The history, theology, and spirituality continue to wash over us in waves. We had not regained our balance from the tomb of St. John when we found ourselves in Ephesus where Paul lived for some years, at times in prison, and wrote some of his best letters. and Ephesus where Mary was acclaimed Theotokos after having spent her final years there according to legend. Still trying to take all that in, we took the 4 hour boat ride to Patmos to pray in the cave where John had his vision; then back to Pergamum, one of the cities condemned by John for proto-gnostic heresy, eating meat sacrificed to idols, and harboring the Altar of Zeus, which John called “the Throne of Satan.” Personally I think John was a bit hard on the Pergamumians.
Along the way, we have heard a round of lectures, including several tracing the history of the Ecumenical Councils. A dispute over whether Christ had two natures (human and divine) or one nature (human/divine – Severus would later coin the term “theandric”) led to the definitive Council Number 4 – Caledon. From that Fifth Century gathering we have the Caledonian Definition of Faith that defines orthodoxy for the West and for the majority of the Eastern Church. Two natures won the day. But that Council has never persuaded major segments of Christianity. The dissenting voices are the Non-Caledonians or Monophysites.
The basic problem Caledon and subsequent councils struggled with is the miracle of the Incarnation. Some things just don’t fit in our language because they don’t fit in our heads. The Trinitarian Mystery of how three can be one and vice versa is replicated in the mystery of the Incarnation – how can Jesus be both human and divine. Half human and half divine would be easy. Greek heroes had been half human and half divine for centuries. The Luke & Matthew birth narratives could easily give that impression.[i] The mystery of the Incarnation is that Jesus is 100% human and 100% divine. The grace of the Incarnation is that it blows apart our limiting and inadequate mental constructs of what it means to be human and what it means to be God.
Now on the bus again, we have just heard a lecture on the 5th Council, Constantinople II. That Council condemned some Nestorians, a point not of great interest to us I think. However, it also condemned the early 3rd Century theologian Origen of Alexandria (who actually lived much of the time in Caesarea Maritima). He taught universalism meaning that in God’s grace all creation will be redeemed; Hell will be left empty and absorbed into Heaven. The Anglican Reformers committed our tradition to following the first four councils – not five. Anglicanism does not have an official position on Origen or universal salvation. Some of our greatest theologians, such as Frederick Dennison Maurice and Charles Gore, have been universalists and I am of that leaning myself. [ii]
And now during a break in writing, we have just heard a lecture on the differences between the Creed in the East and the Creed in the West, occasioned by a Western tweak in the language about the Holy Spirit in the 6th Century known as the filioque clause. The issue is too abstruse for a blog. All I have to say about it, I have already said in God of Our Silent Tears, chapters 7 & 8. J
For fun, our leader cut the Creed up into phrases and passed them out to us for us each to rewrite a little section. Then he patched them together into our Creed of the Bus:
Certainly our Almighty God and Father is one;
And is the creator of all we have imagined and understood
And all that we have neither understood nor imagined.
We believe in one earthly god, Jesus, who was made incarnate
So as to teach us the grace of God.
As God the Father is light and truth, so is Christ the Son light and truth.
As God the Father is the creator and not a creature
So is Christ the Son the creator and not a creature.
He is the creator of all that is.
For us and for our salvation he came,
Was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
And was made man.
Out of deepest love for us he allowed himself to be crucified.
He suffered death and was buried.
After being dead for three days, he became alive and dwelt with his disciples and others.
He then assumed his place with God.
We will find her glory in many different places in the future.
She brings us all to the point of seeing who she is
And her reign is forever.
We give our hearts to, and place our trust in, the Holy Breath of God
Who is our guide and gives us life.
She rushes through us from the godhead.
We worship and glorify her equally with the Father and the Son.
Who communicated through people who know God’s mind
We acknowledge the central place of God’s grace in any concept or feeling of wholeness
And at the end or our earthly days, we look to new life with Christ in God’s light and fullness.
[i] But I truly do not think that is their intent. Although Luke has the most elaborate and beautiful birth narrative, he eventually follows Mark in rooting the incarnation in the Baptism, when Jesus emerges from the water and hears the voice of God proclaim, This day have I begotten you.
[ii] I am also rather sympathetic to Severus’ notion that Jesus had two natures but that they came together in one will. I say this intending to agree with Soren Kierkegaard who said famously, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” I do prefer to think of Jesus as having a pure heart.