The Son of God pervades the Whole of Reality – St Athanasius on the Word

Saint Athanasius rightfully taught us that the Word/Son of the Father is the rational principle that holds the entire created universe together. For this reason, the Word cannot be created. He stands over creation from all eternity.

Check out this profound insight from Saint Athanasius about the relationship between the Word of the Father and the created universe:

He is God, the living and creative God of the universe, the Word of the good God, who is God in his own right. The Word is different from all created things: he is the unique Word belonging only to the good Father. This is the Word that created this whole world and enlightens it by his loving wisdom. He who is the good Word of the good Father produced the order in all creation, joining opposites together, and forming from them one harmonious sound. He is God, one and only-begotten, who proceeds in goodness from the Father as from the fountain of goodness, and gives order, direction and unity to creation. (Discourse Against the Pagans)

Consider the most complicated mathematical problems, the rate of gravity, the structure of DNA sequences, the speed of light, the chemical compounds of substances, the expanding universe, etc. All these things are designed, controlled, measured, and governed constantly by the divine Word of God.

Even before Christ entered the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, He was perfectly guiding and controlling the universe like a conductor over all reality.

But the Son of God does not simply govern over. He is not merely a conductor of trillion piece orchestra. He is also intimately present in every person, instrument, note, chord, and sound. He lives and moves in all of creation as the rational binding principle of everything. Here is Saint Athanasius again:

The almighty and most holy Word of the Father pervades the whole of reality, everywhere unfolding his power and shining on all things visible and invisible. He sustains it all and binds it all together in himself. He leaves nothing devoid of his power but gives life and keeps it in being throughout all of creation and in each individual creature.

This is not “pantheism,” which is the heresy that “God is everything,” or that “my pencil is God, and my table is God, and that tree is God.”

Rather, this is the Christian mystery of Word of God as the measure, ratio, and animator of every single created element and force in the universe.

While we enjoy our lives and our salvation through the Son of God Jesus Christ, He is also tending to that black hole light years away, and perfectly spinning the 69 (known) moons of Jupiter. He delights in the presence of the Father as He builds and holds the galaxies (and the molecular structure of your lunch) together.

We Christians rightly focus on the historical Jesus Christ as the Crucified Rabbi who died and resurrected for our sins, but we should also follow the awe of Saint Athanasius in seeing Him as the personal order of everything that ever was, is now, and ever shall be.

To learn more about the Church Fathers (and especially Saint Athanasius), check out our Curriculum on Patristics.

Holy Innocents: Why does God allow so many babies to die?

How do Christians account for child martyrdom, child death, original sin and the fact that the majority of Homo sapiens have died before birth?

The feast of the Holy Innocents marks the martyrdom of an unnumbered group of boys aged 2 and under during the reign of King Herod and fulfills the prophecy of St Jeremias:

Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.’ (Jer 31:15)

How can children become martyrs if they cannot speak or affirm faith?

These holy innocents are martyrs because they were murdered in odium fidei (in hatred of the Faith). If someone kills a child on accident or even through malice, that child is not a martyr. However, if the murderer kills the child out of hatred for Christ or the Christian faith, then the child is a martyr. Same goes for adults. If a robber shoots a father in his home, he is not a martyr. If an Islamic State terrorists shoots because a man because he won’t renounce Christ, then that victim is a martyr.

Children can become martyrs for the same reason that children are baptized. Other persons can effect persecution (or sacramental grace) upon them. Babies have personal relationships. My babies had “personal relationships” with their mother at the breast immediately (and even before birth). It’s a unique non-verbal relationship. And if that “personal relationship” between mother and baby exists, then a “personal relationship” can exist between a baby and our Triune God.

Parents usher their babies into the eternal life and energy of the Holy Trinity at the baptismal font and so also did Herod’s soldiers baptize the Holy Innocents with their own blood.

Our family asks for the intercession of the boy Holy Innocents every evening and their presence in Scripture and the Catholic Calendar remind us that children die. But why?

Why do children die?

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202) explained how the sin of Adam and Eve passed down to all generations and deprived even infants of the supernatural blessing of Eden.

The Eastern Fathers such as Saint Gregory Nazianzus noted the theological problem of children dying. Children are not guilty of personal sins. Why would God allow them to die. And when they die, where do they go? Heaven? Hell? Perhaps a special place reserved for them?

Saint Gregory and others noted that children die not through their own fault, but on account of being born outside Eden – that is being born under the sin of Adam and Eve. The Eastern Churched calls this προπατορικὸν ἁμάρτημα (propatorikon harmatema) or “ancestral sin.”

The Western Church calls it peccatum originale or “original sin.” Without getting into Eastern vs. Western distinctions, all Christians agree that the penalty of death has spread to all human persons, even children. And we all agree (even the Jansenist or Calvinist) that children die not on account of their own personal misdeeds.

Why do they die? We don’t know, but we trust that their eternal life is better than any life they had here. Whether it is postulated as natural paradise, limbo, or a hope for supernatural Heaven itself, their life is one of peace, rest, happiness, and beatitude.

Do most humans die in infancy?

It’s patently obvious that more than 51+% of members of the race of homo sapiens died before the age of 7. We might even dare to say that 51+% of every homo sapiens died before being born. This is a starting fact to consider from a theological perspective. Most humans in God’s image died prior breathing.

Why is this?

There are a few optional explanations:

  1. Predestination Option: God predestines most humans to die in utero or in infancy because he likes the idea of Heaven (or limbo) being populated with people who have never committed a personal sin against him or another – despite them having been conceived without habitual grace. This theory would posit that every human child receives habitual or sacramental grace prior to death to Heaven OR that they don’t receive habitual grace and so end up in perfect natural (but not supernatural) paradise. And this natural paradise is often known off the cuff as limbo. (Pun intended. The Latin limbus means “cuff”.)

    [NOTE: I should add here that the heretic John Calvin used this argument above (that all deceased babies go to Heaven) in favor of unconditional election. He noted that so many babies die before and after birth (including his own dead children), and so this confirms the fact that God chooses them for Heaven without any faith or merit.]

  2. Pre-Existence Option: The Church Father (but not saint) Origen posited that every human pre-existed in a celestial realm prior to conception in a mother’s womb. Each of these minds erred or sinned in this celestial realm and thus were consigned to a carnal life on earth suiting the measure of their rebellion. So a pre-existent mind that rebelled greatly against the Trinity would be given a very tedious life on earth so that they could merit salvation through Christ. However, a pre-existent mind that only slightly rebelled against the Trinity would be given a very brief life on earth by which they would turn back to God. And these, then, are the little children that die before and after birth. They are the ones who sinned in a lesser degree before being conceived on earth.

    [NOTE: This opinion of Origen is not held by many today – except in a corrupted form by Mormons.]

  3. We don’t really know. I think this is the theological position of most Christians. There is no easily packaged explanation for a pair of parents standing over their child’s tiny grave. There is no easy answer for a woman after miscarriage. It’s never been the position of Christians to dogmatically describe the afterlife for children other than saying: “they do not suffer and they are at peace.” We don’t know much because the Bible says nothing about it. We can only rest on the conviction that God desires all men to be saved and that He is fully aware that 51+% die before attaining the age of reason or before professing faith.

PS: If you’re interested in reading more of my posts on the topic of infant death, limbo, St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas etc., check out this series of posts: Unbaptized babies that die: 5 Theories.

What was St Nicholas like as a Young Priest: Sword and Serpent Book 3 released!

Happy feast day of Saint Nicholas!

What was Saint Nicholas like as a young priest? Could he bi-locate? Could he read souls?

These are topics that I explored in my bestselling historical novel Sword and Serpent, in which I imagined a young and clairvoyant Saint Nicholas meeting a traveling pair of young future saints: Saint George and the recently baptized Saint Christopher.

These novels explore the historical martyrdoms of Christians under the Emperor Diocletian from the point of view of St George, St Christopher, St Nicholas, St Catherine of Alexandria, St Helena, Constantine, and dozens of other men and women who will go on to be known as Catholic saints. The novels are “clean” but contain gruesome and detailed accounts of martyrdoms, Roman battles, and gladiatorial bouts. If you mixed together Catholic Saint stories, The Princess Bride, and Lord of the Rings – you’d get the Sword and Serpent Trilogy.

Sword and Serpent Book 3: released today!

The first 2 novels were Amazon best-sellers in their categories – and on the feast of Saint Nicholas, we are announcing the print version of the third and final novel in the Sword and Serpent Trilogy is released: Storm of Fire and Blood.

The consensus from the reader reviews from the ebook version is that this third novel is exhilarating, well-researched, and the best of the three in the trilogy. Some have said it is the best book that they’ve read all year:

Here are the three novels in the Sword and Serpent Trilogy:

Just like first two novels in the series: we are having a Launch Party to get the word out with prizes.

How To Join the Party and Get FREE Books (hashtag: #SwordAndSerpent #TenthRegion #StormofFireandBlood)

Here are 8 epic ways you can do epic things and win epic stuff:

1. Take an Epic #Selfie with the Book
(Prize: a Free signed copy of Storm of Fire and Blood)

HOW TO ENTER: Take a photo with the book Storm of Fire and Blood. Extra points will be awarded for costumes or exotic places. We once had one taken in front of the Colosseum in Rome! The more epic, the more likely you are to win. Take a photo, post it on Facebook and then send an email to swordandserpent+selfie@gmail.com with a link to your picture.

RULES:

  • This is not a random drawing. This is a performance-based contest that will be judged. Be epic. Get the family to dress up as Jurian, Sabra, Aikaterina, Menas, Helena, et al. and snap a selfie with the book. Or maybe take a photo of yourself holding the book in someplace amazing. If you get a photo of yourself standing next to Pope Francis holding the book, you win hands down!
  • Selfies with any version of the Storm of Fire and Blood count (printed, ebook).

2. Just Get the Book Contest (Prize: $100 Amazon Gift Card)

HOW TO ENTER: Buy just one copy of Storm of Fire and Blood and then send an email to swordandserpent+boughtbook@gmail.com simply stating “I bought a copy.” If you buy more than one copy, please send one email for each copy you bought. *If you already reviewed the novel before today and emailed me about it, you’re already entered into this contest.

You can get a copy of Storm of Fire and Blood by clicking here.

RULES:

  • You can enter for each copy purchased. (For example, if you buy four copies, send an email saying “I bought 4” in the subject line.)
  • Winner will be drawn at random on December 24.

3. St Nicholas Gift Contest (Prize: an iPad Mini mailed to your house! AND a free signed copy of Storm of Fire and Blood)

HOW TO ENTER: Several reviewers on amazon.com said that Sword and Serpent would be a perfect Christmas gift. This contest honors Saint Nicholas who is an important character in the book – it’s also his feast day this week. To win this prize, purchase at least 4 copies (1 for yourself and 3 as gifts to give away at Christmas) and send an email to swordandserpent+gifts@gmail.com. You can order copies by clicking here.

RULES:

  • You must purchase at least 4 copies to enter.
  • If you purchase multiples of 4, you can enter that many times (8 copies = 2 entries; 12 copies = 3 entries; 80 copies = 20 entries – enter how many copies you got in the subject line: “I got 8 copies as Christmas gifts” – that’s 2 entries in this prize)
  • Winner will be drawn at random on December 24 and will receive an iPad for free.

4. Review the Novel at Amazon.com (Prize: $100 Amazon Gift Card AND a free signed copy of Storm of Fire and Blood)

HOW TO ENTER: Read the book and leave a friendly review at amazon.com. Next, send an email to swordandserpent+reviewed@gmail.com with a link to your review.

RULES:

  • Please leave a review at amazon.com before December 24.
  • Even though GoodReads is not a retailer, we’ll count GoodReads reviews too. So if you review at Amazon and goodreads, that’s two entries. Way to go! Click here for GoodReeds reviews.
  • Send an email to swordandserpent+reviewed@gmail.com with a link to your review.
  • Winner will be drawn at random on December 24.

5. Write a Blog Post about Storm of Fire and Blood
(Prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card + a promo link to your blog from my blog)

HOW TO ENTER: Write a blog post about Storm of Fire and Blood with the amazon link to the book in your review. Next, send an email to swordandserpent+blog@gmail.com with a link to your review.

RULES:

  • The post does not have to be a “book review.” It can be a theological reflection or an interview with me about the book.
  • Please include this exact amazon.com link: http://amzn.to/2BFTyWh
  • Winner will be drawn at random on December 24.

6. Facebook The Book (Prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card)

HOW TO ENTER: Write an update on your Facebook wall about Sword and Serpent and include a link to the amazon link and the link to the book trailer. Next send an email to swordandserpent+facebook@gmail.com.

Please use this photo and this link to the book: http://amzn.to/2BFTyWhRULES:

Okay, there are the contests. They all end on Dec 24 2016. Get busy taking epic selfies. By the way the easiest contest to win is #3 – Just Get the Book: Storm of Fire and Blood.

To everyone who already made Storm of Fire and Blood possible and helped it get to #1, THANK YOU!

Happy winnings and Happy Advent!

Saint George, pray for us!
Taylor

Epic Book Trailer for Sword and Serpent, Book I:

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.49.35 AM

Saint George pray for us,
Taylor Marshall

Did Israel’s God have a Wife? “Queen of Heaven” in Jeremiah 7

Why Protestants reject Mary as Queen of Heaven

Most Protestants claim (as well as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses) that in the early 300s, the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine co-opted Christianity for political purposes and transformed Rome’s pagan theology, imagery and titles into Christian versions:

  1. pagan Temples became Christian Churches
  2. the title “Queen of Heaven” was transferred from the Roman goddess Magna Dea to Jesus Christ’s mother Mary
  3. Pontifex Maximus was transferred as title for Bishop of Rome
  4. patron deities were modified into patron saints
  5. The first day of the week, dedicated as “Sun-Day” became the day of Christian worship rather than the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday

Other examples could be listed. I’ve argued that Constantine was truly Christian and that paganization did not occur in The Eternal City: Rome and the Origins of Catholic Christianity. Rather, I defend the (Catholic) belief that the Holy Trinity planned from creation to use the Roman Empire as the means of salvation through the Roman crucifixion of the eternal Son of God under Roman domination.

Today we address the title “Queen of Heaven” as applied to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Protestants adhere to the principle of sola scripture (only scripture). In doing so, they search the pages of Scripture for “Queen of Heaven” and they find it in the Old Testament:

The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. (Jer 7:18)

and again:

But we will do everything that we have vowed, burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out libations to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no evil. (Jer 44:7)

The prophet Jeremiah here condemns how Israelites adopted then pagan practice of offering cakes and drink offerings to “the queen of heaven.” This “queen of heaven” was the goddess Asherah who was universally worshipped in the Middle East as a consort bride to Baal or even Yahweh.

We have, in fact, found an archeological pithos sherd found at Kuntillet Ajrud be with an inscription reading: “Yahweh and his Asherah” as depicted below:

There is biblical and archeological evidence for devotion to God’s wife Asherah. But this devotion was contrary to the monotheism practiced by Abraham, Moses, and David. The Israelite prophets were constantly recalling Israel away from worship of Asherah and back to the monotheistic worship of Yahweh.

It would seem, then, to the Protestant that the Catholic practice of calling Mary “Queen of Heaven” is a return to this banned practice in Jeremiah. Epiphanius of Salamis even writes of an early female Christian heresy around AD 375, whereby women devotees in Arabia would worship Mary and offer bread-rolls (Greek κολλυρις or kollyris) to Mary as if she were a goddess. This seems to be a holdover from worship of Asherah as described by Jeremiah.

And yet the Catholic Church does NOT give worship (Greek latria) to Mary. She receives the highest form of praise for a created human (Greek hyperdulia), since she is a human and will always remain a human. However, she is the earthly mother of the King of Heaven and Earth. And by that honor, she is Queen of Heaven.

Moreover, Revelation chapter 12 depicts the mother of the Messiah as crowned with 12 stars, clothed with the sun, and standing on the moon. She is no doubt the Queen of Heaven, just as she is also the Queen of the Jews.

And we should remember that pagan kings were also called Messiah, Son of God, King of Kings, King of Heaven, etc. and yet we do not hesitate to grant these titles to our Lord Jesus Christ.

The abuse of a term by pagans (e.g. Son of God, Queen of Heaven, Pontifex Maximus) does not forfeit their proper use by God-fearing Christians in an orthodox sense.

Question: Do you honor the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Liturgy does NOT mean Work of the People (Against Liturgical Pelagianism)

Examples of λειτουργία from the New Testament

It became quite stylish in the liturgical reforms of the 1960s and 1970s to teach that the Greek word for liturgy is λειτουργία (leitourgia) and that this word means “work of the people.” This led to the new idea that λειτουργία or “liturgy” is something that lay people should be leading and even performing within the context of worship.

Does λειτουργία mean “work of the people”? No.

Photo: Pope John XXIII Celebrating the Eastern Divine Liturgy

Liturgy certainly does not mean “work of the people,” and I’ll show you why from examples in Sacred Scripture. But before looking at Scripture, let’s look at the actual Greek word:

The Word “Liturgy” in Greek

λειτουργία, like so many words in Greek, is a composite. The first word half of the word derives form the Greek word “laos” meaning “people.” (There is also the variation of “leos” which is the Attic Greek version of the same word for “people.”) This word “laos” (or “leos” in Attic) is where we get laity and laypeople. It’s a generic word for a collection of people. The Greek name Menelaos means “withstanding the people” and the Greek name Nikolaos means “conquering the people.”

The second part of the word derives from the Greek word “ergon” meaning “work,” as in ergonomic, energy, and synergy.

When you smash the two Greek words together to describe something you get: leitourgia or λειτουργία.

Does λειτουργία mean “work of the people” or “work for the people”?

So the term contains the two Greek words for “people” and “work,” but how do we arrange it for its meaning? On one hand, it could be “work of the people,” meaning something the people work out together. On the other hand, it could be “work for the people,” meaning something done for the benefit of the people.

Option 1: Liturgy as “Work of the People”

The kumbaya (Elvis liturgy) crowd of the 1960s and 1970s insisted that it was former – something people work out when they come together. This led to the idea that lay people should lead prayers, read the lessons, prepare the altar, handle chalices, handle the Eucharist, distribute the Eucharist, bless people in the Communion line, and cleanse the vessels. After all, if liturgy means “work of the people,” then the people ought to be up there doing active work.

Option 2: Liturgy as “Work Done for the People”:

The historical, traditional, and received definition of liturgy or λειτουργία is that it is something done by one for the sake of the people. This may come as a crushing blow to the legions of Christians who were taught that liturgy was the “work of the people,” but it’s the plain truth. In Plato and other Greek authors, λειτουργία is something done by one for the sake of the people. Consequently, the Greek term is usually a priestly or political term depending on the context. And in the Bible, it is usually a priestly term, but we will examine one passage in Romans that is expressly political:

Let’s look at Sacred Scripture to settle the debate:

In the account of the birth of John the Baptist, we discover that his father Zacharias is an Aaronic priest of the tribe of Levi. As such, he serves in the Temple as a priest when it is the time of his allotment. [I explain elsewhere how this detail leads us to know that Christ as born in late December.] The passage explains that St Zacharias goes to the Temple to minister and the original Greek word is that he goes there to do liturgy:

And when his time of service (λειτουργίας) was ended, he went to his home. (Luke 1:23)

Did Zacharias gather a bunch of people to worship the Lord? No, the passage explains that his duty was to go into the Temple and offer incense to Yahweh. He did this to ceremoniously present the prayers of the people to God. It becomes obvious that his “liturgy” was something he did as a priest for the benefit of the people, not something he did as a priest with other people present.

Let’s look at another example from Hebrews:

And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship (λειτουργίας). (Heb 9:22)

This is a description of how Moses consecrated the tabernacle and vessels for divine worship in the Old Testament. The tent/tabernacle and the vessels could only be handled and used by the Levites, as they administered them for the benefit of Israel. Once again we see that λειτουργία refers to what is done by a priestly class on behalf of the laity.

The Liturgy of Christ as for the people:

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry (λειτουργίας) which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Heb 8:6)

The author describes Christ as a High Priest who now administers a better New Covenant through a better λειτουργία or Liturgy. Once again, this λειτουργία is something Christ is administering on our behalf for our salvation. Notably it is His presentation of His Body and Blood to the Father for our redemption – something that is presented in every Liturgy of the Mass.

Roman Emperor as Liturgizer:

And let’s not forget that Saint Paul calls the evil Emperor Nero a “liturgizer.” In Romans 13, Saint Paul explains how the Roman Emperor (at that time Nero) and all political rulers are “liturgizers””

3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant (διάκονός or diakonos) of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers (λειτουργοὶ or leitourgoi) of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Saint Paul identifies the Emperor as διάκονός or deacon and as all rulers as λειτουργοὶ or liturgizers. Be mindful that this Emperor was Nero, and yet he receives sacerdotal titles from Paul.

In fact, the dalmatic (which is worn by deacons) is an imperial garment traditionally reserved for the Byzantine court. I cannot find the source at the moment, but I recall reading once that Constantine was allowed to read Scripture in liturgy while still unbaptized because he was considered to be a quasi-deacon by virtue of his status as Emperor. And the Emperor in Constantinople processed with the Patriarch and the clergy, often in a dalmatic.

Back to “liturgy” in Romans 13. It’s manifest that the Roman Emperor and other Roman rulers are accorded the title of λειτουργοὶ. They are not liturgists designing services. Nero isn’t leading the people in “Gather us in, the rich and the haughty.” Rather these Roman rulers are, according to Paul, appointed by God to administer justice for the people. 

Liturgy as Something Done for People

Liturgy, at least in the Old and New Testament is something priestly or political that is done for the sake of the people. It is communal only in that it is done for others.

A priest saying the Mass alone in a Russian hotel room is doing “work for the people” without anyone else gathered together with him.

Likewise, the Pope gathered at a Mass of 10,000 people is doing “work for the people,” but the people being present doesn’t make it “liturgy.” The liturgy is accomplished in persona Christi for the people. Just as Zacharias was able to do “liturgy” all alone with his thurible in the Temple.

When Christ died on the cross, He administered a new λειτουργία for the people of the world. It was a liturgical act in which nobody participated by dancing, performing, reading from a book, or carrying a vessel. The truly “active participation” was accomplished by the Mother of God, Saint Mary Magdalene, the other women, and by the Apostle John when they lifted up their hearts to the divine Crucified Rabbi on the cross. They painfully and silently received the bloody λειτουργία of Christ on their behalf.

The time has come for us to understand liturgy as sacerdotal and as something done by Christ for His people. Cardinal Sarah summed this up recently with these words:

Liturgy is about God and His work for His people. Whoever tells us that we must celebrate ourselves in the liturgy is undermining biblical liturgy. Liturgy as “work of the people” is liturgical Pelagianism – the heresy that says that man can naturally work for his salvation.

If you’d like to learn about Sacramental Theology and earn your Certificate in Catholic Theology along the way, please join us at the New Saint Thomas Institute. We have a 2 part video on the “Mystical Meanings of the Mass according to Thomas Aquinas” waiting for you:

Learn more about our online theology courses and earn up to 6 Certificates in Philosophy, Theology, and Church History at newsaintthomas.com, the largest global online Institute for theological studies.

Godspeed,
Dr. Taylor Marshall

The Filioque as Nicene Theology for Arian Goths and the Creed of Ulfilas

A New Theory on the Filioque and the Holy Spirit

I’ve been listening to The Story of the Goths by Henry Bradley (get the audible version for free by using this link) and it’s fantastic. A recurrent theme is the fact that the Goths were Arians going back to their evangelization by the Arian missionary Ulfilas or Wulfila (“Little Wolf”).

Depiction of Ulfilas or “Wulfila” preaching to Gothic Warriors

Ulfilas was ordained by that conniving villain of a bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia – the same Arian bishop who baptized Constantine and sought to exonerate Arius. Ulfilas carried the Semi-Arian version of Christianity to the Goths and they adopted it contrary to the Faith of Rome.

The Arian Goths divided into Ostrogoths (Western/German and Italian Goths) and Visigoths (Eastern/Spanish Goths).

In AD 587, King Reccared I (Visigothic King of Spain) renounced the Arian heresy and embraced Catholicism. This marks the transition of Spain from Arian to Catholic.

I record how the old statue of Saint Luke known as Our Lady of Guadalupe was then given to Catholic Spain by Saint Gregory the Great to celebrate the conversion of Reccared and his kingdom. Learn the full story of “old and new Guadalupe” in full video “Our Lady of Guadalupe” lesson at New Saint Thomas Institute.

This conversion meant that King Reccared rejected the Arian Creed of Ulfilas and instead adopted the Orthodox Creed of Nicea and Constantinople – the same one we recite every Sunday at Mass. Two years later, historians observe the insertion of the Latin term Filioque (Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “and from the Son”) into the Nicene Creed at the Third Synod of Toledo in AD 589.

The Usual Theological Consensus on “Why Filioque?”

If you take any theological class (including my own) on the topic of Filioque, you will hear something like this typical explanation:

The Goths had been Arian since the days of Ulfilas, and thus they believed that the Son of God was created, less than the Father, and was not co-eternal or consubstantial with the Father. So when the Goths became Catholic and rejected the heresy of Arianism, they felt the need to beef up the Nicene Creed. These Gothic Catholic converts added that the “Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son” so as to establish the Son as fully God and the Holy Spirit as fully God. And this addition eventually became standard in the Latin version of the Creed – even though the Greeks protest to this day.

This is the standard historical theology narrative, and I have taught it to my students dozens of times. However, I have recently come to reject this explanation after studying Gothic Arianism and the Creed of Ulfilas. Here’s why:

New Theory on the Filioque

My new theory is that the Filioque was added so as to make the Nicene Creed o fAD 381 sound more like the Arian Creed of Ulfilas while remaining 100% orthodox. Let me explain:

1. The Nicene Creed is enough against the Arians

The Nicene Creed in its Greek (and Latin) text thoroughly demolishes the heresy of Arius. There is no room for the position of Arius within the text:

“I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father,
through him all things were made.”

Arians (beginning with Arius himself in the early 300s) hated this language from Nicea. Adding “proceeds from the Son” later into the Creed really does not add anything against the Arian case. Arians, as far as we know, did not regard the text about the procession of the Holy Spirit as a battleground text in the Nicene Creed. So something else seems to be happening with “and from the Son” or Filioque.

2. The Arian Creed of Ulfilas has a lot to say about the relationship between the Son and the Spirit:

So if “and from the Son” was not an extra prop up for the divinity of Christ, what was it? After reading a translation of the Gothic “Creed of Ulfilas,” it jumped off the page to me. I reproduce  the full known text of the Arian Creed of Ulfilas here with my comments in red:

I, Ulfilas, bishop and confessor, have always so believed, and in this, the one true faith, I make the journey to my Lord:

I believe in one God the Father, the only unbegotten and invisible.

And in his only-begotten Son [Arians used “only begotten” but in the sense of being a singular creature.], our Lord and God, [Arians said the Son of God was “a God” by divine privilege, but not “the one and only God.” For Arians this distinction of “the God” was for the Father alone.] the designer and maker of all creation [Arians grant that the creation came through the Son], having none other like him [radical Arian claim that the Son is unlike the Father], so that one alone among all beings is God the Father, who is also the God of our God). [Here again is the Arian distinction that the Father is “the God” and that the Son is “a god” by privilege our “our god” in relation to fallen humans.]

And in one Holy Spirit, the illuminating and sanctifying power, as Christ said after his resurrection to his apostles: [here Ulfilas cites two Scripture passages having the Spirit proceed from the Son or Filioque:]

“And behold, I send [Jesus does the sending of the Spirit] the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) and again,
“But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Ghost is come upon you [in the context of Jesus ascending and sending an advocate]” (Acts 1:8);

being neither God (the Father) nor our God (Christ), but the minister of Christ [Holy Spirit is a minister of Christ and related to Christ rather than to the Father]…subject and obedient in all things to the Son [Spirit subordinated to the Son]; and the Son, subject and obedient in all things to God who is his Father… (whom) he ordained in the Holy Spirit through his Christ.

So in the Gothic Arian Creed, the understanding of their “Trinity” looks like this:

In the Gothic Arian mock up, I placed a dashed line between the Father and the Son do show that this generation is not consubstantial but signals a new created substance for the Son.

Whereas the original Nicene Creed of AD 381, read strictly, looks more like this:

So what I’m suggesting is that the Filioque was added so as to make the Nicene Creed conform intellectually with the way Ulfilas’s Gothic Arians spoke of the Holy Spirit. So this Option 1:

Which can be moved around to be envisioned like this Option 2:

Option 2 has the same arrows and same processions, but different arrangement. It should become obvious that the theological jump from the Gothic Arian Creed of Ulfilas (left) to that of the Nicene Filioque Creed (center) is less of theological jump than to the Strict Nicene chart (right)

Conclusion:

To summarize then, the Filioque was introduced into Spain in AD 589 not to “prop up” God the Son’s divinity (that was already accomplished in the Christology section of the Nicene Creed), but rather to illustrate an Orthodox read to the way that the Gothic Arian Creed spoke of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son. Moreover, orthodox Catholic saints had often and approvingly spoke of the Spirit’s procession from the Son:

  • St Basil the Great
  • St Gregory Nazianzus
  • St Gregory Nyssa
  • St Hilary of Poitiers
  • St Ambrose
  • St Augustine

So the Filioque was an orthodox addition that helped the Visigoths embrace Nicene Orthodoxy. Visigoths knew that they were abandoning Arianism with regard to the Son of God, but what may have been more difficult to understand for them was how the original Nicene Creed does not explicitly express any relation between the Son and Spirit since the Gothic Arian Creed speaks only of a relation between the Son and Spirit.

All that being said, I’m fully supportive of the Filioque in the Creed because: A) it’s in Scripture, B) it’s in the great Greek and Latin Fathers, and C) the Pope has power to bind and loose dogmas, councils, patriarchs, and even Creeds.

I’m certainly open to rebuttal, objections, and criticisms. So let them roll.

Question: Is the Filioque a response to the Gothic Arian understanding of the Holy Spirit’s procession from the Son? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

In which year did Mary receive her Assumption into Heaven?

For Catholics, the bodily assumption of Mary is a historical event. The falling asleep of Blessed Mary and her assumption are just as historical as, say, the fact that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated or the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2006 World Series. One day Mary’s body lay in a tomb. The next day it did not. When did this happen? Which year?

Please join us in this short Catholic online lesson on the historical date of Mary’s Assumption, a free sample course from the New Saint Thomas Institute:

You can watch the video at YouTube as well by clicking here.

This lesson is part of our Curriculum in Church History and the Church Fathers:

If you are not already a Student Member of the New Saint Thomas Institute, and you’d like to begin your Certificate in Catholic Church history: we have good news! Our Fall Enrollment just opened this week. Please sign up while there is still room, and begin earning any of our 6 Certificates:

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Learn more and sample more video lessons and join 3,000 students in your study of Christ, His Saints, and His deposit of Faith in the Catholic Church: Join the New Saint Thomas Institute.

ad Jesum per Mariam cum Petro,
Dr. Taylor Marshall

Christology in the Book of Revelation (and in Saint Irenaeus)

Father Al Kimel has a post up on the Christology of Saint Irenaeus. Irenaeus, he notes, does not see God the Son as something needed to “protect” the transcendence of God from creation. That is, Christ is not a demiurge insulating God from the muddiness of creation.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are co-eternal.

So where is Irenaeus getting his Christology?

Irenaeus heard the teaching of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna. Perhaps Irenaeus was originally from Smyrna. Regardless, it’s universally agreed that Irenaeus was from Asia Minor.

The Christology of Smyrna (and Asia Minor) is that the canonical Apocalypse which repeatedly depicts Jesus Christ as “Yahweh” who repeats the words and actions of “Yahweh” from the books of Daniel and Ezekiel. This is why there is no subordinationism of the Son below the Father and the Spirit below the Son in Irenaeus.

The historical Jesus is Yahweh for the seven churches and seven angels/bishops of the Apocalypse.

If you’d like to learn more about the Christology of the Book of Revelation, check out my free audio commentary on the Book of Revelation: Catholic Perspective on the Book of Revelation Podcast. which begins with the “fiery apparition of Christ in chapter 1.

Dividing Eastern and Western Christianity is Not Patristic

Today we Christians often think of Christianity as “Eastern or Western” and assume that it’s always been that way. Nope. Not really.

In the first 900 years of Christianity, over 50 Popes were Greek. Greeks and Latins criss-crossed freely. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (modern France) was Greek. Saint Theodore of Canterbury (England) was Greek.

After Gregory the Great (d. 604), every single Pope for the next 200 years was Greek. These were native Greek speaking Popes celebrating Latin liturgy in Rome.

Even the Pope that crowned Charlemagne (Saint Leo III) was Greek.

Art, hagiography, architecture, liturgy, chant, music, monasticism – all of it was criss-crossing back and forth between East and West. Christianity was Christianity.

It wasn’t until the 1000s and then especially in the 1200s that the cross-pollination ceased.

If the Eastern Orthodox returned to full union with Rome, I would suspect that after many decades, there could be Greek Popes again and that art, theology, liturgy, etc. would continue to cross-pollinate. It’s natural. It’s normal. It’s healthy for Christians everywhere.

In a future post, I will explore the tradition of loooong interregnums between Popes.

11 Unusual Facts about Constantine the First Christian Roman Emperor

Constantine gets a bad rap. He’s Saint Constantine in the Eastern Churches, but just plain ol’ “Constantine” in the West. Is he an apostolic saint or an opportunistic sinner?

In the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on Constantine. I’ve taught a course three times in Rome called “History and Theology of Rome,” which touches on Constantine and his legacy. I’ve written a book The Eternal City which also explores his impact on Christianity (I was much more pessimistic about him in the book than I am now). Moreover, Constantine is a major literary character in my historical fiction Trilogy: Sword and Serpent: Trilogy.

[PS: Book III in the Sword and Serpent Trilogy is now complete and in the final editing stages – and young Constantine heavily present in the final novel.]

Since we live in times of political and ecclesiastical ambiguity, here are 11 facts about Constantine to help you see that God can use imperfect politicians (and imperfect bishops) to bring about great good:

  1. He was divorced and remarried. His first wife was Minervina, and he divorced her to marry his second wife was Fausta.
  2. Constantine killed his second wife. In AD 326, he had his first son Crispus (from his first marriage) killed. He also had his second wife Fausta killed. Both names were removed from public documentation. After Constantine had his second wife killed, he never married again until his death at age 65. (It was rumored that his son Crispus had an affair with his stepmother Fausta and that this revelation and their ordered deaths haunted Constantine to the grave.)
  3. During his early life, the Roman Empire was divided into a Tetrarchy of four emperors: two senior emperors with the title “Augustus” and two junior emperors with the title “Caesar.” Constantine’s father Constantius was the “junior emperor” or “Caesar” of the Western half of the Empire.
  4. Constantine spent his early life held captive in the East (away from his father in the West) by the senior emperor Augustus Diocletian (a great persecutor of Christians). Constantine escaped the Eastern emperors by night and fled to his father. It is said that he hamstrung every horse along the way so that he would not be caught! Constantine joined his father Constantius in York in Britain. His father died in 306 and his son Constantine was acclaimed “Augustus” or senior emperor of the Western Roman Empire by his soldiers.
  5. But Constantine needed to prove his title. Before defeating Maxentius in AD 312, Constantine saw the cross in the sky above the sun with the words “in touto nika” or,  “In this sign, conquer.” Lactantius (who tutored his sons) says Constantine was instructed to conquer under the sign of the cross during a dream. Eusebius records that it happened during the day at noon and that all the troops saw it. Either way, Constantine is said to have placed the sign of the cross or a Chi Rho on the shields of his men. Scholar Peter Weiss suggests the public “sun miracle” happened in Gaul in AD 310 and the dream happened in AD 312 before the Battle at the Milvian Bridge. That in AD 310, Constantine began to shift to monotheism based on “Sol Invictus” and that by AD 312, this monotheism had become (or was becoming) Christian monotheism.
  6. Constantine legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan in AD 313, but he began to remove pagan symbols from imperial coins beginning around the year AD 318. He gave the Lateran Palace to the bishop of Rome in AD 324. His conversion seems gradual and is in full display after about 10-12 years of rule.
  7. Constantine didn’t likely convert for political reasons as most high school history teachers will tell you. The demographics were against him. It is estimated that in AD 312, Christians composed only 10-15% of the Roman Empire’s population and fell into the lowest levels of education, wealth, and political power. The influence, wealth, and political power were still held by those checking the box labeled: “Jupiter, et al. Give me that old school Roman religion.”
  8. In AD 325, he called the first Catholic and Ecumenical Council of Nicea, which condemned the heresy of Arius falsely teaching that the Son of God was created and not eternally begotten of the Father.
  9. Constantine left three living sons (each born from Fausta):
    Constantine II (Catholic and anti-Arian). The first born.
    Constantius II (Semi-Arian). The most powerful and through his influence, Semi-Arian theology spread.
    Constans (Catholic and anti-Arian and anti-Donatist). Constans was rumored to be a man of unnatural vices.
  10. Constantine did not divide the Roman Empire into “East and West.” That had already been accomplished fully by Diocletian. Constantine, in a sense, re-united the entire Roman Empire under himself as one household or oecoumenos.
  11. Constantine fell ill and personally selected the Semi-Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia to baptize him just days before his death. He died on Pentecost AD 337.

Whatever your opinion of Constantine, it’s a historical fact that Christianity was spread to more souls by Constantine than by Saint Paul himself. This is why the Eastern Churches hail him as the “Thirteenth Apostle.” I’ll admit that this title is overly ambitious, but my opinion is that he was genuinely apostolic despite him being obviously imperfect.

Depending on your perspective: pray for Constantine’s soul or ask him to pray for you!