Trinity, Divinity, Death, and Faith

 

The four chapters I will be discussing from The Spirit of Early Christian Thought by Robert Luis Wilken are chapters 4-7.[1]  The primacy of the scripture in the early church was rudimentary at best. The beliefs of individual churches varied in doctrine due to the lack of an organized structure of texts and beliefs that was universal to the entire Christian body. The Roman Church accepted their Canon of Bible Scripture in Damasine Council of Rome in 332 A.D. and the rest of the western church in the third Council of Carthrage in 397 A.D.[2].

As society grew more advanced in their interpretation and application of Christian theology, the growth and development of concepts of the Holy Trinity began to emerge in the Church.  The discussion and debate over the belief in the Trinity occurred in 325 at the Council of Nicaea.[3] Before the Council of Nicaea theologians had been debating over the validity and description of the Trinity. Theologians would try justifying their position based on scripture readings and adding philosophical logic to gain acceptance.  At the end of the second general council in Constantinople in 381, the church’s acceptance of the Trinity is documented in the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed.[4]

Terrullian contributes to the debate of our likeness to the Lord as like having a fully developed conversation with one’s self.[5] While this debate is adequate to discuss the psychology of one’s self.  It does not adequately discuss the relationship of the separate and unique features of the God and human beings made in his likeness. Terrullian purpose was to discuss how we are like God because we are made in his image and likeness.[6] The failure to establish a secondary object to which we can relate makes Terrullian’s argument weak in selecting conversations with one’s self because there is no unique distinct voice that is completely separate from the other person in the conversation.

Augustine argues in his writings that the Holy Spirit is what can only be described as connecting agent to the Father and Son.  That it is the unifying peace that makes the Holy Trinity possible.[7]  I would argue to say that the Trinity in its unique and separate forms in shown throughout the New Testament. That they work together to create the events we use to define us as Christians.   From the virgin birth the Holy Ghost is said to have been to doer of the conception[8], God presents himself to the wise men in a dream and warns them not to go back to Herod[9], and Jesus is the primary focus of the virgin birth.  This occurs again during Jesus’s baptism when God speaks This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.[10] The Holy Spirit descends upon the Lord during his baptism by John the Baptist like a dove[11]. Jesus is the receiver of the action. This continues during Jesus’s ministry, healing, and death.  The final time we see the trinity working together is in his ascension into heaven, which occurs 40 days after Easter.

Wilken continues to discuss the divine nature of Christ. At the Council of Chalcedon the acknowledgement by most Christian churches was that Jesus was the perfect man and Godhead in one person.  Being perfect man was separate and unique to the Godhead, which was also separate and unique; however, both existed in Christ and thus belonged to the Trinity.[12]  In Lateran 649 the reason for this acceptance of the dual nature of Jesus was so important was that it was able to finally define specific times in Jesus’s life that the various natures where shown.[13] The dual nature is important for understanding who the Christian is and strives to be.  In the Bible we are told that we are made in the image and likeness of God, therefore, we are like Jesus and must strive for his ultimate perfection.  This is an advanced development of thought for the Christian Church.  The concept of the spiritual nature and human nature of Jesus provides us with a model that we can try to obtain. This goal is what we aim for as Christians to set ourselves towards in regards to morality and character.

Chapter 6 focuses on the concept of the physical body. That Christians set goals and live our way towards those goals.[14]  For example, as Christians we affirm that Jesus will come back to defeat our advisory the devil, we prepare ourselves that our souls will be ready for this when it occurs. Therefore, Wilkins discusses how as humans how we take care of our dead because they are the part of the nature of man according to Augustine.[15]  In Matthew 25:31-46 it discusses that when Jesus comes back his followers known as lambs will be placed in his right hand while the goats, or non-followers, will be in his left.  Since we are made in the image and likeness of God, to take care of the dead is to take care of the body of God, for some believe that we will be risen up and reunited with our bodies to share in the Glory of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. [16]

The final chapter discusses the concept of the importance of faith and its importance to the Christian belief.  Faith is a unique perspective in Christian thought because it is contrary to modern thinking and understanding of the world in which we live.  Faith requires an obedience and understanding that the Bible contains the truth and is our only way to salvation and eternal life.[17]  Fr. Rogers discusses that everyone has two forms of belief.  They are referred to doctrine and dogma.  Doctrine he defines as those things that have evidence and reasoning.  That when presented the information there is evidence providing its concept. [18] Dogma on the other hand is the fundamental assumptions that we make because of the reality in which we exist. [19] Faith, like dogma, exists based on trust and fundamental assumptions that it is all part of God’s purpose.

The primacy of scripture in the early church is important to recognize.  Like the growth and development of individuals and Jesus, the church grows and develops in its understanding of our Lord and Savior. In the beginning, it was rudimentary as the church has matured so has the primacy of scripture.   Every individual and generation has to build upon and rediscover the knowledge provided by the scriptures.  The scripture is still as it was in the beginning.  It contains the truth and knowledge of God.  Therefore, while the book remains static and constant in its content, the interpretation it provides us individually makes it a living and breathing document.  The bible provides guidance and wisdom just as it did in the beginnings of the Church, and we must remember that while one might read and see a passage differently, we must understand for us, it will contain a different message, made purposely for us in the proper time.

Psalm 23 a Hermeneutic Study

  1. Starting To Interpret a Text

“Hermeneutics must start from the position that a person seeking to understand something has a bond to the subject matter that comes into language through the traditionary text and has, or acquires, a connection with the tradition from which it speaks.”[20] The text in which I will be discussing is Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. [21]

The passage is important to me because I have made it part of my daily beginning of my devotional prayer time.  After I put on the full armor of God, I lead into praying this in chant. I use the St. Dunstan’s Psalter to provide me with the cords. This psalm is also chanted in evening prayer on the fourth day in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) 1928 edition.  The passage reminds me that while I pray for others and intercede for them that He will provide and protect me from the attacks from the evil one.  That as long as I stand for the rightness of the Lord and serve those as if I am serving Jesus I will always live in the house of the Lord forever.

In my spiritual path like most in my teens and twenties I walked away from the church and doing so lead me to dark places and loneliness.  It was not until I returned to the Church did I find a purpose for my life again.  After going through deliverance ministry I know assist in spiritual healing and prayer for those being attacked spiritually by demons.  This Psalm reminds me that while turmoil might surround us in the world that there is hope and salvation through Jesus Christ.

While studying this text I realize that I have prejudices that due to life circumstances and belief cause me to fail in being able to separate my belief in Jesus as our savior and the Bible being the book of ultimate truth and it is the only way to truth and salvation. These prejudices prevent me from viewing the passage in a historical-critical method because it removes God and replaces him with doubt. I am, however, able to view the text in a more academic and historical manner that will allow me to see the passage from a different perspective due to life experiences of individuals who also interpret this scripture. I am able to take and view the piece in a manner that can allow me to share with others and connect with others by understanding their beliefs and experiences. Gadamer reflects upon this and discusses it as the historical horizon and the superseded understanding horizon merge for a real connection to occur.[22]  This connection allows me to view the text in a different manner and provides me with an opportunity to connect with another individual through a biblical message and spread the word of God.

II In the Process of Interpretation

In Murphy’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Psalms, the psalm is described in its poetic form by describing the psalm in two lines phrasing that is calm and rhythmic.  They discuss the importance of David when he was writing this Psalm as he had just completed his pastoral life. [23] The book describes each of the psalms in the exact same manner.  The focus on Psalm 23 in this book was the literal translation of the text and its importance on being taken care of and sheltered by the Lord.  It also focused on the food and drink aspects of the passage, which for the time when this article was written anti-slavery was beginning to take effect.  This was an important time in history because farmers in the south used slaves to gather food to support their ways of life.  With anti-slavery taking off the emphasis on food and drink becomes more relevant in the passage.

I was unable to find a commentary that showed it through the centuries however I was able to find a commentary on all the Psalms through the entire centuries, however, the library only had a physical book and nothing online available for this. This is not to say that the psalms and their uses have not been changed over the course of the various centuries.  Currently Psalms are rarely used any more except when teaching children or in high orthodox masses as in the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions.  The psalms where used to instruct the Jews and Christians about history and the Lord and the trials and tribulations of the Jews.  Today in the Anglican tradition, we still chant our Psalms in morning and evening prayer.

Psalm 23 provides us with an affirmation that the Lord protects us and as long as we follow him, he will provide us with what we need.  He is always with us as we lie down and as we drink from the river of life.  He cares for us and leads us to good things that honor and glorify him.  However, we will have tribulation and trials in our life, but not to fear these issues because like in the pasture the Lord remains with us in all that we do.  The Lord will come and collect us if we stray from him and we are comforted in his leadership because he is Lord. He will prepare a feel for us and bless us in the presence of our enemies before their judgement and my love for him will endure forever. As the Lord as my leader and protector I shall be shown goodness and mercy forever as long as I remain a faithful servant to the Lord. [24]

III Concluding the Interpretation

The sacred real of this text has provided me with the understanding that I have to hand off my control and power need to the Lord.  In the world of today, with logic, science, and methods I often will focus on those instead of allowing the Lord to accept and deal with the issues that I try to resolve.  The Lord is our Sheppard we are not.  We are his sheep.  Sheep do not sit on the thrown but instead bow lowly to our Lord and rejoice in his praise. While the Lord will test us and give us tribulations, it is our responsibility to bring it to the Lord in prayer because only when we ask for it shall we receive it. [25]

Agreement with this text that if I wish to endure in happiness I must be allowed to give the Lord the throne and keys to heart and soul.  Failing to do so prevents me from dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.  I agree that tribulations occur and that I must remember that the Lord is there with us by our side.  When he comes for us, we shall be given a feast and blessed by him before our enemies.  The difficult part with the agreement is the fulfillment of the action.  As a problem solver we often will spend, our times take charge and resolve issues for people.  However, when we do that we rob people of the opportunity to serve God and steal from God the opportunity to show is power to others.

While historically, the psalm has been used to provide comfort for the afflictions that individuals experience including those in the past who feared for their ways of living.  Today we are a culture of fear. Fear is the work of the devil.[26]  We are quick to fear something and rush to solve problems instead of lifting our afflictions to Jesus Christ.  The Lord protects those who surrender themselves to him, therefore we must remember that when we are caught in the valley of the shadow of death, that we are not alone and we shall not fear for the Lord is bless us and keep us so we can dwell with him in glory.

As a classical text, I see myself in Psalm 23 as a map to understanding and peace.  That while we experience tribulation and tragedy it is not for nothing but serves a purpose for the Glory of God.  Not allowing the Lord to be our savior we fail to bring him alongside us as we go out into the world. In 1 Peter, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.[27] To ensure we do not fall prey to the devil we must surrender ourselves to the Lord and ensure he is in our thoughts, our lips and hearts.

The text address me personally because while I read and use this text every day in my daily routines.  This is probably the first time in a long time that I have actually read the text, which draws me in a relationship with the Holy Ghost and the Lord.  I have failed to give up my seat on the thrown in various areas and he can only be Lord if I surrender it all to him.  It is important that I acknowledge that now before I am set aside as a deaconess because if I cannot model how a Christian woman is to give herself to the Lord, I have no business expecting woman of the church to do it when I cannot do it myself.

Those that go into ministry we are both shepherds and sheep. We lead others to Christ or assist in their trials and tribulations reminding them of the great shepherd, Jesus Christ. It is important as those who lead others to protect and guide them into communion with the church and with God. Failing to do so weakens the Church and fails in our obligations to become more Christ like in our human nature.

 

[1] Wilken, Robert Louis. The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

[2] Towns, Elmer L. What the Faith Is All About: A Study of the Basic Doctrines of Christianity. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983.

[3] Wilken, Robert Louis. The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003, pp. 83.

[4] Ibid., pp. 84.

[5] Ibid., pp. 99.

[6] Ibid., pp. 99.

[7] Ibid., pp. 102-103.

[8] Matt 1:18 (KJV)

[9] Matt 2:12 (KJV)

[10] Matt 3:17 (KJV)

[11] Matt 3:16 (KJV)

[12] Wilken, Robert Louis. The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003, pp. 133.

[13] Ibid., pp. 133.

[14] Ibid., pp. 158-159

[15] Ibid., pp. 160

[16] 1 Cor 15:52 (KJV)

[17] Wilken, Robert Louis. The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003, pp. 133.

[18] Rogers, Homer F., and Mary Patricia. Tuck. The Romance of Orthodoxy. Dallas, TX: Publisher Not Identified, 1991, pp. 2.

[19] Ibid., pp. 2.

[20] Truth and Method. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013, pp.306.

[21] Psalm 23:1-6 (KJV)

[22] Gadamer, Hans-Georg, Truth and Method. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013, pp. 317.

[23] MURPHY, JAMES G., and James G. Murphy. 1875. “A CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PSALMS.” In Critical & Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 1-712. n.p.: 1875. American Theological Library Association (ATLA) Historical Monographs Collection: Series 1, EBSCOhost (accessed April 30, 2016).

[24] Psalm 23:1-6 (KJV)

[25] Matt 7:7 (KJV)

[26] 2 Tim 1:7 (KJV)

[27] 1 Pete 5:8 (KJV)

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