Reflections from the Church Fathers-St. Polycarp (c. 69-155)

How we see the Trinity in the writings of St. Polycarp

Within the epistle of St. Polycarp to the Philippians, the Divine economy is expressed more in terms of the Father and the Son. Nevertheless, the love of God and salvation which streams from God are expressed in a benediction contained within the epistle that is very reflective of the writings of St. Paul, combined with Polycarp’s own personality as he reflects on the importance of patience and longsuffering that sustains martyrs.

“Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High-priest Himself the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth, and in all gentleness and in all avoidance of wrath and in forbearance and long suffering and in patient endurance and in purity; and may He grant unto you a lot and portion among His saints, and to us with you, and to all that are under heaven, who shall believe on our Lord and God Jesus Christ and on His Father that raised him from the dead.” (Philippians, 12:2)

In account of Polycarp’s martyrdom, there is a prayer from the lips of Polycarp that expresses Trinitarian terminology and Christian soteriology that reminds one of the Anaphoras of the Byzantine Churches. To the extent that it is an accurate recording of St. Polycarp, we have  a strong sense of his view of the Holy Trinity and God’s action to save mankind.


”…Then he, placing his hands behind him and being bound to the stake, like a noble ram out of a great flock for an offering, a burnt sacrifice made ready and acceptable to God, looking up to heaven said; ‘O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers and of all creation and of the whole race of the righteous, who live in Thy presence; I bless Thee for that Thou hast granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of [Thy] Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among these in Thy presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as Thou didst prepare and reveal it beforehand, and hast accomplished it, Thou that art the faithful and true God.
 For this cause, yea and for all things, I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, through whom with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now [and ever] and for the ages to come. Amen.’ (Martyrdom, 14:1-3)

In both the account of his words at his martyrdom and his own words to the Philippians, Polycarp shows his faith in God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

St. Polycarp on the Incarnation

Like other Fathers dealing with docetism, St. Polycarp speaks of the Incarnation in very Johannine terms.

For every one who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is antichrist: and whosoever shall not confess thetestimony of the Cross, is of the devil; and whosoever shall pervertthe oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and say that there isneither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the firstborn ofSatan. Philippians 7:1

Polycarp’s other words on Christ are less focused on the Incarnation of  Christ as opposed to His suffering, dying and rising for the salvation of mankind.

“…our Lord Jesus Christ, who endured to face even death for our sins, whom God

raised, having loosed the pangs of Hades; on whom, though ye saw Him not, ye believe with joy unutterable and full of glory; unto which joy many desire to enter in; forasmuch as ye know

that it is by grace ye are saved, not of works, but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:2b-3

The reality of the incarnation is thought of in order to help one understand that the same sufferings of martyrdom which he and other Christians faced was already conquered by Christ Himself as our High Priest, as the above quoted passage so beautifully illustrates (Philippians 12:2).

St. Polycarp on the Church and the Holy Mysteries

The bulk of Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians speaks very practically to the life and mission of the Church. Not only does he commend his readers to read the writings of Ignatius, he also speaks to serious problems of the holiness of the Church.

One key issue that is important for the life and mission of the Church pertains to those in the ministry, particularly a presbyter named Valens and his wife. The integrity and holiness of the Church was a key concern to him, and for this reason he wrote:

“But woe to him through whom the name of the Lord be blasphemed. Therefore teach all men soberness, in which ye yourselves also walk. I was exceedingly grieved for Valens, who aforetime was a presbyter among you, because he is so ignorant of the office which was given unto him. I warn you therefore that ye refrain from covetousness, and that ye be pure and truthful. Refrain from all evil. But he who cannot govern himself in these things, how doth he enjoin this upon another? If a man refrain not from covetousness, he shall be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the Gentiles who know not the judgment of the Lord, Nay, know we not, that the saints shall judge the world, as Paul teacheth? But I have not found any such thing in you, neither have heard thereof, among whom the blessed Paul labored, who were his  letters in the beginning. For he boasteth of you in all those churches which alone at that time knew God; for we knew Him not as yet. Therefore I am exceedingly grieved for him and for his wife, unto whom may the Lord grant true repentance. Be ye therefore yourselves also sober herein, and hold not such as enemies but restore them as frail and erring members, that ye may save the whole body of you. For so doing, ye do edify one another.” (Philippians 10:3-11:4)

The fall of Valens was used as a key testimony that the life of the Church is to be the Body of the Lord, whose name could be blasphemed through a poor witness. In praying for his restoration, he sees the salvation of the entire Body of Christ, which is key to the mission of the Church.

In his martyrdom account, we also see that Polycarp was a man of prayer, and that his prayers had a focus on the Church.

 “Now the glorious Polycarp at the first, when he heard it, so far from being dismayed, was desirous of remaining in town; but the greater part persuaded him to withdraw. So he withdrew to a farm not far distant from the city; and there he stayed with a few companions, doing nothing else night and day but praying for all men and for the churches throughout the world; for this was his constant habit.” (Martyrdom 5:1)

Through his prayers and instruction for the life of the Church, we see St. Polycarp was a bishop with a deep concern for his flock.

St. Polycarp on Salvation in Christ

In conjunction with the comments on priestly holiness and restoring the fallen, Polycarp wrote to the Philippians beautifully from a positive perspective on the Christian life that is desired by God. He spoke to what God desires for all estates of life, be they that of the priests, deacons, their wives, the widows, the young men, or maidens. As just one example of this vocation to holiness that Polycarp asks of his readers, let us focus on his writing to the younger members of the Body.

“In like manner also the younger men must be blameless in all things, caring for purity before everything and curbing themselves from every evil. For it is a good thing to refrain from lusts in the world, for every lust warreth against the Spirit, and neither whoremongers nor effeminate persons nor defilers of themselves with men shall inherit the kingdom of God, neither they that do untoward things. Wherefore it is right to abstain from all these things, submitting yourselves to the presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ. The virgins must walk in a blameless and pure conscience.” (Philippians 5:3)

The life of purity and submission to leaders within the Church is praised as the key to bringing joy and peace to the Christian life. Polycarp writes extensively on this, imparting words of wisdom for the faithful who reads his words.

In addition to living a life of purity in day to day living, Polycarp’s own testimony as a martyr shows that virtue culminates in embracing the Cross of Christ. The above cited section (Martyrdom 14) from the martyrdom account makes it clear that martyrdom is not just a matter of not denying Christ-instead, it is the foremost means by which he has received his portion of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

As the faithful gathered to receive his bones and venerate them each year on the anniversary of his martydom (aptly called a “birthday”, as Polycarp would like us all to see the life in his death), may we too learn from Polycarp’s vision of union with Christ even in death as the source of life.

Reflections from the Church Fathers-St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35-108)

How we see the Trinity in the writings of St. Ignatius

Saint Ignatius of Antioch approaches the Trinitarian Life of God practically and doxologically. In terms of practicality, on many occasions, Ignatius invokes a way to see the divine persons in the ordained clergy, and in the unity which they both possess and give to the Church. He states in the epistle to the Magneisans:

“Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles, that so all things, whatsoever ye do, may prosper both in the flesh and spirit; in faith and love; in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit; in the beginning and in the end; with your most admirable bishop, and the well-compacted spiritual crown of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to God. Be ye subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual.” Magnesians, 13

Doxologically, Ignatius offers praise to the Almighty in Trinitarian terms in the above quote, but more often he speaks of the relationship between the Father and the Son, and sees a mirror between the hierarchy on earth and the hierarchy in heaven, his destiny which weighed heavily upon his mind as he faced martyrdom.

“Wherefore it is fitting that ye should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also ye do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And do ye, man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, ye may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that ye are indeed the members of His Son. It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus ye may always enjoy communion with God. For if I in this brief space of time, have enjoyed such fellowship with your bishop–I mean not of a mere human, but of a spiritual nature–how much more do I reckon you happy who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity! Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church ! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, ‘God resisteth the proud.’ Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.” Ephesians, 4,5

The relation of communion between the divine Persons is shown to be the source of unity on earth. And conversely, communion with one’s bishop is seen as the key to communion with God.

St. Ignatius on the Incarnation

The Incarnation of the Son of God is most often addressed by Saint Ignatius of Antioch through the lens of a passion to proclaim the physical reality of Christ’s presence on earth, in opposition to the docetists who denied this. Just as St. John the Evangelist wrote in his epistle that whoever denies that the Son of God came in the flesh has the spirit of Antichrist, so too did his acquaintance Ignatius champion the physical reality of the Incarnation. In his epistle to the Trallians, he writes:

“Be ye deaf therefore, when any man speaketh to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the earth; who moreover was truly raised from the dead, His Father having raised Him, who in the like fashion will so raise us also who believe on Him — His Father, I say, will raise us — in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we have not true life. But if it were as certain persons who are godless, that is unbelievers, say, that He suffered only in semblance, being themselves mere semblance, why am I in bonds? And why also do I desire to fight with wild beasts? So I die in vain. Truly then I lie against the
Lord. Shun ye therefore those vile offshoots that gender a deadly fruit, whereof if a man taste, forthwith
he dieth. For these men are not the Father’s planting: for if they had been, they would have been seen to be
branches of the Cross, and their fruit imperishable — the Cross whereby He through His passion inviteth us,
being His members. Now it cannot be that a head should be found without members, seeing that God promiseth union, and this union is Himself.” Trallians, 9-11

Ignatius points out many implications of denying the reality of the incarnation. Apart from merely being factually incorrect, he ends this section of the epistle to the Trallians by pointing out that as the Body of Christ with Christ as head, we cannot have true union with Christ, if He did not truly take on our nature. The union with Christ would never meet without the shared human nature; like two parallel lines divinity and humanity would be separate for all eternity. Our salvation, therefore, depends on this reality to St. Ignatius. The sufferings of Christ would also be untrue, as a mere Spirit would not suffer. And lastly, the reality of Christ’s life on earth would not have been a true birth, true eating and drinking. The severity of this error is so grave that he calls for the faithful to shun those who proclaim this.

St. Ignatius on the Church and the Holy Mysteries

Because the Docetists denied the physical reality of the Christ’s body, there is a tendency to deprecate all of physicality, which would denigrate the sacraments in their physicality as being useless to the mission of the Church. Ignatius understood this connection, and wrote with sensitivity to this issue:
“ Let no man be deceived. Even the heavenly things, and the glory of the angels, and the principalities, both visible and invisible, if they believe not on the blood of Christ, for them also is there condemnation. Let him who receiveth it, receive it in reality. Let not high place puff up any man. For the whole matter is faith and love, to which there is nothing preferable. Consider those who hold heretical opinions with regard to the grace of Jesus Christ which hath come unto us, how opposite they are to the mind of God. They have no care for love, nor concerning the widow, nor concerning the orphan, nor concerning the afflicted, nor concerning him who is bound or loosed, nor concerning him who is hungry or thirsty. They refrain from the eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father of his goodness raised up.”

His connection of the Eucharist to the Body and Blood of Christ makes it integrally related to the life for all the faithful, and is the vitality of the Church. Elsewhere he uses the phrase “medicine of immortality” to describe the Eucharist, in his Epistle to the Ephesians. The sacramental life of the Church is therefore of critical importance to Ignatius. Another important factor which was mentioned above is the mirroring of the Persons of the Trinity within the hierarchy of the Church. Because Ignatius sees a connection between the Bishop and the Father, as well as Christ with the deacons, and the presbyterate with the Apostles, Ignatius sees the mission of the Church to be a reflection of God who is Love in three Persons. With such a divine calling and identity, the Church must be viewed as the divine institution that it truly is, and not some pragmatically based association of likeminded people. It is our source of life, which brings Christ present through the Eucharist, and through His Presence in each of us.

St. Ignatius on Salvation in Christ

Like the Identity and Mission of the Church, the approach to understanding salvation and the Christian life in the writings of Saint Ignatius must be seen as one that incorporates the unity of the local Church as headed by the Bishop, and the sacramental blessings which flow from it. As a martyr, Ignatius also poignantly felt his connection to God through offering his life and death to God. Two reflections on his road to Rome make this connection clear.

“I write to all the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable goodwill towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may not be found troublesome to any one. Then shall I be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat the Lord for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles of Jesus Christ, but I am the very least [of believers]: they were free, as the servants of God; while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freedman of Jesus Christ, and shall rise again emancipated in Him. And now, being in bonds for Him, I learn not to desire anything worldly or vain.” Romans, 4

Martyrdom is not just a calling to stay faithful to Ignatius’ identity of Christian-even more deeply, he sees that his discipleship is made true through the grinding of his body (the wheat) into death, which produces the spiritual bread. His calling as a martyr beautifully underscores the connection between Christ’s suffering for mankind, and that which is offered in his own life. Growth as a Christian is sacramental, hierarchical and mystical through the life of the Church. But to Ignatius, salvation in Christ is also mystical in his martyrdom, which mystically reflects Christ’s life and death in his own life and death.

Reflections from the Church Fathers-St. Clement of Rome (c. 96)

How we see the Trinity in the writings of St. Clement

St. Clement’s writings to the Corinthians are a hybrid form that is mostly epistle and Greek argumentation. His writing is full of praise and worship to God. As noted by Bettenson’s summary of Clement’s writings, the Holy Spirit does not receive as much reference as does God the Father or Christ. Clement writes in an era predating any ecumenical councils dealing with Christological debates or other heresies denying the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, in Clement’s writings doxologies to God have a very Pauline style, as can be seen in the introductory blessing: “Grace unto you, and peace, from Almighty God through Jesus Christ be multiplied…”

God in His Providence is later praised for His care of all creation, when Clement writes,

“The very smallest of living beings meet together in peace and concord. All these the great Creator and Lord of all has appointed to exist in peace and harmony; while He does good to all, but most abundantly to us who have fled for refuge to His compassion through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory and majesty for ever and ever. Amen…” 1 Clem 20:10-12

There are, however, some references which point to a Trinitarian blessing, where the action of three persons is written as One. For example, we read in 1Clem 58:2:

“Receive our counsel, and ye shall have no occasion of regret. For as God liveth, and the Lord Jesus Christ liveth, and the Holy Spirit, who are the faith and the hope of the elect, so surely shall he, who with lowliness of mind and instant in gentleness hath without regretfulness performed the ordinances and commandments that are given by God, be enrolled and have a name among the number of them that are saved through Jesus Christ, through whom is the glory unto
Him for ever and ever. Amen.”

Therefore, there is clearly a seed of Trinitarian worship and praise that underlies St. Clement’s writings.

St. Clement on the Incarnation

St. Clement writes of Christ God our Redeemer in His Incarnation with the wonder and awe befitting it. Despite being God, Our Lord did not disdain to become man, and St. Clement uses this truth to instill fear and humility, which is needed of his Corinthian readers.

He writes:

“For Christ is with them that are lowly of mind, not with them that exalt themselves over the flock. The scepter of the majesty of God, even our Lord Jesus Christ, came not in the pomp of arrogance or of pride, though He might have done so, but in lowliness of mind, according as the Holy Spirit spake concerning Him.” 1 Clem 16:1-2

After citing the prophecies of the Old Testament which contain this life of humility through the Incarnation concealed, St. Clement emphasizes that this is revealed in Christ both as the way that we are saved by God, and as a way for us to follow, when he writes:

“Ye see, dearly beloved, what is the pattern that hath been given unto us; for, if the Lord was thus lowly of mind, what should we do, who through Him have been brought under the yoke of His grace?” 1 Clem 16:17

Therefore, the Incarnation is both the means of our salvation, and the path on which we must walk if we are to be saved by the “yoke of His grace.”

St. Clement on the Church and the Holy Mysteries

Much of what St. Clement has to say about the identity, life, and mission of the Church comes by way of his exhortations to the Corinthians. Because of their strife and turmoil, he needed to speak to them words of rebuke, reminding them that we have a calling to be one mystical body in Christ. For example he writes,

“With this commandment and these precepts let us confirm ourselves, that we may walk in obedience to His hallowed words, with lowliness of mind. For the holy word saith, Upon whom shall I look, save upon him that is gentle and quiet and feareth Mine oracles? Therefore it is right and proper, brethren that we should be obedient unto God, rather than follow those who in arrogance and unruliness have set themselves up as leaders in abominable jealousy.” 1 Clem 13:3-14:4

This emphasis on a life of humility is stressed repeatedly in his Epistle to the Corinthians, as they as a body had broken fellowship with one another through dissensions. Therefore, he later writes:

“The great without the small cannot exist, neither the small without the great. There is a certain mixture in all things, and therein is utility. Let us take our body as an example. The head without the feet is nothing; so likewise the feet without the head are nothing: even the smallest limbs of our body are necessary and useful for the whole body: but all the members conspire and unite in subjection, that the whole body maybe saved. So in our case let the whole body be saved in Christ Jesus, and let
each man be subject unto his neighbor, according as also he was appointed with his special grace.” 1 Clem 37:4-38:1

This imagery of a body hearkens back to St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, with perhaps more emphasis on the importance of unity and respect for the diversity of the Church.
Additionally, the mystical and sacramental life of the Church is praised by Clement, not so much in the explicit statement of the mysteries, which may be reflective of the disciplina arcana. But as he writes of the life of the Church, we read of the extent to which our life in the Christians consists in receiving great gifts from God. He states:

“How blessed and marvelous are the gifts of God, dearly beloved!! Life in immortality, splendor in righteousness, truth in boldness, faith in confidence, temperance in sanctification! And all these things fall under our apprehension.
What then, think ye, are the things preparing for them that patiently await Him? The Creator and Father of the ages, the All holy One Himself knoweth their number and their beauty.
Let us therefore contend, that we may be found in the number of those that patiently await Him, to the end that we may be partakers of His promised gifts.” 1 Clem 35:1-4

Given these reflections, we see in this Apostolic father a wealth of appreciation for the Body of Christ and the gifts which flow from it.

St. Clement on Salvation in Christ

In addition to the above-mentioned examples of Christ’s Incarnation, which show how it is we are to be saved, the wonders of humility that flow from our call to walk in a life of obedience and the blessing of immortality which flows from the Church, Clement writes elsewhere of our salvation in Christ. One important message that we learn from his writings is that salvation is an ongoing journey.

“Seeing then that we are the special portion of a Holy God, let us do all things that pertain unto holiness, forsaking evil speakings, abominable and impure embraces, drunkennesses and tumults and hateful lusts, abominable adultery, hateful pride. For God, He saith, resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the lowly. Let us therefore cleave unto those to whom grace is given from God. Let us clothe ourselves in concord, being lowlyminded and temperate, holding ourselves aloof from all back biting and evil speaking, being justified by works and not by words.” 1 Clem 30:1-3

This work of salvation is a walk of holiness that is ongoing, and yet it is no mere legalistic following of decrees. For the same saint is able to write a little later:

“They all therefore were glorified and magnified, not through
themselves or their own works or the righteous doing which they wrought, but through His will. And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men
that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Clem 32:3-4

To reconcile the false dichotomy of faith vs. works, St. Clement and all of Tradition with Him understands that the faith and glorification comes through the will of God, who walks with us in the path of synergy. This gives a sense of St. Clement’s view of salvation in Christ, as it relates to growth in virtue and the life in Christ.

The Four Senses of Scripture: A Byzantine Perspective (An Essay)

“…The letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 118)

We can quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and understand that the Scriptures can be understood in four senses. However, as Dr. Scott Hahn has noted in Worship in Word; Toward a Liturgical Hermeneutic. (Letter and Spirit), an important hermeneutical principle is one that has a liturgical perspective. Since the canon of Scripture and its interpretation can be seen so clearly in the selection of the passages used for liturgical purposes, the present essay seeks to describe the four senses of biblical interpretation, and then show how Byzantine Christians can be nourished by all four perspectives of scriptural hermeneutics in their liturgical life of prayer.

First, with regard to the literal sense of Scripture, there are many ways that Eastern Christians can understand the presence of Christ speaking to His Church in the Scriptures from a literal sense. One example is that of the Communion Hymn (Koinonikon) for the Ascension of the Lord, which is celebrated forty days after Pascha. For this hymn, Psalm 46:6 is quoted, which states: “God ascends amid shouts of joy; the Lord amid trumpet blasts.” Here at Communion we are singing from the Psalms, which prophesied that God Himself would ascend amid shouts of joy. One key way in which this verse was fulfilled literally was at the Ascension, which is recorded in the Acts of the Holy Apostles. By choosing a communion hymn from the Psalter that has a literal fulfillment in the feast, the faithful who pray this can learn that the Old Testament foretold our Lord’s glorious Ascension. We put the literal sense of Scripture into practice through this song.

As an example of understanding the allegorical sense of Scripture, the Feast of the Dormition invokes the faithful’s hearts to see Scripture in just such a manner. At the Alleluia verses of the Feast, we read “Go up Lord, to your rest, you and your holy ark”, which is a quotation from Psalm 132. Clearly the literal sense of this passage of Scripture evokes the ark of the covenant, in which the presence of God dwelt among his Old Covenant people. However, the allegorical fulfillment of the ark has been seen through the Fathers to be the Theotokos, who bore God Himself in her most holy womb. At the Feast where we commemorate her falling asleep in the Lord and having her body assumed into heaven, we have this Scriptural passage that literally speaks of the ark of the covenant. However, the spiritual sense goes beyond literal fulfillment, whereby the Theotokos is allegorically seen to be the ark of the Lord. The ascent is more than just a literal and earthly ascent to Jerusalem, but is allegorically an ascent to the presence of God where the Theotokos’ body was assumed. As such, Byzantine Christians sing this Psalm on the feast of the Dormition, which enables them to see Scripture in the allegorical sense, which is ultimately more real than any literal fulfillment could be.

Next, there is the moral sense of Scripture. Focusing upon how one ought to live one’s life, passages that are focused on simple physical realities are transfigured into invisible truths in the liturgical life of Byzantine Christians. As the body can be applied to one’s moral state of affairs, the Byzantine hymnography commemorates certain men afflicted with bodily pain and disease, which is used as a muse for our spiritual condition. In the Sunday of the Paralytic (the Fourth Paschal Sunday), we sing at the Kontakion: “O Lord, with your divine authority, as you once raised the paralytic, now raise my soul, paralyzed dreadfully with all kinds of sin and disgraceful deeds, that being saved, I may cry out to you: Glory to your power, O merciful Christ.”

The healing of the paralytic in a literal sense was a call to see the power of Christ to transform a broken physical body. As we chant on this Sunday, the literal sense of Scripture is transfigured into a moral reading of the passage, whereby our sins that paralyze us are compared to the debilitating effects of our own sin. The Gospel passage that is read on this Sunday (John 5:1-15) is given the moral sense through our singing the kontakion, which elevates us to understand its spiritual application to our own lives in the world today through the moral sense.

Lastly, there is the anagogical sense of Scripture, which looks to the eschatological reality of heaven where the Church as the Bride of Christ is united with God forever in Heaven. In the prayer of the Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom, the ultimate reality of our divine destiny with Christ is shown in the eternal perspective offered in the priest’s prayer. The celebrant prays in the Anaphora: “Remembering, therefore, this saving command and all that has come to pass in our behalf: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting at the right hand, and the second coming in glory: Offering you, your own, from your own, always and everywhere…” In our liturgical practice, the literal reality of the Second Coming mentioned in Scripture in passages such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is exalted into an anagogical sense, whereby our contact with God through the Divine Liturgy is so deep that the eschatological future is remembered as though it were not future. Our union with the God who is eternally Present allows us to leave the bonds of time itself, and our liturgical prayer speaks to this anagogical reality.

Many examples of the ways that our liturgical life brings the different senses of Scripture to life can be provided. Through ever deeper reflection on our liturgical life and the senses of Scriptures, we can grow in this understanding as Eastern Christians.

Describe how the development of the Biblical Canon is an example of the interaction of the Scriptures, Holy Tradition and the Magisterium (An Essay)

“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20, KJV

So often the words of Holy Scripture are used to justify Scripture as a rule unto itself. And yet, Scripture not only does not teach that it is the only rule of faith, it also does not teach which books comprise it in a definitive manner. We also know that the Bible is a collection of books—it is not a singular entity discovered as is alleged of the Quran or the Book of Mormon and associated writings “found” by Joseph Smith. Rather, understanding which of the ancient writings of the Jewish people comprise the Old Testament, and which of the early Church writings comprise the New Testament, was an active interaction between the available texts and the life of the Church. Specific books found their approbation and eventual canonization through the liturgical life of the Church. The liturgical hermeneutic is set forth by Dr. Scott Hahn in his writings (Hahn, 101-136). The goal of the present essay is to offer some reflections on how the Canon varies between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, with an emphasis on the unique position that Eastern Catholics face with this issue. Through this tension, I argue that the same principles that led to the first 73 books of the Catholic Bible to be canonized could offer a path for reconciliation about books not yet canonized by Catholics.

First, there is the matter of what separates a Catholic Bible from most Eastern Orthodox understandings. As the schism between Catholics and Orthodox has made Orthodox unable to hold a council that they would genuinely call ecumenical, the Orthodox canon is not as strictly codified as that of the Catholic Church. Church Fathers in the East and West comprised a list of books that was used liturgically, with an emphasis on the New Testament. In response to the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church held the Council of Trent. After listing the 73 books that comprise the Catholic canon of Scripture, a Council Canon states:

“If anyone does not receive as sacred and canonical the books of Holy Scripture, entire and with all their parts, as the sacred Synod of Trent has enumerated them, or denies that they have been divinely inspired, anathema sit.” (CF,  218)

 

This response was driven by the fact that Protestants lowered the size of their canon of Scripture to 66 books instead of 73, and that among the 66 books certain sections that have originals only in Greek (e.g., Esther and Daniel) were rejected. It is clear that the Magisterial teachings have harsh words for that difference of the canon.

In contrast, the Orthodox have a different canon which includes the books in the Catholic Bible, but also includes some other writings. Does Trent therefore condemn the Orthodox for having a different canon of Scripture? I would argue that this is not the case based on two main lines of thinking. First, it is important to note that the canon from Trent issues judgment for those who would remove books from the Catholic Bible. That other Christians in the East have other books in their canon is not the focus of Trent. Next, it is important to note that with regard to Biblical Scholarship, the Latin Vulgate was never meant to be normative for all Catholics. Its venerable place in the Latin Rite does not make the Greek Scriptures irrelevant. Instead, calls to understand the Greek texts are clearly made by the Magisterium, as can be seen in the Papal Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, which states that the use of the Vulgate “concerns only the Latin Church” (CF 233). Thus, authentic traditions of using the Greek Bible might point the way to reconciling books in the Orthodox Bible not found in the Catholic Bible.

Along these lines, there is the liturgical hermeneutic that emphasizes that the Orthodox canon of Scripture has something to offer to the whole Church. As Eastern Christians in communion with Rome, Eastern Catholics utilize the Prayer of Manasseh, which is listed as apocryphal in the Latin Vulgate, but is part of the Orthodox canon. This prayer is referred to in the beginning rites of confession, and is recited during Great Compline. Reflecting upon other disputed books of Scripture such as the Apocalypse and 2 Peter, their liturgical use eventually led to their acceptance into the canon. The sensus fidelium bore forth the validity of these books. In our own day, as ecumenism is leading to more and more rapproachment between and Catholics and Orthodox, the liturgical use of the Prayer of Manasseh that exists in the Byzantine Catholic Churches may offer fertile ground whereby the differences in the Catholic and Orthodox Canons of Scripture could be reconciled. Through the prayers of our holy fathers, may these discrepancies end in the same manner as they once did with other books of Scripture, through liturgical reflections, and the unified voice of our Bishops.

Works Cited

Dupuis, Jaccques (ed.) The Christian Faith-Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church. Alba House. 2001. Print.

Hahn, Scott Worship in Word; Toward a Liturgical Hermeneutic. Letter and Spirit 1: 101-136. 2005. Print