Monthly Archives: April 2020
Title and image aside, I have no intention whatsoever of prurience in this post. Rather, I want to discuss an issue that has been bouncing around my mind in thinking about certain common themes in Gnosticism, early Christianity, and modern “new religions”. It occurred to me that a certain framework of viewing these themes might be particularly useful. I’ll get to that framework in just a bit. As to the themes themselves, the main one is indeed sex, or rather accusations of sex. What do I mean by that? Read on!
Very early in Christian history–perhaps during the lifetime of the Apostles, but certainly within less than a century–divisions arose in the early Church. These divisions principally centered around the interpretation of the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth, the things he taught, and authority in the Church. One group claimed to hold to authority passed down in an unbroken chain from the Apostles themselves through their successors, the bishops. This group later codified its beliefs in the Nicene Creed. The vast majority of modern Christian Churches–Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, most Protestants, and some others–descend from this group. In speaking of the early Church, scholars sometimes refer to this group as the “proto-orthodox”. The proto-orthodox group of Christians stood in opposition to various other groups of “sectarians”, “partisans”, or to use the Greek term, “heretics“.
O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion.
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us
An’ ev’n Devotion
–Robert Burns, “To a Louse”, st. 8 (1786); courtesy of Wikiquote.
Now let the heavens be joyful,
Let earth her song begin;
Let the round world keep triumph,
And all that is therein;
Invisible and visible,
Their notes let all things blend,
For Christ the Lord is risen
Our joy that hath no end.
–Saint John of Damascenus, in The Congregational Hymn Book: Psalms and Hymns for Divine Worship (1881), p. 219; courtesy of Wikiquote.
It is only right,
with all the powers of our heart and mind,
to praise You Father
and Your Only-begotten Son,
Our Lord Jesus Christ:
Dear Father, by Your wondrous
condescension of loving-kindness toward us,
Your servants, You gave up Your Son.
Dear Jesus You paid the debt of Adam
for us to the Eternal Father by
Your Blood poured
fourth in loving-kindness.
You cleared away the darkness of sin
By Your magnificent and radiant Resurrection.
You broke the bonds of death
and rose from the grave as a Conqueror.
You reconciled heaven and earth.
Our life had no hope of eternal happiness
before You redeemed us.
Your Resurrection has washed away our sins,
restored our innocence and brought us joy.
How inestimable is the tenderness
of Your love!
–Saint Gregory the Great’s Easter Prayer; courtesy of here.
All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract. Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest; it is always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins. But in order to understand that weakness we must repeat what has been said more than once; that it was not the weakness of a thing originally weak. It was emphatically the strength of the world that was turned to weakness and the wisdom of the world that was turned to folly.
In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilisation. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. Scepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask:
‘What is truth?’ So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role. Rome was almost another name for responsibility. Yet he stands for ever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the practical had become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgement-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.
Since that day it has never been quite enough to say that God is his heaven and all is right with the world; since the rumour that God had left his heavens to set it right.
—The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton; courtesy of Wikiquote.