Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 39

The Nicene Creed~ Part 25

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

WE BELIEVE IN ONE HOLY CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC KEHILLAH ~ One Holy Catholic and Apostolic ~ Part 1

In the Apostles’ Creed, the profession of faith is personal: “I believe,” while in the Nicene Creed, it is “we believe.” The kehillah expresses its faith together. At the last part of the creed, after the profession in the Ruach HaKodesh and His work, we say we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.” These four notes are fundamental for the definition of the kehillah as the kehillah of Yeshua, and they enable its recognition by all the baptized.

Holiness has always been the first characteristic of the kehillah to be recognized. Already from the beginning of the second century, we find the saying the holy church.” Beginning from here, the texts of the Fathers repeatedly and incessantly define the kehillah as holy, up to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan profession of faith. The biblical foundation for its use leaves us in no doubt. Yeshua, the holy one of God, is the center of the new kehillah chosen and consecrated to raise to God true spiritual worship. This kehillah is the holy temple of God, and the death of Yeshua makes it holy and immaculate. The baptized are called holy ones to indicate their belonging to God and the consecration brought about by the baptismal water. The celebration of the Eucharist highlighted for all Believers the state of holiness in which they participated and to which they were called. This was so profoundly experienced that the emissary felt obliged to write about the necessity for a serious examination of conscience before approaching the celebration of the banquet. The holiness of the kehillah is founded on the presence and action in it of the Ruach HaKodesh. It is, therefore, original holiness that has no analogy in the previous history; it is objective and complete, fount and source of every other personal holiness that is born in the kehillah and is developed. If the kehillah were not holy, it could not proclaim as holy those who give testimony to true evangelical life. The history of the kehillah, then, is above all and before all a history of holiness. It is not possible to ignore or not recognize this dimension without misinterpreting the sacred texts and two thousand years of the history of the kehillah. If the kehillah is holy, then it cannot, because of its nature, sin, or have sinned. This poses another problem that must be faced: the presence of sinners.

The affirmation of the unity of the kehillah finds its root in the tremendous high-priestly prayer placed on the lips of Yeshua in the Gospel of John that they may all be one. Just as you, Father, are united with me and I with you, I pray that they may be united with us so that the world may believe that you sent me. [1] Sha’ul many times exhorts readers to attain this unity by using the powerful image of the body of Yeshua, where all members are connected. According to one bishop’s principle for one city, the unity of the kehillah was affirmed not only in rhetoric but also in the organization: each local kehillah was led by a bishop in communion with other bishops, according to one bishop’s principle for one city his territory. His office was primarily liturgical and one of guidance. He presided over the liturgical assemblies and was aided by presbyters and deacons. The celebration of the Eucharist expressed unity. The bishop decided who would be admitted to catechesis, who admitted catechumens to baptism, who baptized and celebrated the Eucharist, who admitted or excluded people from the Eucharist, who gave penance sinners and pardoned them.

The kehillah of the early centuries elaborated different systems to preserve, favor and develop unity among the kehillot. The lack of centralization and the absence of solid cohesion, in the institutional sense, constituted a weakness of the messianic kehillot in relation to the whole kehillah. Indeed, it was a strength in that all the kehillot were involved and felt responsible. Still, it was also a weakness, especially at a time when the doctrine was being refined and discipline was being constituted. This was true both in the relations between kehillot and inside a particular kehillah because of all the components’ sense of participation.

The affirmation that the kehillah is holy comes from Scripture, as does that of unity. The Brit Hadasah often calls Believers “holy ones.” Sha’ul writes that the Messiah loved the Messianic Community, indeed, gave Himself up on its behalf, 26 in order to set it apart for God, making it clean through immersion [2] in the mikveh, so to speak, 27in order to present the Messianic Community to Himself as a bride to be proud of, without a spot, wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without defect.[3] The first letter of Kefa says, But you are a chosen people, the King’s cohanim, a holy nation, a people for God to possess! Why? In order for you to declare the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. [4] The holy nation is the new kehillah constituted of Believers; its holiness does not mean that there are not sinners in the kehillah, but the kehillah participates in the holiness of God, the only Holy One.

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] John 17:21 (CJB)

[2] Baptism.

3 Ephesians 5:27 ~ (CJB).

[4] 1 Kefa 2:9 ~ (CJB).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 36

The Nicene Creed~ Part 22

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase with the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

WITH THE FATHER AND THE SON

Wherever the Son’s divinity was questioned, it followed that the divinity of the Ruach was questioned. As a result of the Arian controversy, the Council of Nicaea in 325CE worked out the relationship between the Father and the Son, confessing its belief that the Son is homoousios (the same in being} with the Father. The third article of the Nicene Creed of 325CE also confessed a belief in the Ruach HaKodesh but did not expand on what that belief entailed concerning the Father and the Son. It simply said, And we believe in the Holy Spirit, followed by a condemnation of the Arians. It is also true that, while the Nicene Creed may have settled in principle the debate regarding the Son being of the same substance of the Father, it still took another fifty years before the kehillah definitively settled the issue. The relationship of the Son to the Father was being debated during this time. Still, the ancient kehillah writers and the heretics also realized that if the Ruach was in any way denigrated, this too affected the Son: as goes the Ruach, so goes the Son. The logic was inescapable. Thus, at the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381CE and again at the Council of Rome in 382CE in the West, the full divinity of the Ruach too was confessed and included in the Creed formulated for the Council at Constantinople in 381CE, once the full implications of what had been decided at Nicaea had been debated.

There was no inclusion of the homoousios in its confession of the Ruach, however. Such an omission may reflect the unwillingness of the period evidenced in such writers as Athanasius. Still, Basil, who said to worshiped and glorified, was as close as they came to say that the Ruach HaKodesh was God. Gregory of Nazianzus also reflects the ambivalence prevalent among some at that time when he remarked, “To be only a little in error about the Ruach HaKodesh is to be orthodox.” Such caution of not using homoousios in its confession of the Ruach may also stem from the attempts at the time to be conciliatory to the bishops who were allies against the Arians but followed the teaching of Macedonius and were present at the Council of Constantinople. There may have also been the realization that not everyone among even the orthodox, had come around yet fully to the idea of the Ruach HaKodesh being consubstantial with the Father and the Son. But this would not remain so for long. The full divinity and consubstantiality of the Ruach with the Father and the Son was soon the consensual teaching of the entire kehillah.

HE IS WORSHIPED AND GLORIFIED

The ancient kehillah’s worship and glorification of the Ruach HaKodesh is perhaps the most precise witness to its understanding of the role of the Ruach in the divine economy before such an understanding became enunciated in the Nicene-ConstantinopolitanCreed. The worship life of the kehillah not only informed the kehillah’s theology; it also expressed that theology in a way more often caught than taught. The technical way of referring to this is lex orandi et lex credendi (the rule of prayer expresses the rule of faith). Such a rule is already evident in the commission of Yeshua to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Ruach HaKodesh. While not the only formula used in the Brit Hadashah period, this formula for baptism became the most common and then the only one used in the subsequent life of the kehillah. The benediction of Sha’ul in his second letter to the Corinthians includes the Ruach in the same breath with the Father and the Son. The enlivening and unifying role of the Ruach in the life of the early kehillah and its worship is clearly evident throughout the pages of the Brit Hadashah and the post-apostolic documents of the second century. References to the Ruach’s work and activity, especially in worship, continue in the writings leading up to the fourth century and beyond. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp 225-246).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 34

The Nicene Creed~ Part 20

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase the giver of life in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

THE GIVER OF LIFE ~ In Sanctification

Sanctification is made up of two Latin words: Sanctus, meaning Holy, and the verb Facere, meaning to make. The primary work of the Ruach HaKodesh in the Trinity’s interaction with the world is to make us Holy, that is, sanctified. From its inception, the ancient church was concerned with the Holiness of the Believer. Clement of Rome, for instance, lauds the Corinthian congregation for its Messianic piety and character while also calling on the congregation to persevere in Holiness in the face of division. Polycarp exhorts the Philippian congregation to Holy living, good works, and a faith that remains steadfast. Holiness as a way of life was considered so important that, should the baptized depart from it, there was a minimal possibility for return. Baptism was the point of entry into the life of faith and Holiness, leaving behind sin and being conformed to the divine image. With its considerations as to whether one could sin after baptism and still be called a child of God, one might get the impression that the early church believed in salvation by sanctification, or, more concretely, salvation by good works. This would, however, place a sixteenth-century dichotomy onto the texts of the early centuries of the church they were not meant to bear.

The early church was more fluid in its discussion of sanctification and justification. It did not always use terms consistently. It did not have a well-established order of salvation that consistently worked out the logical sequencing of the various components of salvation. This at times can create misunderstanding or lack of clarity in what the church meant concerning sanctification. It is clear that when it came to the issue of standing before the judgment seat of the throne of God or when they were in trials or tribulations, it was not to their good works that they turned for certainty. When ruminating on the effects of sin or the coming judgment, they put their faith and trust in Yeshua alone and not on the works they had done. But they obviously spoke favorably of good works and the life of sanctification and demonstrated a fear and reverence for God often lacking today. Sanctification was integral to Messianic faith and life. It was not just a series of acts that takes place, nor did it simply imply the betterment of human life or moral improvement – although these will take place in those who are being brought to maturity in the faith.

Sanctification was considered to be the entire process of indwelling by the Ruach HaKodesh by which one is conformed to the image of God, a process that begins in baptism when sin is drowned and left behind so that a new life can begin. That new life grows and matures in people as they are joined to the community of faith centered around Word and sacrament, which were deemed essential to a life of Holiness for its members. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp. 37–38).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 33

 

The Nicene Creed~ Part 19

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith, keeping with the phrase the giver of life in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

THE GIVER OF LIFE ~ Christ’s Life in Us Through the Spirit – Theosis [1]

The Nicene Creed~ Part 19

is the primary source for the kehillah’s teaching on Justification and its teaching of incorporation and union with Yeshua via the Ruach. Sha’ul often uses the phrase in Yeshua or in Yeshua Messiah to indicate a change in our relationship with God and a change in us through our incorporation into Yeshua. However, it is the apostle Kefa who has provided the kehillah with the clearest text concerning our participation in the divine nature. This concept has been found predominantly in the East, although the selections here will demonstrate that this was teaching in the West. In the first chapter of his second letter, Kefa writes:

3 God’s power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, through our knowing the One who called us to His own glory and goodness. By these He has given us valuable and superlatively great promises so that through them you might come to share in God’s nature and escape the corruption which evil desires have brought into the world. ~2 Kefa 1:3-4 (CJB)

Kefa and Sha’ul no doubt took this idea from Yeshua as inspired writers. But what did they have in mind when they spoke of Believers being in Yeshua and partakers of the divine nature? This teaches the kehillah of which many in the West, including evangelicals and some Roman Catholics, are unaware. What follows is an attempt to introduce what this teaching is about and to explore the significant place and influence this teaching exerted in the early kehillah’s understanding of the Ruach’s work in us.

The ancient writers believed that the apostles were speaking of deification. Their choice of such terminology was not cavalier. It was a bold and deliberate move meant to evoke and challenge the pagan language of exaltation. Human beings, especially heroes, sages, and ultimately emperors, advanced to the rank of deity. However, those writers avoided the term deification because it fundamentally transgressed on the divine prerogative, something that some present-day Believers believe occurs in the doctrine of Theosis, although such a transgression could not have been further from the patristic mind. Early Believers chose a polemical term and concept in a deliberate confrontation with the paganism of their day to differentiate what it truly meant to partake of the divine nature of the one true God. They were careful to note that it was not the polytheism of their pagan neighbors they were espousing. Instead, as Athanasius states, “it is as ‘sons,’ not as the Son”; as ‘gods,’ not as God himself that we partake of the divine nature. This is an important distinction since the Greek kehillah emphasized only one God by nature over classical religion with its deified men and women and its anthropomorphic gods and goddesses.

According to the orthodox, scriptural understanding of Theosis, we are given the right to become children of God by grace as we are born of God through the waters of baptism. We thus become sons and daughters of God at our baptism. What follows, then, is an ongoing process of sanctification by which we, through the indwelling of the Ruach, become more and more conformed to the image of our God and Father in which we were created. This conforming process ultimately realizes its full potential as the just receive their promised inheritance in heaven when their own glorious transfiguration takes place in the new heavenly kingdom. It is both a moral and ontological ascent toward the fullness of life and, ultimately, eternal life in communion with the divine, which was God’s original intention for humanity all along. [2]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Theosis is the belief, mostly found within the Eastern Orthodox Church, that a Believer can experience a union with God and become like Him so much that they participate in the divine nature. This concept is also known as “deification.” Theosis does not mean that they become Gods or merge with God but that they are deified. They participate in the “energies” of God with which He reveals Himself to us in creation.

[2] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp. 37–38).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 31

The Nicene Creed~ Part 17

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

THE GIVER OF LIFE ~ In Repentance

Life is spoken of in Scripture in terms of physical life or eternal life and the life of faith that leads to salvation. How do we receive this life, this salvation? The biblical answer has always been through Repentance, faith, and baptism. The message of John the Baptist was a call to repentance because the kingdom of God was at hand. (See Mt 3:2; 28:19; Mk 1:15; Lk 24:47; Acts 2:38.) Yeshua called on His hearers to repent and believe the Gospel. The talmidim were given the charge to preach repentance and forgiveness. (See Luke 24:7) Therefore, the terms of salvation have always been framed in the call to repent and believe the Gospel, and be baptized to remission sins.

One of the essential factors of being a Believer repeatedly urged by writers such as Clement of Rome and Barnabas was the confession of sins. One could directly confess his or her sins to God. But this confession might also occur amid the congregation, especially before the Eucharist, especially for sins that were known to the larger public. This confession of sins was also to be accompanied by charity, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving so that it was indeed a confession that was deep and heartfelt.

Public penitence was reserved for scandalous and public sins, with all others being treated by the clergy in private. Traces of public discipline remain in the West, reduced to Lenten ceremonies on Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. The years-long and humiliating process of public discipline was condensed to these forty days of comparatively easy discipline framed by Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. The penitent would leave church on Ash Wednesday, focusing on a time of penance over the next forty days. On Maundy Thursday, he/she would again enter the church and prostrate himself and be reconciled by the bishop, who offered prayers for forgiveness on his behalf. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp. 37–38).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 30

The Nicene Creed~ Part 16

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. In this post, we continue to dig into the third article of faith in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

THE GIVER OF LIFE ~ In Creation

When it came time to formulate the Ruach’s role in the Trinity and its interaction with the world, the ancient Kehillah chose to emphasize the Ruach’s role as the Giver of Life. They viewed the work of the Ruach as bringing to completion the work of the Father and the Son. This is especially true when contemplating the Genesis account. On its most basic level among the ancient Messianic writers, the phrase Giver of Life evokes the Ruach’s presence with the other persons of the Trinity at creation, brooding over the waters, bringing life to them and through them, animating all living creatures with the breath of life.

Even though the Hebrew and Greek words for Ruach in Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 2:7 are different words, this did not stop the Fathers from understanding the same Ruach as the breath breathed ultimately into Adam, which brought life to him and his descendants.

Passages that connected the breath and the Ruach of God with creation, such as Genesis 1:2, as well as Psalm 33:6, figured prominently in the ancient Kehillah’s understanding of the third person of the Trinity’s involvement in creation. Other passages, such as Proverbs 8:22 and Wisdom 1:7, spoke of the Wisdom of God present at creation, which was often identified from the second century with the Ruach just as John had identified the Word (Logos) with the Son. Thus, in writers such as Irenaeus, there arose the conception of the two hands of God operative in creation: The Word and Wisdom, that is, the Son and the Ruach. This later evolved into the Son is referred to as the right hand of the Father and the Ruach as the finger of God. Either of these conceptions has as its preconception the source of creative power in the Father. The creative work originated in the Father and was exercised through the Son and perfected in Ruach. Thus, the peculiar work of the Ruach was to actuate and bring to fulfillment the creative work of Father and Son. The Ruach is the vitalizer and perfecter of the Trinity’s work in creation, and it was to Him, along with the Word, that God said, Let us make man in our image. Thus, the spiritual nature of humanity also became the unique purview of the Ruach, whose work is to bring fallen humanity back to the image that was lost. The ancient Kehillah did not confine the Ruach’s work to the original creation. The same Ruach present at creation enlivened the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision and will revitalize our dry bones at the Resurrection. The Fathers also spoke of the Ruach’s role in the Son’s conception, memorializing it in the creedal statement and was incarnate by the Ruach of the Virgin Mary. They realized that just as human and divine were joined together in the incarnation through the power of the Ruach, so the Ruach also joins the divine to created things, bringing life through them too when His presence and power is invoked in consecration and blessing as the giver of Life. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Elowsky, J. C., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Holy Spirit (Vol. 4, pp. 37–38).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 27

The Nicene Creed~ Part 13

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed. As you can see below,  I have skipped several clauses that we previously examined in the Apostle’s Creed.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through Him, all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day, He rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

HIS KINGDOM WILL HAVE NO END

Of the clauses from the Creed of 381 encompassed by the present volume, this is the most substantial addition to the Nicene Creed of 325. A heresy based on 1 Corinthians 15:28 had declared that in the last days Yeshua and all that belonged to Him would be taken into the Father, so that God, in being, all in all, would cease to be a Trinity. Now when everything has been subjected to the Son, then He will subject Himself to God, who subjected everything to Him; so that God may be everything in everyone. (The heretic who was alleged to have maintained this was Marcellus of Ancyra, a friend of Athanasnius, though he incurred no ecumenical condemnation in his lifetime and would probably have considered the charge unjust.) The purpose of this clause, then, is to make it clear that just as the second person of the Trinity has existed from eternity, so He will continue to exist for all eternity after the end of the created order – in willing submission to God the Father but without surrendering either His own identity or the individuality of the saints.[1]

The ESV Study Bible explains the apparent heresy this way: Yeshua is one with God the Father and equal to the Father in deity (8:6; John 10:30; 14:9; Heb. 1:8) yet functionally subordinate to Him (Mark 14:36; John 5:19, 26–27, 30; 17:4), and this verse shows that His subjection to the Father will continue for all eternity. God will be all in all, not in the sense that God will be everything and everything will be God, as some Eastern religions imagine, but in the sense that God’s supreme authority over everything will be eternally established, never to be threatened again.[2]

In my next post, we begin to dig into the third article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in The Holy Spirt.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Edwards, M. J., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in the Crucified and Risen Lord(Vol. 3, p. 171).

[2] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2214).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 26

The Nicene Creed~ Part 12

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through Him, all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit

He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day, He rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

FROM HEAVEN

The Gospel lies behind the following clause of the Creed when it says: No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven; the Son of man who is in heaven. ~ John 3:13 (NKJV) Messianic reflection tended to begin from this point and move downwards. The heavenly Son of Man descends to the earth and manifests as the suffering Son of Man on this earth. It is remarkable from the earliest known iterations of the Creed how the same subject reference is used throughout all the Messianic statements. The heavenly Son is described as the same subject as the earthly Savior; no distinction between the two states is made concerning the one person. In the earliest centuries of the church, that personal unity was often taken for granted. The context of argument supplied by the Gnostics had made it imperative for the catholic pre-Nicene theologians to insist that the Son of God was a Mediator and Savior from the very throne of God. It was no alien God that had made the material world or who had appeared within it as a savior, but, on the contrary, it was the Logos-maker who came down to that very creation he had once fashioned.

As the fourth century dawned, however, confusion began to rise about the relation of the heavenly Son of God to Yeshua of Nazareth. Some speculations of Origen had partly caused it, roughly sketched out as they were in those early years of the third century, that tended to speak of the Logos-Sophia uniting with the preexistent Soul Yeshua, one of the original spiritual creation that so united itself in love to the divine Word that it offered itself as the soul-medium of the immaterial Logos presence on earth. He meant Origen’s theory of the intermediating Soul Yeshua as a mode of the personal unity of the incarnate Lord. However, if pressed by complex logic, the theory could suggest to critics that the Logos and Yeshua were two distinct persons. The Nicene fathers, therefore, used this Creedal clause to reaffirm the total weight of the ancient rule of faith’s intentionality in using a single subject in all the Messianic clauses: that the heavenly Son of God was none other than Yeshua of Nazareth and that all the deeds and acts of the earthly Savior were deeds and acts of the Word. Throughout the fourth century, and indeed for long after, the ramifications of that central statement had to be elaborated and explained with greater precision and sensitivity; nevertheless, the confession that the Heavenly Son and the earthly Messiah were the same person was the significant contribution of the Nicene Creed, and to it, the fifth-century theologians, such as Cyril of Alexandria, keep returning, to insist that no Messianic nuance should ever lose sight of that belief.

BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Just as flesh signified the sin and fragility of humanity in Biblical Literature, so did Ruach signify the power and energy of God. The attribution of distinct hypostatic identity of the Ruach, as not simply a cipher for divine power and presence but a specific and focused person of the Trinity, was a theology that was clarified only after the tremendous Messianic crisis. It can be said that in the history of Messianic thought, the personal subsistence of the Ruach as a distinct member of the Trinity is something that grows out of the reflection on the significance of the divine person of Yeshua. It might be more accurate to say that the two trajectories grew up alongside one another.

The greatest theologians who formulated the early doctrine of the Deity of Yeshua were always the very ones who were also its chief interpreters of the glory of the Ruach. Nowhere is this more evident than in Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus the Confessor, and John of Damascus. These were the most outstanding protagonists of patristic Pneumatology [1] and were, as well, the leading pillars of the Nicene Creed.

The Creed here refers to the dynamic of incarnation to the agency of the Ruach and the Virgin Mary. The Ruach thus initiates the flesh in a way that flies in the face of all Gnostic suppositions that tended to suggest that the Ruach was hostile to or opposite to the flesh. Behind the Creedal phrase lies the Lukan text of what the angel Gabriel explained to the Virgin about her overshadowing by the divine power. This image recalled the great drama of Genesis 1:2 and thereby suggested the incarnation was the Ruach’s renewing of the creation, where it is said, and thus the child shall be holy. In almost all patristic literature, the Ruach is associated with the divine energy of sanctification. In the course of the Monarchian disputes of the second and third centuries (Paul of Samosata was an example) and then again in the fourth-century Arian crisis, some theologians had approached Yeshua’s godly power and His status as a godly witness in terms of his election by the divine Ruach. If the Lord was holy, it was seen to be a result of his special inspiration by the Ruach for this school. The Nicene patristic witness is clear and persuasive in response to this. The Lord is Himself the giver of the Ruach and cannot be understood as simply one more of the line of ancient prophets. The Ruach indeed anointed Him with grace, but that is to be understood as the anointing of His humble humanity, in which He was a model vessel of the Ruach, though all that the Lord did was in the unity of the Trinity. Yeshua’s possession of the divine Ruach is the quintessential sign that He is the Father’s own Word, in the unity of the Trinity where all possess one another in love and energy. The incarnate Lord’s gift of the Ruach to the world, through the power of the incarnation, is described by Cyril of Alexandria as no less than the regeneration of the human race.[2]

In my next post, we complete our dig into the second article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Lord Yeshua Christ.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The branch of Messianic theology concerned with the Ruach.

[2] McGuckin, J. A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Vol. 2, pp. 114–115).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 25

The Nicene Creed~ Part 11

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through Him, all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down
from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day, He rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

AND FOR OUR SALVATION

Here as in other places in the Creed, we find parallel phrases juxtaposed. The first of the pair, for our sake, is mirrored with and for our salvation. The reason for these parallels was a perceived need for increasing specification because of more particular contexts of controversy as the fourth century unfolded. The motive of the incarnation as an act of concern from the part of God toward the human race was a Creedal element of the ancient rule of faith that was designed to offset Gnostic belief in a divine power that stood away from this world. In the Gnostic system, the supreme deity was interested only in liberating souls from a material world that evil and alien power had created. The rule of faith had taught, to the contrary, that the supreme God is, in fact, the Creator of the visible as well as the invisible cosmos, and the sending of the Son of God to earth was for our sake, motivated by love for God’s own creation.

For our salvation, the second clause came about because the Arian crisis had necessitated a deeper clarification of what that motive of God’s advent might entail. What did salvation mean, and how was it affected by the descent of the Son of God? Arian theology tended to see the Son of God as one of the chief angelic powers of God, who had come to serve an educational mission: to give examples and correct teachings to a race that had gone astray. This was a one-sided development of one of the many themes found in the works of Origen in the third century. In the response of the Nicene fathers to the Arian movement, we see a continual focus on the status of the incarnate Word as true God come among humankind. The advent of the deity in the flesh to the human race is not merely seen to be an educational activity. However, there is much reflection on how the teachings of Yeshua were essential.

Consequently, there is a reiterated affirmation that salvation is not affected merely through an example. The incarnate Word is seen to bring a life-giving power back to the human race, which had lost the vital energy of life and immortality that had initially been given to it by the very Logos who made humankind. The Word returns to His own to immortalize and deify fallen humanity.

HE CAME DOWN

The Creedal phrase came down from heaven is solely based on Yeshua’s words in the Gospel of John, describing Himself as the living bread that came down from heaven. Ancient Messianic witness to the incarnation as an act of the saving God is organized around this great verb that is found throughout the scriptural record but mainly organizes the thought of the Johannine Gospel as a grand drama of salvation worked out in the twin axes of epiphanies of the Word’s coming down and ascending on high: His exaltation and return to transcendent glory. In the Greek translation of the Tanakh, the term katabasis (coming down) could signify a rich range of meanings. A katabasis could be that of the mother stooping down to her child (an image used in the psalms and the prophets to describe the compassion of the God of Isra’el) or the vigorous and swift descent to aid a friend against the attacks of a foe. Perhaps the most dynamic meaning of all was to connote the fantastic descent of God to reveal His energy and action among humankind. The coming down was thus a cipher for the great theophanic epiphanies of God in the Tanakh, notably at Sinai and in the pillar of fire that God used to symbolize His presence leading the Isra’eli through the desert. For such reasons, the idea of coming down to His people to save and illuminate was inherent in this weighty biblical phrase. We find it used in the early church as a keynote description of the act of the Word’s incarnation: the typical example, for the Messianics, of God’s self-revelation and His compassionate stooping down to humankind.

The early Fathers are quite clear among themselves, and more or less unanimous, that there is only a movement of salvific [1] energy from above to our side, from God to humankind, never a movement the other way around, such as the ascent of a blessed person to the throne of God. The initiative is entirely that of the divine Savior. This is perhaps one of the most striking differences between the Christology of the ancient church and that of recent times. The coming down of the Word of God into embodiment is described with great reverence among the Fathers as an act of profound compassion on the part of God, an act of humility and endurance, motivated by the desire to save and comfort His people. [2]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the second article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Lord Yeshua Christ.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Having the intent or power to save or redeem. Merriam-Webster Dictionary/

[2] McGuckin, J. A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Vol. 2, pp. 96–97).

Creeds of the Kehillah ~ Part 24

The Nicene Creed~ Part 10

In our last post, we continued to explore the Nicene Creed. This post digs a little deeper into the actual articles of faith in the Nicene Creed.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through Him, all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

THROUGH HIM, ALL THINGS WERE MADE

This clause of the Creed is predominantly concerned with reiterating the New Testament teaching that speaks of the Word as the divine agent of God’s creation (Jn 1:3; Col 1:16). The vision of the cosmic Messiah evokes and undergirds much of the early church’s understanding. As it was fundamentally the Word who shaped the world as God’s creative power, so it was appropriate that the Word was the only one who could reshape and rescue it from its distress. The maker was thus the same as the redeemer. Early Logos theologians of the late second and early third century delighted in seeing the Logos as the underlying pattern of being within the cosmos. All intellectual and spiritual understanding, especially, was the gift of the divine Logos and constituted the root of the “image of God” within humanity.

By the middle of the third century, Origen had greatly amplified the systematic nature of Logos thought. In his extensive biblical commentaries, he had shown how the whole plan of salvation and redemption was a great story of the Word’s human involvement with His cosmos. For most of the third-century Logos theologians, the Word was the divine force as it interacted with the world. In contrast, the Father was the divine being contemplated in its more transcendent glory. For these theologians, the Father’s origination of the creation was entrusted to the Logos for its accomplishment. Accordingly, by the beginning of the fourth century, many Messianic thinkers were asking questions about the relative status of Father and Logos in the order of creation. Arian theorists, in particular, began to argue that the Word was the firstborn of all creation (Col 1:15) in the sense that He was first ranked among the created beings. Arian cosmology tended to see the Logos as the first of the angel creations of God, who was then used by the Father to bring into being the material world order. The Nicene Fathers reacted strongly to this teaching, countering that the supreme agent of creation could not Himself be a creature. If he were so defined, the ascription of creative power to the Word would be erroneous and blasphemous. Creation, in other words, was a wholly and strictly a divine attribute. If all things (by which the Nicene Fathers specifically meant all the spiritual orders of angels as well as all the material orders of human and animal creation) were made through the Word, it was a clear affirmation, as far as they were concerned, of the Word’s divine status. The Nicene’s knew, however, that even the Arians who affirmed the creative power of the Logos tended to understand it in a way that dissociated creative force from divine status. This was why, throughout the fourth century, much attention was given to the notion of the eternity of the Logos and His unique power in initiating the created orders of spiritual and material beings from the vantage point of preexistent union with the Father. When they treated creative agency, they were aware that only by qualifying the term with “preexistent” or “eternal” was the anti-Arian argument secured.

FOR US

The significant theological controversies of the Gnostic era, lasting throughout the second century and into the third, had turned on an idea of the Godhead that was overwhelmingly important for the Hellenistic religious mentality, namely, that deity must not be sullied by material chaos. Thus, the Gnostics could not confess either that the sublime, transcendent God could either make this material world or be interested, let alone involved, in its variations. Much of that attitude ran on into the Arian movement and influenced its theology unconsciously.

In catholic (universal, not Roman) theology, on the contrary, it fell to the witness of the Scriptures to assert with great power that the God of revelation was wholly and entirely the Creator God who, precisely because He was the creator and fashioner, had a profound and faithful love for His creation and willed its unfolding into beatitude. It was this establishment of the catholic reading of theology over and against the Gnostics and Arians that can be seen in the later patristic theology, which instinctively explains all the mysteries of theology and the incarnate economy by reverting to the fundamentals: that the mission of the Son of God on earth was for no other reason than the same compassion God the Father had for the cosmos. All the apparent strangeness of the Yeshua story, both as a narrative of the descent of the heavenly Logos to earth and as a tale of the sufferings of the Messiah while on earth, can be explained, the Fathers consistently taught, by the fact that the sublime compassion of God motivated all that he did, and that the divine interest and love for creation was in Him to such a degree that humility and mercy became the only trophies of glory that interested him. Such a Lord was transcendent in His stooping down and powerfully great in His smallness. The altruism involved in that creedal clause for our sake and our salvation is far from being easily comprehended. It is more sublime and transcendent than could ever have been invoked by a Gnostic vision of a Godhead that was significant by remaining remote and sublimely indifferent. [1]

In my next post, we continue to dig into the second article of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] McGuckin, J. A., & Oden, T. C. (Eds.). (2009). We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (Vol. 2, pp. 79–80).