The New Testament Church: One Body in Christ

Albrecht Dürer, Adoration of the Holy Trinity (1511) (<a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adora%C3%A7%C3%A3o_da_Sant%C3%ADssima_Trindade.jpg">Wikimedia</a>)

Albrecht Dürer, Adoration of the Holy Trinity (1511)

Last time, we examined how, in the usage of the New Testament authors, especially Paul and Luke, the churches of Christ were often referred to in the plural, not as a single body — giving rise to a common Protestant claim about the independence of the New Testament churches — yet how Paul’s frequent exhortations to be of one mind betray a certain sense of unity among all Christian believers. This is made clearest in the words of Christ Himself: “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they may also be in Us” (John 17:20–23).

Many Protestants tend to read these appeals to unity as references to a vague, undefined, invisible “unity” that somehow contains all believers “in the Spirit,” regardless of the depth of their actual division and disagreement. But such notions of “unity” do not fit with or maintain the biblical call for a true oneness in mind and spirit; they are not the reality of the Church Jesus founded or Paul exhorted.

One Body

Jesus prayed that all who believed in Him would be one, just as He and the Father are one: that is, not just in a loose, spiritual affiliation, but completely, indivisibly One in Christ, of the very same substance and being. Paul tells us that we are one not only spiritually, but corporately:

I therefore beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. … Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love. (Ephesians 4:1, 3–6, 15–16)

These words go beyond exhortation: Paul describes the oneness of the Body not merely as a worthy model to strive for, but as a transcendent reality: There is One Body, One Spirit, One Lord. This oneness applies not only within each local body of believers, but across all believers, the entire, whole Body of Christ: the Epistle to the Ephesians is generally thought to have been a circular letter, circulated among a network of churches if not all churches. And lest there be any question that this Body of Christ to which Paul refers is to be understood as the Church, he tells elsewhere in the same letter:

[God] has put all things under His feet and has made Him the Head over all things for the Church, which is his Body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22–23)

And in other letters:

He is the Head of the Body, the Church; He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent. (Colossians 1:18)

One Church

All Saints

Fra Angelico. The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1423-24).

The Greek word usually translated “church” in the New Testament is ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia). Most literally it means a calling out of people into a gathering or assembly or congregation; it was a standard word in Greek for a legislative assembly. I have heard Protestants seek to argue that the New Testament only understands the church in this general sense (the “little-c” church) and not as a single, corporate, universal body (big-C Church). But the verses already cited should leave little doubt to the fact that, just as we (even Protestants) today make a distinction in English between those two usages (the local church and the body of all believers), the New Testament authors and even Jesus Himself also saw a higher meaning of the word ἐκκλησία:

“On this Rock I will build My Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

The use of that word ἐκκλησία had an even deeper meaning for a Greek Christian: ἐκκλησία was the common Greek translation the Hebrew קהל (qahal), that appeared in their editions of the Hebrew Old Testament, commonly translated in English as assembly — the assembly or congregation of the Israelite people. The ἐκκλησία, in the mind of a New Testament Christian, was not merely a local assembly of believers: the word evoked striking imagery of the Exodus, the calling out of God’s covenant people out of bondage and into promise.

And so, Jesus’s words echo even more powerfully when He said, “I will build My Church”: not a building, not an institution, not a mere gathering of people, but a calling out of His people, a covenant people of His own. Here He laid its foundation, built on His apostles and prophets, destined to become a holy temple for the Lord (Ephesians 2:20). Here is the One Body of Christ, the Church.

Next time: “The Universal Church”: how the One Body of Christ proceeded whole and undivided; and how it came to be identified as the Catholic Church.

“Jesus” is not “Yay-Zeus”

Athanasius smacks Arius

St. Athanasius, defender of the Trinity, smacks the heretic Arius upside the head.

I recently had a run-in with a man who was apparently a Oneness Pentecostal or some variant, a non-Trinitarian espousing the idea that God is not a Trinity, but that rather there is only one God, and His name is the LORD*. This was a new one to me: before I had heard that the one God’s name was Jesus. The Trinity, this man informed me, was a pagan, syncretistic doctrine imposed by the Roman emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicaea in 325. He further informed me that the name Jesus was also a pagan corruption, incorporating the name of the Greek god Zeus. I was taken aback by the absurdity of these claims, the ignorance of both history and language.

* He actually said the tetragrammaton, the Holy Name I will not name.

El Greco, Christ blessing (The Saviour of the World)

El Greco. Christ blessing (The Saviour of the World) (c. 1600) (WikiPaintings).

The Name of Jesus

Now, more and more recently I have been hearing opposition to the name Jesus, particularly among “Hebrew Roots” groups. More correctly, they say, the name of our Lord is Yeshua — and, indeed, that is a more accurate transliteration of the Hebrew name ישוע. And if it floats anyone’s boat to call Him that, then they can justify themselves in doing so — though it makes me cringe every time I hear someone say it. Inherent in that is a rejection of the cultural tradition of the entire Christian Church, by which the Lord’s name passed into the Greek New Testament as Ἰησοῦς, into Latin as Iesus, and thence to English.

But the claim that the name Jesus is a veiled attempt by the Catholic Church to introduce pagan worship of the god Zeus into Christianity is patently absurd for several different reasons:

  • The earliest Christians spoke Greek. They wrote their Scriptures — the same Scriptures which, at least traditionally, Protestants embraced as their sole rule of faith — in Greek. The name of Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoūs) is the name by which the Christ is called, in Greek, by the inspired authors of the New Testament. Any injection of the name of a Greek god into Christian worship would not have been “veiled” at all. To reject the name Ἰησοῦς as a pagan corruption is to reject the inspiration of Scripture itself and to impugn the motives and credibility of the Apostles themselves and their associates — and If you’re going to go that far, I don’t know why you’re still calling yourself a “Christian.”

  • The Hebrew name ישוע (yēšūă), “The LORD is salvation,” is the same name as the Old Testament leader whose name is translated in English Joshua. Yes, Joshua and Jesus have the same name. And that name, in the Old Testament, was translated in the Greek Septuagint as Ἰησοῦς — several centuries before the coming of the Christ. That was the standard transliteration of the name, according to standard principles of translation, long before any Christian came along.

  • The names Jesus and Zeus didn’t even sound alike in Koine Greek. Zeus is spelled Ζέυς, the “sus” part of Jesus spelled σοῦς. The zeta and sigma made distinctly different sounds — precisely the difference, in English, between Zeus and Seuss. Moreover, the Greek diphthong ευ made a very different sound than ου. Though in English we pronounce eu as a long /uː/ or /juː/ (as in deuce or eugenics), in Greek ευ was pronounced as a double vowel, each sounded separately but quickly as the same syllable, along the lines of eh-oo. In sum, no Greek speaker would ever have seen any connection between “Jesus” and “Zeus.”

Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity

The development of the doctrine of the Trinity has a complex history that is covered elsewhere much more thoroughly, with better authority and support, than I can do in a brief space here (see the Catholic Encyclopedia, Catholic Answers, Wikipedia, and many more). But I will say that the Trinity was not “invented” at Nicaea, but had been being considered for centuries before, since the very beginning. The first recorded use of the word τριάς (trias) in reference to God comes from St. Theophilus of Antioch (ca. A.D. 180). Scripture itself very clearly teaches the divinity of Christ, and His oneness with, yet distinctiveness from, God the Father (e.g. John 10:25–30, Luke 10:22), and the distinctiveness of the Holy Spirit (e.g. John 14:26, Luke 11:23) yet His oneness with the Godhead (e.g. Romans 8:11, Philippians 1:19, Matthew 3:16). And then there are clear statements naming the three as a Trinity (e.g. Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14). So the Trinity is on firm footing, both scripturally and historically. And yet, in this day and age, more and more believers, shorn of the Tradition of the Church, are rejecting it.

Of good report

Murillo, Rebecca and Eliezer, 1650

Rebecca and Eliezer (1650), by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Philippians 4:8

I’m having a pretty good day. So I thought I would share a few good things that are going on now.

    The First Hebrew Primer

  • Part of my penance this week is to devote a considerable length of time to spiritual study — a burden on my time but a joy to my soul. And so, in addition to my studies of the daily readings and working my way through the Old Testament, I thought it would be a good time to dust off my Hebrew book, a study that would be of great benefit to my understanding of Scripture. I started working through the book (Simon, Reznikoff, and Motzkin’s The First Hebrew Primer) right before I began grad school, and got through the first few chapters — enough to know the alphabet — before the grad school monster clobbered me. I am reviewing now and planning to advance further, and I’m glad to find that I still have the basic skills I attained before (reading and writing right to left, understanding and writing the alphabet). It’s mentally exhausting, but exciting!

  • Just for the heck of it, I refreshed my memory of the Roman calendar, to date the headings of my Hebrew notebook (it was originally a Latin notebook). Hodie est dies Martis, ante diem XIX Kalendis Septembris, anno Domini MMXII, sive MMDCCLXV ab urbe condita. I should probably pick up the Hebrew calendar now, too.

  • Speaking of Latin: this is a pretty wonderful find on Google Books: A Copious and Critical English-Latin Lexicon (1849), by the Reverends Riddle and Arnold. Ah, I love free, old books, especially when they are as rich a trove as this.

  • Esplorazioni 1

  • Speaking of Rome: I received on interlibrary loan two massive red tomes — not from Rome, from Emory University; but originally from Rome: Esplorazioni sotto la Confessione di San Pietro in Vaticano (1951) — the official report of the excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican uncovering the tomb of St. Peter. This is it. Contained herein are a wealth of technical descriptions, diagrams, and photographs: this is the primary source on which all the books I’ve read so far are based. One challenge: it’s in Italian. But that will only add to the adventure of exploring the scavi in greater depth and unlocking their mysteries.

    (My desk is never really this neat. I shuffled off the contents just to take these pictures.)

    Below are a few quick snapshots from the books. I hope to be able to share some more highlights in the weeks to come.

    Esplorazioni 2 Esplorazioni 3 Esplorazioni 4
  • Do you like the paintings I post on here? WikiPaintings.org has fast become one of my favorite websites ever. The wiki’s goal is nothing less than to collect and catalog high-resolution images of the works of all the masters; to tag them and document them and share them. I post images from it almost daily. Whoever uploaded the great collection of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo is singularly responsible for bringing him, in the course of a few months, from being unknown to me to being one of my favorite painters ever.

  • Ware, The Orthodox Church

  • I’m reading a wonderful book on the Orthodox Church, The Orthodox Church by Metropolitan Timothy (Kallistos) Ware. I am not very far in (past the Seven Councils), but he is delightfully snooty toward the Roman Catholic Church and toward the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox, who don’t count.

All right. There are many other great things to share, but I will save some for tomorrow! Other things to do.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Sacred Heart

Pompeo Batoni. Il Sacro Cuore (The Sacred Heart) (1740).

I feel like I’ve been on the offensive a lot lately. I apologize for that. I’ve made three posts in the past two weeks against sola scriptura — and I have to confess, it’s been partly out of annoyance at the closed-mindedness the doctrine engenders. Forgive me for that. My deeper aim, in this blog and even in those posts, is to extend to my Protestant brethren the fullness and beauty that the Apostolic Tradition of the Church has to offer.

(For what it’s worth, that last sola scriptura post had been on the back burner half-formed since I posted the first two, so I decided I needed to finish it. I also have another rather critical post I began writing last year sometime, before I even entered the Church, about church membership, that I put down because I decided it wasn’t the tone I wanted my blog to take. I may look at it again sometime to see if there’s anything to salvage.)

Today is the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and June is the Month of the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart is a devotion to the wounded physical heart of Jesus as a representation of His all-surpassing divine and human love for all humanity. This devotion — really the idea of devotions to things other than God Himself — is a new, rather strange concept to my evangelical brain. Isn’t devotion to or worship of an object idolatry? Well, no. Idolatry is worship of something as a god that isn’t God. Veneration of the saints is not idolatry because it’s not worship. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is not idolatry because the Blessed Sacrament really is Jesus. Likewise devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not idolatry because it is an aspect of Jesus: it’s the love of Christ for all humanity, the love of God for all the world; and God is love (1 John 4:16).

Devotion to the Sacred Heart has a long tradition, with roots in Scripture and in the Church Fathers. I have an excellent book (picked up on one my thrifting quests) about the history and theology of the Sacred Heart, Heart of the Redeemer by Timothy T. O’Donnell, S.T.D. The earliest Christians associated the water flowing from the side of Christ at his Crucifixion with the “rivers of living water” flowing “from his heart” (John 7:37-38). . . .

[And a sidenote: I’m thrilled that the ESV and some other newer Bible translations, even Protestant ones, have translated this verse as “out of his heart.” Traditionally, that Greek word, κοιλία (koilia — in the phrase, ἐκ τῆς κοιλίας), has been rendered “belly” or “bosom”: according to the LSJ, it is a common Greek noun that refers to a cavity of the body, especially the belly or abdomen, but also any body cavity, ventricle, chamber, such as in heart, lungs, liver, brain: figuratively, the innermost center of being and consciousness of a person. It is the same word used for Mary’s womb in Luke 1:42. The Hebrew word used in Proverbs 4:23, the essence of which John 7:38 seems to follow, is לב (lêb), and most certainly refers to the heart (translated καρδία [kardia] in the Septuagint). In short, I think it’s pretty fantastic that the ESV translators, in translating a verse that refers to Old Testament prophecy, considered the Hebrew context of the words in their translation decisions from Greek. Jesus more than likely would have been speaking Aramaic, and may have quoted the passage in Aramaic rather than Hebrew; though especially the Evangelists Matthew and John would have been familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. Both the Evangelists and our modern translators had to consider all these things in translating to and from Greek.]

St. Bernard

St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

. . . And the Church Fathers saw this wound, this flow of blood and water from the side of Christ, from His heart, as a symbol that the Heart of Jesus is the source and fountain of the living water that gives us grace, salvation, and the Sacraments (O’Donnell 49). Jesus’s wounds, his suffering for our sake, became a visible symbol of His love for us. Over the centuries of tradition, increasing devotion to the Heart of Jesus developed. There are so many wonderful passages I could quote (this book is really amazing), but here are some of my favorites. From St. Bernard (1090–1153):

The secret of His Heart is laid bare in the wounds of his body. One can easily read in them the mystery of God’s infinite goodness and merciful tenderness which came down to us like a dawning from on wounds. How could you indeed, Lord, show us more clearly than by your wounds that You are indeed ‘full of goodness and mercy abounding in love.’

From David of Augsburg (d. 1272) (O’Donnell 101):

From the burning Heart of Jesus flows his blood, hot with love. Jesus showed us from the Cross his faithful heart, glowing with love, since the death of our souls touched him more nearly than the death of his body. Ah, dearest Lord Jesus Christ, what great love and faithfulness wilt thou show when thou displayest thy riches and openest thy Heart to thy beloved friends!

The devotions grow longer, more elaborate, more flowery, until in the late seventeenth century, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun and mystic, experienced a series of visions of the suffering Christ, in which He revealed his Sacred Heart to her, and set her own heart aflame with the fire of His. It is from her revelations and her writings that our modern conception of the Sacred Heart has proceeded. Devotion to the Sacred Heart spread throughout France, and gradually beyond its borders. Pope Pius IX first extended the Feast of the Sacred Heart to the entire Church in 1856. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII consecrated the entire human race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, following the visions of Blessed Mary of the Divine Heart, in whose visions Christ Himself requested the consecration.

So in short: The Sacred Heart is, to put it simply, an ancient, God-inspired Christian meme. So much in tradition works this way: a writer has a revelation, and then another writer picks it up and elaborates upon it, until over time, a whole tradition of devotion and literature develops around it. No matter how you might feel about the personal revelations of these nuns, it is the symbol of the Sacred Heart that is important: the symbol of Christ’s divine and human love for the whole world, that has been a longstanding Christian tradition and object of devotion. To dedicate oneself to the Sacred Heart is to dedicate oneself to live in and for the love of Christ.