Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reflections on the ACNA Catechism: The Law and Righteousness

St. Anselm of Canterbury wrote in the Preface to his Proslogion:

I have written the little work that the role of one who strives to raise his mind to the contemplation of God and one who seeks to understand what he believes.

I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created your image in me, so that I may remember you, think of you, love you. But this image is so obliterated and worn away by wickedness, it is so obscured by the smoke of sins that it cannot do what it was created to do, unless you renew and reform it. I am not attempting, O Lord, to penetrate your loftiness, for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it, but I desire in some measure to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that "unless I believe, I shall not understand." (Isaiah 7:9)

Prayer at the beginning of the spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing: God, unto whom all hearts be open, and unto whom all will speaketh, and unto whom no privy thing is hid. I beseech Thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee, and worthily praise Thee. Amen

Alice C. Linsley

In the first of this series of five reflections on the Ten Commandments in the new Anglican catechism, we explored the connection between the appointment of rulers and the giving of the divine law. From anthropological studies we know that people in the ancient world regarded the Creator to be the source of the moral law. The Creator's appointed rulers were responsible for upholding and enforcing the law. In the case of the Ten Commandments, the focus of this study, the appointed ruler under consideration is Moses, the son of a Horite priest Amram. In the Bible, the appointed rulers in Canaan are designated by a solar cradle at the beginning of their names, indicated by the symbol Y. Examples include Yitzak (Isaac); Yacob (Jacob); Yaqtan (Joktan); Yosef (Joseph); Yetro (Jethro); Yeshai (Jesse), and Yeshua (Joshua or Jesus). This symbol means that the emblem of God – the Sun – overshadowed the ruler as a sign of divine appointment. Likewise, the Virgin Mary was overshadowed and conceived the Seed. (Genesis 3:15) The Angel Gabriel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet [nor a lawgiver from his loins], until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. (Gen. 49:10) This relates to Christ who is the long-expected Righteous Ruler and the Lawgiver because every law that comes from God is given through Him.

Mary is of the same lineage as the rulers named in Genesis 4, 5, 10 and 11. These kings are the ancestors of Abraham, Esau, Moses, Samuel, David, and Jesus Christ. They married and ascended to the throne according to a distinctive and unique pattern involving two wives. Further, they married within their Habiru/Hebrew ruler-priest caste and because of this practice (endogamy) it is possible, using the Biblical data and kinship analysis, to trace Jesus' ancestry back to the earliest named rulers in Genesis 4 (Cain's line) and Genesis 5 (Seth's line).  Messianic expectation originated with these Horite rulers. Jews call their ancestors "Horim" which is rendered "Horite" in English Bibles. The Ten Commandments have antecedents in the moral law of these ancestors.

The Christian moral law developed out of the ancient law codes associated with the appointed ruler-priests before the time of Abraham. Some of the laws attributed to Moses were already observed among Abraham's Habiru ancestors. The moral and ceremonial laws of the Jews have a long history of development among the Habiru and specifically among the Horites of the Nile Valley. The oldest known Horite shrines and temples have been discovered at Nekhen on the Nile. Between 4000 and 3000 B.C this was the largest city on the Nile and votive offerings found there are the largest and most impressive of any discovered at Nilo-Saharan sites. Horite priests placed invocations to Horus, the son of the Creator, at the fortress summit as the sun rose. This is the origin of the Vedic morning ritual (Agnihotra) and the Jewish Sun Blessing ritual (Birkat Hachama) that is performed every 28 years.

With this background, we now take up the purpose and importance of the Ten Commandments for Christians. We begin on page 53 of the Catechism. My reflections appear in italics.

Why did God give the Ten Commandments?

God's holy law is a light to show me his character, a mirror to show me myself, a tutor to lead me to Christ, and a guide to help me love God and others as I should. (Deuteronomy 4:32-40; Psalms 19, 119:97-104; Romans 7:7-12; 13:8-10; Galatians 3:19-26; James 1:21-25; 2:8-13)

Comment: The Ten Commandments express the measure of righteousness which is to be honored and upheld by the people and their righteous rulers. The catechism does not directly answer the "why" question that it poses. It describes the functions of the Ten Commandments, but not the why of the Commandments. To answer this question we must think in terms of Messianic expectation. The Righteous Ruler embodies the law and fulfills the law.  Jesus Christ came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.  This answers the question. The Ten Commandments were given that we might have life and have it more abundantly. St. Paul makes the distinction between law and grace, noting the obvious: the law tutors in the way of life whereby Jesus Christ is the Life.

When did God give the Ten Commandments?

After saving his people Israel from slavery in Egypt through the Ten Plagues, the Passover sacrifice, and crossing of the Red Sea, God gave them the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai as covenant obligations.

Comment: The Biblical narrative links the ascendancy of Moses as ruler over Israel to the giving of the law. Through Moses, the divinely appointed ruler, God covenants with the people to be his righteous ones on earth. Likewise, God covenants with the Church to be his righteous ones under the eternal reign of Jesus Christ. This covenant is superior to the covenant made with Israel because Jesus is superior to Moses. This is the message of the book of Hebrews and is stressed in St. Paul's epistles to the Romans and the Galatians.

How did God give the Ten Commandments?

God gave them to Moses audibly and awesomely, from the midst of the cloud, thus revealing his holiness, and afterwards writing then on stone tablets. (Exodus 19; 32:15-16)

Comment: The divinely appointed ruler was expected to have numinous experiences of God's presence. Such experiences involved "knowing" without words and images (apophatic) and knowing by means of words and images (kataphatic).  Approaching the Creator through cloud is an example of the first. The stone tablets are an example of the latter. 

Yet there is more to be learned from this giving of the law. The ancient rulers were served by royal scribes. They wrote on different materials such as shards of pottery, ostrich egg shells, and papyrus. None of these materials were as durable at stone. These laws were written by God on stone. Here God serves as his own scribe and he intends that these laws should remain for all generations. Among peoples who did not have these laws, God wrote on their hearts and consciences. The Apostle Paul explains, "For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts..." (Romans 2:14-15)

How should we understand the Commandments?

There are four guiding principles: though stated negatively, each commandment calls for positive action, forbids whatever hinders its keeping, calls for loving, God-glorifying obedience, and requires that I urge others to be governed by it, as I am myself.

Comment: The Ten Commandments are part of a greater received tradition which shapes the Church's doctrine and dogma. The tradition concerns the righteous ruler who was called the "son of God" and was responsible for the preservation and enforcement of the law. The law was not the basis of the covenant made with the ruler and his people, rather it was a sign of the covenant, but only when it was followed. Failure to fulfill the moral obligation was failure to be God's appointed people. The basis of the covenant with Israel and with the Church is one and the same: God's prevenient grace. This reflects the immutability of God. We are to understand the Ten Commandments as an expression of the divine wisdom whereby the Lord seeks to direct our individual and corporate paths in the way of righteousness.

What is our Lord Jesus Christ's understanding of these Commandments?

Jesus summed them up positively by saying, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40; see also John 15:7-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)

Comment: The Christian moral code was received from God and preserved by Jesus' Habiru/Hebrew people. The whole of the Law, both moral and ceremonial, speaks of the long-expected Divine Son who Christians know to be Jesus Christ, the perfect embodiment f the Law. He lived as one of us yet did not sin. At a time when the Jewish rulers made the law burdensome, The Lord Jesus cut through the fat. He gave the Summary of the Law. Here is the context in Matthew's Gospel:

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31)

The scribe who asked Jesus what commandments is the greatest readily accepted the part about God being one. This was the national creed of the Jews (Shema), but he missed the point that our Lord was making. Love fulfills the law and without love the law remains unfulfilled. Fastidious observation of the law without love of God and others is soul-destroying legalism.

Why can you not do this perfectly?

While God made mankind to love him perfectly, sin has corrupted our nature, leading me to resist him, to ignore his will, and to care more for myself than for my neighbors. (Psalm 14:1; Romans 3:9-23; 7:21-25; 1 Corinthians 2:14)

Comment: One purpose of the Law is to show us the measure of our spiritual failings. In the Old Testament the ruler was to meditate on God's statutes day and night.  If he hoped to serve God as one appointed to rule over the people he was to fill his mind with the wisdom from on High. Our sin-corrupted nature disinclines us to stay in God's Word. The ruler also had a priestly role and was to be faithful in the worship of God. We too are to be regular in attendance of worship services in our parishes. 

When will you love God perfectly?

I will only love God perfectly when he completes his work of grace in me at the end of the age. (Philippians 1:6; 1 John 3:2-3)

Comment: God promises to complete his work in us. Writing to the Philippians, St. Paul expressed this hope: "For I am confident of this very thing, the He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:5-6) The working out of God's will in our lives reflects the reality of the Holy Spirit striving with us to work out our salvation and the realization of God's eternal plan. The Greek word that appears in such passages is energeia, a term first used by Aristotle in his teleological writings. Consider Paul's explanation to the Colossians that it is Christ "whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily."  The phrase "striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily" is in Greek agonizomenos kata tēn energian autou tēn energoumenen en amoi en dunamei. Literally, this is striving according to the energeia of Christ that is bringing to fulfillment or realization that which God has purposed, and this should be taken in the teleological sense of Aristotle. Paul of Tarsus knew this sense of the term. Tarsus had one of the most famous philosophical academies of the Roman world.

For Aristotle working out one's purpose in accordance with one's destiny requires the pursuit of that which makes one thrive (eudaimonism). For St. Paul working out one's purpose in accordance with one's destiny requires striving with the Holy Spirit (synergy). This is exactly the opposite of how Calvinists have employed predestination texts. Paul is not referring to a group of  people foreordained to receive a pass to heaven.  He is speaking about the power (energeia) of God at work in him so that he, cooperating with God, is able to bring to fulfillment or perfection what God purposes for him in this life. The Catechism affirms that the working out of God's purpose has a terminal point - the last day, when, seeing Christ our God face to face, we are finally and fully transformed into his likeness.

Why then do you learn God's Law now?

I learn God's Law now so that, having died to sin in Christ, I might love him as I ought, delight in his will as he heals my nature, and live for his glory. (Deuteronomy 11:18-21; Psalm 1:1-3; 119:89-104; Romans 6:1-4, 11; 1 John 3:23-24; 4:7-9; 19; 5:1-3)

Comment: Jesus said, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." (John 14:23)  The Ten Commandments are a compass that point to true Love. The righteous meditate on God's statutes day and night that we may love God through obedience. All of Scripture is inspired and helpful for wisdom, salvation, and sanctification.

How does God prepare you to begin living his Law?

Through faith, repentance and Baptism, God in grace washes away my sin, gives me his Holy Spirit, and makes me a member of Christ, a child of God, and an heir of the Kingdom of Heaven. (Acts 22:16; Titus 3:4-8)

Comment: We who have been brought into Christ share with Him in his eternal Kingdom. This is too great for us now, but through the Holy Spirit's work in us, through the Sacraments, through obedience and study of Holy Scripture, we are being prepared for a glorious destiny on the day when sorrow will disappear and God will wipe away every tear.

How does the Church help you to live out God's law?

The Church exercises godly authority and discipline over me through the ministry of baptismal sponsors, clergy, and other teachers. (Romans 15:1-7; 2 Timothy 3:14-15; Hebrew 13:7, 17)

Comment: The Church is the earthly repository of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came into the word to save sinners, to reconcile us to the Father, to defeat death by death, and to restore perfect communion with our Creator. When church leaders fail to protect and preserve this sacred trust, when they stray from the path of righteousness, the people no longer hold God's Law in honor. One only need consider the past 20+ years of moral and spiritual decline in the Episcopal Church USA to see that this is true.

How does the Lord's Supper enable you to continue learning and living God's Law?

In the Lord's Supper or Holy Eucharist, I hear the Law read, hear God's good news of forgiveness, recall my baptismal promises, have my faith renewed, and receive grace to follow Jesus in the ways of God's Laws and in the word of his Commandments.

Comment: Faith comes before understanding. As St. Anselm of Canterbury wrote, Credo ut intelligam -  "I believe that I may understand." Believers need the support of other mature Christians and the sacraments of the Church to grow deeper in the truth of the Gospel.  Receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist is one way that we embrace the One who lived and died and rose that we might have life. By faith we receive Him as He has received us. We are made members of His mystical Body; we being in Him as He is in us, according to our Lord's prayer that we may be one, as He and the Father are one so that the world may believe that the Father has sent the Son. (John 17:21)

Related reading:  Reflections on the New Anglican Catechism (Part 1); The Urheimat of the Canaanite Y; The Virgin Mary's Ancestry; Who is Jesus?; Ancient Seats of Wisdom

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