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Words in the King James Version that now mean something else: Have you ever run across these and wondered what they meant?

I enjoyed this blog by Chris Armstrong (Ph.D., Duke University;  professor of church history at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, MN).  He shares some of the many words used in the King Jame’s Version of the bible which have come to carry very different meanings – in some cases the opposite of what we assume when reading them from our modern frame of reference!  This seems like a reasonable point of which to be aware.  I hope you enjoy his blog, as have I.

 

The modern misinterpretation which always jumps immediately to my mind is vanity as in “…vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”

 

The relevant definitions of VANITY are (Merriam-Webster online):

1:  something that is vain, empty, or valueless
2:  the quality or fact of being vain
3:  inflated pride in oneself or one’s appearance :  conceit

 

Seems clear enough, right?  However, the original Hebrew word is hebel (Strong’s #1891: vapor; breath).  We inherited, habel = vanity, because when it was first translated into Latin, we were given habel = vanitas;  the nearest translation into English being, vanity.  Related meanings in English then extend from this assignment, such as ‘meaningless’ or ‘futile.’

 

But if we look to the Hebrew roots of the Hebrew word hebel, we find the related meanings to be:

  • fog
  • steam
  • breeze
  • breath

 

The flash of an image that comes to my mind is that of being on a small boat, watching the shoreline in the early pre-dawn hours, trying to make out something of interest, but it is being obscured by banks of fog.  These shift and thicken, seemingly causing the object of my curiosity to recede from view.

 

Another more abstract idea that comes to mind, is to realize the substance of our physical world is as this fog…  banks of shifting and undulating steam or breath (elemental particles adrift in the quantum uncertainty from which our apparently-solid world quickens).  And behind this shifting fog of elemental particles?  Yet another realm, equally fogged by the steamy breath of God!  This is yet another aspect of the Cloud of Unknowing, somewhere hidden within is to be found the Divine Center, to which we aspire.

 

And what new insight does this bring to the book of Ecclesiastes?

 

Is life meaningless?  Futile?  This would be the modern interpretation one might very easily glean.  But I feel this is the *wrong* apprehension of this book.  On one hand, yes, leading a life dedicated *only* to physical concerns may very well be meaningless, leading only to disappointment – to this extent I will agree.

 

But there is a more refined view of reality to which we may cleave.  This is something along the lines of Practical Spirituality.  I believe this is related to us in the Hebrew word chased:  loving-kindness.  When we choose to live our lives from this perspective – “loving wastefully” as bishop Spong says – we discover we are living our life to its fullest potential, and this is the nearest we may approach eternal peace whilst within flesh.

 

Perhaps the trick is to see the physical world as the ephemeral, and what love and joy we may be able to bring into the world as our vehicle for celebrating the Breath of Life granted us by God, to be the substantial.  Then, after we fade as so much fog against the morning sun, we will take up the next leg of our journey, carried on the breeze of the Divine Breath.

 

This apprehension offers a quality to our life, far greater than futility and nihilism.  Our earthly lives may be ephemeral, but they are far from meaningless or futile.  So, yes, words do matter;  how we define them matters greatly;  understanding that the meanings of words change over the centuries is a critical aspect of biblical inquiry, and one which may grant us much better clarity and acuity.

 

Erik+

Grateful to the dead

Well, work on issue #100 of Christian Historymagazine, on the King James Bible, is almost completed. By March we expect to have it out to many previous subscribers, plus those of you who have signed up for a free copy here. Meanwhile, what with allotting pages to articles and moving things around, the following nifty “Did You Know” piece will likely be pushed out (it was squeezed out when I realized that one page was not enough space to do justice to the KJV’s fascinating chief translator, Lancelot Andrewes). So what better place to share it than here on Grateful to the Dead?

The following are just a few of the more than 500 words that could trip up modern readers of the King James Version, because they now mean something different—often very different!—than they did in the early 1600s when the KJV was being translated.

accursed

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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+

Stages of Faith – Miller’s Four Floors of Consciousness

Professor Ron Miller

The late Professor Ron Miller is one of the best lecturers I have ever heard.  He is quite simply brilliant.  He is by far the best theologian I have ever heard or read.  He was a former Jesuit, and a student of philosophy his entire adult life.  I suspect his great intellect in combination with his obvious love of philosophy and people, attributes to the sublime insights which he so eloquently shares with his audience.  I highly recommend watching all the presentations he gave to the Theosophical Society:

Miller’s books are as insightful as his lectures, if more focused.  I especially enjoy his “The Gospel of Thomas” which features his commentary on these 114 pithy sayings (logia) attributed to Jesus.  A growing number of scholars -Miller included- regard a significant number of these as the oldest surviving record of Jesus’ message.   Perhaps as many as 30% of them may date to the oral traditions of the Jesus Movement taking place within Judaism.  (Although, while I tend to side with Miller’s observation, it is fair to observe other scholars place this percentage lower – and some believe the entire work dates from the 2nd or 3rd century of the Common Era.)

Miller offers a simple way of thinking about spiritual perspectives through the metaphor of a four story building, each floor of which represents a level of human consciousness.  I like this metaphor because it is so memorable, yet useful.  It is an easy to remember model, but one which I find both flexible and very practical in day to day use:

 
Floor                   Stage of Consciousness       View of Enemies
Basement              Tribal/Warrior                          Kill
First Floor              Thinking/Intellectual                Negotiate
Second Floor         Feeling/Empathy                    Feel Relationship
Rooftop Garden     Unity/Oneness                        There are no enemies

The two aspects of Miller’s model which I have chosen to highlight in the table above are one’s Stage of Consciousness and one’s View of Enemies.  In giving a brief two-word summary of the Stage of Consciousness, one should be better able to relate Miller’s Floors to the stages/levels of consciousness as discussed by other systems.  And by relating how each Stage of Consciousness chooses to deal with those seen as enemies, I hope to provide an insight to one of the more important effects of our Floor of Consciousness has upon us – how we choose to engage ourselves when in conflict with others.

There are certainly more complex models one may study.  In a previous post I introduced my favorite model to date, James Fowler’s “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning.”  I highly recommend studying this book, as I have found it very practical in expanding the understanding of my own spiritual journey, as well as assisting me in better appreciating the journey of others.  That said, there is certainly a place for a simple metaphor, such as Miller offers us.

When ordering my thoughts during a discussion of spirituality, I frequently turn to Miller’s Four Floors of Consciousness.  Over the course of the conversation I may refine my view (perhaps by shifting the lens through one of Fowler’s Stages of Faith) but Miller’s Four Floors offer a very good foundation, for a great many discussions.

Basement Consciousness

The lowest state of consciousness in Miller’s metaphor is found down in the the basement.  From the basement, one has no view of one’s surroundings.  One’s world is very limited.  This represents “tribal” and “warrior” thinking.  Everything is seen as black or white; either 100% Right or 100% Wrong.  Killing enemies is the favored means of conflict resolution.  It readily lends itself to destructive dualistic thinking.  When viewing the world in this way it is exceedingly easy to see others as Satan or some other embodiment of Evil Incarnate.  Once others have been psychologically dehumanized, it is quite a small step to embrace murdering them (“it”) in the name of God (I would argue “god” if one cares to split spiritual hairs).

Relating this to our “more civilized” culture in the West, we will often find that such “tribal wars” aim not for the physical murder of those perceived as enemies, but rather in the destruction and “murder” of their spiritual beliefs and philosophies.  Also common to this thinking are strict interpretations of Heaven and Hell, and the consignment of all those unlike themselves to the “eternal fires of hell.”

(With regard to the question of the meaning of “eternal” in the original Greek, and the proper scope of this term, I would suggest Dr. Hanson’s book “Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years.”)

First Floor Consciousness

Raising our consciousness to the first floor affords us greater perspective.  We now have access to windows through which to view the world.  We can see outside and beyond our basement.  We begin to make sense of our immediate surroundings and our relationship to them.  We begin to appreciate there are other ways of looking at the world and instead of a world of Black and White we begin to observe shades of grey between these extremes.  The world becomes larger, inter-related, and more complex.  We engage of rational thinking.  In the later developmental stages of forming this level of understanding, we become increasingly aware that other’s also have their own perspective on the world (and they of us).  We recognize we each have our own special interests to serve.  Conflict resolution enters the phase of negotiation in preference to murder.  However, while we hold an olive branch in one hand, we still hold our sword in the other.

Second Floor Consciousness

When we raise our consciousness to the second floor we have an even better view of our surroundings.  We see not only our yard but the neighborhood in which we live.  We begin to engage our heart as well as our mind, gaining empathy for others.  And this is the most significant change in our newly acquired developmental stage:  the ability to feel in our heart as we imagine others might feel.  We begin to walk in their shoes, as the popular saying goes.  Compassion for others begins to become an important value.  This has an obvious effect upon us, because we begin to understand that in addition to there being a variety of ways of seeing the world, we realize each person has feelings as intrinsically vital as our own, and we begin to appreciate how our behaviors and actions effect others emotionally.

One might say we begin to live in our heart, as well as in our head (the first floor).  I suspect at this stage of spiritual development we begin to appreciate how we may cause a number of our own problems, which we previously saw as something only others did to us.  We have become co-conspirators in our life as opposed to innocent victims.  Conflict resolution begins to cross an entirely new threshold.  We sincerely wish to find mutually satisfying and rewarding negotiations.  If we have not yet beaten our sword into a ploughshare, at least it has been placed in our scabbard.

Rooftop Garden Consciousness

And finally we come to the rooftop garden.  Relatively few people spend much time here.  But the view is grand!  Not only is our entire town visible, but the rolling hills and ocean beyond!  We begin to apprehend we are each connected, as is all the water in the ocean.  As this view matures we begin to imagine what the world must look like as we soar high above it.  And then we come to see the earth as that beautiful blue marble hanging in space.  And it really hits us:  truly, we all emanate from the transcendent One!

This is said to be where we really find Unity.  This is where we no longer see enemies.  In fact, we realize there can be no enemies… because we are all One!  This rooftop garden view of the world is offered to us by all the great seers and sages, and all great spiritual traditions offer us this insight.  Sadly, if history is any judge, the majority of people trapped in lower stages of consciousness cannot stand in the light of this apprehension for very long.  Such visionaries generally come to violent deaths.

The Rooftop Garden View of Consciousness is that of the Mystic.  And all mystics seem to find Unity here.

Stages of Faith – Intro to James W. Fowler

 

In the previous post I introduced the work of M. Scott Peck, represented as a simplification of the work of James W. Fowler, a developmental psychologist at Candler School of Theology.  I’m certain this is an unfair characterization of Peck’s work, as he has developed a large body of work.  However, I feel it does serve as a useful introduction to Fowler’s work, which is why I presented it as such.

I personally found Fowler’s book “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning” extremely informative and a very thorough presentation of his theory of human faith development.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this subject.  His work makes extensive use of the collective works of Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg, as he studies human psychological development as we mature from childhood to adulthood to elderhood.

In Fowler’s study, we find that faith development parallels our psychological development.  We also find that our orientation to personal spirituality is broadly delineated by our social and cultural mores, and finely focused by those who raise us.  Only as we mature do we begin to define ourselves, and only at later stages does one typically do so mindfully.

Upon reflection, none of this is greatly surprising.  But it is edifying to have these effects upon our own development so well organized and explained, for not only does this allow us to better understand ourselves, and our own belief structures, it affords us the opportunity to better relate to others.

Fowler proposes six stages of faith development which may be investigated, beginning with early childhood, and extending throughout one’s maturity to adulthood.   If one wishes to include infancy as stage zero, there are then a total of seven stages of faith,  but this pre-stage of infancy is not one which may be readily investigated by interviewing those residing within it.

How do we learn to relate to whatever we consider to be our Universal Concern?  What becomes the most important focal point, the directing beacon, of our life?  To what is our life, taken as a whole, orientated?

Answers to these kinds of questions will demonstrate how we relate to ourselves, to those close to us, to others in a widening sense of community, and to that which we perceive as the Ultimate Power in the universe.  This is the projection of self-interest moving outward in increasingly larger spheres of influence and concern:  from Me, to You, to Us, and perhaps, to All.

Stage 0 – Undifferentiated Faith (birth to 2 years age)

Trust in those who are caring for us develops at this earliest stage.  We either learn the world is a safe and supportive place or a dangerous and threatening one.  Our experiences at this stage of our early lives form the foundation of all future developmental stages we enter.  It is the foundation upon which we build our perception the world.  By extension, we simultaneously learn to trust/distrust others and the Divine based upon our early (primal/formative) experiences of safety or danger.

The acquisition of speech, which requires the manipulation of symbols, signals the beginning of the transition into stage one development.

Peck’s Stage I comprises both Fowler’s Stages 1 and 2.  

Peck’s system characterizes this as a primarily chaotic, anti-social stage of development.  And one can see these traits in Fowler’s stage 1 and 2, as the person moves from a severely egocentric mental state, to learning the ability to see the world from the perspective of another.  Yet, there is more complexity and refinement offered in Fowler’s system.  One might think of Fowler’s stage 1 as the entry point into Peck’s stage I, and Fowler’s stage 2, as the transitioning phase out of Peck’s stage I.

Both systems acknowledge that some adults never progress beyond this stage.  And even for those who do, there may be pockets of beliefs which hold onto the character of these stages well into later stages.  Sometimes, this is a matter of convenience, as a type of mythic short-hand.  Sometimes, it is a cluster of beliefs which resist a greater degree of integration with the rest of the person’s developing personality.

Fowler’s Stage 1 – Intuitive-Projective Faith (2 to 7 years age)

In stage 1, we evolve beyond an undifferentiated sense of self (lack of sense of ego, as an infant) to a strong sense of self, and our own ego.  In a word, we have become egocentric.  This is also a period during which we are open to impressions arising from our unconscious, develop our imaginative function, and typically have difficulty in separating reality from fantasy.

Due to the inability to readily differentiate reality from fantasy, this is a particularly sensitive period for our faith development.  If we are subjected to strong teaching/preaching about the negative aspects of religion (original sin; our sinful nature; Satan devouring our souls; etc) we may form very rigid belief systems, and develop an “authoritarian personality.”

Because this personality is founded upon fear, it is also a fundamentally weak system, and the organizing personality may shatter if over-stressed, due to its inherent inflexibility.  This sensed weakness may provoke anger and violence in the adult.  That which is threatening, is attacked.

We transition into stage 2 development once our thinking is capable of objective, operational thought processes.

Fowler’s Stage 2 – Mythic-Literal Faith (7 to 12 years age)

This is a really interesting stage of faith!  We tend to believe the universe is just, and that one’s behavors are rewarded according to the merit of one’s actions.  The sense of Deity nearly always takes on anthropomorphic representations.

We begin sorting our mythic representations and fantasies as we develop a sense of what is real and what is make-believe.  Myth, and story, are primary vehicles for understanding our experiences, and those of others.  We begin to become less egocentric and learn to appreciate the point of view of others.  However, this still tends to be arranged in more-or-less inflexible images and symbols.  While life begins to take on multiple perspectives, they remain very one-dimensional and flat representations of our experiences.  Persons in stage 2 tend to view values literally.

God is a human-like being in the sky or heaven above; heaven and hell are real places; “If I am good, God will send me to heaven;” “If I pray, God will grant my wish.”

As one begins to experience difficulty in holding onto such a simple view of the world and universe, they begin the process examining why they hold the beliefs they do.  As the simple binary mythic system of Good:Bad, Black:White, fails to the complications presented in everyday life, which is filled with shades of grey, the person is required to re-interpret the stories they once took to be literal, and the search for the true meaning behind the mythos is begun.  This signals the transition into stage 3.

Peck’s Stage II (Formal-Institutional) corresponds to Fowler’s Stage 3.  

Peck’s system identifies persons in this stage as relying upon some form of institution.  This may be of a religious or secular nature.  The key trait of this stage is the person feels they require their chosen institution to provide security and stability in their life.  Such persons may become so attached to this institution that they become very upset or even violent if its validity is questioned.

Both Peck and Fowler observe that many adults cease psychological-sociological development at this state of maturity.  However, I am not aware of any studies which have been conducted in an attempt to estimate this percentage of the population.  That said, my experience suggests this segment of the population comprises a significant percentage.

Fowler’s Stage 3 – Synthetic-Conventional Faith (adolescence; 12 years into adulthood)

The on-set of this stage of development typically takes place around the age of puberty.  On one hand, this is where we refine our sense of personal identity.  On the other hand, we are also subject -or subject ourselves- to the authority of others, be that the state or church.  A person in this stage is not yet ready to examine inconsistencies in the religious, political, or philosophical beliefs in which they are so heavily invested, so they tend to ignore conflicting or inconsistent beliefs.

Leadership and authority are found outside oneself.  In the church.  In the government.  In social or civic organizations.  Fowler describes one’s beliefs as “tacitly held” because one is unwilling to consciously examine them:  their beliefs ‘just are.’

This is the “synthetic” aspect of this stage.  One’s beliefs are not one’s own as the result of any conscious reflection.  They ‘just are.’  One does not really understand why one’s beliefs are held, so any attempt to move them out of the mythic realm is resisted.

The “conventional” aspect of this stage refers to the pressure to feel part of a known group, within which they feel secure.  Interestingly, Fowler states that he believes most people participating in traditional churches are in this developmental stage.  Furthermore, he observes that generally speaking, churches (and other forms of religions organization) work best when the majority of their membership are of stage 3.

This makes perfect sense once one thinks about it.  A church or other organization will reflect the values held by the majority of their population.  It is possible for persons to form collectives in later stages of faith, but until a desire to return to community is felt, it is more difficult.

Persons in stage 3 wish to form into groups, and they really do not wish to have their beliefs challenged.  Largely because these beliefs are “synthetic” as opposed to organic (grown as from within the person).  So convening in congregations which teach/preach a predictable and stable belief in faith is exactly what they feel they need.  (And perhaps they are quite right in so thinking.)

While this is one of the stages of faith which works really well to support a church, or similar organization, it is not one in which one may do a lot of seeking for new answers, and it is seldom an environment which supports continued growth, beyond a certain, acceptable point.  This is primarily because growth beyond stage 3 typically requires questioning the roots of one’s beliefs.

Yet as a person becomes increasingly aware of the contradictions in their authoritative sources, and desires to resolve these contradictions rationally, they must be willing, and permitted, to stand on their own.  This search for knowledge will carry them into the next stage.

Peck’s Stage III (Skeptic-Individual) corresponds to Fowler’s Stage 4.  

I suspect perhaps due to the undue pressure to *not* question the foundation of one’s faith (be that pressure internally felt or externally applied) when one breaks out of the previous stage, one frequently loses all sense of religious faith, and turns to forms of non-religious expression.  Some people will remain in this stage for the rest of their lives.

I would add this is the stage of Agnosticism.  In and of itself, this is not a bad thing.  In proper measure it provides us a mechanism of discernment and level-headedness, which is important to practice.  Difficulty enters should we decide that lack of evidence is proof of nonexistence  😉  God and the Divine are not that simple, however.  And we cannot use a slide rule to measure the depth of our love.

Fowler’s Stage 4 – Individuative-Reflective Faith (typically early to mid-adulthood)

Self-responsibility and self-reliance become increasingly important to us during this stage.  And this is a very good development.  We no longer accept that which is spoon fed to us, but instead feel a need to make the knowledge our own, which requires us to understand it deeply.  This is why we can no longer simply accept what we are told.

Our heart opens to new understandings and refines previous teachings, and learns to relate them in more complex networks.  At the same time, we are also well aware of inconsistencies in our beliefs.  These we feel a need to resolve.  We are no longer content to ignore them.  This is a richer, more complex, and at times more confusing form of faith.  The older we are when entering this stage, the greater the difficulty we face in entering it.

Fowler expresses some of the most difficult inner work as making what was once tacit, explicit.  Fowler also observes that at this stage of faith our sense of ego changes.  We develop what he calls “executive ego.”  This too is a good development, because through the process of bringing about this authoritative sense of self, and reliance on oneself, we learn to govern ourself from within.  We become internally motivated and internally validated.

So far we have been discussing the “Individual” aspect of this stage.  It is the formation of a strong sense of self.  This is one of the strongest benefits of this stage of development.  It also opens the door to one of the greatest weaknesses at this stage of faith.  We may become so enamoured of our mighty powers of discrimination and logic that we place all our faith in the rational, at the cost of denying our unconscious strengths, or relegating the unconscious to a secondary, and more-or-less unimportant status.  Yet if we are to move to the next stage of faith, we need that which is found in the unconscious.

The “Reflective” aspect of this stage involves dismantling of our mythos.  Fowler believes that we separate meaning, from the structure of the myths themselves.  This is sometimes called demythologizing.  We do this to better understand the subtle meanings which are contained in our mythos.  The danger to religious faith at this stage is the symbols are completely stripped of numinousity (a sense of the presence and wonder of the Divine).  Those whose religious symbols lose all numinousity may become atheist.  They will almost certainly become agnostics, at least for a period, until such time as they are able to construct a new mythos which provides them rich religious meaning.

Peck’s Stage IV (Mystical-Communal) correlates to Fowler’s Stages 5 and 6.

Returning from the arid desert of agnosticism/atheism, those who reach the next levels find a renewed appreciation for that which the earlier stages of faith offered, as well as finding a renewed dedication to community, over their personal concerns.  Life takes on a richness of mystery and wonder, and even paradox, which offers its own rewards.  The tight confines of the rational mind comes to realize there is also strength and value to be found in the irrational mind, for therein resides the unconscious and a mystic apprehension of the Divine.

Speaking for myself, I found my rational mind could only take me so far.  Given that my dominate psychological function is Thinking, this was a difficult admission.  Yet there it is.  I now believe for one to traverse beyond the limitation of the rational mind, one must enter the domain of the unconscious.  I believe this is the path of the mystic.

Fowler’s Stage 5 – Conjunctive Faith (mid-life crisis)

Paradox.  Transcendence.  This is the nature of the reality reflected to us by the archetypes which constructed the system of faith the person left behind in an earlier stage.  A person entering this stage of faith comes to realize that the symbols they stripped of meaning only represented the surface level of meaning.  Now they recognize there is a deeper, widely shared ocean of meaning spanning many spiritual and religious systems.  Now they are prepared to re-enter a religious/spiritual relationship, and to derive numinous illumination from the religious symbols they find meaningful.  There is an appreciation of a complex, multidimensional, interrelated system of Truth which binds all life.

Having “demythologized” the symbols of their earlier religion, and now seeing something of the truth to which the symbol was pointing them, they are ready to speak with persons of other faith traditions, with the desire to learn something valuable.  In a sense, their spiritual cup has been emptied, and now it may be refilled.  All spiritual traditions have their intrinsic strengths and weaknesses, and some are better suited to one person or another.

The person in this stage of faith may be drawn to a religious tradition differing from their previous tradition, or they may find having investigated many faiths, a renewed appreciation for their old traditions.  They are now able to see partial truths in any religion, and are able to select and combine those elemental ideas which are useful in helping to bring about a sense of oneness across numerous religious traditions.  But whether they choose a new religion or choose to re-enter their old religion, the faith they choose to observe will be much richer than it ever could have been before.

Fowler’s Stage 6 – Universalizing Faith

This final stage is very rare.  Very few reach it.  Some call this achieving “enlightenment.”  Fowler cites modern examples of such persons as:  Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa.  These persons treat others with great compassion.  They view everyone as forming a universal Oneness.  Ron Miller observes that we no longer see enemies at this stage of spiritual development, as all are One.

Stages of Faith – Intro to M. Scott Peck

Pecks Four Stages of Spiritual Development

M. Scott Peck offer a four-fold model outlining the development of one’s spirituality.  This system is loosely based upon our psychological development from children into adulthood.  As as with most, if not all of these systems, it provides a means of charting individual social-psychological development from an I-centric world, to a We-centric world, and for some into an Us-centric view of the world.

Stage I: Chaotic-Antisocial

  •    This stage is roughly comparable to Fowler’s stage 1 (Intuitive-Projective) and stage 2 (Mythic-Literal).

We all go through this stage as small children.  There is little to no respect for authority outside of oneself, and one’s greatest concern is only for oneself.  It’s hall mark traits include chaotic, defiant, disordered, and reckless behavior.  Persons residing in this stage are egotistic in the extreme, and the have little to no development of empathy for others.  Peck observes that many adults who are unable to grow beyond Stage I become criminals.  It is easy to see how persons stuck in this early stage have great difficulty thriving in the wider social community.  If transition out of this stage takes place at a late date in one’s life, as an adult, it is usually the result of a very dramatic, painful experience.

Stage II: Formal-Institutional

  •    This stage corresponds well to Fowler’s stage 3 (Synthetic-Conventional).  This is also the stage of spiritual growth in which many “Fundamentalists” and religious extremist are arrested.  Additionally, a great many “good, law-abiding citizens” never transition beyond this stage.

The hall marks of this stage are blind faith in authority figures, and understanding the complexities of the world as very simple binary choices of either Good or Evil; Right or Wrong; Us vs. Them.

Among the positive attributes of this stage are a sense of humility, and a willingness to serve others, and to work within the social structure of the wider community.  However, there may also be a lack of flexibility in one’s thinking and an inability to work well with persons outside one’s own community.

Children who learn to obey their parents (and by extension, authority figures more generally) as a result of fear or shame (as opposed to appreciation and respect), may become stuck in this stage and primarily express its darker attributes.  Peck observes that such persons often rely upon an institutional structure for a sense of stability.  If this sense of stability takes the form of a church or religious observance, persons locked in Stage II thinking may become extremely upset -and in extreme cases, violent- when their beliefs are questioned.

To live well within a community, we all need some sense of Stage II limitations of our actions. Yet if taken to an extreme, these same positive attributes may stunt one’s social-psychological-spiritual development, severely limiting one’s ability to think for oneself, and to be flexible enough to live comfortably with those different than oneself.

Stage III: Skeptic-Individual

  •    This stage roughly corresponds to Fowler’s stage 4 (Individuative-Reflective).  This is predominately the domain of what I sometimes call nous-gnosticism (a search of knowledge ruled by the logical mind and intellect).

A strong sense of self-reliance may help one transition from the previous stage, and in my view this is largely a healthy transition.  Among the hall marks of Stage III is the serious questioning of all that one has learned to this point in one’s life.  This includes sources of authority and information.  Part of this process includes the critical evaluation of one’s religious system.  Agnosticism, and even atheism, are common philosophical beliefs while in this stage.  It is common to become “non-religious” in this stage, and some persons remain so for the rest of their life.  And some even fall prey to an overwhelming sense of apathy and cynicism.

Stage III is also dominated by the processes of the intellect.  In our modern world, this is the stage of scientific skepticism and reliance upon the empirical method, in place of reliance upon authority figures and dogmas presented to us by others.

Spirituality will encounter a great pressure to change in this stage.  Persons unable to free their mind of the limitations of the slide rule may well lose their sense of spirituality altogether.  Those who retain a sense of spiritual beliefs and observances will be driven to find new ways of understanding old doctrines and dogmas.  Simple, literal interpretations of religious dogma must first give way to a more subtle understanding of one’s religious mythos, and then a means of integrating this with one’s scientific understanding of our cosmos must be found.

My personal view is the seeking imperative of this stage, ultimately drives one to either begin transitioning into the next stage (Mystical-Communal) or to succumb to a sense of being lost and isolated in a cold, dark and uncaring universe.  In this sense, this can be a very dangerous stage of spiritual development, for it may lead to opening doors to untold mystery and wonder, or it may close our hearts for the rest of our lives.

Stage IV: Mystical-Communal

  •    This stage corresponds to Fowler’s stage 5 (Conjunctive Faith).  This is predominately the domain of what I sometimes call kardia-gnosticism (a heart-based search for knowledge).

This is a mysterious and paradoxical stage of spiritual development.  The binary view of the world of Good vs. Evil, Right or Wrong, begins to dissolve into the realization that between the world of Black and White is a startling spectrum of subtle Greys!  Truth and Fact begin to be understood as belonging to different paradigms.  It is not that one is Right and the other Wrong, but rather, they each have their own sphere of effect and meaningful application.

Community becomes increasingly important in this stage, and along side this, a sense of acceptance for others.  Life and our roles and interactions with others all begins to be seen from a different perspective.  The beauty, mystery, and deep interconnectiveness of the natural world is seen and appreciated.  One begins to adopt what some call Unity Consciousness.

While one retains a degree of healthy skepticism in this stage, one is increasingly aware of an apprehension of an underlying reality deeper than mere comprehension.  The role of one’s intellect is increasingly informed by the apprehension of one’s heart.  Forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and love form the lenses through which others are viewed.

Judgement of other’s transgressions and the desire to inflict punishment on others is set aside.  The sense of separation between Other and Self soften.

In this stage one loves others as oneself.  Attachment to one’s own ego loosens.  Forgiving one’s enemies becomes more natural as one fails to see others as potential enemies.  Those residing in Stage IV are often called Mystics.

Stages of Faith – Introduction

At some point I wish to discuss transitioning from a “mythic-literal” stage of faith toward later stages, involving reflection and conjunction (and ultimately unity). But first we have to come to a broad understanding of what comprises a stage of faith. This post is intended as an overview or introduction to the topic.

I wish to discuss the idea of stages of faith because I believe it offers a means of better understanding the depths of our own religious-spiritual practices, as well as opening us to an appreciation of the faith practices of others. I also believe it offers a perspective from which we may better relate to others. I feel each of these aspects is important.

So what is meant by a “stage of faith”?

I find one way of grasping the ideas underlying developing stages of faith, is to think of a parallel series of “stages” with which we are all familiar: we all grow through “stages” as we mature from infants, to youths, to young adults, to mature adults, and as elders in our community.

In fact, observation of our normal psychological developments as we age and mature is in part responsible for the theories of faith development as described by Dr. James W. Fowler in his book, “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning” (which I enthusiastically recommend).

As children we are sponges, soaking up our surroundings, stimulating our neural networks causing these to expand, grow, and become more complex. As a result of this process we are provided the mental tools we require to understand and make sense of the world in which we live. And one of these tools is our faculty for faith. In this sense, “faith” need not be religious. (Fowler explains this in his books. Although, in my blogs I expect I will usually be speaking of the religious-spiritual aspect of faith development.)

The core of the idea involves perception.

First as we develop awareness of ourselves as an individual. Then as we (often unconsciously) learn the behavior, beliefs, and practices of those nearest to us; and later, of those in the wider community in which we live. As you can see, each of these phases expands our perception of ourselves and the world in which we live – our circle of awareness grows larger and larger.

As we grow older and develop more sophisticated means of understanding the world, we begin to consciously adopt “lenses” through which to view the world. Sometimes we evaluate the behaviors and beliefs we “inherited” and choose to modify them. Sometimes we use what we inherited as a foundation upon which to build.

And, some people never seem to consciously adapt their view of the world. From a certain perspective, such people can be said to live their lives unconsciously.

Another aspect of our psychological development is the “direction” of our awareness.

In the earliest stage we are learning to identify ourselves and how we are separate from our surroundings. Then we begin to take on a view of the world very much like those taking care of our daily needs. These early stages are generally one-way views of the world: it is “us” looking out “at” the world in which we are immersed. Like a fish living in water, we don’t at first appreciate we too live “in” our surroundings; we do not at first discern that others see us as if we are an outsider.

But at some point, we “see them seeing us.” We can imagine seeing the world -and ourselves- through the eyes of another. As our faculties of perception become more refined, we “see us, seeing them, seeing us.” We are learning to see the world “reflectively” and with increasing appreciation for detail, perspective, and depth.

Theories quickly multiply and become complex, yet are based upon simple human needs.

Theories of what is happening to us, and how directly we effect our own development, and at what point in our psychological development we are able to effectively do this quickly becomes complex. There are a variety of theories, each with its strengths and weaknesses. None of these theories is perfect.

As you sort this all out for yourself, remember the root of all these systems is quite simple. We are discussing how we each perceive the world. And we are discussing from how many angles we are able to view the world. Some of these may appear to be mutually exclusive. Yet here we are, sometimes believing six “impossible” things before breakfast!

What is next?

I think the next logical step to take is to take a brief look at a few of the more popular systems, or stage development models. Some only model four categories, and some a dozen or more. Some deal more directly with our personal psychological development, and others deal more directly with our sociological development. Some are primarily secular and others are more concerned with our spiritual development. Each has its place and may or may not be the better tool for any given situation. I switch between models, using whichever tool -or “lens”- I believe is most practical for each occasion.

It is up to us to choose the pair of glasses through which we view ourselves and the world. And we may change glasses from time to time!

What does celebrating the Eucharist mean to me?

QUESTION:    Can you share your thoughts regarding the importance of “celebrating” the Eucharist. What does it mean to you? What is its spiritual significance? Is everyone invited to participate?

For myself?

I am finding the celebration of the Eucharist as an evolving process. I’m still working out my personal meaning on the finer points, and in that sense it is an internal (and esoteric) experiment. My hope is that the process evolves me spiritually. I do feel a sense of Presence when performing the ritual, so I feel certain that something very real is happening.

I really do think it involves a process of working with, and interacting with, Divine energy. Now I don’t objectively think that God needs little ol’ me to bring God into the world. I think much more likely is that we are ourselves benefited by lending in a hand; by the very process of helping out. It is not so much for God’s benefit, in other words, than for our own benefit. We gain something spiritual in the “doing” of the ritual. Most of us learn best by doing. And celebrating the Eucharist helps to better refine our connection to the Holy Spirit, both our sense of this connection, and transformationally on the spiritual-emotional level of our being.

I like to think performing this ritual is refining my spiritual self – my “energy” self or my “soul” or “spirit” – however one wishes to frame that concept. This is very much related to the transubstantiation of the bread and wine. In my view, while these do not literally become meat and blood here on earth, in the spiritual realm their nature *is* changed. (The physical transubstantiation of the bread and wine a metaphor for this higher, spiritual Truth.) So it is the spiritual counterpart to the bread and wine is what is being transmuted, transformed, transubstantiated. So too, with us.

And purely in the physical realm, I suspect it offers us a health benefit, and at times may be physically healing. The Eucharist is clearly emotionally healing to some. (I also believe all healing occurs first in the spiritual body, then in the emotional and physical bodies.)

There is a lot to be said for the power of our beliefs. As we we think, so we are. Taking-in the physical counterpart of the bread and wine into our bodies, most likely activates us on several levels of our being. On one level this helps make this experience real to our bodies. It becomes tangible. Emotionally and spiritually we become more open and more receptive. Most likely, this helps our transference of spiritual energy in the spiritual realm, and from the spiritual realm into the physical realm.

And if nothing else, I find it is a reminder to myself to be more Christ-like. And I can use all those reminders I can get!

What actually happens during the Eucharist liturgy?

I generally ascribe to the Liberal Catholic Church’s view that in celebrating the Eucharist -the Holy Communion of bread and wine- I am helping to open up a little window into the world, encouraging the entry of Divine energy to flow into this world. This spiritual energy – which one might name the Presence of God, or the Holy Spirit – flows into the altar, the chalice and host, into the priest, outward into those present, and continues to spread outward into the world at large. Unseen, there are present angelic beings who strive to facilitate this two-way flow, exchange, or transference, of spiritual energy. We offer our oblations of loving worship to God, and God offers us common-union with the Holy Spirit, and Divine Love.

The bread and wine are especially charged with this spiritual energy/Divine Presence/Love/Holy Spirit. Those who take this into themselves gain additional benefit by closer contact with these spiritually charged elements. This is why healing services are performed following the Eucharist portion of the liturgy, after those present are most fully “charged” with the spiritual energy of the Holy Spirit. In contrast, baptisms precede the Eucharist celebration – but ideally are part of a Mass (due to the higher state of spiritual energy) – because the process of becoming baptized prepares one’s spiritual body for more efficient, effective transmission of this spiritual energy.

What of those present in the ekklesia (the congregation)?

Each person chooses their level of involvement with the ritual. The spiritual energy/Presence flows into those *both* participating and merely present. However, I feel that when attending Holy Communion one best benefits oneself – and all others – by mentally, emotionally, and spiritually engaging in the ritual.

Those “simply present” may increase their participation in the exchange of spiritual energy by placing their awareness – attention, intention, and perception – on what is taking place during the liturgy. As a person better understands what the service is trying to convey, and how the channels are opened between the physical and spiritual realms, each person is able to lend their spiritual heart to this process, encouraging this Divine energy to enter into the alter, the chalice (wine) and host (bread), the priest, to those present – including themselves – and then outward into the world at large.

Specifically how an individual “lends their heart” to the service will vary according to their psychology. One might find visualizing the flow of energy useful, another may hear the singing of attending angels, another may feel rumbling or other sensations, and another may feel the upwelling of emotion and love increasing until it overflows and spills forth into all those present, and outward into the world. Or any combination of the above. Or perhaps through some other modality. How one specifically encourages the process, and specifically in what manner one personally engages in the experience, is far less important than one *does* participate and engage in the celebration of the Eucharist. Ideally experiencing physical, emotional, and spiritual participation.

Alternately, one may just sit there and eat a cracker after an hour or so passes. But I suspect that would be of minimal benefit – yet still of benefit – to that individual.

The Eucharist liturgy is a form of theurgy.

A kinda scary word! Citing Wikipedia: “Theurgy (from Greek θεουργία) describes the practice of rituals, sometimes seen as magical in nature, performed with the intention of invoking the action or evoking the presence of one or more gods, especially with the goal of uniting with the divine, achieving henosis, and perfecting oneself”.

[Henosis (from the Greek: ἕνωσις) means “oneness,” “union,” or “unity.” It is understood as the desire to achieve union with what one perceives as fundamental reality, or Ultimate Power (Source/God/etc). We might observe this concern is related to theosis (which is simultaneously a transformative process as well as the ultimate goal of that process itself, resulting in our common-union with the Divine/God; embodying the Divine essence within ourselves.)]

Ritualized religious-spiritual magic, in other words. And so it is. This view is perhaps colored by my attending seminary, but I do not see “magic” as automatically associated with evil. Liturgy is a structured behavior, giving structure to a worship service. In other words it is a set of ritualized actions and behaviors meant to convey specific meanings and evoke specific reactions within us, and certainly in the case of the Mass, offers oblation to God with the hope, intent of procuring favor at some level. That is engaging in the process of ritualized religious magic: theurgy.

On the other hand, magic is merely what we name a technology we do not comprehend. That may very well be the case here. We certainly do not really understand all the inner workings of the spiritual realm. In the meantime, we just do our best.

Is spiritual refinement taking place?

I do see celebrating the Eucharist liturgy as one means of helping to refine one’s in-dwelling Divine Spirit. The whole point is to make, feel, develop, and extend our connection with The Christ. Another view which I hope may be taking place, is that the ritual may begin to open my spiritual eye to better perceive the Divine Center. So in this sense it is an effort to develop my personal aptitude for mysticism. For feeling a connection to the Divine. And as I say, I do feel some connection. I find this experience is very real. I can feel it. And I do believe this is a form of spiritual refinement.

Building and maintaining the spiritual edifice of the Eucharist.

Then there is the idea of thought-energy-forms. Many people have poured sincere intention into this form of ritual for nearly 2,000 years. That in and of itself builds up spiritual energy. By reproducing the ritual we too connect with that, feed from it, and feed back into it for others in the future. In a very rough way, one might think of this as a type of spiritual battery. I suspect this too is taking place. Seen through this lens we are reaching far back into the ancient roots of our spiritual tradition, deriving real benefit from their service, and we are simultaneously passing forward this continuing spiritual tradition – and effective energy – for future generations.

Is everyone invited to participate in the Eucharist celebration?

In my tradition, yes. Anyone who is sincerely wishing to participate so as to experience a closeness with Christ/Holy Spirit/God is welcomed. It is deemed improper for us as humans to determine which other humans are worthy of taking part in the ritual. (This includes the spirits of any deceased, who may wish to be present.)

In contrast, the Roman Catholic Church officially only permits Roman Catholics (in good standing) to participate in the Eucharist. That said, how strictly this is enforced varies. I recall attending several Roman Catholic Masses in high school, and I took the Eucharist each time. It really seemed like the whole point, and even then I appreciated that aspect of their liturgy. However, I still knew I was really not supposed to be there and that really weakened the experience for me.

Each denomination will have their own rules and individual parish observances on this point. I’m sure there is a great deal of variation, both inter- and intra-denominationally.

I suspect one of the reasons my denomination invites any sincerely seeking person to take part in the Eucharist, is we view this as one of the most powerful, spiritually charged rituals one may celebrate. If we are in fact correct in our assumption that performing the Eucharist celebration opens a positive, beneficial channel between this world and the spiritual realm, isn’t that one of the very best places for a person seeking God to experience a meaningful connection, a “common-union” (Holy Communion) with the Divine? Where better to find affinity with God? Where better to kindle one’s Divine Spark? Why deny someone seeking God’s Presence such an opportunity?

So for all these reasons I celebrate the Eucharist.

Father Erik

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.)