Blogging the Institutes | 1.13.5 | Different Terms; Same Truth

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Different Terms; Same Truth

If the various theological terms that have been coined over the years were not invented rashly, then we need to be careful not to hastily discard them. I actually wish that some of the terms could be buried if everyone agreed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God, and that the Son is not the Father, and the Spirit is not the Son. I don’t want to argue over terms. The church fathers were consistent in writing about the truth, but they weren’t always consistent in the terms they used. The terms used by the various ecumenical councils and defended by Hilary are somewhat strange! St. Augustine’s views are extravagant sometimes! How different are the Greeks and the Latins!

Let’s look at one example. The Latin church translates the word homoousios as consubstantialis (consubstantial). They meant that the Son and Father were one substance, having substituted the word “substance” or “essence.” Jerome, in his letter to Damasus, claims that it is profane to affirm three substances in God. But in Hilary, he mentions over one hundred times that God is three substances. Jerome is greatly confused by the word Hypostatis! He believes there is something sinister in saying that there are three Hypostases in God. He truly believes that such an expression is not right. He did hate the Eastern bishops, though, so it’s hard to know if he said this because he really believed it or just wanted to make them seem suspect. He asserts that ousia means Hypostatis (substance). But such an assertion is easily refuted by looking at the word’s common use.

Augustine is more moderate. He says that although the term Hypostatis is new to Latin ears, he is tolerant to its usage. Socrates, in his Sixth Book of the Tripartite history, says the term had been improperly applied by the unskillful. Because of his struggle with heretics, Hilary felt he needed to introduce new terms but apologizes for doing so. After he writes about the Father, Son, and Spirit, he admits that all further inquiry into who God is transcends words, the use of our human abilities, and even our minds. In another place, he congratulates the Bishop of France for not writing a new confession of faith but merely receiving the ancient confession of the church. Augustine says something similar: the term had been taken out of the realm of mere human experience and applied to God to try to express something which our minds cannot fully grasp.

The examples of the church father should be warning to us not to criticize right away those who deviate from term which we come up with provided they don’t reject the terms out of pride and also consider that new terms may have been needed to be coined. Mere acceptance of the terms does not necessarily mean somewhat does not follow Arius or Sabellius. Arisu will say, “Christ is God.” But then he will say that the Son was made and had a beginning. He will say that Christ is one with the Father but then whisper that Christ was “made one” with God, just like us albeit with special privileges.  But if you use the term “consubstantial” you will immediately rip off his mask and expose his heresy. Sabellius will say that Father, Son, and Spirit will indicate some distinction within God. If you say that God is three, then he will cry out that you are making three gods! But if you say that there is a, “Trinity of persons in one divine essence,” you will express in one word what Scripture says and shut him up!

If some object to these terms, they will not be able to deny that when “one” is spoken of is means a unity of substance. When “three” is spoken of in one essence, it means the three persons of the Trinity. When the church confesses these truths without equivocating, then we don’t have to dwell long on the terms. But I have learned my lesson over the years that those who claim wrangle over terms usually have some ulterior motive. Therefore, it’s wise to provoke them to object to the terms so we know exactly what we’re dealing with.

Stagger Onward

We live liturgically, telling our sacred Story in worship and song. We fast and we feast. We marry and give our children in marriage, and though in exile, we work for the peace of the city. We welcome our newborns and bury our dead. We read the Bible, and we tell our children about the saints. And we also tell them in the orchard and by the fireside about Odysseus, Achilles, and Aenas, of Dante and Don Quixote, and Frodo and Gandalf, and all the tales that bear what it means to be men and women of the West. We work, we pray, we confess our sins, we show mercy, we welcome the stranger, and we keep the commandments. When we suffer, especially for Christ’s sake, we give thanks, because that is what Christians do. Who know what God, in turn, will do with our faithfulness? It is not for us to say. Our command is, in the words of the Christian poet W.H. Auden, to ‘stagger onward rejoicing.’

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option, 241.

Blogging the Institutes–1.12.3–Worship is Due to God Alone

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Worship is Due to God Alone

The distinction between “service” and “worship” is useless. Paul speaks of the Galatians being enslaved to serve false gods (Galatians 4:8). Because Paul does not explicitly use the term “worship,” are the Galatians then excused of their former idolatry? Certainly not! He condemns “service” to idols as much as worship of them. When Christ repels Satan’s insulting proposal with the words, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve'” (Matthew 4:10), he was responding to Satan’s request for reverential respect. Thus, Christ saw respect, service, and worship all tied together. 

In a similar way, when the angel rebukes John for falling down to worship him (Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9), we should not assume that John lost his mind and intended to give worship to an angel rather than God. Because religious always seeks after the divine, John could not reverential respect to the angel without denigrating the worship of God. It is true that we read in the Bible that men were “worshipped.” But that was speaking about civil honor. It is different when religious honor is given. Whenever religious respect is given, it is joined to worship and has the potential to profane God’s name if not done correctly. The same thing may be seen in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:25).  Cornelius had made a lot of progress in how he worships God; he still falls down at Peter’s feet. Surely, in context, it was a sign of Cornelius’ respect for Peter. Yet Peter forbids him to do so because it is easy to “cross a line” in worship and defame God’s glory.

Therefore, if we have one God, let’s remember that we cannot hold on to the smallest part of His glory without depriving Him of it. Remember Zechariah. When he spoke of the restoration of the Church, he says that there would not only be one God but also one name (Zechariah 14:9). Why? So God would have nothing to do with idols.  The way we should worship God is treated elsewhere (Book 2, chapters 7-8). But we can say this: God proscribed in the Law the right way to worship so that people would think of their own ways to worship. Since it’s helpful to be exposed to wide-variety of topics, I won’t dwell on this issue right now.

Remember: whenever you worship something else, you are committing idolatry. First, pagan religion assigned honor to the sun and the moon and to idols. Then ambition came in. Ambition to profane all that was sacred. Although in principle the worship of a supreme God was practiced, other worship practices such as making sacrifices to lesser “gods” or departed ancestors were prominent. We are so prone to idolatry!

Blogging the Institutes–1.12.1–One God; No Idols

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

One God; No Idols

At the beginning of my work I made the claim that knowledge of God does not consist of mere “head” knowledge but actually leads us to worship Him. I will talk at length in other places about the proper way to worship God. For now, I want to talk about God’s unity. When Scripture speaks of God’s unity, it not only speaks of His name but also that anything applied to God should not be applied to any other thing. Scripture makes clear the difference between true worship and superstition.

The Greeks themselves have a word for “right worship.” Although they were feeling around in the darkness, they still recognized that certain rules were needed to govern the worship of God.  Cicero points out that the word religion was related to the word relego. But he makes a farfetched application. He believes that true worshippers read and read again and ponder what it true. In contrast, I believe the word religion speaks of order and rules in opposition licentiousness in worship. People usually worship however they deem fit. Whereas though who are true worshippers, will worship within the proper bounds.

In a similar way, superstition seems to take its name from the fact that it’s not curtailed by reason. Rather, superstition accumulates pointless rituals and beliefs. Everyone admits that religion is corrupted whenever false opinions are injected into it. Most of what is done in the name of superstition cannot be defended. And yet, people still refuse to worship the one, true God or follow His rules concerning proper worship.

But God is a jealous God. He is a fearsome avenger against anyone who confuses Him with a false “god.” Therefore, God defines worship. Consequently, people must follow His prescriptions, not their own. God binds His people to allegiance to only Himself, being the only Lawgiver. In His Law, He sets forth the rules for proper worship. The Law was given to be a bridle to curtail people to prevent them from turning to false worship practices. Therefore, unless everything that defines God is given to God alone, He is robbed of His honor and His worship is violated.

Superstition subtly steals worship from God. It seems to avoid abandoning the one, true God by giving Him the highest place. But He is surrounded by lesser deities. By doing this, superstition robs God of His glory. Both Jews and Gentiles did something similar by placing many other gods in subjection to the father and rulers of the gods. They assigned them rulership over the universe along with the supreme God. Some even exalted the saints to a partnership with God so that they would be worshipped and adored too. Such superstition blinds people to the glory of God. All they have left is a some speculation about God’s power. Being entangled in superstition, people follow after other gods.

Blogging the Institutes–1.11.8–The Origin of Idols

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

The Origin of Idols

Where do idols come from? The teaching by the Book of Wisdom on this matter has reached near universal acceptance–idols originated by those who made images of their deceased loved ones. I admit that this practice is very old and it is like lighter fluid igniting the flame of idolatry to burn brighter. I don’t admit, however, that it was the origin of idols. Idols were in use much earlier than this practice as evidenced by the words of Moses (Genesis 31:19). When Moses speaks of Rachel stealing her father’s household idols, he is speaking of a common vice. We can infer then, that the human mind if a perpetual factory of idols. There was a kind of renewal after the flood of Noah, but soon afterward, humans descended into idolatry once again.

There are reasons to believe that even in Abraham’s lifetime, his grandchildren were given to idolatry. He must have seen the whole world polluted with idols in his lifetime. Joshua testifies that even before Abraham was born, Torah and Nacor worshipped idols (Joshua 24:2). If even the children of Shem fell into idolatry, how much more would the descendents of Ham (who was cursed!) worship idols. The human mind, stuffed full of its own self-importance, creates “gods” in its own image. People substitute vanity and imaginary ghosts for the one true God.

Not only do people imagine false gods in their minds, but they have the audacity to then make physical images of these gods. The mind conceives of the idols and people’s hands give birth to them. The Israelites are an example of this phenomenon: “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1). They knew the one true God who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt and had delivered them by His great power. And yet, they lacked assurance He was near to them. If only they could see God, then they could know He was with them! So they advocated for an image to be made of God.

Our everyday experience shows us that our flesh is restless until it sees some image of God which looks like itself. Therefore, people regularly create visible images to worship.

Blogging the Institutes–1.11.7–One Gospel More Powerful than a Thousand Crosses

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.

One Gospel More Powerful than a Thousand Crosses

If Catholics have any sense, they should stop saying that images are the books of the uneducated. Even if I offered them a concession on this point, it still wouldn’t be a enough to validate the particular images they advocate for. It is well known what kind of monstrous images they impose on the church as divine. The pictures or statues of the saints are exhibitions of the most shameless luxury. If anyone dressed like these statues, they would deserve to be thrown in jail! Prostitutes in brothels dress more modestly than the depictions of the saints who are supposed to be virgins. The dress of the martyrs also is no more modest.

Catholics should have some kind of decency in picturing their saints and martyrs. Although it still wouldn’t be right, it would give more legitimacy to their argument–that these are images are “books” of some kind of sanctity. But when if this were the case, images are not the way the church should be educated. The true doctrine of God is very different from the instruction given by images. The true doctrine of God is given to us by the true preaching of the Word and the right administration of the sacraments. Those who spend all their time gazing at idols are too busy to learn from the Word.

Let me ask a question: Who are these supposedly uneducated people who can only learn from images? Think about Jesus’ uneducated disciples. He honors them by teaching them divine wisdom and reveals God’s mysteries to them. Now I admit that in today’s culture many people want to look at images. Where does this stupidity come from? The reason why those who are in charge of churches have resigned themselves to using images to educate people is that they themselves are dumb. Paul declares that in the preaching of the gospel Christ is portrayed as crucified before our eyes (Galatians 3:1).

Putting up images, putting up crosses of wood and stone, silver or gold would be no use if there was true gospel preaching in these churches. What point would there be if pastors spent time preaching the gospel: Christ died so that he would bear our curse upon the cross. He died so that we would wipe away our sins by the sacrifice of his body, wash us in his blood, and reconcile us to God our Father. From the one gospel, people would learn more than from a thousand crosses! As for the crosses of gold and silver, they give more pleasure to the eyes than actual instruction about God.

Blogging the Institutes–1.11.6–Theologians Against Images

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.

Theologians Against Images

Moreover, you should read Lactantius and Eusebius on this subject of images. These writes assume it was an indisputable fact that the things images were originally pattern were human beings. In a similar way, Augustine declares that it is not only sinful to worship images but also to dedicate. When he Augustine said that, he was merely restating something  Libertine Council said years earlier: “There must be no pictures used in churches: Let nothing which is adored or worshipped be painted on the walls” (Thirty-sixth Canon).  Augustine also quote Varro in another place: “Those who first introduced images of the gods both took away fear and brought in error.” Were this merely Varro’s opinion, then it might not count for much. But it should give us pause that a pagan unbeliever like him would come to the conclusion that corporeal images are unworthy of the majesty of God. The reason why they are unworthy, in his estimation, is that they diminish reverential fear of God and introduce error to people. This sentiment shows that it was spoken with wisdom and truth.

Augustine, although he quote Varro, comes to his own conclusions on the matter too. At the beginning, he shows that humanity did not fall into their erroneous knowledge of God through images. But images certainly exacerbated their situation. Afterwards, he explains how the fear of God was either impaired or extinguished by foolish, childish, and absurd representations. I wish this were not so, but we certainly experience it, even today! Therefore, if you want to gain knowledge of God, then go to other teachers than images to get it.