Reading Scripture through the Creed

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“No other God has this Son. Nor would any other want him”

The true God is indeed the Father of Jesus the Son. I can be brief on this point. For if we know who this Jesus is, we know what a difference that makes; and if we do not, it is not a lecture on theology we need.

Divine offspring, of course, litter the religious landscape. None but the God of Israel has this Son. That means—for a first point—that also in this way the God of Israel is jealous: he will not swap sons with other gods; he identifies himself to himself as the Father of this Son. From and to all eternity, God says to himself: “I am that man’s Father,” and rules all his decisions and acts by that self-identification. Therefore—and this is the second point—literally everything in heaven and earth depends on what sort of person this Son is, and that in the simplest possible sense.

The true God is the Father of the man John Evangelist could call Love Incarnate—and he is nothing but that Father. The true God is the Father of the man Dietrich Bonhoeffer could call The Man for Others—and he is nothing but that Father. The true God is the Father—and nothing but the Father—of the man who raised his friend from from the dead and saved a wedding from fiasco and drove well-meaning merchants from the Temple and begged forgiveness for his executioners and called down judgment on the religious and proclaimed the poor blessed and indeed etc. Would you know who the true God is? Read the Gospels—and that not as teaching about God or his will, but as the story of God, of the Son whose Father he is.

No other God has this Son. Nor would any other want him.

Robert W. Jenson

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Robert W. Jenson and the Eschatological Christ

Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics—not only does the title well describe this collection of essays, but it also describes that which interests most theologians today about the theology of Robert W. Jenson. He is known as a thinker who sought to reenvision metaphysics from the perspective of the gospel: How must absolute reality be, what must contingent reality be, if Jesus Christ is crucified and risen? This was an abiding theme of Jenson’s intellectual work throughout his ministry as theologian and preacher, beginning with Alpha and Omega and God After God and concluding with Theology in Outline. I readily embraced Jenson’s metaphysical project as a young priest, not because I knew anything about metaphysics (I did not!), but because it appeared to support the kind of Christological and narrative preaching that I wanted to do. No one has ever accused me of having a deep philosophical mind; but I did and hopefully still have a passion for the gospel. Over the past fifteen years, however, I have developed a fresh appreciation of more traditional construals of divinity, with the consequence that I no longer find Jens’s revisionary metaphysics as compelling as I once did. One might think that this change would affect the way that I preach, yet it hasn’t. Nor has it led to a diminishment in my respect and love for his theology. How odd is that? Perhaps not as odd as it might first seem. What drew me initially to Jenson were not his reformulations of divine eternity, impassibility, and immutability but his unequivocal affirmation of the gospel as liberating announcement. What I want to do in this series of articles, therefore, is to revisit Jenson’s early reflections on the gospel. These reflections have so profoundly informed my understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ that if one day someone were to convince me that Jenson (and along with him Martin Luther, Karl Barth, and T. F. Torrance) is wrong about the gratuity of salvation in Jesus Christ, then my apprehension of myself as a Christian believer and priest would be undone.

Jenson begins his 1973 mini-systematics, Story and Promise, with this passage:

Since shortly after the execution of Jesus the Nazarene, a certain communication has passed through history and through the world. A few in each generation have told the story of this Jesus, and of his people Israel, as a message of destiny—of the destiny, indeed, of each new set of speakers and hearers. This story, its messengers have claimed, is the encompassing plot of all men’s stories; it promises the outcome of the entire human enterprise and of each man’s involvement in it. Let me try a premature summary formulation of the story and its promise, at some risk of ambiguity: “There has lived a man wholly for others, all the way to death; and he has risen, so that his self-giving will finally triumph.” (p. 1)

A story and a promise, a story with a promise, a story that is promise—the gospel is something more than the communication of certain facts about a person who lived 2,000 years ago. It certainly includes “facts,” for Jesus was a man who lived and died in human history, but from the beginning these facts have been presented in a particular way—specifically, contends Jenson’s, as eschatological pledge for the future of humanity. Jesus is alive, risen into the futurity of God, and his salvific will must finally determine the outcome of history, worldly and cosmic. As the Church ecumenically confesses: “he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead.”

In the above quotation Jenson describes Christ as a human being who lived fully and completely for others. This way of speaking—“the man for others”—can be traced back to Bonhoeffer. I gather it was a popular way of talking about Christ back in the sixties and seventies. I’ve never particularly liked the expression and have never used it in my preaching. To my ears it makes Jesus sound like a great humanitarian, and that, of course, is light-years away from Jenson’s intent. It’s easy enough, though, to rephrase: the life of Jesus was perfectly determined by love—by love of God, whom he addressed as “Father,” and by love of his brethren, for whose sake he embraced crucifixion in obedience to his Father’s atoning will.

The young Jenson’s understanding of the historical Jesus was formed by his immersion in German “second quest” scholarship—think especially Ernst Käsemann and Günther Bornkamm. I do not know how well acquainted Jenson was with the “third quest” of historical Jesus scholarship—he would have found helpful support in the works of E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, and John P. Meier—but he appears to have consistently maintained over the years the view of the Nazarene as eschatological prophet:

Jesus the Nazarene was a wandering preacher, a semi-rabbi. He went from place to place proclaiming the coming of the “Kingdom of God.” “Kingdom of God” was a summary name for the fulfillment of all the promises which Israel’s history with Jahve had left with her. With John “the Baptist,” prophets were, surprisingly, again on the scene; also Jesus was a sort of prophet. He said: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Turn your lives around, and trust the good news.” (p.35: cf. Dale Allison, “The Eschatology of Jesus“)

Of course, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and John the Baptist might also be described as eschatological prophets, so what was the difference? All prophets before Jesus urgently called Israel to repentance. Many spoke of a coming age. “The time is short. The judgment of God is at hand. The kingdom is almost upon us. Change your lives now, before it is too late. If you do, you will partake of the goodness and blessings of the reign of God; if you do not, you will know only tribulation and condemnation.” The prophetic summons posits a temporal space for conversion: repent now … before it is too late. Jesus also spoke this way; but the difference, suggests Jenson, was the way he said it:

Although what Jesus said about the Kingdom was not new, there was something new in the way he said it. The normal, law-like, pattern of utterance and life posits a span of time between my present and whatever future I am concerned with: the “then …” clause poses a future possibility, and the “if …” clause establishes a space of controllable time in which to take care of the indicated conditions. The “if …” clause posits a sort of expanded present, a space protected from the uncertainty of the future, in which I can do what I need, if I choose. So the standard way of meeting also the prophetic announcement of the coming Kingdom had been—and is—to put it five or five hundred years in the future, or five seconds, and take the interval as the time to get ready.

The interval can be used for postponement. “Repent,” said the prophets; “Next year we will indeed,” said most of the people. But it can also be used for frantic preparations, for the “works of the Law.” This was the pattern of the Pharisees, a lay movement that had developed the religion of the Law to a consistency and sincerity nearly past our conceiving. They made a life’s work of looking for conditions of the Kingdom and fulfilling them.

Jesus so spoke the Kingdom at the existence of his hearers as to short-circuit both responses, as to take away the space of time between the moment of their hearing him and the future he promised. He left them no time to get ready; instead he made the Kingdom the decisive reality for the decisions and hopes and fears which were the then-and-there of their lives. When men heard Jesus’ call to the Kingdom, they either were thereby called into its citizenship, or found they had already rejected it. They either found that all other values defined themselves by the hope of the Kingdom (“they left all and followed him” [Matt 5:11]), or that they had already chosen to prefer other things (“and he went sadly away, for he had many possessions” [Mark 10:17-31]). (pp. 36-37)

By word and action, Jesus brought the Kingdom of God into the life of Israel as an immediate reality, anticipated yet still to be realized. There was no longer any time in which one might either prepare for or ignore its coming, no time in which to repent or not to repent. The Kingdom is dawning, made manifest in the Son of Man. As Jenson puts it: “Jesus took away from his hearers the possibility of neutralizing God’s futurity, of mitigating its threat and challenge by cutting out a time of their autonomous own in which to plan and prepare for it, and so getting it—even a little bit—into present control” (p. 38). Why is it, the people ask, that the disciples of John and the Pharisees fast but yours do not? “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” Jesus replies (Mark 2:19). The wedding feast is already under way. All are bade to rejoice and celebrate. Come, join the festivities! Social and religious status is irrelevant. Whether Pharisee or publican, priest or whore, rich or poor, none are at advantage or disadvantage. “Zacchae′us, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). Jesus scandalized the religious elites by eating with tax collectors and sinners. He proclaimed the Kingdom unconditionally and embodied it as gift. There was no longer any time in which to fulfill “if … then …” clauses. There was only the present and decisive moment of Eschaton.

When the question is, “Will life achieve a meaning at all?” everyone heard from Jesus the same promise and was tempted to the same abnegation. We will all achieve our selves in spite of ourselves. … Jesus did not merely proclaim to the poor, the publicans, and the sinners that in God’s future they would be new men, he treated them then and there as the new men they would be. His message had nothing in it of “pie in the sky by and by.” … We regulate our relations with our fellows by what they have been; if a teenager is hooked on dope, we do not encourage our children to make him a friend. Jesus did the opposite: he brought his fellows into his life not in terms of what they had been, but of what they would be. And not in terms of what it could be predicted they would be, on the basis of a “little bit of good in everyone” or of what he planned to reform them to, but in terms of what they could be only by God’s miracle. He enacted God’s future as his brothers’ own present. (pp. 38-39)

Such was the prodigality of the love of the Nazarene, and it was precisely this love that led him to his death. But why should we believe that his love has anything to do with us today?

(Go to “Gospel the Paschal Hope”)

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“Even with all these gifts I am nothing without Christ”

All believers are familiar with the story of the wedding of the king’s son and the banquet that followed it, and of how the Lord’s table was thrown open to all comers. When everyone was seated “the master of the house came in to see his guests, and among them he noticed one without a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘My friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?'” Now what precisely does this mean? Let us try to find out what it is that some believers have, but which the wicked lack, for that will be what the wedding garment is.

Can it be one of the sacraments? Hardly, for these, as we know, are common to good and bad alike. Take baptism for example. It is true that no one comes to God except through baptism, but not every baptized person comes to him. We cannot take this sacrament as the wedding garment, then, for it is a robe worn not only by good people but also by wicked people. Perhaps, then, it is our altar that is meant, or at least what we receive from it. But we know that many who approach the altar eat and drink to their own damnation.

Well, then, maybe it is fasting? The wicked can fast too.

What about going to church? Some bad people also go to church.

Whatever can this wedding garment be, then? For an answer we must go to the Apostle, who says: “The purpose of our command is to arouse the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.” There is your wedding garment. It is not love of just any kind. Many people of bad conscience appear to love one another, but you will not find in them “the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.” Only that kind of love is the wedding garment.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,” says the Apostle, “but have no love, I am nothing but a booming gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, if I have all knowledge and understand all mysteries, if I have faith strong enough to move mountains, but have no love, I am nothing.” In other words, even with all these gifts I am nothing without Christ. Does that mean that prophecy has no value and that knowledge of mysteries is worthless? No, they are not worthless but I am, if I possess them but have no love. But can the lack of one good thing rob so many others of their value? Yes, without love my confession of the name of Christ even by shedding my blood or offering my body to be burnt will avail me nothing, for I may do this out of a desire for glory. That such things can be endured for the sake of empty show without any real love for God the Apostle also declares. Listen to him: “If I give away all I have to the poor, if I hand over my body to be burnt, but have no love, it will avail me nothing.” So this is what the wedding garment is.

Examine yourselves to see whether you possess it. If you do, your place at the Lord’s table is secure.

St Augustine of Hippo

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“The Bible and the Trinity” by Robert W. Jenson

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Robert W. Jenson: Reminiscences and Memories

I have been thinking a lot about the great Lutheran theologian Robert W. Jenson since hearing the news of his death on Tuesday night. Over the past forty years Jens influenced and formed my theological thinking more than any other single figure, even more than Thomas F. Torrance. I have long considered myself as a Jensonian of sorts. Not in the sense of embracing the kind of metaphysical speculation that Jens loved—I’ve never had that kind of mind and sensibility (Jens would have said I was too Anglican)—but certainly in the way that I preached and catechized. Perhaps I am still a Jensonian, only now in an Orthodox key.

I discovered the books of Robert Jenson in the late 70s while I was in seminary—specifically, The Triune Identity. I do not know how I came across it. I’m sure it was not assigned to us by our theology instructor. But when I read it, I was hooked. Here was a way of under­standing the doctrine of the Trinity that made eminent sense to me. The purpose of the Trinity is to assert that the history of Jesus is God’s salvific history with us and therefore revelatory—indeed even constitutive—of God as he truly is in his eternal being. After Triune Identity I quickly consumed Lutheranism, Story and Promise, and Visible Words. I do not know how many times I have reread these books over the years. Jenson is a deep, creative, challenging thinker, with a unique aphoristic writing style. I found him, and still find him, simultaneously accessible and unfathomable. I know that the latter is largely due to the limitations of my very average intellect. From the beginning I knew that Jenson was a genius, in a different class from most theologians and scholars I have read. Few can match his erudition, depth, and insight.

At some point, either while I was in seminary or shortly thereafter, I began to write him with my questions. He always responded. Sadly, I have lost his letters. Sometime after I moved to Maryland in 1983, I made an appointment to see him at Gettysburg seminary. He was gracious but not particularly warm. I later came to realize that he felt uncomfortable in social situations. I know I felt intimidated. I had a bunch of questions for him, particularly on the unconditionality of the gospel. He patiently addressed them all and encouraged me to enter into the Master of Sacred Theology program at Gettysburg, which I subsequently did. Over the next few years I took two seminars with him. We met at his home. One seminar was devoted to Christology. I wrote a paper on the kenotic Christology of Charles Gore, which I read to the class. The second seminar was devoted to sacraments. I wrote a paper on the Eucharistic theology of Robert Isaac Wilberforce, which I also read to the class. That was the way Jens’s seminars worked. I also did a couple of independent study courses with him, but do not recall anything about them. In one of our private sessions, I mentioned to him that I could not makes heads or tails of Tom Torrance’s book Space, Time, and Incarnation. He smiled and said, “Neither can I.” That was a great relief. If Jens could not understand it, then maybe I wasn’t as dumb as I thought I was. Maybe.

Jenson taught me to always ask, what is the evangelical intent of a theological claim or teaching? What work is it doing? We need not be woodenly tied to the historical formulation of a given doctrine, as long as we apprehend the fundamental truth it is seeking to express, no matter how inadequately and partially. To do theology is to participate in the catholic tradition of conversation and debate. It is never sufficient to simply repeat dogmatic formulae. The gospel must always be proclaimed in the present.

After I had completed the course work for the S.T.M., he and I began to talk about my thesis. My memory here is pretty shaky. I think it was going to be on the doctrine of the Trinity or perhaps on the doctrine of justification by faith. Probably the former, given that I was developing a strong interest in feminist misconstruals of the doctrine. During this time he came to my parish, St Mark’s Church, and delivered an engaging Lenten address. I do not recall the topic. I remember a parishioner asking him why some congregations were spiritually lively and others were not. With a twinkle in his eye, he replied, “Double predestination.” I silently chuckled. But in 1988 Jens and his delightful wife Blanche moved to St Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. I was quite disappointed and abandoned the S.T.M. thesis. What was the point? I was only in the program in order to sit at the feet of one of the finest theologians in America. I was a parish priest and, despite occasional dreams of pursuing a Ph.D., I knew I would always be a parish priest.

I kept in touch with Jens after his move to St. Olaf’s. I wrote a couple of papers for scholarly publication. He graciously critiqued the drafts, and they in fact did eventually get published. In 1991 I and five other Episcopal priests authored a document that would eventually become known as the Baltimore Declaration. I do not recall if I asked him to comment on the early drafts, but he did sign the document after its release and arranged for its publication in his journal Pro Ecclesia. A year later he delivered a lecture, along with Stanley Hauerwas and Fr (now Archbishop) Joseph DiNoia, at a conference Fr William McKeachie and I organized in Baltimore. His lecture was entitled “The God of the Gospel.” Around this time I also edited a collection of essays on feminist language for divinity, Speaking the Christian God, and Jens agreed to write an essay (a provocative essay!) for the book: “The Father, He …”

Jens and his friend Carl Braaten started the Center for Evangelical and Catholic Theology, and they began to host annual conferences at St Olaf’s. I attended one or two of them. I particularly recall the 1994 conference, “Reclaiming the Bible for the Church.” I arrived a day early and was able to sit in on a round-table discussion with Brevard Childs. Needless to say, I didn’t say a word. I remember being surprised by how much agreement existed around the table on the canonical authority of the Septuagint. By this time Jens was moving beyond, though not abandoning, his commitment to the historical-critical method. His appreciation for the ecclesial reading of Scripture was deepening. At least that is my recollection.

In 1995 I moved to Charleston, South Carolina and became the rector of the Church of the Holy Communion. In 2001 a conference was held in Charleston, and Jens was invited to be one of the speakers. I immediately contacted him and asked him to preach at Holy Communion that Sunday. He agreed. His sermon was substantive, evangelical, powerful. Jenson took the preaching of the gospel very seriously. His theology flowed from his preaching of the Word. Later Christine and I took him and Blanche to lunch at Magnolia’s, my favorite restaurant in Charleston. That was the last time I would see him in person.

Jens and I continued to occasionally communicate after that, principally through email. In 2001 I sent him a draft of an essay I had been working on: “Eating Christ: Recovering the Language of Real Identification.” He liked it very much and accepted it for publication in Pro Ecclesia. I was thrilled and honored. In 2005 I called him on the phone. I was wrestling with whether to leave the Episcopal Church and was keen to talk to him about the contemporary Roman Catholic understanding of justifi­cation. He had been involved for many years in the Lutheran/Catholic dialogue. Jens had long held that the Reformation teaching on justification by faith was best understood as a meta-linguistic rule: always preach the gospel as unconditional good news. If this is what justification by faith really means, I asked him, do you see the Catholic position as excluding or denying the meta-linguistic rule? “No,” he replied. “If that was the only issue at hand, I would have no problem becoming Catholic.” (I subsequently received a similar response from George Lindbeck.) I suspected that would be his answer, but I needed to hear it nonetheless.

A year ago I was informed that Jens was suffering from Parkinson’s. I decided to write him and tell him how important he had been in my life and ministry. I also sent him a copy of a talk I had given in Wales on the gospel and apokatastasis. He replied: “That essay must have blown their minds.” And then he concluded his brief email with these words: “And if my stuff has been so important in your life, that is a great responsibility. We both must pray about that. Love, Jens.” That was my last communication from my doktorvator.

Robert W. Jenson taught me so very much. Most of all he taught me that there is nothing more important than to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in its evangelical radicality. I thank God for the privilege of being one of his many students. I thank God for his friendship and support. My debt to Jens is immense.

The Church catholic has lost a great theologian, preacher, and man of faith. Memory eternal!

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The Creed of St Gregory of Narek

Here is my profession of faith, here,
the yearnings of my wretched breath to you
who constitute all things with your Word, God.
What I have discoursed upon before, I set forth again,
these written instructions and interpretations
for the masses of different nations.
I offer these prayers of intercession
in the thanksgiving prayer below.

I pray to your unchanging, almighty Spirit:
Send the dew of your sweetness upon my soul
to rule over the impulses of my senses.
Send the all-filling gifts of your merciful grace
and cultivate the reasoning fields hardened by my heart,
that they might bear the fruit of your spiritual seeds.
All gifts that flourish and grow with us, Teacher,
come from your all-encompassing wisdom.
You who laid hands on the apostles,
filled the prophets,
taught the teachers,
made the speechless speak,
and opened the ears of the deaf.
You, of the same family as the first and
only begotten Son of your consubstantial Father,
carry all this out through your mutual effort.
You proclaimed as the co-equal of your Father,
grant me, a sinner, to speak boldly of the life-giving,
mystery of the good news of your Gospel,
that I might follow with soaring mind,
the infinite course of the inspired breath of
your testament.
And when I embark upon the solemn interpretation
of the Word, send me first your compassion,
and let it speak through me
in a manner worthy, useful and pleasing to you,
in glory and praise for your Godhead,
and in the silence of the universal church.
Extend over me your right hand,
and fortify me with your grace.
Clear my mind of the fog of forgetfulness,
dispelling the darkness of sin,
that I might rise above this earthly life through wisdom.
May the dawn of that unobscured miracle,
the knowledge of your Godliness,
shine within me again, Almighty.
To be worthy to do and teach
and be an example of goodness for god-loving listeners.
To you all glory in all things,
with your Father almighty and
your only begotten and benevolent Son,
now and forever, without end.

The creed of the co-existing Holy Trinity,
the rule of life and grace of salvation,
I taught in the following way:
We confess and profess, honor and worship
the shared glory and unity of the Holy Trinity,
Godhead beyond description, always good,
of the same substance, equal in honor,
beyond the flight of the wings of our thought,
higher than all examples, beyond all analogies,
surpassing the limits on high.
Before the creation of eternal undifferentiated matter
and the categories of creatures
with blessing that cannot be translated,
crowned forever with the richest greatness,
setting time in motion and all that has taken shape as time unfolds,
himself the cause and shaper of everything visible
and invisible,
who cannot be defined by name or denoted by label,
nor likened in quality, nor weighed in quantity,
nor formed by rules, nor known by kind,
nor spread to exhaustion,
nor occupying space,
nor appearing in a place.

Father of compassion, God of the universe,
creator of everything in heaven and on earth
except the only begotten Word, through whom
all things exist, creator and giver of breath to all things
except for the consubstantial Holy Spirit,
through whom you formed all else.

One of three glorified persons equal in power and awe,
who descended from on high to here below,
who was indeed by nature indistinguishable
from those below,
without relinquishing the throne of glory,
without leaving the watchful gaze of the parent of love,
merely entering the vessel of the virgin womb purely
and coming out joined with a body
inseparable in essence,
without any flaw in his humanity and lacking
nothing in divinity,
one and only Son of the only Father and
the first born of the Mother of God, Virgin Bearer
of the Lord,
creator becoming a true man as originally created,
not in the fallen state of mortals,
but new and splendid with the sublime glory of kings,
not seen in the ages or existing in time.
The first born, as the Psalmist said,
higher than all the kings of earth,
formed from an incorruptible combination
like us in body,
in the manner of the soul with body,
and as gold with fire,
or to put it more plainly,
light in air, neither transformed nor separated.

He submitted himself willingly to the cross of death,
like an innocent lamb led to slaughter,
and girded himself with mighty self-discipline
for the salvation of those he created.
He truly suffered like a mortal.
He was placed in a tomb with no special treatment for his divinity.
On the third day, in the hell of Tartarus,
he preached to the
downcast captives and showed renewal and light.
And having carried out his providential
mission of redemption,
he came back to life as God,
and ruled on the wings of the winds,
rising upon the Cherubim,
covered in an inscrutable cloud.
He ascended into heaven on high,
sat in splendor upon the throne bequeathed to him
from the beginning, equal with his Father,
from whom he had never been separated,
neither losing what had been acquired,
nor diluting that which was his own.
Therefore, he shall come to the judgment of retribution,
examining the unseen with the scales of justice,
for which we wait and pray
with faith in his almighty Lordship over and through all,
who truly is the only one of the only one
in equal glory forever worshiped as one.

We always praise along with the Son and Father, the Holy Spirit,
which is of the same essence,
mighty, true, perfect and holy,
who from nothing brought into existence
everything that exists,
who acts through itself and shares rule with
the other two,
in the same indestructible, boundless kingdom,
who is the first cause, the awesome Word of his selfhood.
And the same exalted Holy Spirit,
good ruler, who dispenses the gifts of the Father,
in praise of the name and the glory of
the only begotten Son,
who acted through the Laws and inspired the Prophets,
with the encouragement of your co-equal Son
commissioned your apostles.
In the form of a dove you appeared at the River Jordan,
for the greater glory of the one who had come,
shone forth in the writings of the evangelists,
created genius, strengthened the wise,
filled the teachers, blessed the kingdom,
assisted the kings, appointed the guardians,
issued the decree of salvation, granted talents,
prepared atonement,
cleansed those baptized into Christ’s death that
you might dwell in them
a sacrament performed jointly by the Father and
Son with the Holy Spirit,
who is God, honored as Lord, in all ways in all things.

Being named first among the Trinity does not make one greater than the other,
or being named after the other, less than the rest,
or by saying that they are one, that there is a
confusion of persons,
or by dividing into three, a separation of wills.
For the Father would be diminished
if he did not have the power of the Word
so too if he did not have the Holy Spirit and
was speechless,
lifeless and deprived of any power to command.
And the Word, if it were not known by
the name of the Father,
would be abandoned like some orphan or just
another mortal being.
Similarly the Holy Spirit, if not commissioned
by its cause,
would be vagabond, an unruly wind.

But if one presumes in a refutation
to snatch the Father from his Word,
on the ground that there was a time when
the Word was not,
believing that such speculations exalt
the sublime greatness of the divine,
or if one subordinates the Spirit which proceeds forth
on the ground that it is not by nature spiritual,
thereby introducing an alien being or some
unstable mixture
into the pure and sublime unity of the Holy Trinity,
we must reject such persons from our midst.
We must drive them away in disgrace
with our confession of faith
like a stoning of fierce demons or vicious beasts,
and cast a curse upon their devilish lot,
shutting the gates to the church of life in their face.
While we glorify the Holy Trinity in the same lordship of unified equality,
in parallel praise, uniform level,
blessed on earth and in heaven,
in the congregation of the nation of
earthly thinking beings,
now and forever.

Now, I offer to your all-hearing ears, almighty God,
the secret thoughts in this book,
and thus equipped, I venture forth in conversation,
not with the idea that my voice could
somehow exalt you,
for before you created everything,
before the creation of the heavens
with the immortal choir of praise and
the earthly thinking beings,
you yourself in your perfection were already glorified,
but still you permit me, a reject, to taste
your indescribable sweetness, through
the communion of words.
And what good is it to mouth your
royal command about
“Adonai, Lord,” and not carry it out.
I destroyed with my own hand
the golden tables of speech,
dedicated to your message, written by
the finger of God.
That was true destruction.
And I, with ashen-faced sorrow,
now provide a second copy, made in its likeness.
But now, since I have prayed much,
in a voice of passionate and sincere praise,
hear me, compassionate God, with this
profession of faith.
May the voice of this prayer be joined with those offered
by clean worshipers obedient to your will
so that this meager offering, a dry loaf of
unleavened bread,
might be served with oil upon your altar of glory.

But you, beneficent and charitable in all things,
O Christ, of one God, mighty and powerful,
who surpasses all with your sweet and
caring compassion
not only humanity in general and those like me
who are susceptible to all manner of contrariness,
but also the uncontaminated angels,
and even the pure and saintly, who give praise.
There was Elijah, for example,
whose austere signs on Mt. Horeb were shown
in three ways:
a great earthquake, strong winds and burning fire.
But you act in the mildness of patience and
the calm peacefulness of the sweet air,
for you alone, as the Scripture says,
are the will of mercy.
And although our kind found joy in virtue
and otherwise adopted heavenly ways,
still they were earthlings, though chosen
among mankind.
You, on the contrary, are not even capable of evil:
You are good in your very essence
and blessed in all things,
salvation for all, tranquility in all,
calm for all, cure for all disease,
the fount of life-giving water in the words of Jeremiah.

Turn toward me and have mercy upon me,
O God, who so thirsts, hungers and longs for
my salvation.
You have gone so far as to designate
a heavenly host of blessed immortals,
to act as priests and intercessors for man’s salvation,
so that on behalf of us earthly beings,
for the reconciliation of the wretched and
abandoned like me,
they might perpetually pray for your great
blessed mercy,
with this light-giving phrase,
“Have mercy upon Jerusalem,”
so that based upon your great revelation
places left empty by the fallen angels,
might be filled by human beings,
who have joined you, in the manner of
the earthly Jerusalem,
about which you sent us good news.

Truly, you hear, kind God,
You listen, king.
You lent an ear, life and light.
You paid attention, heavenly one.
You respected us, almighty.
You noted, knower of secrets.
You saw, keeper.
You empathized, Lord beyond telling.
You humbled yourself, exalted one.
You became meek, awesome one.
You were revealed, Lord beyond words.
You were defined, boundless one.
You were measured, unexaminable one.
You focused light, radiant one.
You became human, incorporeal one.
You became tangible, immeasurable one.
You took shape, you who are beyond quality.
You truly fulfilled the yearnings of those
who pray to you.
With the voice of the blissful,
you were even for me, miserable soul that I am,
a kind intercessor, a living mediator,
an immortal offering, an endless sacrifice,
a gift of purity, a priceless burnt offering,
an inexhaustible cup.
Merciful Lord, who loves mankind,
may you always show
the favor of your life-giving will and your
long-suffering patience toward me, a sinner.
To you glory forever.

St Gregory of Narek

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