The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Eighth Article – The Holy Ghost

With the eight Article the portion of the Christian Creed in which we directly confess our belief in the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity is concluded.   Since the Creed is Trinitarian in its structure, the last four Articles fall under the section of the Holy Ghost but, although they cover matters that are related to the present ministry of the Holy Ghost, they do not expand upon the eighth Article in the same way the third through seventh Articles expand upon the second.


In the Apostles’ Creed the eighth Article is as simple as possible – Credo in Spiritum Sanctum.   Thomas Cranmer’s rendition of this in our Book of Common Prayer is similarly simple and straightforward – “I believe in the Holy Ghost”.   It is in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed that matters get more complicated, not only because more is said about the Holy Ghost, but because the Latin version of this Creed, from which our English version is translated, adds a word that is not there in the Greek original, which addition broke the fellowship between the Greek and Latin speaking Churches a thousand years into Church history, which Schism has yet to be healed, but persists to this day.   The Greek version, most of which was put in the Creed at the First Council of Constantinople for the Nicene original was simply the equivalent of the Article in the Apostles’ except using the word for “and” rather than “I believe”, is Καὶ εἰς τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον, τὸ Κύριον, τὸ ζῳοποιόν, τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον, τὸ σὺν Πατρὶ καὶ Υἱῷ συμπροσκυνούμενον καὶ συνδοξαζόμενον, τὸ λαλῆσαν διὰ τῶν προφητῶν.   Here is how the Book of Common Prayer rendition of this would go if it did not include a translation of the extra word from the Latin version: “And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets.”   The actual Book of Common Prayer rendition is “And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets.” I have italicized the translation of the additional word in the Latin, which is Filioque, for which reason the theological dispute at the heart of the Great Schism is called the Filioque Controversy.


Before looking more closely at what the Creed says about the Holy Ghost I should say something about the way the Book of Common Prayer translates the Greek Πνεῦμα and the Latin Spiritus (1).   “Ghost” in English, which is cognate with the German “Geist” – think “Zeitgeist” or “Spirit of the Age” - was originally a synonym for spirit that was used for any sort of spirit.   In recent centuries its usage has come to be mostly limited to a certain type of spirit – the spirits of the dead, and usually more specifically than that, the spirits of the dead manifesting themselves in some way to the living on earth.   Obviously, when we speak of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity as the Holy Ghost, it is with the older meaning of the word, not the more recent narrower meaning.   Many, wishing to avoid potential confusion, prefer to just use “Spirit”, transliterating rather than translating the Latin.   I think that this exaggerates the potential for confusion and that it is a lazy way of handling it as it is not difficult at all to explain the older meaning of the word.  Neither rendition is wrong and whichever you use in no way affects Pneumatology – the doctrine of the Holy Ghost – of course.   My aesthetical and liturgical preference is for the older term.  It just sounds better, like the “quick” in “the quick and the dead”.


The original Nicene Creed had been composed by the First Ecumenical Council of the Church which had been convened primarily to deal with the Arian heresy which pertained to the deity of the Son.   The Arian heresy did not just die out after the Nicene Council and, indeed, there was a period between the First Ecumenical Council and the Second where it came to predominate.  The Arians in this period divided among themselves.  Some who continued to hold to Arius’ original position that Jesus was a created being, a small-g god, came to be known as Anomoeans from their insistence that Jesus was ἀνομοιος – of a different nature – to God the Father.  Others accepted the Nicene Creed but altered the word ὁμοούσιον – “being of one substance”, i.e., with the Father, to ὁμοιούσιον – “being of a similar substance”.   These were often called Semi-Arians.   In 335 AD they were able to depose the leading orthodox theologian of the day, St. Athanasius, from his See in Alexandria.   In 342 AD they were able to have one of their own, Macedonius I, installed as Bishop of Constantinople.   Those who are unsound on the Second Person of the Trinity are seldom sound on the Third and Macedonius would lend his name to the heresy of Macedonianism which claimed that the Holy Ghost was not a Person, nor co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, but an impersonal force created by the Father, which served the Father and the Son.   The heresy of the Macedonians – also called Pneumotachi from the Greek for “combatting the Spirit” – was soundly rebutted by the Cappadocian Fathers, especially St. Basil the Great of Caesarea and St. Gregory of Nyssa, and one of the main reasons for convening the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople, was to formally condemn the Macedonian heresy and revise the Nicene Creed to more fully express the orthodox view of the Holy Ghost.


Everything added to the eighth Article by the First Council of Constantinople was for the purpose of making plain that the Holy Ghost is a Person co-equal, co-eternal, and co-substantial with the Father and the Son.   The first thing said about Him is that He is τὸ Κύριον – “The Lord”.   As we saw when we looked at the second Article, this is the word that the translators of the LXX wrote wherever the Holy Name of God was found in the text, following the Jewish custom of saying the Hebrew equivalent whenever the text was read aloud, which custom survives in our Authorized Bible which in most Old Testament instances puts LORD in allcaps rather than Jehovah where the Name is found.   Each Person of the Trinity is both Lord and God.   In St. Paul’s epistles, the Apostle regularly uses the Greek word for “God” for the Father, and the Greek word for “Lord” for the Son, but not so consistently or in such a way as to suggest that the Father is not “Lord” or that the Son is not “God”.   The Fathers who composed the Creed followed the Pauline usage in declaring there to be “One God” – The Father, and “One Lord” – The Son, Who is “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God”, i.e., equally God with The Father.   Here they have done the same and declared The Holy Ghost to be equal with the Son and therefore equal with the Father with Whom the Son is equal by saying of the Holy Ghost that He is that of which the Son is the One.


The next phrase, τὸ ζῳοποιόν, “the Giver of Life” is in this Article the functional equivalent of “Maker of heaven and earth” in the first Article and “through whom all things were made” in the second.   It affirms the Holy Ghost’s role in Creation.   Just as St. John’s Gospel, in declaring that it was through the Word (the Son) that all things were made pointed back to the first chapter of Genesis where God creates everything by speaking – i.e., “Let there be light” – so when St. John records Jesus saying “It is the Spirit that quickeneth” (Jn. 6:63), “quickeneth” meaning “gives life”, this points back to the second chapter of Genesis where God “formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul”. (v. 7).   The words for “spirit” in the Biblical languages are the same words that mean “breathe” and “wind”.


This brings us to the controversial, Schism-generating, section of the Article.   Before delving into the rightness or wrongness of the filioque let us consider what the conciliar Fathers were getting at by borrowing the language of procession here from Jn. 15:26.   The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are Three Persons, each distinct from the Others – The Father is not the Son nor the Holy Ghost, the Son is not the Father or the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost is neither the Father nor the Son – Who are co-equal, co-eternal, and co-substantial, each of Whom is fully God rather than a part of God, but Who are One God, not Three Gods.   We being finite beings, constrained by the limits of Creation, cannot fully grasp God, Who is infinite and outside Creation, but the closest we have to an understanding of how One God is Three distinct Persons, is that the essence of God – that which makes God God – is something the Father has of Himself, which He eternally shares with the Son and the Holy Ghost so that it is the Father’s divine essence, not a duplicate copy, that the Son and the Holy Ghost each possess, and that this sharing or communication of essence eternally occurs through the process, for lack of a better word, by which the Son is distinguished in Person from the Father, and the Holy Ghost is distinguished in Person from the other Two Persons.   Now, the process by which the Son is distinguished from the Father, and through which the Father’s divine essence is communicated to the Son so that the Father and Son are distinct Persons, but the same God, is called Eternal Generation, a term that refers to a father’s begetting a son, which is eternal in this case because there never was a moment before which the Son existed when the Father did not have a Son.   Clearly, since the Son is the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, the process by which the Holy Ghost is distinguished in Person and the divine essence is communicated with Him is not Generation but something else.   The Creedal term for this is procession.   Theologians also use the term “Spiration”.   The purpose of this term is to express the Scriptural idea of the Holy Ghost as the “Breathe of God”.   Again, the ideas of spirit, breathe, and wind – invisible forces that are seen in their visible effects in the world – are expressed by the same words in the ancient languages.   Jesus said “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (Jn. 4:24).   Now if God is a Spirit, and gives life to the man He created out of the dust by breathing into him, what else could this Breathe of the God Who is a Spirit be, but a Spirit Who is God?


In the original Greek of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed it says that the Holy Ghost is He: τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον – “who proceedeth from the Father”.   This is exactly what Jesus said of Him in Jn. 15:26.   Does that mean that the Latin Church fell into heresy by adding Filioque – “and the Son”?


The Eastern Church certainly answers this question with a strong affirmative.   Certainly the Latin Church erred in terms of protocol.   The original Nicene Creed had been composed by a General Council, the revised Nicene-Constantinopolitan version that we usually just call the Nicene Creed today was revised by the same type of Council with the same authority.  To further amend the Creed the way the Latin Church did should have been done through another General Council, but it was not.   That does not make the addition heretical.   Nor does the fact that there is no “and the Son” in Jn. 15:26, because there is no “only” in Jn. 15:26 either.


What we in the West don’t always understand well about the Eastern Church’s position regarding the Filioque is that the serious error they accuse us of is more about the Father than the Holy Ghost.   They place a strong emphasis upon the Father’s being the sole source of the divine essence shared by the Trinity.   None of the Three Persons had a beginning, but the Son and the Holy Spirit both receive the divine nature of the Father from the Father.   Think of how the Quicumque Vult puts it:


Pater a nullo est factus: nec creatus, nec genitus. Filius a Patre solo est: non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus. Spiritus Sanctus a Patre et Filio: non factus, nec creatus, nec genitus, sed procedens. 


In the Book of Common Prayer this reads:


The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten.

The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created, but begotten.

The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.


Although this is the Western framework the point that the Eastern Church places so much emphasis on still comes across here – The Father is God of Himself and no one else, the Son and the Holy Ghost are God and as God, like the Father are neither made nor created, but they are both of the Father, Who alone is of Himself alone.   The Eastern Church thinks that the Western Church has detracted from this by saying that the Holy Ghost proceeds from both the Father and the Son.


I do not think the Eastern Church, as much respect for her as I have, is right on this, for two reasons.   The first is that as just noted, the Father’s uniqueness in the Trinity as the Sole Person Whose deity has no source in any Person other than Himself comes across strongly in the text just cited from the Athanasian Creed, which is clearly well within the Western tradition with its Filioque.   The second is that Procession, when used of the Holy Ghost in discussing intra-Trinity relationships, is clearly the same thing as Spiration.   Think of the Second Person of the Trinity.   He is the Eternal Son of God.   He is also the Eternal Word of God.   When we speak of Him as God’s Eternal Son we use the word Generation to describe how He was Eternally Begotten of the Father.   We could also, if we wished, describe Him as the Word as being Eternally Spoken of the Father.   For some reason we don’t usually talk about Him that way but we would be well within Biblical orthodoxy if we were to do so.  We would not say, however, that Jesus being Eternally Spoken as the Word is different from His being Eternally Generated as the Son.   If someone were to try and claim that we would recognize immediately that he was speaking an absurdity.  The most we would say is that His being Eternally Spoken and Eternally Begotten are two different aspects of the same thing.   The same thing is true of Procession and Spiration with regards to the Holy Ghost.   In the twentieth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, the Resurrected Jesus tells His disciples – except St. Thomas who was not present on the occasion - that as the Father sent Him, so He was sending them.   Then St. John records:


And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: (v. 22)


In this verse the Son clearly breathes out the Holy Ghost upon His disciples.   If the Holy Ghost can be said to be breathed out by the Son as by the Father, then He proceeds from the Father and the Son, for Procession and Spiration are the same.


In recent dialogue between the East and West it has come out that the wording “Who proceeds from the Father through the Son” would be more acceptable to the East than the Filioquue as it currently stands.   Whether having found a wording that is acceptable to both sides will eventually end the Controversy and heal the thousand year Schism remains to be seen. 


In the remainder of the Article, we confess the equality of the Holy Ghost with the Father and Son – “with the Father and the Son together He is worshipped and glorified” and His Old Testament ministry “Who spake by the prophets”.


We shall discuss His New Testament ministry when we turn to the next and ninth Article about the Church.   For now, let us close by saying that for sixteen centuries, all the ancient orthodox Churches – Greek, Latin, Middle Eastern – have confessed their faith in the Holy Ghost, co-equal, co-eternal, and co-substantial with the Father and the Son, in the words of the Article we have just looked at, and for the past five centuries the orthodox Churches of the Reformation have done the same.   In the last century we have seen the rise of new enthusiasts who have accused all Christians prior to them of not teaching the Holy Ghost because these Christians of long ago believed that Christianity was about Jesus Christ and not about exciting experiences, signs, miracles, wonders, personal revelation, falling on the floor, barking like a dog, raising millions of dollars on television to waste on vanity projects and the like.    Clearly these accusations against past generations of orthodox Christians are false.


(1)   The Greek and Latin words have the same meaning, but the Latin is masculine – fourth declension not second - and the Greek neuter.   This is why Spiritus appears as Spiritum in the Creed.   As the object of Credo it is in the accusative case, which for masculine nouns is different from the nominative case, which is the lexical or dictionary form of the word, and hence the one used when not directly quoting a text that uses another case.   The Greek also uses the accusative case in the Creed because the same rule applies, but in both languages neuter nouns always have the same spelling in the nominative and accusative cases.



Monday, May 22, 2023

The Seventh Article – The Second Coming

The second Article of the Christian Creed is, in the version of the Creed we call the Apostles’, “and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord”.   The next five Articles after this one, comprise a lengthy clarifying statement of Who this Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, in Whom we confess our faith, is.   Together these make up six of the twelve Articles, or half the Creed.   The seventh Article, which is our subject today, is the last of these.


The seventh Article pertains to a matter which has proven very controversial and divisive among Christians especially in the last century and a half.   The controversy and division is not usually over the content of the Article, which is a fairly simple assertion, but about the very complex systems of interpretation that theologians have built up around it.


The Article in the Apostles’ Creed is inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.   Our Book of Common Prayer renders this in English as “From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”   The inde or “From thence” points back to the previous Article in which Jesus is confessed to have ascended to Heaven where He sits at the right hand of God.   The Nicene-Constantinopolitan version of this Article is καὶ πάλιν ἐρχόμενον μετὰ δόξης κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς· οὗ τῆς βασιλείας οὐκ ἔσται τέλος.   In the Book of Common Prayer this is translated as “and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.”   As you can see, the Article is quite simple in both Creeds.   In most cases the extra words in the conciliar Creed simply make explicit what would already be understood in confessing the material common to both Creeds, i.e., that the predicting coming is πάλιν –again – and μετὰ δόξης  - with glory.   The longest piece of additional material in the conciliar Creed - οὗ τῆς βασιλείας οὐκ ἔσται τέλος – whose kingdom shall have no end – is an assertion implicit in calling the Son of God by the title “Christ” for this is precisely what “Messiah” or “Christ” means, the predicted “Anointed One” who would arise from David’s seed to rule as king over Israel and all the earth forever.


This is about as basic as a confession of faith in the Second Coming gets.   The First Coming of Christ was in humility, to submit to arrest, false accusations, unjust condemnation, torture, and death on the Cross, to accomplish our salvation.   The Second Coming will be in judgement on both those living at the time – it just doesn’t sound right to refer to these in English in any other way than the expression used in the Book of Common Prayer here and in the Authorized Bible “the quick” – and the dead.   This is precisely what the New Testament says about the Second Coming and so we find in this Article about the Second Coming the entire Quattuor Novissima (Four Last Things) – Death, Judgement, Heaven, Hell – encapsulated.


It is when eschatology goes beyond a simple assertion of belief in the Second Coming, the Final Judgement and by implication the Four Last Things, and the eternal Kingdom of Christ that matters get controversial.


The writers of the New Testament speak of the Second Coming as an event they expect to live to see.   This is not because they had been misled about the timing of the event, as liberals who reject the infallibility of the Scriptures claim, much less because they were right about the timing and it took place two millennia ago as preterism, a deadly heresy of our own day claims.   It is because they paid heed to what Jesus Himself had said about this event – that the timing was a total mystery, unknown to anyone but the Father,  and that rather than unprofitably looking into this, they should maintain an attitude of watchfulness, expecting His Coming at any moment, because it will come like a thief in the night.   These instructions, clearly, were not just for the Apostles, or even for all of Jesus’ first generation disciples, but the entire faith society that Christ would establish through the Apostles, the Church.   The instructions were intended to show us how to avoid the opposite errors we were most likely in our fallen human nature to fall into the further away we got from the Ascension without the Second Coming having occurred, the error of abandoning our watchfulness on the assumption that it having been so long it will be still longer until He comes if He does at all, and the error of thinking that the closer we get to the Second Coming the less the warnings against date-setting apply.


Attempts to develop a more detailed eschatology than what we find in the Creed inevitably involve attempts to decipher and interpret the Book of Revelation, the last book in the published order of the New Testament, taken by nearly everybody to be the last book of the Bible to have been written – it is usually dated to the 90’s of the first century – and the last book of the New Testament to be accepted as canonical by the Church.   It is also the hardest book of the New Testament to interpret or rather the easiest book to misinterpret.   It is written in vivid allegorical imagery, the meaning of some of which is explained in the text, for example, that the dragon refers to Satan, while much of it is left without such explanation, and all or nearly all of it, makes allusion in one way or another to something in the Old Testament.   There has never been a true consensus as to its meaning.   The terms premillennialism, a-millennialism, and postmillennialism, denoting the three major competing systems of eschatology, pertain to the interpretation of the thousand years of the twentieth chapter of the Book of Revelation.   None of these can truly claim to be the small-o orthodox, or small-c catholic view, if we use the Vincentian canon as the standard of what is small-o orthodox and small-c catholic.   The tests of the Vincentian canon are antiquity, universality, and consent.   Premillenialism passes the test of antiquity.  It was the view held by the Apostolic Fathers or at least the Apostolic Fathers whose views on the matter can be determined from their extent writings – St. Justin Martyr, St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Papias of Hierapolis, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas – and by many of the most important second century Fathers, including St. Irenaeus, St. Hippolytus of Rome and the apologist Tertullian.   It fails the test of universality, however, having virtually disappeared for most of Church history.   If any of these views passes the test of universality it is a-millennialism, but it arguably fails the test of antiquity, for while very old, there is no evidence of it prior to the second century, and the earliest evidence for it is among heretics like Marcion of Synope.   The version of a-millennialism that grew to become near universal arguably owes its influence in the orthodox ancient Churches to St Clement of Alexandria and especially his protégé Origen.   Origen’s reputation as a doctor of the ancient Church – he was her first real systematic theologian – helped a-millennialism to overcome the bad reputation of its early heretical associations around the time that the premillennialism of the Apostolic Fathers and the succeeding generation fell into disrepute through association with the Montanist sect.   Postmillennialism passes none of the tests, none of the three interpretations pass all three.   In this, perhaps, we see the wisdom of the Lutheran tradition in taking the same position with regards to the antilegomena – the books of the New Testament whose canonicity was disputed in the early centuries – that all orthodox Protestants take with regards to the deuterocanonical or ecclesiastical books of the Old Testament, i.e., leave them in the Bible instead of removing them like hyper-Protestants, but do not apply to them to establish a doctrine. (1)  Nothing in the Creed requires support from the antilegomena for its establishment.   Neither premillennialism nor a-millennialism nor postmillennialism can be established without interpreting the most difficult of the New Testament antilegomena.


Contrary to a claim that is often heard, chiefly among Eastern Orthodox theologians, the phrase “whose kingdom shall have no end” was not added to the conciliar Creed to condemn chiliasm, as premillennialism was called in the early Church.   The phrase was added to the Creed by the Council of Constantinople (381 AD), and one of the heretics condemned at that Council was Appollinaris of Laodicea, but Appollinaris was condemned for denying the full humanity of Jesus Christ, not for his eschatology.   It was the third Article of the Creed, not the seventh, that was expanded to counter Appollinaris.   The phrase “whose kingdom shall have no end”, taken from the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary in the first chapter of the Gospel According to St. Luke was added to counter a different heretic, Marcellus, who taught that the Trinity was a temporary arrangement, that Christ’s Kingdom would end when the Son handed the Kingdom back to His Father, and dissolved His Personhood into that of the Father.   (2) By the time the Second Ecumenical Council rolled around, chiliasm had become a minority viewpoint, but it was certainly not condemned by the Council.   It was still taught by the leading Western theologian of the day, St. Augustine of Hippo, who did not renounce it for a-millennialism until early in the next century amidst the events that led him to write The City of God.  


Indeed, the beauty of the simplicity of the seventh Article of the Creed is precisely that it does not speak to matters such as these one way or another but simply affirms what is essential to the Christian Faith with regards to the Second Coming.


One of the reasons for the shift away from chiliasm and towards a-millennialism in the centuries leading up to the first Ecumenical Councils was the growing idea that the premillennialists were repeating the mistake of the first century Jews.   The first century Jews were looking for the Messiah to come as a Conqueror Who would deliver them from the rule of Gentile empires like the Roman, restore David’s Kingdom, and establish that Kingdom over all the earth so that the tables were turned and the Gentile nations would come pay homage to the Son of David in Jerusalem.   Those who rejected Jesus as the Christ, did so because His Coming was very different from that, He came and submitted to the injustice of being tortured and crucified, to offer Himself up as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.   Those who held to chiliasm believed that the mistake of these Jews was to fail to recognize that Christ would come twice and to miss Him because they were looking for Him as He would appear at His Second Coming.   The a-millennialists came to believe that the mistake of the Jews was deeper than this, that they were wrong to look for a political deliverer rather than a spiritual Saviour, and that the chiliasts were wrong to borrow Jewish apocalyptic millenarianism and apply it to the Second Coming of Christ.


In our day that reasoning has been pressed to an extreme that goes much further than the a-millennialists would allow for into a denial not just of premillennialism but of the Second Coming as we confess it in the seventh Article of the Creed.   The origins of this heresy go back to the Counter Reformation in which Jesuit theologians in response to certain Protestants who misapplied various negative characters in the Book of Revelation to the Roman Communion and its leadership argued that the passages these Protestants were misapplying referred to first century individuals and institutions and so were long-fulfilled.  Later, this sort of argument would catch on in response to the revival of premillennialism in the nineteenth century.   The revival of premillennialism was itself a response to the spread of the apostasy of liberalism throughout Protestantism.  Many conservative Protestants looked to premillennialism to help understand this apostasy and in the hopes that it would provide them with a means of combatting it.   While some turned to premillennialism in basically the same form that it had in the early centuries of the Church, newer forms of premillennialism were also developed.   The one that gained the most influence among evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants is the dispensationalist premillennialism taught by John Nelson Darby, the Church of Ireland curate who became one of the founders of the hyper-separatist sect the Plymouth Brethren and popularized among other Protestants by the Scofield Reference Bible.   This form of premillennialism is characterized by a hermeneutic that makes hair-splitting distinctions and consequently multiplies events – it divides the Second Coming in two, His Coming for the Church then at a later date His Coming in Judgement, it divides the Final Judgement into at least two Judgements, usually more,  and so on.   The most important flaw in its theology, however, is that it interprets the present period – the Church Age or the Age of Grace, between Pentecost and The Rapture – as a parenthesis in the Age of Law, which will be resumed and wrapped up after the Rapture.  One of the implications of this, that has become more explicit in dispensationalist theology over time, is that it treats the God of the Bible as being basically a tribal deity, Who only really cares about national Israel, and Who has allowed other nations to worship Him in the present for the purpose of making national Israel jealous.   This contrasts heavily with the strong Old Testament emphasis that the God Who made a Covenant with Israel was the God of the whole world Who made His Covenant with Abraham and his descendants in order to bless all the nations of the world.   Similarly, the idea of the Age of Grace as a parenthesis in the Age of Law is a direct contradiction of St. Paul’s third chapter in his epistle to the Galatians in which the Law is the parenthesis in God’s program of salvation based on Promise and Grace.   One error breeds its opposite, and in response to this departure from historic, traditional, and Scriptural orthodoxy, several theologians adopted the old Jesuit preterism and flushed it out into the claim that all Biblical prophecy has been fulfilled, that the Second Coming and the Final Judgement and the Resurrection all took place in the first century, in the destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70.  Dispensationalism thought up multiple versions of the Second Coming, the Final Resurrection, the Final Judgement, and every other simple eschatological concept, needlessly complicating it all, in order to fit everything into its idea of a Divine Program of History that is ultimately all about national Israel.   The preterists, by contrast, collapsed every prophesied event – the Second Coming, the Final Resurrection, and the Final Judgement – into a single event, the divine Judgement on national Israel in the destruction of the Temple, also making everything about the national Israel.  It is quite obvious from the standpoint of historical, traditional, orthodoxy that dispensationalism and preterism share the same unhealthy obsessed fixation on national Israel, albeit approaching it from opposite perspectives.   Preterism, however, takes it to the point of denying an Article of the Creed.   For all the flaws of the dispensationalist version of premillennialism, it does not do this.   Saying that there will be a temporary earthly version of the Kingdom of Christ on this earth before it is translated to the New Earth is not a denial that the Kingdom of Christ will have no end.


Preterism in its denial of the seventh Article of the Creed is heresy.   While all heresy is serious this is a particularly deadly one.  Every heresy contains a germ of truth for that is the nature of heresy, to take a truth and twist it and distort it until it becomes a denial of other truth.   In this case, the truth is that Jesus spoke prophetically about the destruction of the Temple and the events of AD 70 in general.   Several of His parables refer to these events and a plainer prediction of the destruction of the Temple was what promoted His disciples to ask Him about when this would occur and when His Coming would be.   He answered both questions in the Olivet Discourse.   Preterism takes this truth, and twists it to claim that the judgement upon Israel for rejecting Christ in the destruction of the Temple was the Final Judgement and fulfilled all prophecy of the Second Coming including the prophecy of the Final Resurrection which nothing that took place on AD 70 even remotely resembles.  (3)   This repeats the error of Hymeneaus and Philetus that St. Paul warned St. Timothy against: “whom concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some”. (II Tim. 2:18).   It tells Christians not to take the attitude of watchfulness that Jesus Christ enjoined upon His followers.   By telling Christians that there is no future Second Coming to look for they tell them to disregard what St. Paul wrote to St. Titus that the “grace of God that bringeth salvation” and which hath “appeared to all men” i.e., in the First Coming of Christ, teaches us “that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works”. (Tit. 2:12-14).   By denying to Christians what St. Paul calls our “blessed hope” preterism leaves Christians with no hope.  Hope is essential to Christianity, being linked forever by St. Paul with the faith by which we trust in the grace of God and the charity, or Christian love, from which all good works must flow, in the final verse of his much beloved chapter on that love (1 Cor. 13).  Preterism, however, essentially takes the words Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate (Abandon all hope, ye that enter here) that Dante inscribed on the entrance to hell in his Inferno, and writes them over the door of the Church.


Against the preterist heresy small o-orthodox Christians profess our faith that the same Jesus Christ Who visibly ascended to Heaven forty days after His bodily Resurrection will just as visibly return from Heaven in the same Resurrected body.   The first time He came, He came to be the Saviour of the world.   In His Second Coming He comes as Judge of the world.  The Final Judgement is a Judgement of the whole world – not just of the generation of Israel that rejected Him- but of everybody, “the quick” – those living at the time - and “the dead” – everybody who had ever lived and died (2 Tim. 2:1).   The dead will be raised for this Judgement, as prophesied, both in the Old Testament (Dan. 12:2) and the New (Jn. 5:28-29).   The Judgement will be of everyone’s works, everything they had done including their thoughts and words (Matt. 12:36), because that is the nature of judgement.   Since the Judge of the whole world is Perfect in His Justice, we know that this Judgement will not be as depicted in some pagan mythologies, where one’s good deeds are weighed against one’s bad deeds, with the outcome determined by which side is heavier.   Imagine if earthly temporal human courts dispensed judgement in this manner, and murderers were let off the hook because all the people they didn’t kill outweighed the few that they did.  It would not resemble justice at all.   While the idea of a Final Judgement where we are held to account for our every thought, word, and deed, and where whatever good we have done does not offset whatever evil we have done, is a sobering one, especially since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) it is not something the believer need look forward to with dread and trepidation because the One Who will be the Judge on that Day is the One “that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34) and from His love we can never be separated (Rom. 8:38-39). (4)  Trusting that He Who is the “Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” has saved us by His grace, we look forward to His Coming and the Judgement, knowing that after this comes the ultimate manifestation of His Kingdom, the life of which we have begun to live even now in this life in the Church, and that His Kingdom shall have no end.    As John Newton put it:


When we've been here ten thousand years
Bright, shining as the sun
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we first begun





 (1)   See the sixth of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion for this position with regards to the ecclesiastical books.   “Ecclesiastical books” is the designation the Church Fathers gave to the books and portions of books found in the Greek Septuagint, the Christian Old Testament, that were not found or at least were not extent at the time in the Hebrew Tanakh of the Jews.   The Roman Church calls these “deuterocanonical”, the Eastern Orthodox Church does not give them a separate designation.   They are called “the Apocrypha” in the sixth of the Anglican Articles of Religion and in orthodox Protestant Bibles like the original Authorized Version and Luther’s Bible in which they are placed in their own section between the Testaments.   This is an unfortunate designation because this term was used by the Church Fathers to designate a completely different set of writings.   Dr. Luther, Martin Chemnitz, and other Lutheran Reformers, thought that the seven New Testament books designated as antilegomena should similarly not be applied to in order to establish doctrine – and Dr. Luther similarly segregated them from the homolegoumena, the undisputed books of the New Testament, in his German Bible – but this position was never articulated in the Lutheran Confessions of the Book of Concord.

(2)   See Francis X. Gumerlock, “Millennialism and the Early Church Councils: Was Chiliasm Condemned at Constantinople?Fides et Historia, 36:2 (Summer/Fall 2004), 83-95.

(3)   What I just call “preterism” in the text of this essay is sometimes called “full preterism” or “hyper-preterism” to distinguish it from what is sometimes called “partial preterism” which interprets much of the Olivet Discourse and the Book of Revelation as having been fulfilled in AD 70 but affirms a future literal Second Coming, Final Resurrection, and Final Judgement.   Since “partial preterism” does not deny an Article of the Faith it is not a heresy and in my opinion it is best not to call it by the same name as the heresy that denies a literal future Second Coming, Final Resurrection, and Final Judgement.

(4)   In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus talks about the Final Judgement when the world will be divided into “sheep” and “goats”, each judged by their works, the “sheep” being rewarded for the works of mercy they did to others which the Judge takes as having been done to Himself, the “goats” being punished for their neglect of such works.   Real people, of course, are not divided into people who consistently do good at every opportunity and people who never do good.   In the goats part of Jesus’ parable we find people who are punished for the evil they have done with the good not being brought in to offset the evil, demonstrating God’s Justice, that He is not like some insane judge who lets a murderer off because of all the people he did not kill.   In the sheep part of the parable we find people who are rewarded for the good they have done, with none of the evil they have done being held against them.   Both are judged for what they had done, because nobody can be judged for anything other than what they have done.  The radical difference in the way in which the works of the one are judged from the manner in which  the works of the other are judged is due to the one being “sheep” and the other being “goats”.   While it is not spelled out what the basis of the distinction is there is a hint of it in the parable.  The Judge accepts the good works the sheep did to others as unto Himself, and takes the goats’ neglect of good works to others as a neglect of Himself.   He Who comes at the end of time as Judge, had already come before as Saviour.   Those who accept Him as He came in His First Coming are the sheep who will be accepted by Him at His Second Coming.  Those who reject Him as He came in His First Coming  are the goats who will be rejected by Him at His Second Coming as Judge.


Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Sixth Article – The Ascension

The Apostles’ and Nicene-Constantinopolitan versions of the Christian Creed are in harmony with each other.   Each of the 12 Articles of the Apostles’ Creed is in full substantial agreement with the corresponding Article in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan.   Where the Articles differ in wording, usually the conciliar Creed is longer, using more precise words to give a fuller explanation of the tenet of faith so as to guard against specific heresies.   This Article is the exception.   The wording is almost identical between the two Creeds and were it not for the Greek language’s definite articles, which Latin does not have, and its non-sparing usage of copulas, this Article would have been longer in the Latin text of the Apostles’ Creed than in the Greek text of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan.   That Latin text is ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis which in the English of our Book of Common Prayer is “He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty”.   The Greek text of the conciliar Creed is καὶ ἀνελθόντα εἰς τοὺς οὐρανούς, καὶ καθεζόμενον ἐκ δεξιῶν τοῦ Πατρός which in our English liturgy is “and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father”.


St. Matthew does not include an account of the Ascension in his Gospel.  He ends the narrative of his Gospel with Jesus speaking to the Apostles on a mountain, commissioning them to go out into all the world, and promising to be with them and by extension the Church, the society of His followers that He is about to establish through them, until the end of the Age.   While this speech does bear some resemblance to the speeches St. Luke and St. Mark record as occurring just prior to the Ascension, the location rules out this being the same event.   The speech that St. Matthew records took place on a mountain in Galilee, not the Mount of Olives in Judea.  St. Mark does record the Ascension in his Gospel including His sitting at the right hand of the Father:


So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. (Mk. 16: 18) (1)


Immediately before this St. Mark had recorded Jesus sharing a meal with the Apostles in which He spoke the words alluded to at the beginning of the verse.  As mentioned, the words bear a certain resemblance to the speech Jesus had given in Galilee – in both Jesus gives His Apostles a commission, in St. Matthew’s Gospel to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, in St. Mark’s to go out into all the world and preach the Gospel, in both Jesus attaches promises to the commission, in St. Matthew’s His abiding presence until the end of the Age, in St. Mark’s that they will perform various signs and miracles.  St. Mark does not mention the location of the meal and speech.   For that information we must turn to St. Luke’s account.  


In the Gospel according to St. Luke, as in St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus shares a meal with the Apostles, then gives them instructions regarding their mission to take His message to the world.  St. Luke mentions that the instructions are given as Jesus and the Apostles make their way to Bethany (Lk. 24:50), which is located on the Mount of Olives.   St. Luke goes on to say:


and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.  And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. (vv. 50-51).


St. Luke provides another account of the Ascension at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, the sequel to his Gospel.   This account is the fullest and the one from which we get most of the details of the Ascension – that it took place forty days after the Resurrection, that Jesus was taken up from them into the sky and hid from view by a cloud, and the appearance of the heavenly witnesses who told the Apostles as they gazed up where He had disappeared that “this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts. 1:11).  


The word heaven is used in more than one sense in the Scriptures.   It can refer to the part of Creation that is spoken of as the “Firmament” in the first chapter of Genesis.  This basically means everything visible to the eye above the earth, the place where the birds fly and the clouds are – what we would call the atmosphere – and the place where the sun, moon, and stars are – what we would call outer space.   Some think that when the Scriptures use heaven in this sense that it can be further broken down into distinctions, some references speaking of heaven strictly as the atmosphere, others speaking of heaven as outer space, with yet others speaking of the entirety of the visible sky.   At any rate, the distinction that is clear in Scripture, is between heaven as the Firmament of Creation, and Heaven as the eternal presence of God outside Creation.   In the narrative accounts of the Ascension, especially St. Luke’s account in the book of Acts, Jesus is seen by the Apostles to ascend into the heaven of Creation.   He rises into the sky and is hidden from view by the clouds.   His ultimate destination in the Ascension, of course, was the Heaven beyond the created heaven, the eternal presence of God.


St. John does not provide a narrative account of the Ascension but he does provide an account of Jesus’ teaching concerning the event.   The Synoptic Evangelists all record the Last Passover Supper Jesus shared with His Apostles on the evening of His betrayal and all record the institution of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on that occasion.   St. John picks up the account of this evening after the institution of the Sacrament and provides an extended account of a discourse Jesus had with His Apostles beginning in the Upper Room and continuing as they made their way to Gethsemane.   In that discourse Jesus makes mention of His being about to return to His Father many times.   He gives a purpose for His return to Heaven – to prepare a place for His disciples, and promises that from there He will come back to receive His disciples unto Himself, thus, like the angels in the first chapter of Acts, connecting His Ascension to His Second Coming, which, as we shall see when we look at the seventh Article, the Creed does as well.   Jesus also relates His Ascension to the coming of the Holy Spirit which took place on Pentecost ten days after His Ascension.   Jesus had to ascend back to the Father for the Father to send the Holy Spirit inaugurating the Church which indwelt by the Spirit of Christ continues His Incarnational Presence on earth until the Second Coming.


The Church, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is called the Body of Christ in the New Testament and while He continues to be present in and through His Church, in His literal body He is seated at the right hand of God.   St. Mark is the only Evangelist to mention this in his Gospel account of the Ascension.  St. Matthew records a prophecy that Jesus gave to the high priest at His trial that they would see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of glory (26:64) reinforcing the connection between His present post-Ascension location and the Second Coming and St. Luke in the book of Acts records the vision of St. Stephen upon his martyrdom in which he sees Jesus at the right hand of God (7:55).   St. Paul makes frequent mention of Jesus’ being at the right hand of God in his epistles.   To the Romans, he writes that Jesus is making intercession for us at the right hand of God (Rom. 8:34), to the Ephesians, he writes that the same great power of God that raised up Jesus from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of God is now available for us who believe (Eph. 1:19-20).   To the Colossians he writes that those who are united with Christ in His Resurrection, i.e., baptized believers, should seek the things of above, where Jesus sits on the right hand of God (Col 3:1). 


The right hand of God to which Jesus ascended and from which He shall return in His Second Coming is a place and position of authority and power.   It is important that we recognize that when Jesus ascended to the right hand of God He was returning to what had been His place and position all along.   One of the heresies that plagued the Church in the early centuries was Adoptionism, the idea that Jesus started out as just a man and became God at some later point when He was adopted by the Father.  Those teaching this heresy didn’t agree among themselves as to when this was – some said His baptism, others the Resurrection, and still others yet claimed the Ascension.   Jesus Himself, however, said to Nicodemus that “no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven” (Jn. 3:13).  Jesus in the Ascension returned to the place from which He had come down in the Incarnation.   Jesus’ use of the present tense in the same verse to speak of His being in Heaven guards against another error, more common than Adoptionism.   Jesus did not, as some have mistakenly taught based on a misinterpretation of Phil. 2:7, abandon His power, authority and glory as God in the Incarnation.   Rather, in the Incarnation, in which His full deity and humanity were forever united, He allowed his humanity to temporarily cloak His divine glory and power for the duration of His Humiliation, His journey from the throne of God to the Cross.   In His Exaltation, His upward journey beginning with His triumphant entry as Conqueror into Death’s Kingdom of Hell and culminating in His Ascension back to the right hand of God in Heaven, He clothed His humanity with His divine glory and power.   All the power and glory of God were His the entire time.   (2)


Recently, Charles III, our earthly king of the United Kingdom, the Dominion of Canada, Australia, and the other Commonwealth Realms, was crowned and enthroned in a Coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey.   This was not like the inauguration of a president in the American republic south of our border.  The Americans elect their next president in the November of one year, and he is sworn into office in the inauguration in the January of the next year.   The previous president remains in office until the inauguration of the next, who does not become president until he is sworn into office.   By contrast King Charles III did not become our king in the Coronation but the moment his mother, our late Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth II, passed away.   The office of king was his by right of inheritance, the Coronation was merely a ceremony that formally and publically solemnized it.   In this difference we find an illustration of the difference between the Ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand of God in Heaven in orthodox theology and the same event as understood by the Adoptionist heresy.   Jesus Christ is the King of Kings, not the president of presidents.   The position of glory and power, to which He ascended forty days after the Resurrection, had always been His by right as the Son of God.


(1)    This verse is found in what textual critics call the “longer ending” of St. Mark’s Gospel, consisting of the last twelve verses, verses 9-20, of chapter sixteen.  The authenticity of this passage is disputed, but for no good reason.   The vast majority of manuscripts contain the passage as it stands in the Received Text, there is plentiful Patristic evidence for it that predates the oldest manuscripts (St. Justin Martyr and St. Irenaeus both cite the passage, to give but two of the oldest examples), the ancient lectionaries support the authenticity of the passage, and the few manuscripts that leave it out do not agree among themselves, some ending with verse 8, others including an alternate ending (the “shorter ending”), others yet including a mashup of both endings, with all of these alternatives adding up to a very small handful of witnesses against the passage.  The most important of the few – three to be precise – manuscripts that end the text at verse 8, Codex Vaticanus or B, nullifies its own testimony against the passage by ending the Gospel in the second column of a leaf that is three columns wide and leaving the third column blank, contrary to the practice of the copyist elsewhere in the manuscript, leaving a space sufficient to contain the omitted ending.   This indicates the copyist knew of the longer ending.  B’s testimony has been given much weight – too much in my opinion – for the last century and a half, due to its age, but the age of a manuscript cannot be legitimately counted against a majority reading if the manuscript itself bears evidence, as in this case that the reading against which it testifies is older than the manuscript.   It testifies only that the copyist for some unknown reason did not accept the authenticity of the passage.  In the second most important of the three manuscripts – Codex Sinaiticus or Aleph, which is not an independent witness of Vaticanus, the two being clearly copies of the same source manuscript – the leaves which contain the relevant portion of the Gospel are replacement leaves, from a different hand than the original copyist.   Other evidence against the originality of the passage is extremely weak.  Eusebius of Caesarea, the Father of Church History, made reference to the absence of the ending in some copies of Mark, but in the context of presenting two alternate solutions to a harmonization issue of the Resurrection accounts of Matthew and Mark, with Eusebius supporting the other option.   St. Jerome quoted Eusebius at one spot, but both Fathers elsewhere argued for treating the ending as authentic.   There are some ancient manuscripts that include marginal notes where the scribe makes reference to the absence of the verses in other manuscripts, but these tend to support the authenticity of the passage, by saying in some, for example, that it is found in the more ancient manuscripts.   To this date, no argument has been made for the inauthenticity of these verses that comes close to being as compelling as the argument made for their authenticity, by Dean John William Burgon in The Last Twelve Verses of The Gospel According to S. Mark Vindicated Against Recent Critical Objectors and Established (1871).   For an answer to more recent arguments from the critical camp, in particular those raised by the late Bruce M. Metzger, see James Snapp Jr., Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20, 2011, 2016.

(2)   St. Thomas Aquinas included a very helpful discussion of some of these matters in Summa Theologica, III, Q.57.  

Friday, May 12, 2023

Free Unrestricted Speech is the Servant of Truth


Pelagius was a Celtic monk who lived in the late fourth and early fifth centuries.   Although he was born somewhere in the British Isles, he lived most of his life in Rome until the city was sacked by the Visigoths.  Following the Fall of Rome he fled to Carthage and spent the remainder of his life in the region of North Africa and Palestine.  This was hardly a quiet retirement for it was in this period that the preaching of his disciple Caelestius brought him increasingly under the scrutiny of St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Jerome and led to his teachings being condemned by multiple regional synods, his excommunication by Innocent I of Rome in 417 AD, and finally, the following year which was the year of his death, the most sweeping condemnation of his teachings as heresy at the Council of Carthage, the rulings of which would later be ratified by the third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 AD making the condemnation of Pelagius and Pelagianism the verdict of the whole Church in the days before her ancient fellowship was broken.


What did Pelagius teach that was so vehemently rejected by the early, undivided, Church?


Pelagianism was the idea that after the Fall man retained the ability to please God and attain salvation through his own efforts and by his own choices unassisted by the Grace of God.   Expressed as a negation of Christian truth it was a denial of Original Sin and of the absolute necessity of God’s Grace.


Over a millennium later the Protestant Reformers, strongly influenced by the teachings of St. Augustine, would read their own conflict with the Patriarch of Rome through the lens of the earlier Pelagian controversy although the Pelagian controversy had to do with the absolute necessity of God’s Grace whereas the controversy in the Reformation had to do with the sufficiency of God’s Grace.   This led to further distortions of historical understanding of the earlier controversy so that in certain theological circles, particularly those who identify so strongly as Calvinists that in their hierarchy of doctrine they place the canons of the Synod of Dort in the top tier, make those matters on which all the Reformers agreed – the supreme authority of Scripture and the sufficiency of the freely given Grace of God in Christ for salvation – secondary, and assign the truths of the ancient Creeds to a tertiary position, any positive statements concerning Free Will are looked upon as either Pelagian or a step down the slippery slope to Pelagianism.


Free Will, however, is not some aberration invented by Pelagius, but a truth held by all the ancient orthodox Churches alongside Original Sin.   Neither is confessed in the Creed, because neither is Creed appropriate, but both are part of the body of the supplementary truths that help us to understand Gospel truth, the truth confessed in the Creed.   Free Will and Original Sin are complementary truths.   Apart from Free Will, the only explanation for Adam’s having committed the sin that brought sin and death upon his descendants, is some version of supralapsarianism, the repugnant and blasphemous hyper-Calvinist doctrine of Theodore Beza that teaches that God decreed the Fall of Man to occur in order that He might have grounds to punish people He had already decided to damn.


Why did God give man Free Will if He knew man would abuse it and fall into sin?


If God had not given man Free Will, man would not be a moral creature made in God’s own image, but would rather be like a rock or a tree.  Man without Free Will would have the same capacity for Good that a rock and a tree have.   Rocks and trees perform their Good – the reason for which they exist – not because they choose to do so, but because they have no choice.   This is a lower order of Good than the Good which moral beings do because they choose to do it.   God created man as a higher being with a higher order of Good and so He gave man Free Will because man could not fulfil this higher Good without Free Will.   Without the possibility of sin, there was no possibility of man fulfilling the Good for which he was created.


Original Sin impaired man’s Free Will and in doing so placed a major roadblock in the way of man’s fulfilment of the Good for which he was created.   When Adam sinned he bound himself and all his posterity in slavery to sin.   The ancient sages, such as Plato, urged man to employ his will in subjecting his passions to the rule of his reason or intellect.   They understood that the worst slavery a man could endure is not that which is imposed from the outside by laws, customs, or traditions but that which is imposed from the inside when a man is ruled by his passions. This is the closest than man could come to understanding his plight without special revelation.   When Western man in the post-World War II era turned his back on Christian truth he abandoned even this insight and began embracing the idea taught by Sigmund Freud et al. that liberating the passions rather than ruling them was the path to human happiness.   Although the evidence of experience has long since demonstrated this to be folly Western man continues down this path to misery.   The salvation that God has given to man in Jesus Christ frees us from this bondage to the sin principle, which rules us through what Plato called our passions and St. Paul called our flesh.   This is why the work of Jesus Christ accomplishing our salvation is spoken of as redemption, the act of purchasing a slave’s freedom from bondage.


God created man in a state of Innocence which is an immature form of Goodness.   Man in his Innocence possessed Free Will and was sinless but lacked knowledge and maturity.   He was not intended to remain in this state but to grow into Perfection, Goodness in its mature form.   The Fall into Original Sin interrupted the process of maturation and would have been ultimately fatal to it were it not for the Grace of God and the salvation given to man in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, which Grace of salvation frees us from the bondage to sin into which we fell that we might finally grow in Christ into Perfection, the maturity of freedom with knowledge, in which we voluntarily choose the Good.    If we could somehow remove man’s ability to choose evil this would in no way assist man in his journey, by God’s Grace, to Perfection.   This is the Christian truth illustrated by Anthony Burgess in his novel A Clockwork Orange (1962)    The experimental technique to which the narrator submitted in order to obtain a reduced sentence, succeeded in removing his ability to commit violent crime, but failed to turn him into a good person.  In the novel, Alex does eventually become a better person but not as a result of the Ludovico Technique.  (1)


I recently remarked that the orthodox arguments for the necessity of Free Will for man to choose the Good can also be applied to Truth to make a more compelling case for free speech than the one rooted in classical liberalism that is usually so employed.   I wish to expand upon that idea here.   Think again of Burgess’s novel.   The Ludovico Technique rendered Alex incapable of committing violent crime – or even of acting in legitimate self defence – by causing him to experience nauseating sickness and pain at even the thought of doing the things that had landed him in prison, but it did not change his inner nature, it merely prevented him from acting on it.  Now imagine a story in which a similar form of extreme aversion therapy to the Ludovico Technique is developed, not for a violent, rapist, thug but for a compulsive liar, (2) which similarly prevents him from speaking what he knows not to be true.   This would not remove his internal compulsion to lie and make him naturally truthful, it would merely prevent him from acting on the compulsion.


If it is important, both to us as individuals and to the larger society to which we belong, that we develop good character by cultivating good habits, then it is important that we cultivate the habit of speaking the Truth to the best of our understanding.   By adapting the lesson of Burgess’ novel as we did in the last paragraph, we saw that artificially removing the ability to do other than speak what we understand to be the Truth is not the way to achieve the cultivation of this habit.   In the actual contemporary society in which we live, we are increasingly having to contend with constraints on our freedom of speech, not through experimental aversion therapy, but through laws and regulations telling us what we can and cannot say.  


These come in two forms.   The first and most basic are rules prohibiting speech – “you can’t say that”.   The second are rules compelling speech – “you have to say this”.   This distinction has in recent years been emphasized by Dr. Jordan Peterson after he ran afoul of a particularly egregious but sadly now almost ubiquitous example of compelled speech – the requirement to use a person’s expressed preference in pronouns rather those that align with the person’s biological sex.   Here, the speech that is compelled is speech that falls far short of Truth.   Indeed, the people who want this sort of compelled speech are generally the same people who speak of Truth with possessive pronouns as if each of us had his own Truth which is different from the Truth of others.


The rules that prohibit certain types of speech are no more respectful towards Truth.   Here in the Dominion of Canada, the rules of this type that have plagued us the most in my lifetime are speech prohibitions enacted in the name of fighting “hate”.   The very first in a long list of sins against Truth committed by those seeking to eradicate “hate speech” is their categorizing the speech they seek to outlaw as hateful.   Hate refers to an intense emotional dislike that manifests itself in the desire to utterly destroy the object of hatred.   This is a more appropriate description of the attitude of the people who call for, enact, and support “hate speech” laws towards their victims more than it does the attitude of said victims towards those they supposedly hate.   The first calls for laws of this nature came from representatives of an ethnic group that has faced severe persecution many times throughout history and which, wishing to nip any future such persecution in the bud, asked for legislation prohibiting what they saw as the first step in the development of persecution, people depicting them very negatively in word and print.   The government capitulated to this demand twice, first by adding such a prohibition to the Criminal Code, second by including a provision in the Canadian Human Rights Act that made the spread of information “likely to” expose someone to “hatred or contempt” into grounds for an anti-discrimination lawsuit.   The CHRA provision was eventually removed from law by Act of Parliament but the present government is seeking to bring it back in a worse form, one that would allow for legal action to be taken against people based on the suspicion that they will say something “hateful” in the future rather than their having already said some such thing.   The campaign against “hate speech” has from the very beginning resembled the actions taken against “precrime” in Philip K. Dick’s The Minority Report (1956) in that both are attempts to stop something from happening before it happens, but the new proposed legislation would take the resemblance to the nth degree.   Early in the history of the enforcement of these types of laws the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the lack of a truth exception did not render the limitations they imposed on freedom of speech unconstitutional in Canada (Human Rights Commission) v. Taylor (1990).   More recently this notion of truth not being a defense was reiterated by Devyn Cousineau of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in a discrimination case against Christian evangelist and activist Bill Whatcott.   Whatcott had been charged with discrimination for distributing a flyer challenging a politician who had been born a biological male but who claims to be female.   Cousineau made the statement in ruling against the relevance of evidence the defense intended to present as to the complainant's biological maleness.   Clearly, if the upholding of laws restricting freedom of speech on the grounds of “hate” require rulings to the effect that truth is no defense, then these laws are no servants of Truth.


That, as we have just seen, those seeking to restrict speech are serving something other than Truth, something they are willing to sacrifice Truth for, is a good indicator that it is free speech that is the servant of Truth.   Further analysis confirms this.  If speech is restricted by prohibitions – “you can’t say that” – then unless those who make the prohibitions are both incorruptible and infallible, it is likely that much that is prohibited will be Truth.   If speech is compelled – “you must say this” – then again, unless those compelling us to speak are both incorruptible and infallible, it is likely that what we will be compelled to say will not be the Truth.   The good habit of truth-telling, which we ought to seek to cultivate in ourselves, in which cultivation the laws and institutions of society ought to support us, is a habit of caring about the Truth, searching for the Truth, and speaking the Truth.   Restrictions on speech, rather than helping us cultivate this habit, teach us to take the alternate, lazier, route of letting other people rather than the Truth determine what we must and must not say. 


Even restrictions on speech aimed at preventing the spread of untruths ultimately work against the speaking of Truth.   As long as there are such restrictions, especially if the penalties for breaking them are severe, there will be something other than Truth to which people will look to determine whether or not they should say something, and the result will be that less Truth will be spoken out of fear of running afoul of the restrictions.


The classic liberal case for free speech was made by utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill in his On Liberty (1856).   It is the topic of his second chapter “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion” which begins by arguing that this freedom is necessary not only when governments are tyrannical and corrupt, but under the best of governments as well, even or especially, when governments have public opinion behind them.  If all mankind minus one were of one opinion”, Mill wrote “and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”   In support of the position taken in these justifiably famous words,  Mill’s first argument was that mankind is better off for having all opinions, false or true, expressed, because the expression of the false, makes the true stand out the more.   He wrote:


the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.


In what he stated here, Mill was quite right.   Unfortunately, what he meant by truth, small t, is not the same thing as Truth, big T.   Mill wrote and thought within what might be called an anti-tradition that started within Western thought almost a millennium ago with nominalism and which has produced a downward spiral of decay within Western thought.   Mill came at a late stage in this anti-tradition, although not so far down the spiral as to think that truth is entirely subjective and different for each person as so many do today.    It had been set in that direction, however, by nominalism’s rejection of universals, whether conceived of as Plato’s otherworldly Forms existing in themselves or Aristotle’s embodied Ideas existing in their corresponding particulars, except as human constructions that we impose on reality by our words so as to facilitate in the organization of our thoughts.  By so departing from the foundation of the tradition of Western thought, nominalism introduced an anti-tradition that over time came more and more to resemble an embrace of Protagoras of Abdera’s maxim “man is the measure of all things”.   In the wisdom of the ancient sages, Truth, like Beauty and Goodness, were the supreme universals.   Philosophically, they were the Transcendentals, the properties of Being or existence.   In Christian theology, they existed in God Himself not as attributes or properties, but as His fundamental nature.   Human happiness, however the philosophical and theological answers to the question of how it is attained differed (the Grace of God is the theological answer), consisted in life ordered in accordance with Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.     Mill’s small t truth is worlds removed from this and this weakens what is otherwise a good argument against restrictions on the free expression of thought.   If truth is not Truth, an absolute ultimate value in itself which we must seek and submit to upon peril of loss of happiness, but something which may or may not be available to us because we can never be certain that that what we think is truth is actually truth, then it is a far less compelling argument for allowing all thought to be freely expressed in words that it serves truth better than restrictions would.    It opens the door to the idea that there is something that might be more important to us than truth, for which truth and the freedom that serves it might be sacrificed.    Indeed, Mill provided the enemies of Truth and freedom with that very something else, earlier in the first, introductory, chapter of his book in which he articulated his famous “harm principle”.   He wrote:   


The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.


On the surface, this seems like a principle that could do nothing but safeguard people against the abuse of government power.    In our day, however, we can see how it is actually a loophole allowing the government to justify any and all abuse of power.   Our government, for example, is currently using it to justify its bid to bring the flow of information entirely under its own control.   The Liberal Party of Canada, which is the party currently in office, has made combatting what it calls “Online Harms” part of its official platform.   The Liberals’ not-so-thinly-veiled intention is enacting this goal is to bring in sweeping internet regulation that will give them total control over what Canadians can say or write or see or hear on the internet.   Neither freedom nor Truth is a high priority for the Liberals, nor have they been for a long time, if they ever were.   The late Sir Peregrine Worsthorne years ago wrote that by defeating its old foes, and turning its attention to declaring war “on human, and even eventually animal, pain and suffering” and thus introducing the necessity for vast expansion of government power, liberalism “from being a doctrine designed to take government off the backs of the people” had rapidly become “a doctrine designed to put it back again”, and, he might have added,  in a more burdensome manner than ever before.


Mill was right that truth is better served by allowing all thoughts to be freely expressed, even false ones.   Apart from the acknowledgement of Truth as Truth, the absolute unchanging universal value, however, the argument is weak.  Within the context of liberalism, it is doomed to give way to that ideology’s insatiable lust to control everyone and everything, in the insane belief that it is protecting us from ourselves, and re-making the world better than God originally made it.   When we acknowledge Truth as Truth, we recognize that it is what it is and that it is unchangeable and so no lie can harm it.   Lies harm us, not the Truth, by getting in our way in our pursuit of Truth, but attempts to restrict and regulate the free verbal expression of thought, even when done in the name of combatting falsehoods, do far more harm of this type than lies themselves could ever do.   Just as men need free will to choose the Good, we need the freedom to speak our thoughts, right or wrong, in order to pursue and find and speak the Truth.


 (1)   The chapter containing this ending was omitted from the American edition of the novel and from Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation based on the American edition.

(2)   The idea of preventing a liar from lying has been explored in fiction.    The science fiction device of truth serum is one common way of doing this.  Note that the real life interrogative drugs upon which this device is based, such as scopolamine and sodium thiopental, don’t actually compel someone to tell the truth, they just make him more likely to answer questions put to him.  In Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) the title puppet, a compulsive liar, is not prevented from lying, but prevented from getting away with it, by the device of his nose growing whenever he tells a lie.  Closer is the 1997 film Liar, Liar, starring Jim Carrey as a lawyer whose son is magically granted his birthday wish that his father be unable to tell a lie for 24 hours.   William Moulton Marston, the inventor of the polygraph or lie detector, under the penname of Charles Marston created the comic book superheroine Wonder Woman and gave the character a magic lasso that compelled anyone trapped in it to speak the truth.    None of these stories was written with the idea of the necessity of freedom of speech for genuine truth telling in mind.