heresy is relative to orthodoxy (lower case: not to be confused with a person who is a member of an Eastern Orthodox church).  In the Greek, otho means correct; doxa means common or popular opinion.  Therefore, orthodoxy means holding the correct, or common, opinion.  Heresy derives from the Greek hairesis, which is literally, the act of choosing; in this context, choosing the wrong belief, which is defined as contrary to that of the orthodox belief.  Therefore, we can see that no one believes themselves to be a heretic; instead they would adopt what they believe to be the correct opinion.

Modalism is offered as an attempt to demonstrate there is only a single God, but at the same time, God is also revealed to humans as Jesus and as the Holy Spirit.  This distinction of One-ness was considered especially important in the ancient world because Christianity was defining itself while surrounded by polytheists (with the exception of the Jewish religion).  But Christians understood themselves to be monotheists.  So some means of explaining that three apparent Gods, were in truth the same God, had to be developed.  So persons subscribing to Modalism stated that Jesus and the Spirit were also God the Father; that God the Father manifests in three modes of existence.  One God, not three.

Brake says of Modalism, “God is one Person who appears in three different modes or is known by three different names: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To put it another way, Jesus is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

By way of example, the author cites a fairly common attempt to clarify this:  “The Trinity is like a man who has three different roles as husband, father, and son.”  In fact, this is an example I sometimes use.  The key point is found in the nature of the relationship we have with this person (as husband, father, or son).  The differences are found in the means of relating, one to the other.  I feel this example does help one get a sense of the nature of the proposed Trinity.  However, the author is correct to point out one cannot take this too literally, as it only leads to a partial understanding of the Trinity.

Now, if one makes the additional assumption -as does Brake- that “God exists and manifests Himself in one form at a time,” this will certainly lead to a misunderstanding or corruption of the concept of the Trinity.  However, I do not believe this is an accurate representation of Modalism.  To sum Modalism in this light is to present the Persons of God as experiencing serial existences.  I do not think that is an accurate characterization of Modalism, because as I understand Modalism, it portrays the Persons of God as separate, yet also existing simultaneously; not serially.

The understanding of the Trinity evolved over several centuries.  Modalism was one step along that evolution, and Prof. Ehrman states that it may even have been a majority opinion at the end of the 2nd century.  Ironically, its fundamental difficulty was in failing to express sufficient separateness between God the Father and God the Son.  This lead to the untenable position that God the Father -in the Person of the Son- was made to suffer crucifixion.

As history has shown us, the view which won out was that God is one, yet of three Essences or Persons.  I am reminded of the common depiction in Hindu artwork, displaying multiple faces on some of their deities.  This is a means of representing the “multiple faces” or “personas” of the deity; it is not to be taken literally.  So too with the multiple arms.  These are depicting the many ways in which the deity is active in the world, not that the deity is thought to literally have many arms.

The Doctrine of the Trinity

The author of the article published at PleaseConvinceMe.com states the Trinity is a Central Doctrine of Christianity, because this is one of the core doctrines which distinguishes Christianity from any other religion.  I suppose that presumption is generally accepted by most Christians, and I will tentatively grant that point.  This is especially true in the exoteric, or outer, expression of Christianity.  But I find it to be less so in the esoteric, or inner, expression of Christianity (Christian Mysticism).

However, as there are other religions which understand God to be emanate in this world in multiple aspects or persons, I do not fully agree if one takes a wider view of the underlying principal of multiple persons, or personas, of the Divine.  One might successfully argue specifically that the idea of the Trinity is unique to Christianity, but not that of the principal of multiple emanation of the Divine.  So this point may be reasonably argued in either the positive or negative, depending whether one is arguing a more narrow Christian-centric position, or a generalized principal of Divine emanation.

Furthermore, it is my opinion the Trinity is a secondary tenet of Christianity, not a primary tenet.  My position is the central tenet of Christianity -which is unique to Christianity- is Christ, specifically in the person of Jesus.

Christology

Christology is the area of Christian theology which concerns itself with the study of the nature and person of Jesus Christ.  The complexities of Christology is a topic for discussion some other day, but I believe it will be useful to touch upon it here.

The word Christ derives from the Greek word for anointed, christos, which in turn was used in place of the Hebrew word, mashiach (messiah, which means anointed).  So Christ and Messiah mean the same thing -anointed- it is just a matter of derivation from either Greek or Hebrew.

The aspect of Christology which pertains to our understanding of the Trinity is this:  how do we understand Jesus versus the Christ?

In other words, when did Jesus become Divine?  Did Jesus become Divine after he was raised from death?  This would seem to be the understanding presented in Romans 1:3-4 and and Acts 2.  Or perhaps at his baptism?  This may be the case in the synoptic Gospels, in which the Holy Spirit (Ruach Hakodesh of Hashem) descended upon/into Jesus.  And as Prof. Ehrman prefers to relate the translations of what he considers the earliest and best manuscripts, “…*today* you have become my Son….”  Or was he existent prior to the formation of the world, as related in the Gospel of John?

A related question is how human was Jesus, and how Divine was Jesus?  Understandings of this too have evolved over time.  Some have felt Jesus was fully human and the Christ came to dwell within him, and later left him.  Some have felt Jesus was always entirely Divine and only appeared to be human.  And some felt that Jesus was born fully human and later became “adopted” by God, and thereupon become fully Divine.  We see here many questions which may provide insight as to the nature of the Trinity.

Ultimately the orthodox view came to be that Jesus was both fully human and simultaneously fully Divine.  How this is possible is left as a Divine Mystery.  I suspect our investigation of the Trinity is going to lead to a very similar conclusion – namely, that God is simultaneously One and Three; one Being expressed as three Persons.  How?  This too is a Divine Mystery.

Defining the Doctrine of the Trinity

Early in his article, Mr. Brake offers a number of points which define his understanding of the Doctrine of the Trinity:

A Basic Definition: “Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

The doctrine of the Trinity is a logical deduction based on three lines of evidence presented in the Bible: 1) There is one God. 2) The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. 3) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons.  (A number of scriptures are cited in support of these assertions, the exploration of which will take up the majority of my reply to follow.)

God is Triune: “He exists eternally and simultaneously as three distinct and distinguishable persons (though not separate): Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three persons in the Godhead, or Divine Being, share equally and completely the one divine nature, and are therefore the same God—coequal in attributes, nature and glory. God has revealed himself as one in essence or substance (being), but three in subsistence (person-hood). In terms of what God is (essence), God is one; in terms of who God is (subsistence), God is three.”

“We worship one God in the Trinity, and the Trinity in unity; we distinguish among the persons, but we do not divide the substance…The entire three persons are coeternal and coequal with one another, so that…we worship complete unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity” (The Athanasian Creed).

“Trinity can thus be defined as three persons in one divine essence or as one divine essence subsisting in three modes, the unity of essence being guaranteed by the consubstantiality and coinherence of the persons, the distinction of persons being manifest in their relations.”

An Attempt to Clarify

While I suspect the foregoing is technically correct, for me, it needs to be offered with greater clarity.  I feel Brake’s best attempt to do so is found under the heading “The ‘Is’ of predication vs. the ‘Is’ of identity.”  His example is that we may accurately state that “Jesus is God” however, we can NOT correctly state that “God is Jesus.”  We are able to state that Jesus is God, because all that Jesus is, is contained within that which is God.  But the reverse is not also true.  In other words, Jesus is a “smaller container” than God.  Jesus is also not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not Jesus.  Therefore, Jesus is also a “smaller container” than is the Holy Spirit.

But may we say the same thing about The Father?  This point is not addressed by Brake, but as I read his article, God is the same thing as saying God the Father, so I suspect his answer is in the negative.  I think we can defend a different case, however.

Ontology of the Unknowable-Ineffable-Transcendent God

I contend that we *may* also state that The Father is a “smaller container” than is God.  In this view I am defining “God” as the Ineffable-Transcendent aspect of the Divine.  There is no larger concept of God, than the Ineffable-Transcendent.  The Ineffable-Transcendent is beyond human comprehension or imagination.  At this extreme, we simply have nothing to say about “God.”  The Ineffable-Transcendent aspect of God is that which is outside the scope of our universe.  The only thing we may say about such a Being, is we can know nothing of It.

In my view, it is from this most extreme aspect of the Divine that all other aspects of the Divine are emanate.  And it is only those aspects of the Divine which are emanate inside our universe, which we have any hope of meaningfully addressing or attempting to apprehend.  In fact, I believe we are stretching the capacity of our comprehension to understand those aspects of the Divine which are emanate in our own world.

And for me this is a fundamentally critical observation!

My personal reflection on the meaning of the Trinity, and of the nature of God -at least what we may be able to apprehend of the incomprehensible- flows from this understanding.  In my opinion this is the single most important point we must grasp when trying to think about “God.”  If we get this right, a great deal of theological speculation falls into place.

So we start with the assertion the most extreme aspect of the Divine is completely unknowable to us.  This means the most fundamental, radical (in the sense of “root” or “beginning”) concept we need to hold about “God” is that “God” is beyond our grasp.  As a friend of mine -Charles Perdue- is fond of saying, no matter what we think we know of God, “God is all that and more!”

This is also important to our theological speculations because we then realize that whatever we have to say about God, there is always room for additional understandings or apprehensions of God.  This should make us very humble.  We should be very leery of telling another person they fail to understand God, while our understanding of God is correct.  (Committing and sanctioning violent or murderous acts is one of my few limitations in this regard.  I consider murdering in the name of God (anyone’s God!) to be among the most evil acts one may commit.)

The second major point to be made, is that what we do apprehend of God is limited to that which is emanate in our world and experience.  Given our own ability to perceive provides the limits of our ability to experience the Divine, this must be so.

And it is from this point that I strive to place meaning to the concept of the Christian Trinity.  We are dealing with Divine emanations into our world.  Another way of saying this, is that we are not really defining God, but rather we are defining the lens or lenses through which *we* perceive God.  And another way of saying that, is God is always the same – it is we who change, and as we change our perceptions of God, God appears to us to change.  But this is illusionary.  It is merely a matter of perspective.  We are nails attempting to fix water in place.

Only with this understanding in mind may we begin to define God.  And we do so with the foreknowledge such a God must be made to fit within our human limitations.  The more closely we define God, the more we limit and diminish God; the more human we make God.  Yet, so long as we remain human, we *must* diminish the Ineffable-Transcendent God in order to hold any concept of God.  But it is important we do so mindfully.

Evaluation of Scriptural Citations

I now return to Mr. Brake’s article, and will address each scripture Brake cites as evidence of the Christian Trinity.  Brake begins this section by providing us with a working definition of the the Doctrine of the Trinity:

“Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

I remind you that Brake says the doctrine of the Trinity “is a logical deduction based on three lines of evidence presented in the Bible,” which he sums in three statements:

1. There is one God.
2. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God.
3. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons.

For each of these statements he provides a number of scriptural citations in support of the claim.  These will be the individual verses which I discuss below.  At the very end, I will offer my conclusion.

1. There is one God

1.A. Deut. 6:4

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

Alternate translations read:

The Lord our God is one Lord;
The Lord our God, the Lord is one;
The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.

As I stated in my introduction, context is important.  The following is provides the context of Deuteronomy Chapter 6:

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

The Great Commandment

6 Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem [OR: as a frontlet] on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

1.B. 1 Tim. 2:5

Below is the context of 1 Timothy Chapter 2, in which we find this verse:

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Instructions concerning Prayer

2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For

there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all

—this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth [other ancient authorities add “in Christ”], I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

8 I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; 9 also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11 Let a woman [OR: wife] learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman [OR: wife] to teach or to have authority over a man [OR: her husband]; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

1.C. James 2:19

For context, below is the text of James Chapter 2, verses 14-26:

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Faith without Works Is Dead

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters [in the original Greek ‘My brothers’], if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

Erik’s opinion:  I personally find the above unconvincing in terms of proving the Trinity.  If these passages prove anything, it is that there is one God, not three-in-one.  So I am in apparent agreement with Mr. Brake in-so-far-as he offers these passages to demonstrate there is only one God.

2. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God…

2.A. John 8:58,  “Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ ”

Erik’s opinion:  Well, this is the Gospel of John after all!  Here we find numerous “I Am” statements by Jesus.  But we have to be careful with the interpretation of the Gospel of John for two reasons:  (1)  It is the last of the four canonical gospels, written sometime around 95 CE (contemporary with The Book of Revelation).  And (2) it is written in a very mythic style.  Some have proposed it is best understood as an extended parable.

Now, I happen to really like the Gospel of John for its beautiful wording and poetic descriptions.  I also find a deep affinity with some of Jesus’ “I Am” statements, such as John 14:20 where Jesus says,  “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”  In other words, we all have something of the Divine within us, and we may all aspire to reunite our Inner Divinity with the Ineffable Divine; which is to say we may all aspire to realize and ultimately obtain theosis:  we are in God, and God is in us.

2.B. Acts 5:3-4

The following offers the fuller context of, Acts 5:1-11

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Ananias and Sapphira

5 But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; 2 with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 “Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us[a] but to God!” 5 Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. 6 The young men came and wrapped up his body,[b] then carried him out and buried him.

7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.
Erik’s opinion:  Perhaps this is a misprint?  I cannot imagine how Acts 5:3-4 is supposed to support the idea of the Trinity, and specifically the part of the claim which states:  “The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God.”

2.C. 1 Cor. 1:3

1 Corinthians Chapter 1

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Salutation

1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord [in the Greek, “theirs”] and ours:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I give thanks to my [other ancient authorities lack “my”] God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6 just as the testimony of [or “to”] Christ has been strengthened among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Erik’s opinion:  This is a letter of Paul.  Paul’s letters typically followed the formal Greek format, and this includes a greeting/salutation, of which verse 1:3 is a part.  I would not take it too literally, and certainly not in an attempt to demonstrate a subtle point.  When we write “Dear X” at the beginning of a formal letter, we do not mean the person being addressed is necessarily “dear” to our heart.  So too in Paul’s salutation.

2.D. Eph. 4:30 (“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.”)

For greater context, Ephesians 4:17-32

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Rules for the New Life

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up [other ancient authorities read “building up faith”], as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you [other ancient authorities read “us”].

Erik’s opinion:  I do not see this as clearly supporting the doctrine of the Trinity.  This could just as easily be addressing an aspect of, or an emanation of, God; or an emanate aspect of the Ineffable.  When speaking of the Holy Spirit/Ghost I often think of my friend Charles Perdue’s observation that he thinks of the Holy Spirit as the “Power” of God.  Or as the “Presence” of God.  Seen in this light, the Holy Spirit is that Presence of the Ineffable-Transcendent-Divine of which we are aware at any given point in time.

In any event, such a short little aside, I would tend to take as exactly that – an aside; a way of turning a phrase; but *not* as a basis for formulating a doctrine of the Trinity.  I will need to see much better support for such a claim.  At best, this a tertiary supportive claim, which presupposes the claim has already been made and supported by an unstated primary proof.
2.E. Col. 2:9  “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…”

And in context, Colossians 2:6-19 (one of the contested letters of Paul):

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Fullness of Life in Christ

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives [in the original Greek “to walk”] in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe [OR: the rudiments of the world], and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision [in the original Greek “a circumcision made without hands”], by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God [in the original Greek “he”] made you [other ancient authorities read:  “made us”;  others, “made”] alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed [OR: divested himself of] the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling [other ancient authorities read “not dwelling”] on visions [the meaning of the original Greek is uncertain], puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking [in the original Greek “by the mind of his flesh”], 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Erik’s opinion:  First of all, I am suspicious of breaking a phrase in half!  The entire sentence is *both* verses 9 and 10.  Taking verses 9 and 10 at face value,  “9 For in him [meaning Christ Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority.”

I understand this to be saying Christ Jesus is 100% Divine.  I can believe that.  But this by itself does *not* establish the Trinity or even a strict Duality.  I say this because, one may read this in at least two other ways:

a)  “Christ” as an emanation of the Ineffable into this world, and as the “anointing” (which is what Christ means in the Greek) of Spirit upon a person.  In this case, that person is Jesus.  But can this anointing fall upon others?  I think the answer is yes, it may.  Seen in this light, this may be another way of describing the Holy Spirit falling upon a person, as is seen in the Pentecost.

b)  It may also be that the indwelling Divine Spark has been enlivened!  Jesus also says that he is one with God, God is one with him, and he is one with us (John 14:20).  Meaning that we all share the same Divine Spark, which dwells within each of us.

And I don’t think this is an exaggeration of the possible reading of this scripture, for if Jesus is fully Divine (“the whole fullness of deity dwells”) and in the second half of the same sentence reads, “and you have come to fullness in him,” then why cannot we read this to be saying that we too may receive the “whole fullness” of the deity dwelling within us?  To my eye, this is as good a case as saying this is supporting the idea of the Trinity.
2.F. 2 Peter 1:17  “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'”

And in a fuller context, 2 Peter 1:16-18

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Eyewitnesses of Christ’s Glory

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved [other ancient authorities read “my beloved Son”], with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

Erik’s opinion:  To begin with, this was not written by the apostle Peter (and it is also written by a different author than 1st Peter).  Most scholars date it somewhere between 80-150 CE (Peter died around 65-67 CE).  Why is this important to consider?  This makes it one of the latest books/letters to be included in the bible.  This means it shows us a later, more developed, understanding of Christianity.  Specifically, this letter addresses concerns such as false teachers who are distorting authentic traditions of Christianity, and it needs to explain why God has delayed the Second Coming of Christ.  (So that more people will have the opportunity to come to salvation, is the answer given.)  Paul certainly expected to be living when Jesus returned.  This was the early teaching, so many persons expected exactly that.  As the decades passed, this became an increasingly difficult position to defend.  An alternate interpretation had to be developed.

Returning to the passage itself, there are a number of thoughts that come to mind…

a)  Bart Ehrman (a well known New Testament scholar) has observed that a small number of the very earliest -and in his opinion among the best- manuscripts read that at his baptism, Jesus, “today” became the Son of God – which may imply that prior to that occasion Jesus was fully human, and upon his baptism became the adopted Son of God  (Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus).

b)  The gospels differ on this account.  Sometimes only Jesus hears this voice (Mark 1:9-11, and Matt. 3:13-17), and sometimes those present may also be aware of this announcement (Luke 3:21-22).  Why the differences?

Mark 1:9-11

The Baptism of Jesus

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:13-17

The Baptism of Jesus

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:21-22

The Baptism of Jesus

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved [Or “my beloved Son”]; with you I am well pleased [other ancient authorities read, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”].”

Erik’s opinion:  Well, Mark is the earliest of the gospels.  Matthew and Luke use Mark as one of their sources.  In Mark Jesus’ Divinity is never understood.  Most likely this is why this revelation is made only to Jesus in Mark.  Matthew is not concerned with the “secret messiah” theme as is Mark.  Matthew is concerned with portraying Jesus from the Jewish perspective.  It may be that the author of Matthew simply did not see this as a particularly important point, whether only Jesus heard this, or everyone present heard this, and therefore simply repeated the phrasing as given in Mark.

Luke is attempting to provide a fuller account of the life and ministry of Jesus, and for this reason may have felt it was important to portray all those present as hearing this declaration from God.  Luke’s account is also more equanimous to Gentiles, perhaps portraying this as a public announcement as a foreshadowing of the world-wide spreading of the Gospel?

In any event, it remains unclear whether this is announcing a pre-existing condition (Jesus was always the Son of God) or whether upon his baptism Jesus became the adopted Son of God.  Apparently this distinction was not of universal importance in the early years of the Jesus Movement.  Later it became important.  As these later dates the translations and copies were made to show that Jesus was always the Son of God, and they therefore dropped the “today” reference.

No one can know which is the correct interpretation.  Are humans fully animals, devoid of the Divine?  Or do humans also contain some aspect of the Divine within us;  are we humans both animal and Divine?  My personal preference is the “today” account because this lends itself to the understanding that we may all become the Son of God (or the Daughter of God, for women).

But this is because I favor the theme of theosis and of our ability to develop the internal “spark” of the Divine dwelling within each of us.  This is the same reason I like the Gospel of John, which while poetic and metaphoric in nature, lends itself to a similar interpretation.  In this we see that one’s preferred theology colors the interpretation we give to the scriptures.  In this we see that the text is just the text;  it is the reader who imparts meaning to the text.

3. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons…

3.A. Matt. 3:15-17

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Erik’s opinion:  I agree this would best demonstrate God the Father, God the Spirit, and Jesus are separate and distinct beings.
3.B. Matt. 28:19  (“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…”)

In a wider context, Matthew 28:16-20…

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

The Commissioning of the Disciples

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Erik’s opinion:  This is a reference to baptizing others in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  I would take this as a reference to three persons, or three emanations, or three aspects of the Divine:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

I believe one could also understand this in different terms, as the Ineffable God, the Incarnate God, and the Holy Presence (or Emanate Energy) of God.  I also see no reason why one could not further adopt this to fit another social-cultural setting, and for example, include God the Mother, if one wished.

But at the same time, I once again would agree this might be cited as an example of their separateness.

3.C. John 16:13-15  (13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.)

Here is a fuller context, John 16:4-15

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

The Work of the Spirit

4 [Jesus is speaking] … “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate [OR “helper”] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about [Or “convict the world of”] sin and righteousness and judgement: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Erik’s opinion:  This is a complicated passage.  And in the Gospel of John to boot, which is poetic and metaphoric, making the interpretation more complicated still.  To my ear, Jesus seems to be speaking both of separateness from, and unity with, the Divine.

The Advocate (which is understood to be the Holy Spirit) is to come, yet in verse 13 would appear to be dependent (“…for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears…”).  This would lend itself to an interpretation close to that of Charles Perdue, that the Advocate is an Energy or Force of the Divine, not really a separate being at all.

Verse 15 is not much clearer.  “All that the Father has is mine.”  Is Jesus saying that he is God the Father and God the Father is Jesus, or is he saying that Jesus has possession of all that which the Father has access?  And what does that mean, especially in light of person-hood?  Does it include the Father’s Will?  Creative Power?  Spirit?

The second half of verse 15 seems to switch pronouns to point to the Advocate, saying, “For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  Suggesting that the Advocate will reveal to us, all that which belongs to Jesus, which Jesus has just said is “all that the Father has.”

The web site http://www.PleaseConvinceMe.com indicates that verses 13-15 demonstrate the separateness of the persons of the Trinity.  I do not read this passage in this way, when taken as a whole.  The reading does not seem to be that clear and straight forward to my eye.  But maybe I only say this because I do not wish to view the Holy Spirit as nothing more than a recorder, to simply replay for us the message of God the Father?  Yet at the same time, this Advocate is to speak to us all that is yet to come.  Perhaps the point of this passage is misunderstood…  perhaps it is suggesting the scope of the Advocate transcends the limitations of time-space as we understand them?

Jesus attempts to clarify this passage, saying:

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. 26 On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God [other authorities read, “the Father”]. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.”

29 His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

Erik’s opinion:  In any event, whatever this passage means, I would not have personally chosen it to highlight that what are understood to be the persons of the Trinity are separate beings.  That seems far from clear to me.

3.D. 2 Cor. 13:14

Below is the passage in a fuller context, 2 Corinthians 11-13

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Final Greetings and Benediction

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of [OR: and the sharing in] the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Erik’s opinion:  Interestingly, the online version I prefer to use retains “All the saints greet you” as part of the previous verse, whereas most versions I looked at consider that to be a separate verse, which makes the 14th verse to read “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of [OR: and the sharing in] the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

I would take this as a formal ending to the letter.  I would not read a great deal into it, although it makes for a very nice benediction or blessing:  “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

I also think another point could just as easily be made.  Consider instead of the persons of the Trinity as the focus of the sentence, think of the Personifications of the Emanate Powers of God as the focus:

May the GRACE of the Lord Jesus Christ, the LOVE of God, and the COMMUNION of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

If read in that light, the blessing is extending to us God’s Grace, Love, and Communion; and if this interpretation is correct it is not really speaking to the separateness of the Persons of God at all.

 

Erik’s Conclusion

This last passage leads me to the larger thought on the discussion about the Trinity….

I really think people make too much of it.

For my own part, I perceive the Divine in various ways, depending upon my need.  Usually I am “in my head” and thinking in more abstract terms.  For me the best means of apprehending this aspect of God is as the Ineffable-Transcendent.  You can say everything-nothing about this aspect of the Divine and be equally wrong-correct!  There is no “person-hood” readily apparent to me at this level of the Divine.  It is more like the Tao, or the Source, or the Field-Matrix in which we are all embedded.  Of course, as I have intimated, I also consider this Unknowable aspect of the Divine as the nearest we are able to approach the “true” aspect of the Divine (at least while limited to our human nature).

On the rare occasion I am going to address God the Father, I am just as likely to address God the Mother, or God Father-Mother (although I prefer the Aramaic, Abba-Amma).  But usually this is taking place during a liturgy or other ritual.  As such, I see it in a ritualistic light.  Abba-Amma is closer than the Ineffable-Transcendent.  But not by much!  Abba is the Sky God; Amma the Earth God (or Goddess if one prefers).  But they are mythic.  I do not literally consider either aspect of the Divine as being male or female, nor Father or Mother.  I do however, tend to apprehend God the Father as YHVH, the God of Israel and of the Hebrew bible.  God the Mother carries connotations of Mother Nature or the various Mother-Goddess motifs.  So these aspects of the Divine retain a lot of abstractness for me.  They are more vague and “sensing” aspects of my apprehension of the Divine.  I “feel” them more than anything else, I suppose.

When I feel the need to “work with” the Divine, I work with the Holy Spirit.  In many ways, I perceive this as the Energy of God or the Presence of God.  I like one of the translations I have heard for Shakinah:  the Shadow of the Presence of God.  This is also the Presence of God which I feel as in-dwelling.  When my apprehensions make this approach, I begin to lose sight of what may be the difference between the Holy Spirit and The Christ, and I ask whether they might not both be different means of identifying that aspect of the Divine which is in-dwelling within each of us?  I wonder if perhaps they are a matter of degree or scope…  perhaps The Christ is more cosmic where the Shakinah is more personal?

But none of these reasons are why I am a Christian.  I am a Christian because when my spiritual back is against the wall, I appeal to Jesus for my salvation/redemption.  If I am going to address the deity as a personal Being, it will be in the name and Persona of Jesus Christ.  For me, this is the human face of God to which I am able to relate best.

I have also come to work with angels, or at least I have begun to address them as additional active agents.  For example, when working with healings I address the Archangel Raphael.  In my liturgy I appeal to the Archangel Uriel.  This too falls within the scope of the Emanation Model.  One point a great many religions agree upon, is that we are “here” and God is “there.”  Between, is a vast spiritual realm; and this realm is inhabited.  I feel one might well appeal to such beings as Divine Messengers and Guides.

But, when all is said and done, I do not really find the Doctrine of the Trinity as especially important to me.  Certainly not in and of itself.  As I have said several times, for me God is ultimately Ineffable.  Transcendent.  Beyond all comprehension, leaving us only with what apprehensions we may imagine.  The bottom line then, is to take what we find useful to us.  Which way of looking at God offers a useful grasp of what is important in the here-and-now?  What understanding furthers our spiritual growth?  I suggest we each may need to find our own best approach, and allow room for others to do the same.

And I feel these understandings and ways of looking at God may be expected to change now and then, as according to our needs, and our spiritual growth.  For this reason I do not mind people speaking of God the Mother any more than I do as God the Father.  I do not see any important difference between better understanding God as a Quadrinity (four-persons) or Trinity (three-persons).  I feel both are equally mistaken-proper apprehensions of the Ineffable.

So my best advice when dealing with the Trinity is to use that which you find comfortable, approachable, useful, and meaningful.  God is *not* contained in our severely limited expressions, which must fail when naming the Ineffable-Transcendent-God.  To name something is to limit it and shovel it into a neat box.  But God will not fit into any human understanding (box).  God is in the revelation;  God is in the experience.  So use that which feels right to you.

Use that which you feel brings you closer to the Divine.  For most Christians, apparently, that is found in understanding God as three persons of a Trinity.  Three facets of the same gem;  three personas of the same person of God.  If that works well for you, use it.  Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking this *is* God.  It is one means of trying to think about that which is beyond our ability to think.

That said, in a more conventional mode of expression, one of the better teachings I have run across is to think of the Trinity as Personas.  As in the Greek, which is related to the masks actors would wear during their plays.  An actor would don one mask or another depending upon the role or function they were to about to play.  This offers a way of understanding the Trinity as the combination of several aspects of the Divine.  Which become emanate to us at any given point in time depends upon the circumstances.

 

  •   Update, June 2014:  Prof. Phillip Cary (History of Christian Theology, Great Courses #6450) has offered another very useful way of apprehending the idea of the Trinity, which so far is the best formation I have heard:  The Personas of the Trinity act with a single, unified Will.  Three persons, Peter, Paul, and Mary, may agree or disagree;  they may, and do, express individual wills.  That which comprises the Trinity, however, always acts with a single Will;  disagreement amongst these Divine Personas is by definition impossible.

 

Yet at the same time, the Emanation Model suggests that the Ineffable-Transcendent manifest into this world through a variety of means discernible to our human senses and experiences.  It may very well be that what appears to us as unique and separate within the universe, is in fact One when experienced-perceived from outside our universe.  (Although by definition we cannot literally comprehend nor even apprehend this. Thus we must settle for metaphoric references.)

This Ineffable-Transcendent-Emanate model also opens us to the understanding that there may be other, equally valid, means of representing other aspects of the Divine.  Which on one hand opens us to wider spiritual support (more ways of seeing God as an active agent in our lives), as well as providing us a means of better understanding how others may see the Ineffable-Transcendent-Emanate God from their perspective (which we may expect to be colored by their culture and up-bringing).  Which is to say this way of looking at the idea of the Trinity allows us to be more tolerant of how others have learned to see God.

And if one wished, I believe a reasonable argument could be made that the Ineffable-Transcendent-Emanate model of the Divine may be mapped to the Father-Son-Spirit model of the Divine.

Ineffable-Father is that from which all originates;  It is all that is beyond the confines of our universe.  Transcendent-Son is that which bridges the gap between that which is outside the universe and that which is within the universe.  Emanate-Spirit is that which is active in the world, and is that which bridges the gap between that which is outside ourselves to that which is within ourselves.  And perhaps if we delve deeply enough into the our own Indwelling-Spirit we may discover we are each somehow connected to that which is beyond the universe, the Ineffable, completing a circuit; Unity.

But as I said above, my best advice when dealing with the Trinity is to use that which you -and those to whom you are ministering!- find comfortable, approachable, useful, and meaningful.  Use that which feels right to you.  Use whatever perception of God you find reveals the Divine to you in your own experience.  After all, the only place we are able to find God is wherever we happen to be.

And if you are a priest or minister, set yourself aside.  Use that to which those you are ministering best relate.  Meet them where they are, and serve as a guide to where they feel they need to go, in order to find their best apprehension of God.  They too will only be able to find God wherever they happen to be at the time.
May God bless you and keep you,
Erik+

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Follow-Up Answers to the Holy Supper vs. Sacrifice

Question #1: With regard to the post “Particulars of the Ekklesia Epignostika Church” one paragraph states the Ekklesia Epignostika Church’s (EEC) positions as:

One of the alternative teachings we espouse is the Holy Supper instead of the Sacrifice….The altar is not a place of human sacrifice, thank you very much. Blood atonement is NOT one of our doctrines. Yes, Yeshua gave his life rather than resist arrest and risk his family and students’ persecution and deaths, but he did not give it as a human sacrifice to a blood-desiring Heavenly Father bent on some kind of weird “divine justice” or “payment” for everyone’s sins.

“Doesn’t this sound a bit exaggerated, harsh and confusing? Can you elaborate more on its meaning? Thank you.”

Answer #1: On the Holy Supper

Yes, that is a confusing statement when contained in such a small package. And it comes across as even somewhat polemic. I’m not surprised that it prompts a follow-up. Let’s see if I can unpack that a bit….

To begin with, the concept of original sin and the required death of God’s Son to “pay” for these sins is a strongly dualistic belief. My understanding is this is one of the holdovers we inherited from the early Christian Gnostic movement (and/or we may inherent this strong dualism from Zoroastrianism). So too with the self-abasement and whipping the hide off one’s back, for that matter. In what we now call the ancient Gnostic movement self-hate is normal. Everything of the earth is evil. We are supposed to be spirits, but we have been trapped here on earth. Trapped by an evil god, in fact (often depicted as the G-d of the Hebrew bible – speak of being polemic!). Therefore, anything and everything which has to do with the earth is corrupt and evil.

This is the background which sets up viewing the Garden of Eden story as resulting in Original Sin, from what became the orthodox Christian perspective, at least.

But I feel this is a mistake. When reading a text I think it is important to at least consider the perspective of those who wrote it. In this case we turn to the early Hebrew people, and ask what might they have thought of this story? We cannot be certain of course. But we can ask modern Jews how they interpret the story of creation and the “fall” of man.

The short answer to this is that the world is a good thing.

It is a positive creation. As are we. The earth and everything in it has been created by G-d and is fundamentally good. (The opposite of the ancient Gnostic position that everything is evil.) Furthermore, most modern Jews, and presumably their Hebrew ancestors, do not see any “Original Sin” taking place in this story. And it is a story in the Hebrew bible -not the Christian New Testament- so I give their interpretation a lot of weight.

They say what took place was a mistake. A “missing of the mark” (the meaning of the word from which “sin” is translated). An error. But nothing like the majority Christian understanding of original sin, which is much closer to the ancient Gnostic understanding; this is *not* the Jewish understanding.

Therefore the entire foundation of the idea that God killed his Son to erase our original sin is a mistaken belief. At least if one sides with the Jewish perspective of their Hebrew bible. And, as I said, I am among those who do. So if you look at the story of the crucifixion through this lens, instead of the lens of Original Sin, the meaning behind the statements may begin to make more sense.

Bearing in mind that I cannot speak for the bishops of the EEC because I may misrepresent their intended position, I will only speak of my own understanding of this position. My impression of the reason the EEC differentiates between a Holy Supper and a Holy Sacrifice, is that we prefer to celebrate the ideals of peace and love and the search for transcendent understanding (the way we interpret the term “Gnostic” — the search for spiritual apprehension of the Divine; and very much *NOT* an understanding that the world and G-d are evil). We do *not* celebrate the murder of Jesus. We do *not* believe he had to be slaughtered as a replacement for Temple sacrifice.

This will be one of the major differences between the orthodox Roman Catholic Church’s view of Original Sin and the way the church I am a member of looks at it. And a pretty fundamental difference at that!

One might even observe, this is why I feel it is so important to examine one’s cornerstone beliefs. And the meaning of “Original Sin” is one such example. If you get that wrong, then a bunch of other understandings are going to be misguided. This is what I think has happened in many Christian churches.

Question #2: The post “Particulars of the Ekklesia Epignostika Church” stated that your church believed “in Jesus his Son who came and brought the world salvation!”  What kind of salvation was this?

Answer #2

This is a great question. I cannot say I have a 100% understanding on this point. Coming to an understanding of this question is at the core of my entire spiritual search! But I will share my thoughts, such as they are. As for the church bishops, they’d have to speak to their views. I suspect it is close to the Liberal Catholic Church’s view in that they leave this interpretation up to the individual. And off hand I cannot recall their individual opinions on this point.

Speaking for myself, if the historical scholars are right, and if the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus are accurate (that’s a touchy problem, given the various revisions of biblical text over the centuries, we cannot really be certain of most of Jesus’ sayings are in fact his), then I have a problem because I do not subscribe to apocalyptic teachings. I believe these are best understood in their own historical narrative, not ours some 2,000 years later. So all the groups that point to Revelation as a foretelling of things to come, and the end of the world, I just can’t buy into that.

(The Book of Revelation, perhaps would have been better understood had it been entitled, “Revelation: A Book of Hope!” Because Revelation is really about providing hope to carry us through these hard times, and offer us assurance that following each series of tragic events, ultimately the Kingdom of Heaven/New Jerusalem will come to pass here on earth.)

So I personally hope Jesus was *not* just one of many apocalyptic prophets. If he was, he was wrong, and therefore not the Son of G-d as this is classically understood. Due to this uncertainty as to the nature of Jesus, my favourite Gospel is Mark. In it no one ever really understands who Jesus is, or what his life was all about! Turning to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 16, we find there are several “endings” to this book (quoting from: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%2016&version=NRSVCE), the shortest of which is simply:

8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The Shorter Ending of Mark adds:

And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.

The Longer Ending of Mark adds quite a bit of material:

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

9 Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

Jesus Appears to Two Disciples

12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

Jesus Commissions the Disciples

14 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. 16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

The Ascension of Jesus

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

Footnotes:

Mark 16:8 Some of the most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8. One authority concludes the book with the shorter ending; others include the shorter ending and then continue with verses 9–20. In most authorities verses 9–20 follow immediately after verse 8, though in some of these authorities the passage is marked as being doubtful.

 

I favour the shortest ending. All the others I think are much more likely to have been added to over the centuries because people just couldn’t stand the uncertain ending of the women running away in fear and never telling anyone. However, this missing the main point of this Gospel! It *is* all about trying to work out an understanding of who Jesus was! What was his nature? (And struggling with one’s uncertainty in the face of such questions.)

In line with this questioning search for Jesus’ nature, there is what has been called the “Messianic Secret.” Jesus kept telling people *not* to proclaim who he was. Was this because he knew no one tells things faster than what they have been told not to tell? Or might it be because he knew that people expected a warring messiah? And he did *not* wish to start a revolt. Therefore, he told people not to speak of him so they would be safe. The Romans killed rebels. Ultimately, this is why the Romans killed Jesus (*not* the Jews – the Romans).

And this ties in with the theme of Jesus turning himself in quietly so as not to get his friends and family murdered alongside himself, and is why the EEC honours this form of Jesus’ sacrifice through the aforementioned Holy Supper. This is an *alternate* understanding -which I favour- to Jesus turning himself in so that he could be slaughtered on our behalf; as a substitute to ritual Temple sacrifice; as a blood sacrifice to G-d. As I indicated above, I just don’t believe that G-d has to murder himself to save us from original sin (which didn’t happen in the first place).

My own view of what kind of salvation Jesus offers us is much more mystical.

This is always hard to pin down in words. Or is for me at any rate. I personally think Jesus was speaking of breathing life into the Divine spark we each have within us. One of the sayings which I take to heart is found in the Gospel of John (which is an admittedly poetic Gospel and is meant to be taken allegorically) where Jesus says he is in the Father, and the Father is in him. He then says he is in us/we in him. Could he be clearer? (Apparently so! heheh.) To me this says Jesus found a unity with the Divine, and that we too are part of that Unity.

John 14:20 NRSV: On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

Theosis

So I subscribe to an understanding closer to that offered by the Eastern Orthodox Church’s belief in theosis. This belief is still a vibrant aspect of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, it is just not a form of Christianity we are greatly exposed to in the West. And certainly it is greatly removed from Protestantism as a whole, because it tends toward a mystic interpretation (as does the Eastern Orthodox as a whole), whereas Protestantism is founded upon more literal interpretations of the written texts of the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

[This difference may especially be expected to be felt quite sharply by those who are coming from a largely Pentecostal Church perspective. In such cases, we are pretty much residing at opposite ends of the Christian continuum in many ways. Although I suspect we agree that the Holy Spirit is the active agent in our spiritual lives as well as in the world. A view we share with all “Charismatic Christians” in general, regardless of their exoteric/outer affiliation within the wider Church of Christ. In this wider sense of the word, I too am a “Charismatic Christian.” (Otherwise, I really see little point in being Christian. But that’s just me.) One way to imagine this difference is to see that on the outer sphere of being Christian we have very different understandings of what that means. When we traverse the outer surface of this sphere we seem very different from one another much of the time. But as we turn inward and look toward the center of that sphere, our differences become less and less as we move toward that central point. This center is the point which I have -following others- called the Divine Center, and in the heart of that center lives the Holy Ghost; the Shakinah; the Presence of G-d; Brahma; the Tao; call it what you will. Thus enters a theme of plurality of religions and one way to better appreciate each as a unique means of “finding God.”]

As I re-read my answer, the Book of James comes to mind. Nowhere does James speak of salvation through the death of Jesus, nor of God demanding the blood of Jesus. Instead, James (presumed to be the brother of Jesus, who should know Jesus pretty well!) encourages his readers to do good works. The second chapter of James reads (quoting v. 14-17, but this theme continues through to the end of the chapter, concluding with verse 26, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”):

James (Ch. 2): 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

So for me, the salvation Jesus brought us is found in his example and his loving encouragement that we too find a way to allow that Divine Breath of Life to live though us, and to become vehicles for that in-dwelling Spirit (Shakinah/Holy Ghost) to live in/through/with us.

Psalms 82:6 (which Jesus quoted) reads: “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you”

And one aspect of doing this may be experienced through participating in the Eucharist celebration. I really do believe/feel that is one way to bring us into contact with something Divine. I like to think this results in the Holy Spirit becoming more active in our life, and body, and I hope our soul and spirit.

This is quite clearly another point where my belief is quite different than that of the Roman Catholic Church. And it is one of many reasons I personally could never be a RCC priest (nor would they have me! it is fair to observe). I have never felt that the ideas of original sin, and the blood sacrifice of Jesus made any sense. Why would God Almighty set up the world that way?

It makes more sense to me that we are in a fundamentally good creation, are part of this good creation, and that we are here to learn to grow into beings becoming more resonate with the Divine. I don’t see salvation as something Jesus does “to” us. And it is something more than a philosophical view with which we agree/”believe.” It is our responsibility to follow Jesus’ example, finding a means of letting more and more of the Divine Spirit of the Christ to live in us each day. And there are many ways of doing this. Some days being “closer to the mark” than others.

Such are my thoughts.
Father Erik

Closing Thoughts to my “Answer”

 

Why would one wish to become a priest?

For me there are at least two good answers to this question.

One is very personal and is about one’s private journey in search for the Divine. Part of me is trying to understand how one “finds God.” For me this is much less about the “outer trappings” of religion. Facing East, bowing to the cross, or in which sacred texts I turn for inspiration. It is much more about what is going on inside. It is less about what is in my head and much more about what is in my heart. And for me, for one who is so much “in my head” this is very difficult! Remembering that image of the glass globe, I am much more interested in learning to turn inward when seeking the Divine. In this sense, this is all about me and my spiritual growth and maturity.

But there is another aspect, and that is of service to others. In this regard I view my role as that of a spiritual guide. In this role I see myself more as a chaplain. I am not here to tell someone else how to find God. I am here to help them increase their own understanding of how to encounter God. There is a great difference between these!

Yet I have no idea where this may lead. This is a point I have left to “faith” in the belief that I will somehow end up benefiting others. Stated poetically, one might say I hope the in-dwelling Spirit of Christ might kindle the spark of the Divine in others. And I hope it does for me as well.

Jobs

Note that I did not list vocation or employment in my reasons for becoming a priest. The church I have chosen is tiny. They offer no paid positions – zero! I do hope that someday I might be able to use my training to secure a job more in line with my spiritual goals (my “thinking” mind says hospice care). But I have no idea if this will ever reward me financially.

In terms of an investment in the physical world of Malkuth (a Jewish mystical term for life here on earth), this may be a net loss. Then again, those who seek their riches solely in this world may find they are impoverished in the next. So maybe this is not all that important. One must strive to maintain a sense of perspective (as hard as that is while paying a mortgage and light bill! hehehe).

God is Ineffable

This is one of my dearest apprehensions, which I really try to bring home in my religious/spiritual conversations: God is ultimately ineffable. Which we forget at our peril. Or more practically, at the peril of others! Because as soon as we forget this, we find it much easier to harm someone for holding the “wrong” belief about (the ineffable!) God. Such behaviour simply strikes me as an oxymoron.

Anything we can say about God limits and defines that which has no limits and that which cannot be defined. I Am That I Am-I Shall Be That Which I Shall Be. (In the original Hebrew, the phrase carries both meanings at the same time.) Seeing that rolling within itself, turning one inside out to the other, simultaneously and always in both-neither state, is as good a description of God as any.

Tolerance

And if we truly understand this concept we will easily tolerate the understanding of others. We may not like it, but we will tolerate it. God only knows, they may be closer to an important Truth than are we. I believe we must allow for that possibility. And to the degree we do so, we are better prepared to later accept the differences of others, and perhaps some distant day discover we even appreciate some of their differences. And if we concentrate on this in place of hurting those who believe differently than ourselves, I believe we are working to bring about a better world in which all may live.

I may be mistaken, but I believe it has to be easier to find God in a peaceful world than one embroiled in war. I may be naive -I often have been in the past- but I think this is a standard by which it is worth guiding our own course. So this is why I try to remain open-minded. Why I try to learn about other religious expressions, with the hope that I may be able to help someone else grow in their understanding of God/Divine, as I feel I have been doing.

Eucharist as the In-Dwelling Spirit

I understand the celebration of the Eucharist as an event which fosters the in-flowing spirit-energy of the Divine. I believe one might accurately call this the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. On one hand, observing the Eucharist celebration opens a channel between those celebrating it and the Divine, and through this channel the Presence of God is encountered. Do we open this channel? Or does the Presence of God stand ready to respond to those seeking it? Is there a useful difference between these ways of describing what is happening? (I’m not certain there is.)

This is one of the foundational beliefs of the EEC. When a priest performs the Eucharist celebration, even when alone, they are in fact encouraging a greater connection between this physical world and that of the Divine. And in so doing, all the world benefits. (Admittedly, more so for those present and actively taking part, either as priest or a member of the ekklesia, both of whom play active spiritual roles.)

And I find this a beautiful and inspirational belief!

Offered with blessings, to all who may read this,
Father Erik Weaver

Particulars of the Ekklesia Epignostika (my church)

At long last we introduce my church, heheh! The Ekklesia Epignostika Church (EEC) is the church I have chosen to join, be baptised into, and for which I serve as a priest. The EEC is of the Old Catholic Church (OCC) tradition. After many years of doctrinal disagreement, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the OCC split in the mid-1800’s. The issue they were unable to resolve and most responsible for their schism was that of papal infallability. Both the RCC and OCC trace their roots back some 2,000-years to the same ancient source: The Apostle St. Peter (c. 32-67).
Apostolic Succession

Quoting an EEC document:

Apostolic Succession is the transmission of the spiritual gifts entrusted by Jesus the Christ to his original students (later called apostles) by the laying on of hands. These spiritual gifts have since been passed on throughout history by the act of consecration, the direct laying-on-of-hands, in an unbroken line from the apostles to their successors, bishop to bishop down to the present day. Bishops are said to hold the “fullness” of these gifts. They share their commission in the name of the Christ with priests in their charge for the purpose of serving the community of the faithful and making the sacraments more readily available to the people of GOD Most High. These spiritual gifts insure and preserve the sacred life of the various branches of the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church’s sacramental nature. The word Catholic means “universal” and is an adjective meaning our church is universal. The use of the word “catholic” in the phrase One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, does not refer to the Roman Catholic Church, but to the one larger “church” that is universal and apostolic.

(End quote.)

Esoteric Christianity

The EEC emphasizes the Esoteric Christian perspective. This views the process of developing one’s Inner Christianity as highly important. It understands the internal, spiritual practice of Christianity as a “mystery” religion. To understand this one must first understand there are two broadly different ways of “being religious.”

External/Exoteric Practices

These are the outer expressions of one’s religious practice, which includes the form of worship, and the interpretation of scripture, doctrine and dogma. In a business-sense it also includes the organization and management of “institutional” churches. (Which have gotten a bad name in some circles, but really, serve a valid service.) The external practices of one’s religion would certainly include how one interacts with others within (and without) the religious community. It includes education, ordination, and the sociological aspects of the church.

Internal/Esoteric Practices

There is a cross-over or grey-area in the transition between exoteric and esoteric (outer/inner) expression of religious and spiritual beliefs and practices. But one way to discern the differences between these is to imagine one’s “religion” as a glass sphere. We are each facets on the surface of this globe. But where do we turn to find God? The exoteric looks sideways and outward/up to find God. The esoteric also looks sideways (this is the grey area each perspective shares) but is more intent upon gazing inward, toward the center, seeking common-union with the Divine.

The EEC very much acknowledges this inward-turning as a useful and valid expression of Christianity. In this sense it embraces the “mystery” of our religion. And in turning inward, seeking the Divine Center, we believe we all move closer to one another. Seeking inward, we seek community not only with other Christian religions but non-Christian religions/spiritual observances as well. And this is certainly an important aspect of my understanding of becoming more Christ-like.

Christianity as a Mystery Religion

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esoteric_Christianity. Quote:

Early Christians used the Greek word μυστήριον (mysterion) to describe the Christian Mystery. The Old Testament versions use the word mysterion as an equivalent to the Hebrew sôd, “secret” (Proverbs 20:19). In the New Testament the word mystery is applied ordinarily to the sublime revelation of the Gospel (Matthew 13:11; Colossians 2:2; 1 Timothy 3:9; 1 Corinthians 15:51), and to the Incarnation and life of the Saviour and his manifestation by the preaching of the Apostles (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:4; 6:19; Colossians 1:26; 4:3). Theologians give the name mystery to revealed truths that surpass the powers of natural reason, so, in a narrow sense, the Mystery is a truth that transcends the created intellect. The impossibility of obtaining a rational comprehension of the Mystery leads to an inner or hidden way of comprehension of the Christian Mystery that is indicated by the term esoteric in Esoteric Christianity.

Even though revealed and believed, the Mystery remains nevertheless obscure and veiled during the mortal life, if the deciphering of the mysteries, made possible by esotericism, does not intervene. This esoteric knowledge would allow a deep comprehension of the Christian mysteries that otherwise would remain obscure.

(End quote.)

“Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition” by Richard Smoley

I think that pretty well sums up the “Mystery” aspect of Esoteric Christianity. Although, if one is interested in learning more, among the best books to read is “Inner Christianity” by Smoley. I found it very informative. It was one of the first books which I read that allowed me to think perhaps there was a place for me in the Christian church.

Additional Tenets of the EEC

(Quoting from EEC written material.)

Must be Comfortable with Alternative Christian Teachings & Scriptures

We teach a sacramental semi-gnostic alternative-Christian approach. It is very important to understand that Candidates who become Seminarians with us will need to be able to work well with what the mainstream Church calls “heretical” and “heresy”. We are actually only semi-gnostic here, but many critics and mainstream Christians consider all gnosticism to be radical and heretical. We actually go beyond gnosticism, delving into deep inner Christianity in the esoteric tradition. Gnosticism and gnostics can sometimes be overly intellectual (understatement!) and get hung up on the letter of the law at the expense of the spirit. Theological debates and attitudes of “I know more than you,” are not part of our training or ministry to the public.

Holy Supper (Eucharist)

One of the alternative teachings we espouse is the Holy Supper instead of the Sacrifice. We view the altar as the Communion Table, the Holy Table where Yeshua shared a ceremonial, esoteric, and literal meal with his students and family. The altar is not a place of human sacrifice, thank you very much. Blood atonement is NOT one of our doctrines. Yes, Yeshua gave his life rather than resist arrest and risk his family and students’ persecution and deaths, but he did not give it as a human sacrifice to a blood-desiring Heavenly Father bent on some kind of weird “divine justice” or “payment” for everyone’s sins.

[NOTE: A follow-up question requested I clarify this point. My “Follow-Up” answer will be found in a later post, as it appeared in the original chronology of the conversation.-EW]

Spousal Approval & Age Requirements

We actually prefer our priestly candidates to be married, instead of single, but it is not a requirement. We always ask our married applicants to be sure your spouse is one hundred percent behind you in your pursuit of Holy Orders.  Our experience has told us that anyone whose spouse isn’t behind them will eventually fail to obtain Holy Orders. We encourage spouses to get involved and become ordained as a Deacon.

Family Orientation

The Ekklesia Epignostika is a family oriented church, and our Eucharist celebrations (“Mass”) are organic natural “rituals” very much like the primitive Christians in the first Century A.D. might have celebrated in their house-churches.

Gnosticism

Gnosticism is a positive path, a path of Light, illumination – not self-loathing and world-hating as some critics claim. Walking the Way of Gnosis, or Epignosis in our tradition, is not for the faint-hearted.

Keep in mind we believe in an all-good and loving Heavenly Father, the True God, God Most High, and in Jesus his Son who came and brought the world salvation!  We also believe in Sophia, the Heavenly (and Earthly) Mother. There is much value in extra-canonical literature and Gnostic scriptures, especially the Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Philip.

As for Gnostic writings, we use only the earliest Gnostic Christian scriptures and writings, not the later Gnostic writings, many of which Bishop Katia’s mentor and consecrating Bishop +Christian says are actually “psychotic.” Some of the later so-called gnostic writings make gnosticism seem loopy or downright dangerous. This is why we call ourselves semi-Gnostic and all-the-way Esoteric, Sacramental and Alternative.

We adhere only to the primitive early Gnostic Christian teachings – of light and the Light of the World, Jesus the Christ and his “mother” Sophia.

(End quote.)

Basic Tenets of the Liberal Catholic Church

 

I share a number of apprehensions as expressed by the Liberal Catholic Church (LCC) and the church of which I am a member (Ekklesia Epignostika) shares some of their liturgy, so this too needs to be unpacked to some degree in order to understand why I am a member of the Ekklesia Epignostika, and how this church differs from the Roman Catholic Church.

For a thorough understanding of the basic tenets of the Liberal Catholic Church, Province of the United States, please visit their web site (http://www.thelccusa.org/about/basic-tenets-of-the-liberal.html). Below I will simply share some of my personal thoughts with regard to just a few of their key points. I wish to once again remind readers, what followings is my personal opinion and may not represent the official opinion of the church and seminaries I have attended. And while I share many beliefs with the LCC, I am not a member of their church, and certainly cannot speak for them. For any errors and omissions I claim fault to be my own.

“Before Abraham was, I am.”

This is a statement made by Jesus. To my mind he is speaking of the living Spirit of the eternal Christ, of which Jesus was the embodiment some 2,000 years ago. The Logos made flesh, as it is expressed in the Gospel of John. “Logos” is usually translated as “Word,” although this pales in depth of meaning as compared to the Logos in the original Greek. This is why I normally prefer to use the “Logos” in my liturgies. This eternal Spirit of Christ is seen as a continuing presence to this day. Christ is understood to be present yesterday, today, tomorrow, and through all time. More specifically, Christ is beyond the constraints of Time.

I believe it is fair to admit the use of terminology can become somewhat confusing as we attempt to define the ineffable nature of the Divine. This understanding of Christ shares a great deal with the understanding of the Holy Ghost, which for me represents the Presence of the Divine. In Jewish terms I think of the Holy Ghost as one in the same with the Shakinah. I think both Christians and Jews are speaking of the same Divine Presence when they use their respective terms. I believe these terms are our efforts to label an aspect of the Divine, yet as this is not something we can fully define, so we find our terminology lacks perfect clarity.

Perhaps one day I will have a more refined apprehension of the subtle differences between the terms Christ, Holy Ghost, and the Shakinah. But for the present I am happy to allow these symbols of the Divine to stand half-seen at the edge of the Cloud of Unknowing within which resides Divine Mystery.

For all our lack of perfect clarity, an important point to hold in our mind is that the Christ “lives as a mighty spiritual presence in the world, guiding and sustaining His people.”

The Feminine Aspect of the Divine

I believe we modern Christians are impoverished when we deny God the Mother. The feminine aspect of the Divine is important, as this is the nourishing, life-giving aspect of the Divine. The Mother Archetype is one with which we may all identify. It is an important aspect of our humanity, so to deny this being mirrored in God is, I believe, to our detriment. We are created in God’s image, both male and female.

Why might this be important? The LCC web page offers a useful observation:

“This divine principle is shown forth on earth in the sanctity of life and the mystery of birth and by the sacrifice and love of human motherhood which call forth our deepest reverence and respect.”

Unity of All Religions

A person holding this ideal as important is sometimes called a religious pluralist. At its core is the ideal of Tolerance. I believe we must learn to tolerate others and their opinions and means of expressing their apprehension of the Divine. My hope is from Tolerance I will find I move to Acceptance. A subtle, but important shift. It is of the heart. Once my heart opens to another, I may discover I even Appreciate some of their views or practices, and I may discover new insights which inform and deepen my own apprehension of the Divine. The world is diverse, as are the paths to better apprehending the Divine. And this is a good thing because what works for me may not work for you.

There are many Truths and mystical experiences shared by all the great world religions. These Truths are universal. Promoting peace and love and compassion for one another are good indicators that we are on the proper path. I self-identify as Christian, ultimately because once I realized that when my spiritual back was against the wall it was the Divine personification of Jesus Christ to whom I pray. But this does not mean this is the only way to find God. It only means this is the best way for me to find my way to God.

 

Your path may differ. And that is fine.

Basic Tenets of the Old Catholic Church (OCC)

The Eucharist is the Core of the Church

Also known as the Blood (wine) and Body (bread) of Christ, the word Eucharist means thanksgiving. Some call it Holy Communion. In the early house churches of the first century it seems this may have also involved sharing of a communal meal.

The Church is a Community of Believers

The Greek word is ekklesia. An assembly or gathering of persons. Usually it is translated from Greek into English as “church.” But in this sense I believe we are to see the ekklesia as a body of persons more as a family, related in one’s care and concern for the other members of the ekklesia.

As a group unified by the two above ideas, we find that the ekklesia/church is comprised of persons who find a sense of community with one another, and who are united by their desire to worship God primarily through their observance of the Eucharist celebration. In the Old Catholic Church (OCC), the “celebration” of the Eucharist is understood as “thanks-giving” for the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ on our behalf, and is viewed as the most profound expression of God’s love.

Two Understandings of Sin (Missing the Mark)

For most Christians, the idea of “sin” is directly connected to that of Original Sin. This understanding reaches back to the story of Adam and Eve eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and the Knowledge of Evil. The result of which was a permanent separation between humankind and God, and making all human beings fundamentally flawed, fallen beings (some may go so far as to say “evil” by our human nature), who are all doomed for eternity.

However, the original meaning of “sin” simply means “missing the mark” or to err. This is still the typical Jewish understanding of “sin.” God created the world and declared that it is good. *All* creation is good. We are part of God’s creation. Therefore, we are fundamentally good. And we are clearly *not* fundamentally evil. We do make mistakes and err. But this does *not* transform our essential character from good to evil beings. And it is not something we pass down through our DNA to our children.

(There are a couple of additional points I will surely address at a later time. One is the above misapprehension misjudges the Truth contained within a mythos, as if it were a Fact – these are quite different things! Additionally, this is an example of a Christian interpretation of the Hebrew bible making a fundamental error of understanding in the original text. If one is going to adopt another culture’s mythos, it is important to allow oneself to be informed by their traditional interpretations of their mythos. Context is meaningful.)

Seeing “sin” in this light, we find there is no “original sin.” There is no reason to assume we are all totally corrupt at birth. Quite to the contrary. At the same time, we do still need to learn to grow closer to God; seeking greater unity with the Divine; developing that Divine Spark we each carry within our spirit.

Redemption & Reconciliation

We (Old Catholics) experience the celebration of the Eucharist as Christ’s triumph over sin as a redemptive act, and as a process whereby that which is is divided, is brought together. As such, participation in the Eucharist celebration reconciles people, both with one another and with God. “That which was scattered is brought together.” Seen through this lens, we find the “Church” exists to heal broken relations: between ourselves and God; and between individuals.

Apostolic Succession

The Old Catholic Church (OCC) does subscribe to apostolic succession, exactly as does the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). Apostolic succession is conveyed in both the physical (uninterrupted chain) of laying on of hands by bishops, reaching back to the time of Jesus, as well as experienced and expressed through the written scriptures and the sacraments.

Liturgy (Form of Ritual Worship)

The Old Catholic liturgy is itself not significantly divergent from the Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass, and it is generally given in the common tongue. The Old Catholic Church also shares some of the liturgy with the other “high church” forms of worship, including: Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox, Anglicans, and high church Protestants.

Note: “High church” worship is a highly structured, ritualistic form of worship. There is little emphasis on preaching as is typically found in “low church” styles of worship. Low church forms of worship also tend to be much more free-flowing and more loosely structured. Another common difference is that high church liturgy centers around the Eucharist, which is in fact the primary point of the worship service. In contrast, low church liturgy may observe the Eucharist (Holy Communion/Communion) infrequently, instead emphasizing teaching/preaching the ekklesia the meanings found in the written Word of God (Holy Bible). So when you hear the terms High Church and Low Church, think in terms of the degree of structure and organized ritual (High or Low).

Transubstantiation

This is one of the major differences between the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) and the Old Catholic Church (OCC), and is similar to Orthodox and Methodist understandings of the Eucharist. The Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation and consubstantiation have been rejected as being too literal of interpretations of the experience of the Eucharist. Rather, the Eucharist is viewed as a “divine mystery of communion” beyond explanation of literal concepts, and as *not* being subject to the study of the scientific method. Essentially the nature of the divine mystery is ineffable – as is the Divine itself. Holding this sense of Divine Mystery is preferred to developing a theory of the sacrament.

Some Major Areas of Difference Between OCC and RCC:

  • Old Catholics generally are open-minded when considering most social issues. Such views specifically include:
  • The role of women in the Church: not only allowing them, but welcoming them, to serve as clergy.
  • Married persons may serve as ordained members of the clergy (deacons, priests and bishops).
  • Same-sex relationships are considered moral.
  • One may use contraception or not, following one’s own conscience in this matter.
  • Communion is given openly, to Christians of all traditions. It is felt that no human being may presume to exclude any other Christian from the celebration of the Eucharist.

Defining: Catholic, Apostolic & the Independent Sacramental Movement

Before we go too far afield, perhaps this is a good time to examine a few terms I’ve been throwing around, namely: Catholic, Apostolic, and what is called the Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM). The Independent Bishop Movement (IBM) is similar to the ISM –and I have heard some persons use the terms interchangeably– but IBM leaves the question of the importance of the sacraments open, whereas all members of the ISM consider the sacraments to be important.

 
Sidebar: The New Advent website (www.newadvent.org) has compiled a vast amount of information as understood from the Roman Catholic perspective, and they in part define the word “sacrament” as (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13295a.htm):

“[Sacrament] in its broadest sense, [is defined] as the sign of something sacred and hidden (the Greek word is “mystery”), we can say that the whole world is a vast sacramental system, in that material things are unto men the signs of things spiritual and sacred, even of the Divinity.”

Wikipedia defines the word “sacrament” more generally as “a sacred rite recognized as of particular importance and significance.” I would add to this, the word sacrament also implies the presence of a “hierophany” which is at the very least a manifestation of the sacred [Greek: (hieros), meaning “sacred” or “holy,” and (phainein) meaning “to reveal” or “to bring to light”], if not a “theosophy” meaning the revelation of “divine wisdom” [Greek: (theos = divine) + (sophia = wisdom)]. A theophany refers to the actual appearance of a deity (Moses receiving the Ten Commandments; Job meeting the Whirlwind; etc).

Wikipedia has some interesting web pages explaining these terms in greater detail. I especially enjoyed reading their page on theosophy, and think it would provide some useful insight for the discussions we sharing having on this blog:

 

Catholic

 

“Catholic” simply means “universal.” Everyone who is “catholic” claims to represent a Universal Church of Jesus Christ. Some churches take this to imply division between them and the rest of the world (the traditional Roman Catholic Church(RCC) view), and others take this to mean all of Christianity -if not all of humanity- is within the “universal” church of the Christ (the Old Catholic Church (OCC) view). It is worth observing this strongly stated position of the RCC has actually been softened since Vatican II, and appears to be slowly changing more broadly. Pope John Paul II was well known to have expressed views that all sincere religious paths are valuable. So the official RCC position on the plurality of faiths is more accommodating than I often find in “street” encounters.

 

Apostolic

 
“Apostolic” means your line of bishops can trace a physical laying on of hands, bishop-to-bishop, all the way back to the time of the original apostles, some 2,000 years ago. Needless to say, written records able to document this are in short supply 😉 so much of the early “lines of succession” are supported by traditional belief as opposed to hand-written records maintained for these past 2,000 years. Speaking from a historical perspective, it is unlikely this was a top priority of the early church. We see this quite clearly in the progression of the state of the churches in the letters of Paul. It is not until the late letters we find references to what we might today consider official clergy members.

 

Independent Sacramental Movement

 

Many members of what is known as the Independent Sacramental Movement are concerned about such matters as apostolic succession and by extension sacramental authority. As a result they have an interesting history of their own. I’m not going to get into this in any great detail. It is rather confusing to me even after having read several books on the topic.

Suffice it to say that following the schism between the “Old” and “New” Catholic Churches (meant with tongue in cheek humour: Old = Old Catholic; New = Roman Catholic) the Old Catholic Church continued to fraction and split apart. We see a parallel to this in the Protestant movement, following the schism instigated by Luther and then Calvin, there are now hundreds of Protestant Churches. Eventually, as we near the end of the 1800’s, the Liberal Catholic Church (LCC) is formed (as a branch within the OCC). None of the other churches are very large when compared to the Roman Catholic Church (which comprises approximately half of the world’s Christian population, and about 25% of the Christian population of the United States).

I mention the LCC because my church borrows from some of their liturgy. Their founding bishops did a great deal of research to ascertain what they could of the early church liturgy, and at the same time dropped most of the negative, fear-based language in the liturgy which had found its way into the Roman liturgy in the Middle Ages. The result is to my mind a more uplifting and “ascending” liturgy. And I truly believe we are better served worshipping in praise than by subjecting ourselves to self-hate, or fear.

One might also note the Old Catholic Church believes in “unity in diversity.” Therefore, they offer greater diversity in both belief and practice across their churches than is characteristic of either the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox churches. I personally find this very appealing.

Which, provided we ignore the vast series of schisms which took place on the Protestant side of the fence, I believe finally brings is to the point we can compare some of the key beliefs of the RCC and OCC, and when speaking specifically of the church to which I belong (EEC), adding some of the LCC influences.

Stay tuned to the same Bat Channel! heheh

Major Breaks in Orthodox Christianity

As mentioned in a previous post, early Christianity was comprised of a wide range of understandings of what it meant to be a Christian. These groups struggled amongst themselves over the first centuries of the Common Era, and certain forms of Christianity were undermined, others eradicated, as the majority view of the proto-orthodox began to dominate more completely. (We name those groups who were later to become orthodox as “proto-orthodox.”) The organization of the “orthodox” form of Christianity really began in earnest under the reign of Constantine the Great (c. 274-337 bce).

The year 325 ce is an important date because this is when the First Council of Nicaea convened. This was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom. (Or more accurately, those selected to be present – only those holding what were deemed orthodox views.)

Some say Constantine wished to promote Christianity because he was truly converted, and others say he believed Christianity served as the best tool at his disposal to unite his empire. I cannot settle such disputes, but I can say that when we read the Nicene Creed, what we we are reading is really a litany of exclusions to other forms of Christianity (centering on divisions of understanding over Christology). The exclusive nature of the Nicene Creed is why I personally dislike this creed, and favour in its place the unifying Act of Faith:

We believe that God is Love, and Power, and Truth, and Light;
that perfect justice rules the world;
that all His sons shall one day reach His feet, however far they stray.
We hold the Fatherhood of God,
the Brotherhood of man;
we know that we do serve Him best
when best we serve our brother man.
So shall His blessing rest on us and peace for evermore.
Amen.

Compare this to the Nicene Creed (first composed in 325 ce) and refined in 381 ce:

First Council of Nicea (325 ce)

1. We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

2. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

3. By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];

4. Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;

5. He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;

6. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

7. (None. Compare to 381 ce.)

8. And in the Holy Ghost.

9. (None. Compare to 381 ce.)

NOTE: [But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.]

First Council of Constantinople (381 ce)

1. We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

2. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

3. by whom all things were made;

4. who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

5. he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;

6. from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead;

7. whose kingdom shall have no end.

8. And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

9. In one holy catholic and apostolic Church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Great Schism

There are two major points of contention worth noting. First, the majority of this language centers around Christology, the understanding of what Christ means to Christians. The Father and the Holy Spirit are not really points of contention. This provides some insight as to the nature of the debates going on at this time. The second main point is to realize that while we may now read these two versions of the creed as being so similar as to be moot, at the time they were far from moot! Disagreement over defining Christology in fact is eventually what became the final straw, and split the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Church! (Called the Great Schism.) That’s a pretty major event and took place about 1,050 ce. From this point forward, there is an Eastern and Western form of Christianity, both of which claim to be orthodox; both of whom share the same ancient roots.

(This link offers a RCC view of the “Eastern Schism”: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13535a.htm)

Theosis

One of the fascinating theological points which I find offered by the Eastern Orthodox Churches is that of “theosis.” This is the belief that we are to strive to bring ourselves closer to God throughout our lives. This is understood to be a process of deification. It is the spiritual pilgrimage through which each of us seeks to imitate the Christ and cultivate our inner (esoteric!, spiritual) life through “unceasing prayer” (“hesychasm” and most famously, through the constant saying of the Jesus Prayer), until we are ultimately united (I would say re-united) upon our physical death with the “fire of God’s love.”

Theosis is often misrepresented (or misunderstood) as saying we are to “become God.” But this is not entirely accurate. The Eastern Orthodox view is that we become “adopted” children of God. Sharing the Divine Flame/Spark, but not exactly the same as the Divine Spark. (I don’t know… is God able to make us one with the Divine? A question worth pondering, I think.)

Theosis is an example of the more “mystical” nature of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as compared to that of the West. It also serves as an example of why I feel identifying important and instructional teachings from various understandings of Christianity is very important for my personal spiritual growth and development. Naturally, I would recommend this to others.

Patriarchs, Bishops, and the Pope

Before leaving the differences between the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholic Churches, I wish to underscore another point which I think is critical. In the Eastern Orthodox Church the church leaders are known as the Patriarchs (fathers) of the church, and in the Western church they are known as Bishops. In the East each Patriarch operates as one among equals. This was originally also true of Bishops – they all held equal status.

However, in the West the Bishop of Rome eventually became known as the Pope, and seen as the leader of the entire Roman Catholic Church. While there are similarities in the roles of Patriarchs and Bishops, the biggest difference is the emphasis the Western church placed on the role of leadership in the Pope. My guess is because Rome was also the capital of the Roman Empire for so long, the political power of the Bishop of Rome quickly grew to overshadow all the other Bishops. This desire for centralized power is very nearly as old as the church itself. We can even see this power being reached for in the letters of Paul, where the Bishop of Rome is attempting to dictate doctrine to the Bishops of other cities. But the Bishop of Rome does not yet have the power to do so unilaterally.

Bear in mind I was raised Protestant so I have my own unique perspective on this point. But as I now read of the historical schisms in the Christian church, the largest ones come as a direct result of the Bishop of Rome’s attempt to control other Christians. Those that obey, remain Roman Catholic. Those who refuse, form another branch on the tree of the Holy Catholic Church. (Although those that split sometimes observe they are retaining the original point of view, and therefore it is technically Rome that forms the new branch of the tree. Such points are a matter of one’s perspective.)

Papal Infallibility

Within the Holy Catholic Church, the next major schism we see is between the Old Catholic Church (OCC) and the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). The most important disagreement over doctrine which caused this schism was Papal Infallibility. The “Old” catholics wished to remain with the “old” or “traditional” position while the Roman Catholic Church adopted the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Once again, it is fair to point out the schism was the result of a long series of disagreements. Papal Infallibility was merely the last straw for some Catholics.

Are the “Old” Catholics still Catholic?

This is a messy and to my mind a politically driven question. There is no easy answer to it – other than, “Yes!” While the churches which comprise the Old Catholic Church are no longer in “full communion with the Holy See of Rome,” their “Union of Utrecht of Old Catholic Churches” is in full communion with the Anglican Communion. (Of course, some argue the Anglican Church itself is not valid… and so it goes.) However, even according to the Roman Catholic Church, the Old Catholic churches of the Utrecht Union have maintained apostolic succession and valid sacraments. Therefore, they remain fully and truly “Catholic.”

Roman Catholic views

Quoting from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Catholic_Church):

The Roman Catholic Church teaches, “The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches” in the 2000 declaration, Dominus Iesus, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This speaks primarily to the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches as well as the Church of the East, but also to “separated churches in the West”, which is understood to be a reference to the Old Catholic Communion. Since the Old Catholic Church is not in full communion with the see of Rome a situation of schism exists between them. A schismatic church may be recognized as having valid sacraments and clergy. The Old Catholic Church has been a leader of the ecumenical movement, and the Union of Utrecht is engaged in official dialogue with the Vatican in order to address their differences and promote Christian cooperation between the two communions.

This is the official position of the RCC on the OCC. If one wishes, the source documents may be referenced. One of the primary citations concerning this aspect of this discussion (is the OCC a “real” church and are they truly “catholic”?) is the above cited, Dominus Iesus, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I’ve looked this up in the past to verify the position is as stated.

The RCC may not “like us” (I am now an Old Catholic) very much, but they do acknowledge that the OCC is valid in that their lines of apostolic succession reach back as far as the RCC’s lines. (Prior to the schism between “old” and “new” they are in fact identical.)

Why this would matter to a member of the Old Catholic Church is an entirely different matter! 😉 heheh

A Brief History of Early Christianity

“[W]ould you tell me the name of the church you are affiliated with, what it stands for, and how it is differs from the Roman Catholic church. In other words, how and when did your church originate and when? What are the beliefs and mission of its founders? What kind of catholic church is it, and how is it different or the same as the Roman Catholic church? The reason I am asking is my son’s interest and questions regarding your ordination to priesthood. [My son’s] wife is catholic and so are her parents. Their experience is that it takes many years to become a catholic priest. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.”

I remind readers, it should be noted the following is my personal opinion and may not represent the official opinion of the church and seminaries I have attended. For any errors and omissions I claim fault to be my own.

A Brief History of Early Christianity

This will be brutally short and inelegant, as I am trying to keep this introductory statement to less than 1,000 words!

However, I find it important to first preface such a conversation with a longer perspective. If we go back to roughly the period between 1,000-333 bce we find what has been called the Axial Age. This is a rich period in history during which all the major world religions largely developed into the religious organizations and faith traditions we recognize today. To better understand the New Testament and Christianity we need to better understand the Hebrew Bible (what Christians somewhat depreciatively call the “Old” testament). To better understand the Hebrew Bible we need to have some understanding of their key developmental stages.

Sidebar: “Before the Common Era” is the same time range as B.C., Before Christ. The difference is bce is not insulting non-Christians. I feel it is improper to speak only from a Christian-centric point of view when discussing history. I agree with the scholarly view that it is more equitable to promote and use inclusive terminology as much as possible, therefore I have adopted the use of bce and ce to identify dates as Before the Common Era (aka “BC”), or of the Common Era (aka “AD”).

The Axial Age

In terms of what I believe is most important to a Christian perspective, the Axial Age begins just before the age of the United Monarchy/Kingdom under the reigns of the Hebrew kings Saul, David, and Solomon. Prior to the United Monarchy the tribes of Israel were isolated and generally autonomous. Then they formed a United Monarchy under Saul so they could repel attacks from other nations (the meaning of the word gentiles).

After the reign of king Solomon the United Monarchy fell apart, and formed an Upper and Lower Kingdom. The Upper Kingdom (of Israel) fell to the Assyrians (c. 720 bce). Later the Lower Kingdom (of Judah) fell to the Babylonians (c. 586 bce). This is the time of the Babylonian exile. This is most likely where what was to become Judaism became influenced by Zoroastrianism (primarily understood to be a Persian religion, although some scholars dispute this point; additionally, the degree of influence this had upon for formation of Judaism is subject to scholarly debate; personally, I think it was an important influence).

The period of Babylonian exile is important to the understanding of Judaism because when the Persian king Cyrus the Great defeated the Babylonians (c. 539 bce) they permitted -and even promoted- the return of the people of Judah to the Land of Canaan. They even financed the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is really important. Without a Temple there is no Temple worship, and without Temple worship, there really is not a form of ancient Judaism. (We properly call the pre-exile people Hebrews, or the people of Israel. Judaism and the Jewish religion do not appear until after the Babylonian exile and the re-building of the Temple.)

Most scholars define the end of the Axial Age as the conquest of Alexander the Great, who brings in the Hellenistic period. Under Alexander the entire empire was greatly influenced by the Greek civilization, and this remained true even after the Roman empire defeated the Greeks. This is important to Christianity because we inherit this confluence of civilizations. The majority of scholars accept that the entire New Testament was originally written in Greek, for example. (There is some debate on this point, although with regard to isolated books of the New Testament, not the entire anthology.)

Period of Great Upheaval

In the centuries immediately before the time of Jesus there was a great deal of religious upheaval. The last of these great influences was apocalyptic. This is important because this greatly effected early Christianity, and I would argue does so to this day (just read the Book of Revelation; and the Dead Sea scrolls).

Following Jesus, the next most important date is 70 ce (Common Era, aka AD). This is when the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. (This became a final defeat around 135 ce, which was when the final Jewish revolt against Rome took place.) At this point we can mark a clear line in history. Ancient Judaism comes to an end. Rabbinic Judaism is born from the ashes of Temple Judaism. So too is born Christianity. We commonly, and inaccurately, think of Christianity as evolving from Judaism. By which we mean modern Judaism, which is Rabbinic. This is an error. Both the modern forms of Judaism and the modern forms of Christianity are born from the ashes of the immediately preceding Temple period.

Both Judaism and Christianity -which began as a Jesus Movement within Judaism- continued to develop during a period of upheaval for several centuries. With regard to Christianity, it was quite varied in the years immediately following Jesus, as people struggled with their understanding of Jesus’ ministry. These early forms of Christianity include:

  •  Mithraism and Christianity (200BCE +)
  •  Ebionite Christians (1st-4th Century)
  •  Docetism (1st-7th Century)
  •  Arian Christians (2nd-8th Century)
  •  Marcionite Christians (2nd-5th Century)
  • Roman Christianity / Pauline Christianity (4th Century +)

(A Roman Catholic view on this point may be reviewed at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03712a.htm)

But which is the “proper” form of Christianity?

This is still debated by some to this day. However, for practical purposes we can say that the orthodox views are what form “real” Christianity. However, when we say this, if we are honest with ourselves, we will realize that also means the victors write history. *Any* form of early Christianity which “wins” in the long run defines itself as “orthodox” and all other forms are defined (by the orthodox) as unorthodox, or heretical. (The root meanings of these words in fact mean right opinion/belief (orthodox) and choosing not to belief rightly (heretical); meaning to choose not to believe as do the orthodox.) Along these lines, I find it important to recall that some of the early church fathers who were in their own day considered very orthodox were later declared to be heretics, or to have held heretical beliefs. Origen of Alexandria serves as an example.

Mixed in with these early forms of Christianity are the spiritual beliefs of Platonism and Neoplatonism. Concepts such as heaven are born from Platonism, not Christianity. Some argue the entire idea of our nature’s being comprised of both a body and spirit is a Greek concept. This in itself is quite interesting, but I do not wish to consider the effects of the various Greek spiritual traditions upon Christianity at this time. (They are however, clearly important influences reaching to this day.)

The Christian canon takes nearly 400 years to define what books comprise the Holy Bible

Another point which I believe is worth our consideration is that the “Holy Bible” as we think of it today did not even exist until late in the 4th century. That is nearly 400 years after the crucifixion of Jesus! And the New Testament itself was not committed to writing until somewhere between 50 ce and 100 ce. For the decades prior to this, everything existed in the oral traditions surrounding the varied understandings of Jesus and his ministry.

Scholars debate exact dates of the Christian sacred texts. Paul’s letters are consider by the majority of scholars to have been written before any of the Gospels, beginning around 50 ce. Of the Gospels, the three “synoptic” Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke/Acts) are dated between 60-90 ce, and are earlier than the Gospel of John, which is clearly written much later, somewhere around 95-100 ce. (Roughly contemporary with the apocalyptic Book of Revelation.) The Gospel of Thomas’ dates are much less certain. The most reasonable arguments to my mind place some of the sayings very early, originating in the oral traditions of Jesus’ day, while other sayings date much later, into the early 2nd century.

I introduce the above topics, not to form clear delineations of the various understandings of what it means to be Christian, but rather to make it clear there were -and still are- many competing ideas of what it means to be a Christian. This has always been true of our religion. Perhaps it will always.

On Becoming An Old Catholic Priest

I have been asked a series of questions regarding my recent ordination as an Old Catholic priest, the church with which I am affiliated, their foundational beliefs, and how the Old Catholic Church (OCC) differs from the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). I thought these topics would make good fodder for this blog. My reply is rather long and will be spread across a number of blog posts. I also expect some readers will find certain blogs boring. I suggest just skipping over those and moving along to tastier topics more appealing to your spiritual palette!

“[W]ould you tell me the name of the church you are affiliated with, what it stands for, and how it is differs from the Roman Catholic church. In other words, how and when did your church originate and when? What are the beliefs and mission of its founders? What kind of catholic church is it, and how is it different or the same as the Roman Catholic church? The reason I am asking is my son’s interest and questions regarding your ordination to priesthood. [My son’s] wife is catholic and so are her parents. Their experience is that it takes many years to become a catholic priest. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.”

My reply begins below. It should be noted the following is my personal opinion and may not represent the official opinion of the church and seminaries I have attended. For any errors and omissions I claim fault to be my own.

First the Easy Part

The name of the church I have joined is “Ekklesia Epignostika” which is Greek. “Ekklesia” means an assembly or meeting of people. In the New Testament it is frequently translated as church. “Epignostika” is best understood by breaking it down into two parts, Epi and Gnostika. “Epi” taken most literally means “upon,” “on,” “over,” “near,” “at,” “before,” “after.” But in this case it is meant to convey an idea closer to epic, as in something like large or more specifically transcendent. The root of “Gnostika” is “Gnostic” which means understanding. And not just intellectual comprehension, but more importantly spiritual apprehension. It is in this sense the word is prefixed with “epi.” So the translation would be something like the Church of Spiritual Apprehension. The church’s bishops translate the name of the church as the Church of (Divine) Realization.

It is a very new church, still small, and doesn’t even have a web site yet! It was formed in 2008, I believe. It’s seminary program is organizationally placed under the auspice of The Esoteric Interfaith Church, and Esoteric Theological Seminary, founded in Florida (1987). This is a religious church and seminary organized under the laws of the state of Florida. They are quite small however, and for this reason as well as holding a belief in the separation of church and state, do not participate in the regional accreditation evaluation program overseen by the United States Department of Education. (Yes, I understand the USDOE does not literally grant any school direct accreditation, but they still control the strings of those who do, so from a pragmatic point of view, isn’t the difference moot?)

Other than philosophical differences, USDOE status also requires much larger campus facilities than small colleges and seminaries require, especially for those which primarily offer distance education. Why should such a college require a cafeteria or dorm rooms? We see here clearly a reflection of the past, when all colleges were brick and mortar complexes. But this is changing, and eventually regulations will catch up to the present social changes.

Another consideration is financial. It costs a great deal of money to seek and maintain USDOE status. For this reason alone, many of the small seminaries I considered chose not to seek USDOE accreditation. And as a paying student, who ultimately underwrites those costs, I am happy *not* to be a part of that! I have never taken any course offering $1,000 value, and there are many seminaries who’s costs exceed even this obscene amount. (Guess I’m getting old…. ‘Back in my day, courses were only $50 a credit hour!’…. But this is really another rant, and I digress.)

In any event, in and of itself, not desiring USDOE accreditation is not uncommon in the religious community. However, I would also say such groups also tend to be comprised of smaller, more fractional groups.

My Educational Path

The following is a brief summary of my educational path. I first attended the University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio for 3-1/2 years, accumulating 128-credit hours and no concentration in any subject. I have no degree from UT. Years later I began a series of studies to complete a concentration in religious studies. I began taking on-line classes, and over a period of several years I obtained a religious Bachelors of Arts degree in Religious Studies, through the aforementioned ETS seminary. I am continuing my religious education through the Ekklesia Epignostika Seminary program, from which I will eventually obtain my graduate degree. I am not yet half way through this seminary program. I expect it will take another year or two to complete. Then I will have to write and orally defend my master’s thesis, which will take longer, in order to complete the Masters degree program.

So that’s 3-1/2 years of “real” college education and something on the order of 5 or 6 years of on-line seminary classes, taken part-time. I ain’t no Jesuit, but I ain’t no self-proclaimed prophet of agnostika either, heheh.

The Ekklesia Epignostika Seminary (EES) course work includes one of the most widely used college textbooks on the New Testament, written by Prof. Erhman. We also avail ourselves of open college lectures from highly respected professors (Harvard, Yale, etc), as well as a variety of other religious lectures either available on-line or through the Great Courses lecture series. I’ve taken well over a dozen lectures on topics ranging from Hebrew Bible studies, to comparative religion and religious studies, to classical Greek philosophy, to religious philosophy of the West, and courses on the New Testament, and New Testament writers and the writings of the Church Fathers.

I recall when I was comparing the courses offered by various seminaries I felt the EES compared quite favourably. Almost all seminaries have a base of common work with which one should become familiar, which do not vary greatly from one seminary to the next. Thereafter, one selects an area of more close study. One may choose to specialize in the letters of Paul or in Christian counselling for example.

Religious Mysticism

In the case of my seminary (EES), to a large degree that area of closer study is self-selected as a result of wishing to follow their program in the first place. A significant part of the last half specializes in the more “esoteric” studies and those exploring the subject of “divine mystery.” This does not hold an appeal for everyone, but for those such as myself, it is difficult to find a curriculum which places much emphasis on this. Which is understandable as it is a very difficult subject, and notoriously tricky to pin down.

The subject of mysticism in itself serves as an example. Many people think that means psychics, table tipping, or talking to the dead. But this is a shallow and misleading understanding of religious mysticism. It is really about the search for God and a desire to experience the Presence of the Divine. But how does one actually convey such an experience to another? Therein lies the tricky bit!

I have come to believe a large part of the problem is that the mystic experience hits us square in what Jung called our unconscious psychological function! (Also known as our inferior psychological function; because it primarily raises out of our unconscious, as opposed to being accessible to our conscious awareness; however, it is not to be misunderstood as being any less real or important to our overall psychological health.)

By definition we cannot readily relate to the mystical experience, because its domain resides within our unconscious. Yet, there have been a number of studies in recent decades which are beginning to sketch out aspects of this spiritual journey. Or at least those aspects which leave indicators in our physiology. I find this fascinating.

So what is a “typical” education for priests?

This varies quite a bit. This is obvious once one thinks about it. Just think of the huge variety of churches in the world. They each have vastly different understandings and exist in varying social conditions, and enjoy a rich variety in their histories. Some require their clergy to be ordained into a line of apostolic succession while others allow one to simply declare one is a pastor (and if such a person actually helps others, who is to say the Spirit is not present?). All of this effects the internal traditions of this multitude of churches, which is in turn reflected in their educational needs as well.

Among the more rigorous theological models are those observed by the Methodist and Jesuit seminaries. (Although early in their formation the Methodists were criticized for exactly the opposite.) The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) in general is among the more lengthy and extensive educational models, especially in the education of Jesuits. In each of the above traditions the educational course may be expected to last at least five or six years.

Taking a wider view, one might observe a number of religious educational models. In the RCC model alone, for example (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_priest):

In the United States, priests must have a four-year university degree in Catholic philosophy plus an additional four to five years of graduate-level seminary formation in theology with a focus on Biblical research. A Master of Divinity is the most common degree.

In Scotland, there is a mandatory year of preparation before entering seminary for a year dedicated to spiritual formation, followed by several years of study.

In Europe, Australasia and North America, seminarians usually graduate with a Master of Divinity or a Master of Theology degree, which is a four-year professional degree (as opposed to a Master of Arts which is an academic degree). At least four years are to be in theological studies at the major seminary.

In Africa, Asia and South America, programmes are more flexible, being developed according to the age and academic abilities of those preparing for ordination.

If we now extend this to consider religious educational paths other than RCC we will find a wider academic range. But rather than attempt to detail this, I would rather turn the discussion toward the history of the church and whether apostolic succession is required… among other bones of contention! This is where we will begin to appreciate some of the key differences among expressions of faith. This will require a brief look into the historic evolution of the Christian church to more deeply appreciate the underlying differences that separate the various denominations.

And keep in mind, this is only taking a quick look at a slice of *Christian* beliefs and practices! Once one includes other faiths the variety of religious expression and understanding becomes quite complex and very rich. Religion, faith, and spirituality is certainly a fascinating area of study!

Please, stay tuned to my blog to hear more of these interesting topics (well, interesting to me at any rate, heheh) as my answer continues!