Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Caesarea Philippi

Luke [Lk 9:18-22] omits the name of the place where Jesus asks his disciples: "Who do the people say I am?" while Matthew [16:13-23] and Mark [8:27-33] identify the name of the place as Caesarea Philippi.

When did Caesarea Philippi receive its name as Caesaria Philippi? When Josephus mentions in War and Antiquities the construction of a new city by Philip at Paneas, Josephus names the place as Caesaria. The first mention of Caesarea Philippi in Josephus is when Herod Agrippa II is the ruler of the region. Does any other first century writer provide any information about this subject? Is the failure of Luke to mention Caesarea Philippi evidence in support of the priority of Luke because Caesarea Philippi did not receive its name until some time after Jesus' famous visit to that community and thus is evidence of anachorism by Matthew and Mark?

copyrighted 2005

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lucan Priority

The details of the various theories developed to solve the Synoptic Problem are set forth on Stephen Carlson’s .

I have wondered why Lucan priority is not given more consideration as a possibility. Anton Büsching set forth his Lucan priority theory in 1766; Locton in 1922 and Lindsey in 1973. I confess that I subscribe to Lucan priority with the Gospel of Luke being the first to appear in Greek with Matthew appearing prior thereto in Hebrew and later in Greek. Some days I think Mark is the middle player in the problem and other days I believe Mark was the last to appear on the scene. I also happen to think the problem is “intractable.” Wikipedia says “problems that are solvable in theory but can’t be solved in practice are intractable.”

My Theophilus Proposal states that Luke wrote his gospel to most excellent Theophilus, a man who served as High Priest from 37 to 41 C.E. Lucan priority is a natural byproduct of the proposal.

Wilheim Heitmuller concluded that Luke represents the earliest traditions in that Luke has no theology of the cross, no atonement theology. Considerable evidence has been assembled by Birger Gerhardsson that Luke is very much dependent upon Palestinian tradition. Adolf Schatter has shown that the text's character together with other indicators point to the author's provenance from the Jewish church.

The apostolic fathers believed that salvation was based on repentance and not solely on the ground of the death of Jesus on the cross. Robert Kraft has stated: “There is no indication in the Didache that an initial repentance connected with the idea of personal sinfulness for which Jesus' death atones was considered basic to the Christian life.”

In my humble opinion, the Theophilus Proposal with Lucan Priority in Greek allows us to date back to the earliest stage of the church the kind of lack of Pauline/Matthean/Marcan/Hebrews atonement theory that I believe must have been the view of the earliest church in Jerusalem. Otherwise, the Didache and the Ebionite data in the Pseudo-Clementina make no sense. I initially thought that the link would be evident in how the Gospel of Luke and the early church addressed the issue of repentance. This research has merely confirmed that repentance was more important in the early Church than the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. More work is necessary before one can say, as I have proposed, that there is a negative correlation between repentance and the efficacy of the atoning death on the cross.

No theory has explained the rewriting of the Hebrew MT of the outcome of the servant’s suffering in Isa. (LXX) 53:9a, 10-11b excising his sacrificial death and any notion of vicarious atonement. One synoptic writer used the LXX and consistent therewith has no atonement theology. Luke has no equivalent of the ransom saying or of Matthew's connection of Jesus' covenant blood with the remission of sins. Bart Ehrman has concluded that verses Lk 22:19b-20 was added by second century scribes. The other two synoptic writers also used the LXX but influenced by Paul included atonement theology. This is the gospel message and appropriately there are 11 instances of EUAGGELION (4 in Matthew, 7 in Mark, 0 in Luke) in the synoptics.

Those who work on the solution to the Synoptic Problem have not adequately addressed the historical theology issues. I suggest that until we understand the origin of ideas in the early church and the wealth of material from the early church we cannot begin to grasp the solution to the synoptic problem.

Copyrighted 2005

Monday, November 28, 2005

Traffic Count and other miscellaneous matters

According to an article that appeared today in MSN Money on Playboy Magazine, “sex sites account for 40% of the Internet traffic.” I suspected as much. When bloggers discuss the theological implication of harlotry, traffic to their sites jumps like a rabbit. These bloggers offer mature adult entertainment thriving on controversies about words and meanings intended by writers in the distant past and the “existence” of documents like Q. They attempt to solve problems wiser individuals have deemed intractable. They are called bibliobloggers.

Copyrighted 2005

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Chosen Vessel of the Lord

Previous approaches have failed to explain many of the nuances of Luke-Acts. From 1721, commentators have viewed Luke-Acts as a defense of Christianity to convince Roman officials who considered this new religion a threat that they had nothing to fear. In 1983, Walaskay asserted that Luke was attempting to persuade members of the church rather than Roman officials. Esler concluded that Luke-Acts is a legitimating text for Christianity.

When a particular Roman appointee, who happens to know Saul, is viewed as the addressee, all of the pieces of the puzzle are utilized, fit properly and the completed puzzle is a masterpiece. Luke writes to most excellent Theophilus to persuade him that the followers of Jesus will not bring the wrath of Rome upon Israel and in the second letter that the prosecution of Paul, the chosen instrument or vessel, should not be continued by the Temple authorities in Rome.

The motif of carrying vessels is included in a very subtle manner. Saul was chosen by the High Priest to carry letters from the High Priest to synagogues in the Diaspora. Paul, formerly known as Saul, is the “chosen vessel” of the Lord “before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” and he carries the message to Gentiles and Jews in the Diaspora. This is a clear indication that Luke does not view Saul’s mission solely to Gentiles or in rejection of his fellow Jews. C.K. Barrett observed that “Luke . . . means that Saul is the one whom the Lord has singled out for special service.”

The wording of verse 15 is re-enforced by its special placement within a literary structure. Bligh has noted that Luke has created a chiastic pattern for Acts 9:1-25 with vv. 15-16 in the vertex of the structure. Talbert’s states: “The significance of this surface structure is that its centerpiece focuses the item of central significance for the auditor of Acts: Paul’s commission.” The enemy is chosen as an emissary. Having reported earlier the warning issued by Gamaliel in the Sanhedrin [Acts 5:34-39], Luke did not have to tell most excellent Theophilus that the temple authorities in continuing the prosecution of Paul maybe opposing God.

copyrighted 2005

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Enigma of Penance

Judaism teaches that repentance is required to obtain salvation. The Gospel of Luke reaffirms the obligation of repentance. Luke stresses more than any other New Testament writer the need for repentance.[i] With Gabriel's announcement about John to Zechariah while he is serving in the Temple, Luke portrays Israel as a people in need of repentance. The need is repeated in the Song of Zechariah and is implied in John's message of repentance. Luke's theology of repentance is very Jewish.[ii] The strong emphasis on repentance in the Gospel of Luke naturally led the development of a penitential system in the early Church.

In The Enigma of the Prodigal Son, I noted that the Lucan Jesus has redefined the requirements of repentance. This interpretation undermines the foundation of the penitential system that existed unchallenged for 1500 years.

But the enigma remains. What societal needs did the penitential system fulfill?

1) Discipline: social control

Penances were harsh to prevent people from sinning.

The system was in part designed to insure the purity of the faithful in attendance for the Eucharistic feast.

2) Consolation: cure of a guilty conscience

The strongest evidence of this function is provided by the deathbed penance where an exception to the requirements allows the priest to provide psychological comfort to the parishioner believed to be on his deathbed.

In the discussion of the penitential systems of the early and medieval church, the focus has been on the mechanics with little mention of the theological framework. Because the penitential systems of the early and medieval church addressed social concerns and not theological concerns it failed in both areas.

Copyrighted 2005

[i]. The noun (metanoia) or verb (metanoeo) form appears 56 times in the New Testament. 25 are found either in the Gospel of Luke or the Acts of the Apostles.

Lk. 1:5-25; 3:1-6; 3:10-14; 5:32; 9:24-25; 10:13-15; 11: 29-32; 13:1-5; 15:1-7; 8-10; 11-32; 16:19-31; 19:1-10; 24:47. For Luke, repentance is the summary term for the response to the apostolic message: Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 11:18; 13:24; 17:30; 19:4; 20:21 and 26:20.

[ii]. Ehud Luz, 'Repentance,' in Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought, ed. Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr, (New York 1987), 785: 'Teshuvah is a central concept in Jewish religious literature and may be said to express the essence of the religious and ethical ideal of Judaism.' It was another great Jewish thinker of the 20th century, R. Joseph Soloveitehik, who said prayer and repentance are the most crucial of religious duties and represent the essence of Judaism.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Enigma of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (continued)

God shows no partiality. The Parable of the Prodigal Son does not support the notion that the younger son represents the Gentiles. The Parable is not only early but also an authentic Jesus saying. It rejects the favored younger son theme. This is consistent with the teachings of John the Baptist as reported by Luke that the sons of Abraham are not automatically granted salvation based on the merits of their ancestors.[i] This teaching is so contrary to what the Jewish people expected to hear that it must be authentic.

God has favored younger sons since Abel. He has blessed the younger sons of Israel since the inception of the covenant: Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Joseph, Perez, Ephraim and Moses.
However the Rabbi do not conclude that this fact statement is a rule of succession but rather a statement that the elder son is not automatically qualified to succeed the father. The Lucan Jesus demonstrates that the so-called favorite younger prodigal son is not more qualified and in fact, the father confirms that the first-born son will still receive the double portion for his inheritance.

If anything, the verses in Roman 9:7, 12 and Galatians 4:21-31, cited in support of the existence of a favorite younger son theme in the NT, are not only a reaction of Paul to his perceptions that the Jews had rejected Jesus but also a subtle criticism of the Lucan Jesus and his treatment of both sons as equal and entitled to the father’s love son and patience notwithstanding their alienation by sin from the Father. The message of Luke is that the universal kingdom is open to all.

Copyrighted 2005

[i] Luke 3:8.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

This year, as in years past, we recount and replay our blessings, and will do so to a full house. In addition to my wife and two college age kids, we will have five from Canton OH; four from Little Neck, NY; two from Watertown, NY and one from Folcroft, PA.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Taxing an Unfriendly Church

For those of you who missed this, yesterday's The New York Times contained this .

Churchgoers are wealthier

An economist finds a statistical correlation between income and religious service attendance.
Read it .


TaxProf Blog has this story:

“Generosity Index” Mirrors Red-State Blue State Divide

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Enigma of the Prodigal Son

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the final part of the unique Lucan triad, the parables having in common the theme of lost and found or recovered. For those who have studied the various implications, it is the story of the ultimate outcast, a person reduced in status to feeding pigs, expressed in the language of economics. Darrell Bock has said the message is that “absolute reversal results from repentance. . . .”[i]

Traditionally the second half of the Parable that focuses on the elder son has been viewed as an attack on the Pharisees. Other scholars have said the elder son represents Israel, which has been replaced by the younger, favorite son representing the Gentiles.

The older son tells his father that he has never disobeyed his commands yet he refuses the father’s “invitation” to enter the celebration. The younger son had left town to live a life apart from his family. The elder son complains that he has never been given a calf so that he could entertain his friends. The sequence demonstrates that the elder son is also alienated from his father. More importantly, the elder son has publicly insulted his father by refusing to enter the feast.

The father responds to the elder son by displaying the same kindness and love that he has shown to the younger son. The father demonstrates his equal love for both sons.

The younger son has repented simply by returning home. In the parable nothing more is required. Jesus has redefined the prevailing view of repentance. There is no longer a requirement that penitence be visibly demonstrated to be effective. Those who created the canonical and the penitential systems did not understand the true meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

[i]. Bock, Luke, BECNT, (Grand Rapids, Vol. 2 1996), 1320.

Copyrighted 2005

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Penitentials

When the Anglo-Saxon missionary monks arrived from Ireland on the Continent in 600 AD with their Penitential manuals, the people of Europe liked what they heard and read. This new system of forgiveness of sins provided the seeds of the private penance system that became the norm in the High Middle Age. I suppose one could also say that the deathbed penance, criticized by Augustine, also provided some seeds.

The Penitentials were short manuals that classified sins according to seriousness and made recommendations to the priests what penance should be imposed for the specific sin. Furthermore there was no longer a limit on availability of penance. Penance was privately imposed with no harsh disabilities and could be used frequently.
Since the Penitentials provided a way of restoration, open to all including the clergy, acceptance of this approach was guaranteed.

However, the Penitentials continued to emphasize an inordinately rigorous schedule of exercises[i] for serious sins. Since the examples presented invariably pertained to sins of sexual desire, the manual certainly demonstrate that such offenses occurred among the general population and the clergy as well over the centuries. A cleric whose adultery resulted in childbirth will do penance for seven years, but if it is without issue and not notorious, then he need only do penance for three years, one of them on bread and water.

Both the canonical and the penitential system insisted upon long periods of ascetism, fasts, abstinences, worship and charity with no access to the sacraments during the period of penance. The Penitentials, although they relaxed the requirements of the canonical system, would still be considered strict by current standards. Furthermore, both systems imposed the requirement of works of expiation upon the penitent, except in the instance of the deathbed penance.

[i] See generally Watkins, History of Penance.

copyrighted 2005

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Shepherd King

On Christ the King Sunday, the reading presented from Ezekiel 34, in Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran churches worldwide, reminds us that the term “shepherd” is intended as another image for king in the ancient Near East. The shepherd image for David derives from a common metaphor for rulers in the ancient Near East. It suggested the care, concern, and protection that a shepherd was to provide his flock of people. When the kings of Israel prove to be bad shepherds, Ezekiel declares that the Lord will assume the role of shepherd.

The image of a people, harassed and helpless without a shepherd, present in Matthew 9:36; 25:32; 26:31; Mark 6:34 and 14:27 is absent from Luke. Instead, Luke tells us, “in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." Something for us to think about as the Advent season arrives.

Copyrighted 2005

Black and Lutheran

Today, my daughter and I attended Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church near Fourth and Christian Street in Philadelphia PA. It was an experience in spirituality that I will cherish.
The church meets in a large old building dedicated in 1868 by German Lutherans and conducted services in German until the 1940’s. By the 1990’s the neighborhood and the church were abandoned but a group of black Lutherans organized a new congregation in a community that is also revitalizing. The church uses a hymnbook known as Thus Far by Faith (1999) published by Augsburg Fortress Press as an African American resource for worship.

On Palm Sunday, in 1669, an African American man named Emmanuel was baptized at a Lutheran congregation in New York. In 1832, Pastor Jehu Jones was the first black minister to be ordained in North America. He established a congregation in Philadelphia in the early 1830’s. Today there is a number of Black Lutheran churches throughout Philadelphia and well over one million Black Lutherans worldwide.

Although my daughter and I expected to be the only whites attending the services, we were pleasantly surprised to see Rev. Susan K. Ericsson, Assistant to the Bishop for Urban Mission Strategy, who preached an invigorating sermon, that was well received by the clapping of hands and amen’s throughout. The service was twice as long as the services we attend and perhaps twice as loud, in everyway different but with enough common elements that we felt comfortable and welcomed.

Copyrighted 2005

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Do Strict Churches Grow Faster?

Kelley’s (1972) Why Conservative Churches are Growing argues that mainline churches had declined, unlike conservative churches, because they were not “strict” or “serious” about their religion. In his opinion, the “placid and circumspect” character of mainline denominations did not provide the belief structure or the institutional ethos that would lead to member commitment and church growth.

I have been thinking about strict churches because the best examples of strict churches were the congregations of the followers of Jesus from the middle of the second century to the middle of the seventh century.

From the earliest years of Christianity, there has been some kind of ecclesiastical ritual available to restore baptized Christians who have committed serious sins. This ritual of forgiveness included the following requirements: sinners to feel and publicly express sorrow with explicit public confession of the details of their sins, the imposition of penitential exercises and participation in a public ritual performed after perhaps a lengthy probation period by a priest who absolved the penitent from sins.

The candidate for penance must first ask to be admitted to the order of penitents. When the bishop granted the request, the candidate would be clothed in a special penitential robe and sited with other member of the order in a reserved section of the church where each received an imposition of hands during divine service. During this period of penance, the penitent was required to observe strict abstinence and to devote himself/herself to prayers, fasting and almsgiving. The period of penance during the days of Tertullian could last a number of years but by the time of Pope Innocent I the period was typically the forty days of Lent.

At different periods in time, a different requirement was emphasized. The canonical penance system that emerged was characterized by its extreme severity. Exclusion was public as well as the performance of penitential exercises and the readmission ceremony. The most severe aspect of this system that existed from the middle of the second century to the middle of the seventh century was stated clearly by Ambrose. “There is only one penance, just as there is only one baptism.”

The Christians of this time period were certainly serious and strict about their religion. Are Conservative Churches growing today because they are serious and strict about their religion in the same sense as the Christians from the middle of the second century to the middle of the seventh century?

I wonder what the growth rate of Christianity was during this time period!

Copyrighted 2005

Friday, November 18, 2005

IRS threatens the tax exemption status of a church

The IRS has threatened to revoke the tax exemption of All Saints Episcopal Church (Pasadena, CA) because of an anti-war sermon delivered by Rev. George Regas the Sunday before the 2004 Presidential election.

Therefore I found it most interesting that 70 to 80% of the political pamphlets published during the period of the American Revolution to the election of Thomas Jefferson were either of sermons that had been preached from the pulpit or written by clergy. It should also be noted that election sermons were preached for 256 years in Massachusetts beginning in 1634 and 156 years in Connecticut. The practice began in Vermont in 1778 and New Hampshire in 1784. These were sermons preached annually to the governor and legislature after the election of officers.

A clergyman would deliver an "Election Sermon," instructing the officials of the religious implications of their public duties. Often times these sermons were pointed critiques of the government and the society. Historians believe that the Election Sermons helped pave the way for the American War for Independence. The practice died out in 1884.

I will from time to time share my findings of the sermons of the American Revolution and the Reformation.

Copyrighted 2005

A blog is part of “the press”

The biblioblogger who make political comments can now rest assured that the government will not subject them to the regulations of campaign electioneering laws. The FEC announces according to Robert Ambrogi its position and placed it on the agenda for adoption.

I know you were all concerned.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Private Confession

There are several questions I have about the practice of private confession. When did it begin? Why was the practice of private confession initiated? What happened to private confession in the Reformation period? What is the practice today?

I had noted that the Church, beginning with Basil, protected its members from public exposure, as the civil penalties were usually severe. I will return to the subject of private confession, its origin, its history, and the current practice as I have some unanswered questions.

Copyrighted 2005

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Model Sermon Collections

In my studies on penitence, I have realized that there is a wealth of material available that did not exist when I was taking graduate courses at Penn State. I had actually considered studying the sermons delivered in critical periods of history such as the before the Reformation and before the American Revolution and determining what role the clergy played in inciting the revolution. Thus I was pleasantly surprised that there are now studies on sermons preached in the period before the American Revolution as well as studies in sermons preached in the period before the Reformation.

A number of printed model sermon collections have been assembled from sermons delivered in the first seventy years of the printing press representing a critical period leading up to the Reformation. Anne T. Thayer has studied the penitential teachings found in these collections popular in the decades before the Reformation and has summarized some regional differences. Thus in Northern Europe, Thayer found that the sermons stressed contrition, satisfaction and divine intervention. Thayer stated that regions trained on such preaching tended to embrace the Reformation in the sixteenth century.

Copyrighted 2005

Friday, November 11, 2005

Actions have consequences

While the federal court in Harrisburg was deliberating the legal consequences of introducing “intelligent design” into the school curriculum, the voters in that school district, 25 miles southwest of the state capital, last Tuesday replaced eight members of the school board, demonstrating that voters have some intelligence. Pat Robertson also commented on their intelligence. He said they have rejected God.

These intelligent voters joined many others across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who voted NO, not on a school bond issue, but in a judicial retention election. This was the first time a Supreme Court Justice lost a retention election in the history of this non-partisan judicial election. It seems that the voters realized there was a connection between the Supreme Court decision holding that unvouchered expenses as a loophole to pay increases and the recent whooping pay increase the legislature voted themselves effectively immediately. The justices had said it did not violate the constitutional provisions on pay raises. The voters recognized that it was not ethical to make such a distinction. Our politicians did not think the voters were that intelligent. This is one person who has been denied his pay raise.

Our third comedy occurred in the town next door. Bill Clinton, running as a Democrat, was elected council member of the Upper Providence Township council. But the presidential Bill lost in this Township every time his name appeared on the ballot.

John Grogan of the Philadelphia Inquirer, commenting on the retention election said: “The harlots of Harrisburg have been handled a valuable life lesson. Actions have consequences.”

What did the politicians say? You can read it here.

I say that life in Pennsylvania is always interesting.

Copyrighted 2005

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Origin of the Problem with Penance

Gregory the Great was pope of the Catholic Church from September 3, 590 until his death, March 12, 604. He was the first of the popes from a monastic background. Many ideas relating to purgatory, good works, obedience and Christian conduct can be traced to his extensive writings. Gregory provided an optimistic outlook, which could make the Christian feel more secure about his future.

Gregory asserted “that, while the death of Christ could be said to free the baptized from original sin, when it came to sins committed after baptism it availed to convert the eternal punishment into temporal penalties which could be discharged in this life only by an adequate amount of suffering – either self-imposed or imposed by the Church. Penitence thus became the prelude to a forgiveness that could only be obtained or realized (perhaps one should use the term earned) in, what came to be called satisfaction (Moralia XVI)." [i]

This interpretation of salvation in terms of satisfaction was rejected by Martin Luther when he tried to fit the penitenial discipline into the framework of a doctrine of justification by faith.

[i] Brian Horne, “What has been Lost? Penance and Reconciliation Reconsidered.”

Copyrighted 2005

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Penance and Reform

John Wycliff (1330-1384) was the first of the reformers to challenge the ideas pronounced by Thomas Aquinas. Wycliff rejected inter alia, indulgences, mandatory auricular confession and the position of the priest as the intermediary between God and man. Wycliff asserted that there was no scriptural basis for compulsory confession to a priest with particular emphasis on the immorality of the clergy. Wycliff lived and preached during the period of time that Will Durant called “The Church at Nadir.”

The criticism of the reformers who followed Wycliff were directed less at abuses than at the theory and practice of sacramental confession as taught by bishops and theologians and practiced by priests and penitents. The reformers asserted that

1) confession tormented rather than consoled;
2) confession could not be mandated, rather could only be made voluntarily;
3) a complete confession is neither necessary nor possible; and
4) confession is not a necessary sequel to contrition.

Copyrighted 2005

Monday, November 07, 2005

How are the college football rankings determined?

I am a Penn State graduate and of course, I am a Penn State football fan. How are the BCS rankings determined? I asked this question on the Internet and discovered Howstuffworks In their advertisement, they say you can find out everything from engines to lock picking to bigfoot. I even found a number of articles on how penance works! However, Howstuffworks does not have any information on how to determine the dollar value of a blog, a subject that seems to fascinate some bloggers these days.

I am reading the following books:

Judaism and Christianity in first-century Rome edited by
Karl P. Donfried and Peter Richardson;
Rich and poor in the Shepherd of Hermas: an exegetical-
social investigation by Carolyn Osiek;
Soloveitchik on Repentance;
Penitence and Sacrifice in Early Israel Outside the
Levitical Law by R.J. Thompson and
Theology of Hope by Jurgen Moltmann.

Copyrighted 2005

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Church Discipline and Repentance

Church Discipline would appear to be a byproduct of repentance. An emphasis on repentance[i] naturally led to “a pre-initiation into baptism” program of instruction. It probably also led to an early system of church discipline. It also resulted in a distinction between major and minor sins and the creation of a system of penance. Finally the church, recognizing that public identification of major sinners could result in civil imposition of the death penalty, created a private system. Some of you may recognize that some of these programs explain the “whys” of recent events. It also explains the how and why penance became a sacrament in the 12th century and how the abuses led to the Reformation.

The church fathers and their successors believed that salvation began at one’s baptism. Being baptized does not mean that you will live a sin-free life. Since everyone continues to commit sins after baptism, the Church had to develop a plan for the atonement of post-baptismal sins.
The church fathers dealt with this problem by proposing repentance (i.e., penance) as the cure for post-baptismal sins. It was generally agreed that even "mortal" sins could be forgiven; however, there was some disagreement as to how many times a person could repent and be forgiven. Ambrose upheld the established church position that it had the power to remit post-baptismal sins of any magnitude. Hermas held that there could be only one opportunity for repentance after baptism. Ambrose taught that lesser sins could be repented of daily but not mortal ones. Ambrose held that there could be only one penance for mortal sins. The prevailing view of the early fathers was that one could repent and be forgiven on several occasions. By the fifth century, the Church, led by Jerome, Rusticus and Augustine, uniformly specified that a person might repent and be forgiven an unlimited number of times.

The apostolic fathers, Hermas, Clement of Rome and Polycarp, taught that in order to retain salvation from eternal judgment one had to feel sorry for and confess his post-baptismal sins to a priest and then do whatever acts of penance were prescribed by the priest. The Latin Fathers translated the NT Greek words, metanoeo and metanoia as poenitentiam agite and poenitentia, "to do acts of penance" and "acts of penance," respectively. It was not until the Reformation that those translations were given a serious and widespread challenge.

Light offenders faced different forms of censure, such as temporary exclusion from Holy Communion or varying degrees of penance, private and sometimes liturgical prayer. In dealing with the major or mortal sins of idolatry, murder, adultery, and apostasy, Church leaders differed concerning the form of punishment. However, the Church, beginning with Basil, protected its members from public exposure, as the civil penalties were usually severe.

Thomas Aquinas asserted penance is a sacrament. The words of the priest, “I absolve you,” according to Aquinas, constituted the sacrament because the absolution works to cause grace in the sinner. For Aquinas, only the formula, “Ego te absolvo” shows that the penitent has been absolved, not only symbolically but also in fact.

Copyrighted 2005

[i] The apostolic fathers believed that salvation was based on repentance and not solely on the ground of the death of Jesus on the cross.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Church Discipline and the First Amendment

The Biblical basis for shunning is found in these two verses: "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat" (I Corinthians 5:11)
"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and of fences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them." (Romans 16:17)

In Kentucky a former member of the Amish community has filed an action challenging the practice of excommunication as applied to church members who are owners of stores serving the public who selectively refuse service to former members of the Amish community. The allegation being made is that this action is a violation of Kentucky’s Civil rights Act for denial of service in a public place for religious reasons. See details at Religion Clause. The store owner claims the church teachings require her to refuse service or risk eternal damnation. Thus the defense says the practice of shunning even in places of public accommodation is protected by the First Amendment.

Was the practice of shunning a practice of the early church?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Luther and the penitential system

The abuse of the penitential system of the medieval church was a substantial factor in bringing about the Reformation.
Luther addressed the issue in his Babylonian Captivity announcing at the beginning that there were, not seven sacraments of the Church, only three: baptism, penance and the Lord’s Supper. By the end of his book, he had reduced the three sacraments reduced to two. Luther could find no dominical authorization for the practice and he recognized that the early Church knew only two sacraments. In one of his works, Luther asserts God’s absolution is absolute and no human being can or is required to make restitution to God for their sins.

Yet the Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession as well as the local ecclesiastical ordinances affirmed the existence of three sacraments that included penance. The sacrament of penance also receives favorable mention in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification adopted by Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. The Lutheran understanding of penance is therefore too complex and a major portion of its complexity stems from Luther himself.

“The Gospel of Repentance is the traditional view of Christianity.” The apostolic fathers believed that salvation was based on repentance and not solely on the ground of the death of Jesus on the cross. Robert Kraft has stated: “There is no indication in the Didache that an initial repentance connected with the idea of personal sinfulness for which Jesus' death atones was considered basic to the Christian life.” The belief of the apostolic fathers was probably influenced by the writings of Saint Luke.

Perhaps, you now understand why it is necessary to set forth a history of penance from the animal sacrificial system in early Israel to the Second Temple period, NT writers, the early church as represented by the Shepherd of Hermas and Tertullian to the time of the Reformation. This is an ongoing project.

Copyrighted 2005

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Turn from your evil ways

One of my friends has repeatedly asked me to comment on the Grand Jury Report released by the District Attorney of Philadelphia. See report . He feels that the District Attorney abused her discretion in releasing the 418 page report. If no criminal charges are being filed, he feels it is wrong to publicize the evidence of clergy conduct. Perhaps the District Attorney thinks it is outrageous that in Philadelphia, sexual abuse crimes against children have statutes of limitation but parking tickets do not.

I have always felt that the best lawyering is done behind the scenes. Many people forget that just a few short months ago, the District Attorney was ready to indict the Cardinal who was the Archbishop of Philadelphia. Was the decision not to indict and instead file a report, the result of an “agreement” between the Archdiocese and the District Attorney? If so, while dioceses in other American cities including Boston are paying out millions of dollars to settle clergy abuse cases, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is off scot-free, a truly cheap economic resolution that saves millions of dollars but no souls.

We now know that as a result of this “agreement” 45,000 pages of secret church records that document the clergy abuse of hundreds of children were not released. I suspect, if the truth were told, in other towns, the church officials were informed that if the clergy abuse cases are not settled, that indictments will follow. The cost of this agreement, if it were an agreement, will be more expensive than the cost paid in those catholic communities where real dollars are being spent.

Copyrighted 2005

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

All Saints Day

This is my favorite day of the year. I always attempt to take this day off from work. It is a day we remember harlots and drunkards who became saints. I have always said when they make Martin Luther a saint, I will become a catholic! Isn’t that what the church does as a missionary tool? Why do we celebrate? On this day, we realize that we sinners can be saints.

Copyrighted 2005

Spends all of his money on harlots

I been meaning to read and understand Alan Bandy’ article on “” in an attempt at understanding what are truly allusions.

Susan McLean notes: “The word ‘Prodigal’ appears more often in The Merchant of Venice than in any other play of Shakespeare's, yet the relevance to the play of the parable of the Prodigal Son has excited little critical attention.” The Merchant of Venice, a Christian comedy, is constructed around opposite value systems. This is probably true for many of Shakespeare’s plays.

In borrowed lawyer robes, Portia proclaims:

“The quality of mercy is not strain'd,It droppeth as the gentle rain from heavenUpon the place beneath. It is twice blest;It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

Shakespeare’s story of the prodigal sons and daughters is about transgression and forgiveness. It may also provide a clue to understanding OT allusions.

copyrighted 2005