25 March 2010

Patristic Quote of the Day

Glory to Thee, Who didst descend to save our souls!

Glory to Thee, Who didst take flesh in the womb of the Virgin!

Glory to Thee, Who didst suffer bondage!

Glory to Thee, Who didst accept scourging!

Glory to Thee, Who wast made an object of humiliation!

Glory to Thee, Who wast crucified!

-- St. Ephraim, the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #2

12 comments:

Atychi said...

This is just a curiosity (and I mean NO disrespect): do you ever feel obligated to embrace the entire fabric of a particular theologian's thought, Christology, Triadology, or anthropology which may found these snippets, or do you feel confident in citing snippets that work within a Lutheran framework but not in pursuing perhaps the various underpinnings of those snippets? Or do you try to synthesize Saint Ephrem's other teachings into a Lutheran understanding? Or do you simply throw out the teachings that aren't biblical/Lutheran (I imagine you like this conflation)?

I ask this not as a critique but simply out of curiosity. I can certainly see how Saint Ephrem's words here work within a Lutheran soteriology and liturgics. But I'm not so sure that the vast majority of Saint Ephrem's biblical or theological program does.

So, as a Lutheran, do you feel it's your duty (right? service?) to separate the wheat from the chaff for your parishioners? If so, then, and especially as a pastor, do you also feel it's your duty to give your readers a more complete context of Saint Ephrem's teachings, lest your parishioners go and read more and see things that may be a bit, umm, scandalous--heretical even? What if they read more of Saint Ephrem and see some entirely un-Lutheran (perhaps even anti-Lutheran) teaching in Saint Ephrem's writing? Do you assume your parishioners are strong enough in their understanding of Scripture to be able to separate the Ephremic wheat from chaff?

Just curious, that's all. This really is a pastoral question. I'm always taken aback when I read certain Eastern writers on this blog. I imagine you could argue that the vast majority (and not just snippets) of Ephrem's teaching is entirely aligned with Luther and that the East has simply misunderstood his teaching. This, of course, would go against almost all of the available scholarship, but I'm willing to accept this answer at face value. If this is your response, then I take back all of my questions.

William Weedon said...

Atychi,

It is a vital question. I do not feel in the least obligated to embrace the entire fabric of a particular theologian's thought - certainly not of Luther or any other. Rather, as one of our greatest fathers, St. Augustine, taught (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1):

"Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning."

William Weedon said...

I should have added the remainder of Augustine's words: "but because they were able to persuade me either through the canonical writers or through an acceptable reason which is not inconsistent with the truth [i.e., of Scripture]."

William Weedon said...

P.S. St. Ephraim is cited a number of times in our *Treasury of Daily Prayer* - as is John of Damascus (also honored in our calendar), Basil, Nyssa, and Nazianzus (also honored in our calendar), and John Chrysostom (also honored in our calendar).

Atychi said...

The following comments I provide are neither here nor there, really. But, perhaps out of some sort of perverse desire to get to first causes (or perhaps simply out of pride), I must ask/observe:

""Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical . . . But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true . . ."
***Hmmm, I would think that this presents a bit of two-fold problem: 1) Augustine's canon is not a Lutheran's canon; 2) you're relying on Augustine to give you a firm epistemological foundation about what or at least in whom to believe, which would imply that there is something that teaches you to believe in Augustine's teaching. Do you only buy the arguments of Augustine's that are only biblical/Lutheran? I think you can see where this one goes. Again, though, this is neither here nor there. It will simply rehash old, worn-out arguments, and this is not my concern, as I realize you are a man of great faith and no doubt a better Christian than I.

However, I'd really like to pick your brains regarding one of my first questions:

"So, as a Lutheran, do you feel it's your duty (right? service?) to separate the wheat from the chaff for your parishioners? If so, then, and especially as a pastor, do you also feel it's your duty to give your readers a more complete context of Saint Ephrem's teachings, lest your parishioners go and read more and see things that may be a bit, umm, scandalous--heretical even? What if they read more of Saint Ephrem and see some entirely un-Lutheran (perhaps even anti-Lutheran) teaching in Saint Ephrem's writing? Do you assume your parishioners are strong enough in their understanding of Scripture to be able to separate the Ephremic wheat from chaff?"

As always, Pastor Weedon, I appreciate your patience.

Atychi said...

"St. Ephraim is cited a number of times in our *Treasury of Daily Prayer* - as is John of Damascus (also honored in our calendar), Basil, Nyssa, and Nazianzus (also honored in our calendar), and John Chrysostom (also honored in our calendar)."

***I am now aware of this, as I have colleagues who have made this clear to me. I often hand out full texts of these authors, and my friends are then taken quite aback when they read the works in their entirety (especially Nyssa and his full-blown/quasi-universalism).

They're also not so comfortable with Saint John Damascene's apophaticism and embrace of Divine Energies. This sort of thing is at the heart of my question. I have Lutheran colleagues who are utterly confused about Lutheran appropriations of these Eastern Fathers. So they come seek me out and see what I know (some of the more arrogant ones try to teach me what I don't know). I love, and yet are simultaneously frightened by, what they read when they read these Fathers in their entirety because they see that these texts aren't the snippets any longer. And yet they find something attractive in it--while not entirely Lutheran.

So this was the heart of my question: is all this flirting good for Lutheranism? Is there ample Augustinian training that you cited above in Lutheranism so that when they see seductive theological teachings in these Fathers their own prayers books have given to them that they can separate Lutheran wheat from chaff?

George said...

I'm not perhaps the best person to answer this but I see it as a matter of discernment. Everything must be read with discernment & held to the Scriptures.

Otherwise, Lutherans should only read the Scriptures & the Lutheran Confessions & nothing else. We should avoid anything else in all of Christendom. Now that would truly be sectarian.

But I think we can read the works of other Christians & affirm them when they are in line with Scripture, say "maybe, maybe not" when there's some questions or ambiguities & say definitely not when they contradict or don't line up with Scripture. This applies to any writings or sayings by other Christians, not just the Fathers.

But that's my simplistic take on it.

Becky said...

I'm sure this is going to sound like milk instead of meat and potatoes when compared with the thoughtfulness that went into the questions raised, but as a non-theologan, Lutheran parishioner I can offer an answer from my perspective: I once asked a similar question (wheat vs. chaff) of another Lutheran pastor. I asked how we are supposed to know which Lutheran pastor is getting it right. His response to me was to pray for discernment where there is confusion and study God's word. I have to admit, I was a looking for a something more tangible. It takes me a while to get it sometimes. Finally I did. What could be more tangible than that?! He told me to go directly to GOD'S word, not man's. God desires our trust. Will he then not answer our prayers for discernment when we are confused? So, just as Pastor Weedon said he does not embrace the entire fabric of any particular theologian's thought, as one of his parishioners, I allow that he is an erring human teacher too. If I don't quite understand/agree with something he says, I can either ask him for clarification, I can go back to the Word of God and pray for discernment, or I can do all of the above. AND I can pray that my pastor teaches us the truth. I'm sure he prays for that as well.

Becky said...

Looks like George and I were writing at the same time. He's a better writer and stated it much more simply than I did.

William Weedon said...

I like what George and Becky wrote - good words indeed.

Atychi, if one is grounded in the Word of God and believes that only it can establish doctrine, then when one comes across that which cannot be established from the Word of God, one notes it. One also realizes when one comes across what cannot be made to harmonize with the Word of God, and one notes that too. I love St. Ephraim's writing, but like every one of us, there is wheat and there is chaff in them (and the wheat is what agrees with God's Word; not what is "Lutheran" per se - as I said, there's plenty of chaff in Luther himself!).

I would tell anyone who picks up his marvelous little *A Spiritual Psalter* to read it prayerfully and with discernment, following the admonition of the Apostle: "Test all things; hold fast to that which is good." There is no danger and great blessing in reading all the Fathers of the Church (including the Lutheran Fathers) when one remembers and prayerfully practices this.

Rev. Allen Yount (CRSM) said...

"Everything must be read with discernment & held to the Scriptures. Otherwise, Lutherans should only read the Scriptures & the Lutheran Confessions & nothing else. We should avoid anything else in all of Christendom."

Let me take that a step further. If we avoid reading the writings of a theologian where he is in line with Holy Scripture because in other writings he's out of line, then there are parts of the Lutheran Confessions themselves that we should avoid reading. Namely, the Augsburg Confession, the Apology, and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. All three were written by Philip Melanchthon. The same Melanchthon who in certain editions of other theological works taught that there were "three causes of conversion": "the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, * and the will of man *" (Loci Communes 1543, emphasis added). That's synergism!
If pastors became so concerned about the possibility of someone being led astray by these heterodox teachings from Melanchthon to the point of avoiding all of his writings, then the three Lutheran Confessions mentioned above would also be included.in writings to be avoided.

Atychi said...

Thanks to all for the responses.