Monday, 31 October 2011

A challenge to the Church as winter closes in

Winter has closed in on Skerries ... the Harbour at dusk late this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Winter has closed in on Skerries. The clocks have gone back, darkness is closing in earlier and earlier each evening, and the rain and the winds had returned this afternoon.

Halloween had already arrived earlier in the day, with bonfire material being collected throughout Fingal in north Co Dublin – and being lit in some places. Younger teenagers were scurrying through fields, little children in costumes were holding parents’ hands as they wandered through the streets of Lusk, Rush and Skerries, building up their anticipation and expectation for the evening ahead.

One imaginative and creative mind in Lusk already had a humorous take on the evening ahead, with a flying witch crashing into a pole on her brookstick.

Halloween crash landed in Lusk this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In Skerries, the cafés and pubs were busy, despite the wind and rain. The tide was high, and the waters in the harbour were swelling and were a mixture of grey and Joycean snot-green in colour.

Back in Olive on Strand Street, where they know how to make the best double espresso, there was still an opportunity to sit in the open, albeit under the awning, and watch the rain pour down on Strand Street.

The best double espresso ... a table at the Olive in Strand Street, Skerries, this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Later, the beach at the South Strand was deserted apart from a few strollers and a dog or two, and the tide was high.

But we are never alone. Tomorrow is All Saints’ Day. If it is not celebrated appropriately in our churches, with the Eucharist, how do we explain to a younger generation what Halloween is all about?

It is the Night of the Living Dead ... for the saints are alive, and we are part of the Communion of Saints, the Church Triumphant (Ecclesia Triumphans) and the Church Militant (Ecclesia Militans) are one Churchof and are together.

Halloween, or the Eve of All Hallows, is the evening before celebrating All the Saints, All the Holy Ones in Glory, the Saints of every time and place. This is the Eve of a Great Feast of Light – the Solemnity of All Saints, the saints in glory who have “inherited the light” (Colossians 1: 12-13), whether we are alive or dead, whether we have been canonised or faded into obscurity, whether they have given heroic examples in their lives, or they are unsung and unknown. We are all with God in endless joy.

And if we cannot explain Halloween and All Saints’ Day, how can we hope to explain the greater truths of Christmas and Easter?

On my way home, I was taken aback to see Christmas lights already lit up on the facade of Saint Joseph’s Church in Terenure. Why – it’s not even Advent?

But then the Church beyond Dublin is finding it hard to make the connection between being and doing, explaining and living. As the afternoon turned to evening, the news came that the Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, the Right Revd Graeme Knowles, has resigned.

If the dean’s resignation, and the earlier, principled resignation of Canon Giles Fraser, are not to be in vain, then Bishop Richard Chartres must quickly reverse the disastrous decisions that have been taken about the protesters camped out in Paternoster Square.

Already, the credibility of the Church is being sorely tested.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Bearing the yoke of Christ and ministering in his name

Rabbi Zalman Lent in the synagogue on Rathfarnham Road, Dublin, with tallit and teffilin, signs of keeping God’s word before us (Photograph: Orla Ryan)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 30 October 2011: The Fourth Sunday before Advent

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin,

11 a.m., The Eucharist

Micah 3: 5-12; Psalm 43; I Thessalonians 2: 9-13; Matthew 23: 1-12.


May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

It was the year John F Kennedy was elected President, the year the ‘Wind of Change’ blew through Africa, the year of the Sharpeville Massacre, the year U2 was shot down and Gary Powers was captured, the year of the Rome Olympics, the year Khruschev took off his shoe in front of Freddie Boland, the year of the Niemba massacre, the year Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Adolf Eichmann were on trial, the year Ben Hur, Coronation Street and Mise Éire were first screened, the year an Archbishop of Canterbury first visited the Vatican ... and the year the farthing went out of circulation.

It was 1960 ... and I was eight years of age.

But what I remember most from that year is the excitement I experienced as my foster parents moved into a new family home on Rathfarnham Road.

The house was only a few doors up from the one I had been born in, and a short walk from the newly-built synagogue, built only seven years earlier.

Over fifty years later, I still feel the excitement of that growing boy as he runs around the empty rooms, delighting in the sound and the echo of his own shoes on the bare floorboards.

But there was something else that was fascinating about that house on Rathfarnham Road. In the kitchen there was a double sink, and double sets of shelves and drawers for crockery and cutlery, one for milk and one for meat. On each doorpost at every room, apart from the bathroom, there was a sloping shadow on the right-hand side, about my head height then but the height of an adult’s shoulder, where a mezuzah had once been affixed.

For this had once been the home of a pious Jewish family, who observed all the 613 commandments or mitzvot set out in the Talmud – 365 corresponding to the number of days in the year, and 248 corresponding to the limbs in a body.

And so began a long, joyful and inquisitive approach to Judaism that has lasted more than fifty years.

It is a beautiful and joyful sight to watch Orthodox Jewish families walking along Rathfarnham Road to the synagogue on Friday evenings or Saturday mornings … the men with their heads covered with hats, the women with their heads covered with hats and wigs.

In the synagogue, the men will don a prayer shawl (tallit) with fringes (tzitzit), and on weekdays a man may wear teffilin or phylacteries, sets of small boxes containing scrolls of Biblical verses. The Greek word in the Gospel reading for the fringe (κράσπεδον, kráspedon) on a prayer shawl is the same word used for a stole, worn by a priest as a reminder of my commitment to God and God’s revelation (the other Greek word for a stole is ἐπιτραχήλιον, hepitrakhélion).

One phylactery (φυλακτήριον, phylaktérion) or shel yad is worn on the upper left arm, close to the heart, with its strap wrapped around the arm, hand and fingers. The other, the shel rosh, is strapped on in a similar way to the forehead.

The mezuzot and the teffilin are traditional, visual expressions of a commandment that these are signs and reminders of how God brought their ancestors out of slavery and into freedom.

It was debatable in Christ’s time – and still is – in some Jewish circles, whether these practices are commanded in the Torah, or whether they were developed in the synagogues and by the Pharisees after the return from the Babylonian exile. But, whatever their origin, our Gospel reading this morning shows that Christ had no problems with these customs. “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,” he tells the crowd and his disciples. “Do whatever they teach you and follow it” (Matthew 23: 2).

It is difficult, it is impossible, to imagine Christ reading the scroll and teaching in the synagogues in Nazareth, Capernaum and throughout Galilee (Luke 4: 16-44; see Matthew 4: 23; Mark 1; 21), without wearing his prayer shawl with fringes, and then sitting down in the most visible best seat, the cathedra (see Luke 4: 20, where the word καθίζω, kathízo, is used).

Christ’s problem in this morning’s reading is the disconnection we all make between teaching and doing. Despite how we have become confused in our vocabulary, the word Pharisee is not synonymous with hypocrite. Many of the Pharisees were saintly and holy men, a point missed when we misread the Gospels.

There was nothing wrong with mezuzot and the teffilin per se, despite some interpretations of this passage. There is a problem if what is worn on the outside does not reflect what is inside. What is on doorposts must reflect what is at the heart of the family; what is visible on the head and on the arms must reflect what is invisible in the heart and in the mind.

It is not that there is no point in wearing the best prayer shawls and having a visible seat in the congregation. But there is no point in these things if I am not truly praying, if I am not here to pray and to serve God – not just with my body, but with my heart, my soul and my mind too.

The very word here to sit in the best seat, πρωτοκαθεδρία (protokathedría), has the same root as the word cathedra for a bishop’s throne, and the word cathedral. But this is truly the seat not of the greatest, but of the principle teacher and servant, the one who facilitates and who enables our service, our ministry.

When we have processions in Anglican cathedrals, perhaps with incense, certainly with a cross, candles, robed choir, Gospel book and robed clergy, it is not to draw attention to ourselves, but to remind all of us who we are, why we are here and what we are about to do.

Cathedral processions should, paradoxically, be occasions of joy and of humility. The candles call us into the light of Christ, the cross and the Gospel go before us as reminders that we are inviting all here this morning to prepare to meet Christ, in the Word read and proclaimed, and in his Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

If we love these processions but fail to prepare all of us in this way, then we are like the Pharisees who are condemned in this morning’s Gospel reading. But if we do this properly and with reverence, then we all prepare to meet Christ in Word and Sacrament.

‘We proclaimed to you the Gospel’ (I Thessalonians 2: 9) … Saint Paul preaching in Thessaloniki, a fresco in the Cathedral Church of Saint Gregory Palamas in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Our robes are not a burden laid on any of us (see I Thessalonians 2: 9-13), nor do they allow self-glory and aggrandisement. Instead, they are reminders of who we are serving and what we are doing in Liturgy of Word and Liturgy of Sacrament.

There are traditional Anglican prayers for priests to say while robbing before the Eucharist, each prayer drawing on Scriptural texts:

First, while washing their hands, priests have said: “Cleanse me, O Lord, from all defilement of heart and body, that I may, with clean hands and a pure heart, fulfil your work.”

Putting on the alb, the priest says: “Cleanse me, O Lord, that, made white and washed in the blood of the Lamb, I may serve you faithfully, and at last attain to everlasting joy.”

Putting on the cincture: “Gird me, O Lord, with the girdle of your love, and extinguish within me the fire of all evil desire, that the grace of temperance and chastity may abide in me.”

Putting on the stole: “Grant me to so bear your yoke and minister in your name that your word may never return to you void, but may fulfil that to which you have sent it.”

And if the priest is wearing a chasuble, the words are: “Clothe me, O Lord, with the robe of your righteousness, that trusting only in your merits, and resting in your love, all that I do may be acceptable to you.”

The preparatory prayers then include, as an antiphon, words from our Psalm this morning that “I may go to the altar of God, to the God of my joy and gladness” (Psalm 43: 4).

These prayers remind us that as priests we “are witnesses” and that we should be “pure, upright, and blameless” in “our conduct ... towards ... believers,” as the Apostle Paul says in our epistle reading this morning (I Thessalonians 2: 10). Saint Paul reminds Church leaders in this letter to the church in Thessaloniki that we should not burden anyone while we proclaim the Gospel of God. My robes should make me anonymous, so that what I wear and do is not about me, but about Christ and Christ’s work for us in word and sacrament.

The problems arise when I become proud, when I, when we, fail to explain what is happening, when what is visible is not connected with what is happening in my heart, when we fail to give priority to the presence of Christ among us in Word and Sacrament, and the presence of Christ in the Body of Christ which is the Church.

Nowadays, some of us may shy away from wearing our clerical collars and shirts in the marketplace, not because we want to avoid being greeted and shown respect, but because we want to avoid listening to or sharing criticism that the Church often deserves or at least needs to hear.

But they are signs, not of privilege, but of service.

They are signs, not of seeking respect and honour, but of respecting people and honouring God.

They are signs that our lives are dedicated not only to God, but to God’s people.

They are signs that call us not only to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, but call us back to our commitment to facilitating, to serving God’s people so that we may all have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

And so, may all I think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, 30 October 2011

Collect

Almighty and eternal God,
you have kindled the flame of love in the hearts of the saints:
Grant to us the same faith and power of love,
that, as we rejoice in their triumphs,
we may be sustained by their example and fellowship;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord of heaven,
in this eucharist you have brought us near
to an innumerable company of angels
and to the spirits of the saints made perfect.
As in this food of our earthly pilgrimage
we have shared their fellowship,
so may we come to share their joy in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, 28 October 2011

‘Abide with me; fast falls the eventide’

Hints of pink and dusk on the silvery beach at Laytown, Co Meath, late this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Today has been the Feastday of Saint Simon and Saint Jude. At the Eucharist in the chapel this morning I remembered in particular Justin Welby, the former Dean of Liverpool, who was being consecrated Bishop of Durham in York Cathedral this morning.

For Greeks, this is Ochi Day (Επέτειος του «'Οχι», Epeteios tou “'Ochi”), the day that recalls the «'Οχι» (‘No’) delivered by the Greek Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas, in response to the ultimatum presented by Mussolini on 28 October 1940. So many Greeks today must have been wondering about their own responses to ultimatums issued by neighbouring European powers and wondering where to draw on as their sources for resilience in the face of adversity and what must look like the closing of evening.

And this has been a momentous day in Irish politics, with the result in the Presidential election now a foregone conclusion. Although the first count came in late this evening, the count is likely to last well beyond tonight and into the morning.

There were streaks of pink and gold in the morning skies on my way into work. With rains and stormy weather threatening to return at the weekend, it was a good idea to head north to Laytown and Bettystown in Co Meath this afternoon for a walk on the lengthy expanse of beach that stretches east of the two villages as far as Mornington.

Although the tide was out, the sand was damp from recent rains and storms. Even the steps down to the beach betrayed signs of the high water mark earlier this week and underfoot, and so instead I walked along the footpath above the beach and the sea.

Late-ripening rosehips in the hedgerows above the beach at Laytown this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Children were leaving school dressed in their Halloween outfits, their parents delighting in the innocence of their little witches and vampires. In the hedgerows, there was still a rich store of late ripening rosehips, a sign surely that autumn has not yet fully vanished, even though the clocks return to winter time this weekend.

Thatch more typical of the Cape Coast than the Gold Coast of Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The regular gaps in houses provided inviting and tempting invitations back down onto the damp, sandy beach. Here and there was a thatched cottage – some looked as if they might be more at home on the Cape Coast than the “Gold Coast” of Co Meath.

A table by the window in Relish, looking down at the beach in Bettystown, Co Meath, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Two of us stopped for late lunch at Relish in Bettystown, and were given a window seat, with unrivalled views of the beach and the sea.

We decided to walk back to Laytown along the beach. By now there were hints of a hesitant dusk, delayed by the pink streaks in the southern skies. The houses we had passed earlier in the afternoon were now reflected in the waters that had refused to go out with the tide and that were caught in the ripples and the hollows.

As we drove along the banks of the River Nanny, east of Laytown, two swans stood patiently at the very point I had seen two, and then three, herons last Friday. At the bridge at Julianstown, as we climbed up the road south of the Nanny Valley, I recalled how I had once been captivated by the beauty of this landscape as a 16-year-old schoolboy walking back to Gormanston.

The evening was closing in and I found I was singing to myself Henry Lyte’s hymn that we sang at Evensong yesterday:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
ills have no weight, and tears not bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

A meeting of the Dearmer Society

The Church of Ireland Gazette carries the following photograph and caption on page 15 in today’s edition [28 October 2011]:


Dr Margaret Daly-Denton (2nd left) is pictured after delivering a lecture titled ‘An Ecological Reading of the Fourth Gospel’ to a recent meeting of the Dearmer Society held in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, with Canon Patrick Comerford (2nd right) and convenors of the Society, David White (left) and Edna Wakeley. The Dearmer Society is for ordinands currently in training with the Anglican Communion who aspire to membership of the Society of Catholic Priests. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is the group’s president.

‘Keep yourselves in the love of God’

Saint Simon and Saint Jude ... 28 October 2011

Patrick Comerford

Saint Simon and Saint Jude: 28 October 2011:

Isaiah 28: 14-16; Psalm 119: 89-96; Ephesians 2: 19-22; John 15: 17-27.


May I speak to you in the name of God + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’

If you have been the parent of small children you can understand when I say this morning’s saints, Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles, appear almost like two children in the back seat of the car

Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

Most people probably don’t even know who they are.

In Dublin today, if you asked who Simon is, you might be told he runs a shelter for the homeless. If you asked who Jude is, you might be told he is the Patron of Lost Causes.

Thomas Hardy’s last novel was Jude the Obscure (1895). For most of us both Simon and Jude are obscure and without a home in the Gospel stories. They are little known as apostles, without fame, and often squeezed into lists or forgotten, never quite making it.

Jude’s epistle is the last epistle, squeezed in at the end of the New Testament, between the three Letters of Saint John and the Book of Revelation. Simon, for his part, has left no letter at all.

And neither saint has a day all to himself. They have to share one day, squeezed in at the end of the Church year, just after James and just before All Saints’ Day on Tuesday next [1 November]. Simon in the morning and Jude in the afternoon?

To the rest of the world, Simon and Jude appear like a pair of misfits: we know little about their lives or how they lived them, they are hardly famous among the disciples, and certainly are not celebrity apostles.

The two of them are way down the list of the Twelve, their names often confused or forgotten. In those lists (Matthew 10: 2-4; Mark 3: 16-19; Luke 6: 14-16; Acts 1: 13), they come near the end, in tenth and eleventh places, wondering perhaps were they there yet. Well, with Judas in twelfth place, they just about make it onto the first eleven.

The ninth name on the lists is James, the James we might have remembered on Sunday last but who seems to have been bumped off the list in most churches.

So, who are Simon and Jude?

Sorry to say, they never quite get there. Simon is not mentioned by name in the New Testament except on those lists of the Twelve. He pales into insignificance beside the other Simon, Simon Peter.

Jude is so close to Judas – their names are the same (Ιούδας) – is it any wonder that he is linked with lost causes? Trying to distinguish Jude and Judas may have been a lost cause.

But does it matter whether we are at the bottom of the list or abandoned to obscurity?

After the Last Supper, Jude asks Christ why he reveals himself only to the disciples. And Christ tells him: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14: 22-23).

And he goes on to say those word at the opening of our Gospel reading this morning: “Love one another.”

These words are echoed in his brief epistle when Jude says: “Keep yourselves in the love of God” (verse 21).

We know little about the later ministry of Jude or of Simon. Some say Simon and Jude went together as missionaries to Persia, others that one went to Egypt and the other to Persia. Did they get there? Were they missionaries? Were they martyrs? Does it matter, if they kept themselves in the love of God?

We know little about these two saints, bundled together at the end of lists, like two hopeless causes. There was no danger of them being like those servants referred to in our Gospel reading who want to be greater than their master (John 15: 20). All we can presume is that they laboured on, perhaps anonymously, in building up the Church and sharing the love of God.

But then we are not being ordained to be celebrities. The Church does not celebrate celebrities. On saints’ days we recall saints who labour and whose labours are often hidden.

In our Gospel reading, Christ encourages a beleaguered Church to see its afflictions and wounds as his own.

We may suffer in our ministry and mission. Others may forget us. We may live the rest of our lives in obscurity. People may forget our names. We may feel at times that our labouring in the Gospel is a lost cause as far as others are concerned.

But we can be assured, as the Church in Ephesus is assured in our Epistle reading: we are no longer strangers and aliens; we are citizens with the saints, we are building up the household of God upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the cornerstone, and we are being built together spiritually into the dwelling place of God (Ephesians 2: 19-22).

Are we there yet? We are.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Collect:

Almighty God, who built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone: So join us together in unity of spirit by their doctrine that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord God, the source of truth and love: Keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, united in prayer and the breaking of the bread, and one in joy and simplicity of heart, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the Eucharist on the Feast Day of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, 28 October 2011.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Johannine Letters (4): I John 3: 1-24

Abide in him ... detail from an icon of Christ the True Vine

Patrick Comerford

Part 1: I John 3: 1-10, The servants become Children of God



Last week, we saw how I John 2: 28 -3: 10 is one whole unit and how, although some commentators link verses 28-29 with verses 26-27, most say this is not the case.

The first part of our study this morning, ought to be I John 2: 28 to 3: 3. This section deals with the Children of God, with verses 28-29 introducing what is being said in I John 3: 1-3. The verses in 3: 1-3 seem out of place unless we understand them as coming between two parts, each of which deals with the Children of God and their relationship with God as Father. Then, in the second part, the author of this epistle writes about the Children of God avoiding sin.

I John 2: 28-29, The servants become Children of God:

28 Καὶ νῦν, τεκνία, μένετε ἐν αὐτῷ, ἵνα ἐὰν φανερωθῇ σχῶμεν παρρησίαν καὶ μὴ αἰσχυνθῶμεν ἀπ' αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ αὐτοῦ.

29 ἐὰν εἰδῆτε ὅτι δίκαιός ἐστιν, γινώσκετε ὅτι καὶ πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην ἐξ αὐτοῦ γεγέννηται.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.

Comments and notes:

Verse 28: Children of God:

The disciples, who have been called first as servants or slaves, were raised, in the Last Discourse in the Fourth Gospel, to the rank of friends of Christ (John 15: 15). Now, in I John, they move even closer, from being friends of Christ to being Children of God.

Then in Verse 28, the writer turns to the idea of union with God and with Christ at his coming. In the Fourth Gospel, the παρουσία (parousia) or the return of Christ at the end of time is not a frequent thought. But I John makes the connection between realised and final eschatology: while Christ is present to each Christian, the fullness of union is only possible with his final return.

Our present union with Christ enables us as Christians to face with confidence Christ’s return in judgment, either in death or at the end of world.

Verse 28: “abide in him” (NRSV), “remain in him” (RSV):

John calls on believers to abide in Christ, so that when he returns we may have confidence before him. Those who abide in him will have no need to shrink from him in shame at his coming. What does it mean that he is coming? The Greek conveys the idea of someone returning who is not now physically present. Christ is coming to take home those who abide in him.

What does it mean to abide in Christ?

The themes of divine indwelling, keeping the commandments and abiding love are at the heart of the passage on the vine and the branches in the Last Discourse in the Fourth Gospel. There Jesus says:

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete (John 15: 4-11).”

To abide in Christ means bearing spiritual fruit, and that there will be growth (John 15: 4). Abiding in Christ means we are obedient to what he teaches, to his commands (John 15: 10, 14).

Verse 29: “born of him” (NRSV), “begotten of him” (RSV):

I think John really answers the question for us in verse 29. Those who practice righteousness are those who abide in him. Why is this? Because if God is righteous we can be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. This righteousness is evidence that someone is a believer.

What does it mean to be born of God? The idea of being “born of him” or “begotten of him” probably refers to the Father, despite the confusing shifting between the Father and the Son. And this idea is the presupposition of acting righteously – the Father’s love is always the source of sanctification.

Two pairs of verses in the Fourth Gospel give clear pictures of what it means to be born of God.

● John 1: 12-13: verse 12 says those who receive Christ and who believe in his name are given the power to become children of God. The Greek word used there for “power,” ἐξουσία (exousia), literally means power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases, with permission, authority, privilege and power in the power of him whose will and commands must be submitted to by others and obeyed. John 1: 13 says those who believe are born not of blood, the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God and God alone.

● John 3: 3, 5-6: When Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, he says in verse 3 you must be born again, and that without being born again no-one can see the kingdom of God. We must be born of the Spirit.

3: 1-3, Children of God:

1 ἴδετε ποταπὴν ἀγάπην δέδωκεν ἡμῖν ὁ πατὴρ ἵνα τέκνα θεοῦ κληθῶμεν: καὶ ἐσμέν. διὰ τοῦτο ὁ κόσμος οὐ γινώσκει ἡμᾶς ὅτι οὐκ ἔγνω αὐτόν. 2 Ἀγαπητοί, νῦν τέκνα θεοῦ ἐσμεν, καὶ οὔπω ἐφανερώθη τί ἐσόμεθα. οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἐὰν φανερωθῇ ὅμοιοι αὐτῷ ἐσόμεθα, ὅτι ὀψόμεθα αὐτὸν καθώς ἐστιν. 3 καὶ πᾶς ὁ ἔχων τὴν ἐλπίδα ταύτην ἐπ' αὐτῷ ἁγνίζει ἑαυτὸν καθὼς ἐκεῖνος ἁγνός ἐστιν.

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Comments and notes:

We are the adopted Children of God. What comes to mind when you think of adoption? Are your images positive or negative? In verses 1-3, John bursts forth in praise because of the great love that God has given to us. Through adoption, God takes people who are not his children and makes them his children. Christ is the source of our being sons and daughters of the Father.

The world is incapable of knowing God and therefore is incapable of knowing his children, who are like him.

Verse 1:

The source of being made children of God, is God’s love. God has given us his love so we can be children of God, not just in name but in reality.

Verse 2:

We are God’s children now, and will remain God’s children for ever. We do not know now what we will be like, but we do know we will be like Christ when he is revealed or manifested, and we will be children of God forever.

Verse 3:

Sanctity or purity is our best preparation for being like God, and for seeing him.

I John 3: 4-10, avoiding sin:

4 Πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν καὶ τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ, καὶ ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία. 5 καὶ οἴδατε ὅτι ἐκεῖνος ἐφανερώθη ἵνα τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἄρῃ, καὶ ἁμαρτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν. 6 πᾶς ὁ ἐν αὐτῷ μένων οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει: πᾶς ὁ ἁμαρτάνων οὐχ ἑώρακεν αὐτὸν οὐδὲ ἔγνωκεν αὐτόν. 7 Τεκνία, μηδεὶς πλανάτω ὑμᾶς: ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην δίκαιός ἐστιν, καθὼς ἐκεῖνος δίκαιός ἐστιν: 8 ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστίν, ὅτι ἀπ' ἀρχῆς ὁ διάβολος ἁμαρτάνει. εἰς τοῦτο ἐφανερώθη ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, ἵνα λύσῃ τὰ ἔργα τοῦ διαβόλου. 9 Πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἁμαρτίαν οὐ ποιεῖ, ὅτι σπέρμα αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ μένει: καὶ οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται. 10 ἐν τούτῳ φανερά ἐστιν τὰ τέκνα τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τὰ τέκνα τοῦ διαβόλου: πᾶς ὁ μὴ ποιῶν δικαιοσύνην οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ.

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

Comments and notes:

Sin is the great obstacle to being a child of God. The word used here for sin, ἁμαρτία (amartia), means being without a share, missing the mark, erring, being mistaken, missing or wandering from the path of uprightness and honour. In other words, wandering from the law of God or violating God’s law.

By stressing that sin is iniquity, I John may mean that sin is the mark of the children of Satan, when we consider New Testament concepts such as “the man of iniquity” and the “mystery of iniquity” (see II Thessalonians 2: 3-7).

In verses 4-10, we are told what a child of God will look like. The believer purifies himself as he is pure. The Greek word here for purify signifies a moral purity. It is a present active indicative, which means it is a continuous real action – the believer will be morally pure as God is pure.

In verses 4-6, we see three things:

Firstly, in verse 4, we have a definition of sin. Sin is lawlessness. Those who practice sin practice lawlessness, practice disobedience to what God has commanded in his word.

Secondly, in verse 5, Christ appeared to take away sins. What makes Christ eligible for this? Because there is no sin in him. Because he is without sin, he can take away sin.

Thirdly, in verse 6, no one who abides in Christ keeps on sinning. Those who abide in Christ cannot continually sin. The word sinning here is a present active indicative, which represents a real action that is continuous. The believer cannot continually sin. Why is this? Because they abide in Christ who came to take away sins so they cannot continue in it. We are Christ’s and there is no sin in him, therefore his followers are to be like him. No one who keeps on sinning knows Jesus Christ; they have not been adopted by God.

Verse 7:

If the child of God is marked by freedom from sin, the child of the devil is marked by sin. The Gnostics claimed they knew the righteous one, but they lived unrighteous lives. So John says those who practice righteousness are of the Father, they are the true believers, they are children of God. The way we live should back up our claims.

Verse 8:

Here the writer draws a comparison. He says whoever makes a practice of sinning is a child of the devil. Those who sin continually are not children of God, but are children of the devil. The devil has been sinning from the beginning. Sin has its origin in the devil, not God. The child of God cannot continue in sin because Christ appeared to destroy the works of the devil. The believer cannot be in bondage to sin because Christ destroyed the works of the devil, sin, for them.

Verse 9:

The writer says no one born of God keeps sinning because God’s seed abides in him. The one who believes cannot continually sin because the seed of God, the Holy Spirit, the breath of life, abides in them. While the Johannine Christians knew that sin is something evil, the secessionists, on the other hand, thought it not affect union with God. But the believer, cannot continually sin because he has been born of God. Yes, we do sin, but this is in spite of, not because of, being children of God.

Verse 10:

This section ends with a negative statement. John says this is how we tell who the children of God are, and who the children of the devil are: whoever does not practice righteousness, whoever does not love the other Christian, does not belong to God, is not one of the children of God.

“Little children, love one another” ... Saint John on his death-bed, from the Saint John window in Chartres Cathedral.

Part 2: I John 3: 11-24, ‘Little children, love one another

11 Οτι αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ ἀγγελία ἣν ἠκούσατε ἀπ' ἀρχῆς, ἵνα ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους: 12 οὐ καθὼς Κάϊν ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ ἦν καὶ ἔσφαξεν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ: καὶ χάριν τίνος ἔσφαξεν αὐτόν; ὅτι τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ πονηρὰ ἦν, τὰ δὲ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ δίκαια. 13 [καὶ] μὴ θαυμάζετε, ἀδελφοί, εἰ μισεῖ ὑμᾶς ὁ κόσμος. 14 ἡμεῖς οἴδαμεν ὅτι μεταβεβήκαμεν ἐκ τοῦ θανάτου εἰς τὴν ζωήν, ὅτι ἀγαπῶμεν τοὺς ἀδελφούς: ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν μένει ἐν τῷ θανάτῳ. 15 πᾶς ὁ μισῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ ἀνθρωποκτόνος ἐστίν, καὶ οἴδατε ὅτι πᾶς ἀνθρωποκτόνος οὐκ ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον ἐν αὐτῷ μένουσαν. 16 ἐν τούτῳ ἐγνώκαμεν τὴν ἀγάπην, ὅτι ἐκεῖνος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἔθηκεν: καὶ ἡμεῖς ὀφείλομεν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀδελφῶν τὰς ψυχὰς θεῖναι. 17 ὃς δ' ἂν ἔχῃ τὸν βίον τοῦ κόσμου καὶ θεωρῇ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ χρείαν ἔχοντα καὶ κλείσῃ τὰ σπλάγχνα αὐτοῦ ἀπ' αὐτοῦ, πῶς ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ μένει ἐν αὐτῷ;

18 Τεκνία, μὴ ἀγαπῶμεν λόγῳ μηδὲ τῇ γλώσσῃ ἀλλὰ ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ. 19 [Καὶ] ἐν τούτῳ γνωσόμεθα ὅτι ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας ἐσμέν, καὶ ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πείσομεν τὴν καρδίαν ἡμῶν 20 ὅτι ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ ἡμῶν ἡ καρδία, ὅτι μείζων ἐστὶν ὁ θεὸς τῆς καρδίας ἡμῶν καὶ γινώσκει πάντα. 21 Ἀγαπητοί, ἐὰν ἡ καρδία [ἡμῶν] μὴ καταγινώσκῃ, παρρησίαν ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, 22 καὶ ὃ ἐὰν αἰτῶμεν λαμβάνομεν ἀπ' αὐτοῦ, ὅτι τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηροῦμεν καὶ τὰ ἀρεστὰ ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ποιοῦμεν.

23 καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ ἐντολὴ αὐτοῦ, ἵνα πιστεύσωμεν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους, καθὼς ἔδωκεν ἐντολὴν ἡμῖν. 24 καὶ ὁ τηρῶν τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ μένει καὶ αὐτὸς ἐν αὐτῷ: καὶ ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν ὅτι μένει ἐν ἡμῖν, ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος οὗ ἡμῖν ἔδωκεν.

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Comments and notes:

Here we turn to the opening of the second main part of the Epistle, which defines the Gospel as: “We should love one another,” and holds up Christ as the example of love for one’s brother and sister.

In this section, Christians are referred to as the children of God, and we are told two things mark the child of God: righteousness and love. Righteousness is the theme of the first 10 verses of this chapter, which we looked at last week. Love is the overwhelmingly dominant theme of this new section, verses 11-24, with verse 10 acting as the transition. This section almost serves as a commentary on that part of the Last Discourse in the Fourth Gospel found in John 15: 12-19.

Once again, we hear the Gospel (ἀγγελία, angelia, message), but in terms of love, rather than light. Hatred is the mark of the children of the evil one and of his domain, but love is the great sign of having passed out of the kingdom of Satan, the kingdom of death.

Because it is enough

There was a notice in the lift in my hotel in Thessaloniki earlier this month that began: “Αγαπητοί επισκέπτες …” These words are commonly translated in Greek notices into English as: “Dear Guests …” But in Greek, these words truly say: “Beloved guests …”

There is a difference in the grade of affection and intimacy here. Could you imagine a hotel receptionist greeting you as: “My beloved …”?

Could you imagine someone greeting at the church door greeting you with the words: “My beloved …”?

But this is the very level of affection that is being talked about in I John.

Jerome, in his commentary on Galatians 6 (Jerome, Comm. in ep. ad. Gal., 6, 10), tells the well-loved story that John the Evangelist continued preaching even when he was in his 90s and was so enfeebled with old age that they had to carry him into the Church on a stretcher. And when he was no longer able to preach or deliver a long discourse, his custom was to lean up on one elbow on every occasion and say simply: “Little children, love one another.”

This continued on, even when the ageing John was on his death-bed. Then he would lie back down and his friends would carry him back out.

Every week the same thing happened, again and again. And every week it was the same short sermon, exactly the same message: “Little children, love one another.”

One day, the story goes, someone asked him about it: “John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘little children, love one another’?”

And John replied: “Because it is enough.”

If you want to know the basics of living as a Christian, there it is in a nutshell. All you need to know is. “Little children, love one another.” If you want to know the rules, there they are. And there’s only one. “Little children, love one another.”

As John is concerned, if you have put your trust in Jesus, then there is only one other thing you need to know. So week after week, he would remind them, over and over again: “Little children, love one another.”

That is all he preached in Ephesus, week after week, and that is precisely the message he keeps on repeating in this letter, over and over again: “Little children, love one another.”

It opens this new section in I John: “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” He says it again down in verse 18, “Little children, let us love …,” in verse 23: “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us.”

He repeats this, over and over again. Faith in Christ and loving one another go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other. There is no such thing as “loveless Christianity.” It’s like saying you can have a meal without eating anything. Where there is no love there is no Christianity. And John says it over and over again to his readers – because it’s worth repeating, because, indeed, it is enough.

Verse 11 “the message you have heard from the beginning …”

Does this refer to the beginning of the world at creation, or to the beginning of the Church and the teaching of the apostles? Either way, it has always been the same: believers should love one another.

“ … that we should love one another.” That is not merely a duty; it is proof of true Christianity. The heretics boasted of their union with God and their knowledge of the truth, but they had no love for the believers. They separated themselves and lorded their will over them. They had no community spirit.

The heretics, particularly the gnostic heretics, boasted about new teaching. That is why John repeatedly referred back to apostolic authority, which is foundational and unchanging (I John 1: 1, 5; 2: 24). Many new doctrines have come and gone.

Verse 12:

When John says we have to love one another, does he mean that as Christians we have to be gushy towards one another all the time? Worse still, romantic, on an emotional high, or even erotic?

Instead of leaving us wondering, John gives us a concrete example of the sort of love he is talking about. Contrasting opposite extremes, he first gives a counter-example, of how not to be, and then follows this with a positive example of how we should be.

In verse 12, John reminds readers of the story in the Book Genesis of Cain and Abel. He says, “We must not be like Cain.” Cain, the first-born son of Adam and Eve, was jealous of his brother Abel, who was righteous, and so Cain murdered his brother.

Verse 13:

John says this is how the world works. We should not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates us. The world is like Cain all the time. This verse also reflects the Last Discourse in the Fourth Gospel: “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15: 18).

Verse 14:

But we should be different. We have moved from death to life. “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another (our brothers and sisters). Whoever does not love abides in death.”

Verse 15:

But, unlike the world which acts like Cain, we should be surprised if our Christian brothers hate us.

“All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.” Loving your brother or sister in the faith is one of the key indicators of a genuine Christian. And if we are not doing that, if instead we are hating our Christian brothers or sisters, perhaps we need to have a deep look at ourselves.

Verse 16:

But love is about a lot more than just not hating. So, if Cain is the negative example, what about positive love?

In verse 16 we have the positive example:

“We know love by this, that he [Christ] laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. It’s there in black and white, in the second half of verse 16. So often we congratulate ourselves, thinking our Christian love for others is adequate. But is this how loving I am?

Once again we hear echoes of the Last Discourse in the Fourth Gospel: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 13).

Verse 17:

John goes on to say how our love for one another has to be practical love. In verse 17, he relates love and sacrificial love to our attitude to material possessions: If anyone “has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need,” can we say God’s love abides in them if they refuse help?

Verse 18:

The writer is not talking there about pity or feeling sorry for the other person who is in need. He means if I sit here in my comfort and luxury and watch a Christian brother or sister in need and talk about it but do nothing about it, then I haven’t even started finding out what love means.

Look at what John says in verse 18: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” I can’t just talk about it; I have to do something about it.

Verses 19-20:

And the fact is, says John, when I start doing that, then I really start knowing I am alive as a Christian. When I start doing that I really start to know that I belong to the truth, to the real Christian family of true brothers and sisters: “And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

The “this” of verse 19 can refer to what has just been said, by the practice of love, or to what follows, by the greatness of God. If we opt for the first meaning, the practice of love assures Christians that they are on God’s side (“from the truth”). If they are aware of past sins, their hearts can be easy, for God knows their weakness and God’s powerful mercy can forgive sins.

Loving with actions and in truth is far more demanding than just thinking about it and giving intellectual assent to the idea, paying lip service to love, or loving people when it suits us.

Verse 23:

It is all summed up in verse 23. This is his command, this is what God wants me to do. We are to believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and we are to “love one another as has commanded us.”

The emphasis on the name of Jesus is also a favourite theme in the Fourth Gospel: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15: 12).

Keeping the commandments is the supreme source of our confident calling on God, and here we find a reflection on themes in the Last Discourse in the Fourth Gospel. The summation of the commandments is to believe in Christ and to love one another – the very points of faith and practice in which the false propagandists are deficient.

Concluding story

There is a well-known story about a new rector who preached the same sermon over and over again. On his first Sunday in his new parish, he preached a riveting sermon about love. Everyone shook his hand at the door and said: “Great sermon!”

But when they came back the next week, he preached exactly the same sermon, word for word. And the next week. And the week after that. Week after week after week.

Someone finally asked him why he kept preaching the same sermon about love week after week after week. And he said: “Well, everyone told me what a great sermon it was. But I think I’ve got to keep preaching it until they actually start doing it.”

It’s simple. But it’s so hard to do.

Next week: I John 4, The right spirit and testing the spirits.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group of MTh students on Wednesday 26 October 2011

Monday, 24 October 2011

Cleric voices questions over McGuinness role

The Belfast News Letter in today’s edition [Monday 24 October 2011], publishes the following two-column photograph and four-column news report:

Cleric voices questions over McGuinness role

Canon Patrick Comerford

By Bryan Gray

A Church of Ireland clergyman has called into question the suitability of Martin McGuinness for the role of Irish president.

Speaking ahead of Thursday’s presidential vote in the Republic, Canon Patrick Comerford said he did not think it “appropriate” that the Sinn Fein man assume such a high office, given his IRA past.

Last weekend, the senior cleric criticised Mr McGuinness from the pulpit in Liverpool Cathedral, accusing him of showing “no mercy” to the victims of the 1993 Warrington bombing.

In his latest broadside aimed in the direction of the presidential hopeful, the Dublin-based lecturer in theology reaffirmed his opposition to the Mid Ulster MP running in the southern contest.

“I don’t think it is appropriate for somebody to stand for the office of president who has been chief-of-staff of the IRA when the office of president involves being commander-in-chief of the Irish Army,” Canon Comerford told the News Letter.

“I do not think it is appropriate that he should stand for president when the IRA has already murdered members of the Irish Army and Garda. Neither do I think it is appropriate for him to be talking about a truth and reconciliation commission when he himself has not apologised for the crimes of the IRA.

“This man is supposed to be president of the whole Republic and of all the people, and therefore needs to know that people here have been hurt [by the actions of the IRA].”

Referring to the Warrington bombing, the priest said the terrorist blast had particular resonance with him as the mother of one of the victims shared the Comerford surname.

In one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles, two young children – Tim Parry (12) and three-year-old Jonathan Ball – were killed when an IRA bomb exploded in the Cheshire town.

Referring to a meeting between the boys’ parents and Mr McGuinness in 2001, Canon Comerford said in his Liverpool address that the Sinn Fein man declined to say whether he had apologised on behalf of the IRA.

“The Warrington bombers never faced justice, and no mercy was shown to their victims by a man who is now a presidential candidate in the Republic of Ireland,” he said.

The former journalist, who is a regular visitor to Northern Ireland, insisted it was still not too late for Mr McGuinness to apologise for the Warrington attack.

However, he added: “His apologies have always been cached – they have never been full and unconditional.”

During the presidential campaign, Mr McGuinness said he felt ashamed when incidents, such as the Enniskillen bombing, were carried out in the name of Irish republicanism.

Asked if he recognised the leadership shown by the senior republican, Canon Comerford replied: “He has come a long way but so too did the late Gusty Spence, Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley.”

“Everybody has come a long way [in Northern Ireland]. Nobody can claim individual credit [for the peace process].”

Liturgy 6.1: Introductory Readings from the Didache and Patristic sources

A colonnade of 14 Corinthian columns on the west side of the Stoa of Smyrna, the only surviving classical site in Izmir. Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote four of his letters, including one to the Church in Smyrna, while he was a prisoner in Smyrna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 14:00 to 16:00, Mondays, Hartin Room:

Liturgy 6:

6.1:
Introductory Readings from the Didache and Patristic sources.

6.2: Baptism and Eucharist (1) from the early Church to the Reformers.

6.2: The Ministry of the Word: workshop on integrating homiletics and liturgy, reflections and experience.

6.1: Introductory Readings from the Didache and Patristic sources:

Baptism and the Eucharist in the Didache

The Didache (ca 90 AD):

The Didache (Διδαχὴ, “Teaching”) is the common name of a brief early Christian treatise (ca 50–160) containing instructions for Christian communities. While the manuscript is commonly referred to as the Didache, this is short for the title used by the Church Fathers, “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (Διδαχὴ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων).

Some Church Fathers considered it as part of the New Testament but it others rejected it as spurious, and eventually it was excluded from the New Testament canon.

In Chapter 9, the Didache quotes prayers that might correspond with what we might call Consecration and Communion. But there is no reference to the redemptive death of Christ as formulated by Paul. The mention of the chalice before the bread (which is the opposite of the normally accepted tradition) is found in Luke 22: 17-19, in the “Western” text (which omits verse 20).

But this text also parallels what may have been the Jewish blessing of wine and bread at the time and with which the prayers in chapter 9 have a close affinity.

Chapter 10 gives a slightly longer thanksgiving after Communion, which mentions the “spiritual food and drink and eternal life through your child Jesus.” After a doxology come the apocalyptic exclamations: “May grace come, and may this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If anyone is holy, let him come; if any is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen.”

The prayer is reminiscent of the Hosanna and Sanctus of the liturgies, but also of Revelation 22: 17, 20, and I Corinthians 16: 22.

The words in thanksgiving for the chalice are echoed by Clement of Alexandria [Quis Dives Salvetur? 29]: “It is he [Christ] who has poured out the wine, the Blood of the Vine of David, upon our wounded souls”. And they are echoed by Origen, In Judic., Hom. vi: “Before we are inebriated with the blood of the true vine which ascends from the root of David.”

The breaking of bread and Thanksgiving [Eucharist] is on Sunday, “after you have confessed your transgressions, that your Sacrifice may be pure,” and those who are at discord must agree, for this is the clean oblation prophesied in Malachi (1: 11, 14). “Ordain therefore for yourselves bishops and deacons, worthy of the Lord … for they also minister to you the ministry of the prophets and teachers.”

Chapter 7:

1 περι δε του βαπτισματος, ουτω βαπτισατε, ταυτα παντα προειποντες, βαπτισατε εις το ονομα του πατρος και του υιου και του αγιου πνευματος εν υδατι ζωντι.
2 εαν δε μη εχης υδωρ ζων, εις αλλο υδωρ βαπτισον, ει δ' ου δυνασαι εν ψυχρω, εν θερμω.
3 εαν δε αμφοτερα μη εχης, εκχεον εις την κεφαλην τρις υδωρ εις ονομα πατρος και υιου και αγιου πνευματος.
4 προ δε του βαπτισματος προνηστευσατω ο βαπτιζων και ο βαπτιζομενος και ει τινες αλλοι δυνανται, κελευεις δε νηστευσαι τον βαπτιζομενον προ μιας η δυο.

Chapter 8:

1 αι δε νηστειαι υμων μη εστωσαν μετα των υποκριτων. νηστευσουσι γαρ δευτερα σαββατων και πεμπτη, υμεις δε νηστευσατε τετραδα και παρασκευην.
2 μηδε προσευχεσθε ως οι υποκριται, αλλ' ως εκελευσεν ο κυριος εν τω ευαγγελιω αυτου, ουτω προσευχεσθε, πατηρ ημων ο εν τω ουρανω, αγιασθητω το ονομα σου, ελθετω η βασιλεια σου, γενηθητω το θελημα σου ως εν ουρανω και επι γης, τον αρτον ημων τον επιουσιον δος ημιν σημερον, και αφες ημιν την οφειλην ημων, ως και ημεις αφιεμεν τοις οφειλεταις ημων, και μη εισενεγκης ημας εις πειρασμον, αλλα ρυσαι ημας απο του πονηρου, οτι σου εστιν η δυναμις και η δοξα εις τους αιωνας.
3 τρις της ημερας ουτω προσευχεσθε.

Chapter 9:

1 περι δε της ευχαριστιας, ουτως ευχαριστησατε,
2 πρωτον περι του ποτηριου, ευχαριστουμεν σοι, πατερ ημων, υπερ της αγιας αμπελου δαυιδ του παιδος σου, ης εγνωρισας ημιν δια Ιησου του παιδος σου, σοι η δοξα εις τους αιωνας.
3 περι δε του κλασματος, ευχαριστουμεν σοι, πατερ ημων, υπερ της ζωης και γνωσεως, ης εγνωρισας ημιν δια Ιησου του παιδος σου. σοι η δοξα εις τους αιωνας.
4 ωσπερ ην τουτο [το] κλασμα διεσκορπισμενον επανω των ορεων και συναχθεν εγενετο εν, ουτω συναχθητω σου η εκκλησια απο των περατων της γης εις την σην βασιλειαν, οτι σου εστιν η δοξα και η δυναμις δια Ιησου Cριστου εις τους αιωνας.
5 μηδεις δε φαγετω μηδε πιετω απο της ευχαριστιας υμων, αλλ' οι βαπτισθεντες εις ονομα κυριου, και γαρ περι τουτου ειρηκεν ο κυριος. μη δωτε το αγιον τοις κυσι.

Chapter 10:

1 μετα δε το εμπλησθηναι ουτως ευχαριστησατε,
2 ευχαριστουμεν σοι, πατερ αγιε, υπερ του αγιου ονοματος σου, ου κατεσκηνωσας εν ταις καρδιαις ημων, και υπερ της γνωσεως και πιστεως και αθανασιας, ης εγνωρισας ημιν δια Ιησου του παιδος σου, σοι η δοξα εις τους αιωνας.
3 συ, δεσποτα παντοκρατορ, εκτισας τα παντα ενεκεν του ονοματος σου, τροφην τε και ποτον εδωκας τοις ανθρωποις εις απολαυσιν, ινα σοι ευχαριστησωσιν, ημιν δε εχαρισω πνευματικην τροφην και ποτον και ζωην αιωνιον δια Ιησου του παιδος σου.
4 προ παντων ευχαριστουμεν σοι, οτι δυνατος ει, σοι η δοξα εις τους αιωνας.
5 μνησθητι, κυριε, της εκκλησιας σου του ρυσασθαι αυτην απο παντος πονηρου και τελειωσαι αυτην εν τη αγαπη σου, και συναξον αυτην απο των τεσσαρων ανεμων, την αγιασθεισαν, εις την σην βασιλειαν, ην ητοιμασας αυτη, οτι σου εστιν η δυναμις και η δοξα εις τους αιωνας.
6 ελθετω χαρις και παρελθετω ο κοσμος ουτος. ωσαννα τω θεω δαυιδ. ει τις αγιος εστιν, ερχεσθω, ει τις ουκ εστι, μετανοειτω, μαραν αθα, αμην.
7 τοις δε προφηταις επιτρεπετε ευχαριστειν, οσα θελουσιν.

Chapter 7: Of Baptism

1 The procedure for baptizing is as follows. After repeating all that has been said, immerse in running water ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’. 2 If no running water is available, immerse in ordinary water. This should be cold if possible; otherwise warm. 3 If neither is practicable, then pour water three times on the head ‘In the name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’. 4 Both baptizer and baptized ought to fast before the baptism, as well as any others who can do so; but the candidate himself should be told to keep a fast for a day or two beforehand.

Chapter 8: Of Fast-Days and Prayer

1 Do not keep the same fast-days as the hypocrites. Mondays and Thursdays are their days for fasting, so yours should be Wednesdays and Fridays.

2 Your prayers, too, should be different from theirs. Pray as the Lord enjoined in His Gospel, thus:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
As in heaven, so on earth;
Give us this today of our daily bread,
And forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors,
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from the Evil One,
For thine is the power and glory for ever and ever.

3 Say this prayer three times a day.

Chapter 9: the Eucharist

1 At the Eucharist, offer the Eucharistic prayer in this way. 2 Begin with the chalice: ‘We thank to thee, our Father, for the holy Vine of thy servant David, which thou hast made known to us through they servant Jesus.’

‘Glory be to thee, world without end.’

3 Then over the broken bread: ‘We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge thou hast made known to us through thy servant Jesus.’

‘Glory be to thee, world without end.’

4 ‘As this broken bread, once dispersed over the hills, was brought together and became one loaf, so may thy Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into this kingdom.’

‘Thine is the glory and the power, through Jesus Christ, for ever and ever.’

5 No one is to eat or drink of your Eucharist but those who have been baptized in the Name of the Lord; for the Lord’s own saying applies here, ‘Give not that which is holy unto dogs.’

Chapter 10

1 When all have partaken sufficiently, give thanks in these words:

2 ‘Thanks be to thee, holy Father, for thy sacred Name which thou hast caused to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality which thou hast revealed to us through thy Servant Jesus.’

‘Glory be to thee for ever and ever.’

3 ‘Thou, O Almighty Lord, hast created all things for thine own Name’s sake; to all men thou hast given meat and drink to men to enjoy, that they may give thanks to thee, but to us thou hast graciously given spiritual meat and drink, together with life eternal, through thy Servant. 4 Especially, and above all, do we give thanks to thee for the mightiness of thy power.’

‘Glory be to thee for ever and ever.’

5 ‘Be mindful of thy Church, O Lord; deliver it from all evil, perfect it in thy love, sanctify it, and gather it from the four winds into the kingdom which thou hast prepared for it.’

‘This is the power and the glory for ever and ever.’

6 ‘Let Grace come, and this world pass away.’ ‘

‘Hosanna to the God of David.’

‘Whoever is holy, let him approach. Whoso is not, let him repent.’

‘Maranatha. Amen.’

7 (Prophets, however, should be free to give thanks as they please.)

(see Maxwell Staniforth and Andrew Louth, Early Christian Writings (London: Penguin), 1988 ed, pp 194-195.)

The Early Father of the Church on the Eucharist:

The Coliseum ... Saint Clement, Bishop Rome ca AD 80, is one of the earliest Patristic writers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Clement, Bishop of Rome (80 AD):

Saint Clement refers to the Eucharist as the “offering of the gift” (Corinthians 36: 1).

Corinthians 40:

Since then these things are manifest to us, and we have looked into the depths of the divine knowledge, we ought to do in order all things which the Master commanded us to perform at appointed times. He commanded us to celebrate sacrifices and services, and that it should not be thoughtlessly or disorderly, but at fixed times and hours. He has Himself fixed by His supreme will the places and persons whom He desires for these celebrations, in order that all things may be done piously according to His good pleasure, and be acceptable to His will. So then those who offer their oblations at the appointed seasons are acceptable and blessed, but they follow the laws of the Master and do not sin. For to the high priest his proper ministrations are allotted, and to the priests the proper place has been appointed, and on Levites their proper services have been imposed. The layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity.

The 42-hectare Kültürpark was laid out on the ruins of the Greek quarter of Smyrna ... Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans ca 110 AD (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Ignatius of Antioch (ca 35-ca 98/117)

Saint Ignatius of Antioch ... referred to the Church as a “Eucharistic community” which realises its true nature when it celebrates the Eucharist, and defined the Church as the local community gathered around its bishop, celebrating the Eucharist

Ignatius (ca 35-ca 98/117), who succeeded Peter and Evodius ca 68 as the third Bishop or Patriarch of Antioch, may have been a disciple of the Apostle John. He is one of the Apostolic Fathers, the earliest authoritative group of the Church Fathers, and it is argued that his understanding of the nature of the Church and the Eucharist was close to the Apostles and the Apostolic Church. Ignatius, who died as a martyr in Rome, wrote six letters to the churches in the region and one to a fellow bishop, Polycarp of Smyrna.

He referred to the Church as a “Eucharistic community” which realises its true nature when it celebrates the Eucharist, and defined the Church as the local community gathered around its bishop, celebrating the Eucharist:

“Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptise or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.” – Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8.

Ignatius, therefore, is the first known Christian writer to put great stress on loyalty to a single bishop in each city, who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. He also stressed the value of the Eucharist, calling it “a medicine to immortality.” He is also claimed as the first known Christian writer to argue in favour of replacing the Saturday Sabbath with the Lord’s Day, and he is responsible for the first known use of the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), meaning “universal,” to describe the church.

Ignatius is also the first of the Church Fathers to speak about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Ignatius, “thought of the Church as a Eucharistic society which only realised its true nature when it celebrated the Supper of the Lord, receiving His Body and Blood in the Sacrament.” [Ignatius, quoted in Metropolitan Kallistos (Timothy) Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 21.]

Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter 6 (110 AD):

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God ... They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.

Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 8:1 (110 AD):

Let that Eucharist be held valid which is offered by the bishop or by the one to whom the bishop has committed this charge. Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.

Epistle to the Romans, 7 (110 AD):

I desire the Bread of God, the heavenly Bread, the Bread of Life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; I wish the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.

Epistle to the Philadephians, 4:1 (110 AD):

Be ye careful therefore to observe one Eucharist (for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup unto union in His blood; there is one altar, as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow-servants), that whatsoever ye do, ye may do it after God.

Justin Martyr (100-165):

Justin Martyr (100-165) was an early Christian apologist, and his works represent the earliest surviving Christian apologies of notable size. He was born in Flavia Neapolis (modern Nablus) in Palestine, and, according to tradition, he was martyred in Rome under Marcus Aurelius (ca 162-168).

The most important of all early allusions to Christian worship is the locus classicus of Justin Martyr in his First Apology. [Cresswell, The Liturgy … of ‘The Apostolic Constitutions,’ p. 18.] The First Apology was written ca 151 to the Emperor Antoninus Pius to explain the practices and beliefs of Christians and to prove the injustice of the persecution of Christians. He defends Christianity as the only rational creed, and includes an account of the Eucharist, probably to counteract distorted accounts from anti-Christian sources. Chapters 61-67 give accounts of Baptism, Eucharist, and Sunday worship.

Justin emphasises the requirements of baptism and the need to approach the Eucharist prayerfully and with a pure heart. In the Eucharist he shows his devotion by offering bread and wine and by prayer, receiving in return the food consecrated by a formula of Christ’s institution, which is the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus, and by which our flesh and blood are nourished through a kind of transformation (kata metabolen).

In Chapter 67, Justin directly refers to the Eucharistic prayer of “considerable length” and to the active participation of the community. He points out that the Apostles handed down the teaching of Christ’s words at the Last Supper. The Eucharistic celebration is described by Justin in Chapters 65-67:

“And this food is called among us the Eucharist … , as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of his word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

“For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, said, ‘This do ye in remembrance of me, this is my body;’ and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, he said, ‘This is my blood;’ and gave it to them alone …

“Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.”

Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (ca AD 155), writes of how the Church, “in every place offer sacrifices to him, i.e., the bread of the Eucharist, and also the cup of the Eucharist, affirming both that we glorify his name.”

Apology, I.66-167 (2nd century):

Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ

It is allowed to no one else to participate in that food which we call Eucharist except the one who believes that the things taught by us are true, who has been cleansed in the washing unto rebirth and the forgiveness of sins and who is living according to the way Christ handed on to us. For we do not take these things as ordinary bread or ordinary drink. Just as our Savior Jesus Christ was made flesh by the word of God and took on flesh and blood for our salvation, so also were we taught that the food, for which thanksgiving has been made through the word of prayer instituted by him, and from which our blood and flesh are nourished after the change, is the flesh of that Jesus who was made flesh. Indeed, the Apostles, in the records left by them which are called gospels, handed on that it was commanded to them in this manner: Jesus, having taken bread and given thanks said, “Do this in memory of me, this is my body.” Likewise, having taken the cup and given thanks, he said, “This is my blood,” and he gave it to them alone.

The Sunday Assembly:

Furthermore, after this we always remind one another of these things. Those who have the means aid those who are needy, and we are always united. Over everything which we take to ourselves we bless the Creator of the universe through His Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

On the day called after the sun [Sunday] there is a meeting for which all those dwelling in the cities or in the countryside come together. The records of the Apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time allows. When the reader has stopped, the one who is presiding admonishes and encourages us by a sermon to the imitation of those good examples.

Then we all stand up together and lift up our prayers and, as I said previously, when we have finished our prayer, bread is brought forth and wine and water. The one who is presiding offers up prayers and thanksgiving according to his ability and the people acclaim their assent with “Amen.” There is the distribution of and participation on the part of each one in the gifts for which thanks has been offered, and they are sent to those who are not present through the deacons.

We all come together on the day of the sun since it is the first day, on which God changed darkness and matter and made the world. On that day, Jesus Christ our Saviour arose from the dead. They crucified him on the day preceding that of Saturn, and on the day of the sun he appeared to his Apostles and disciples and taught them these things which we have presented also to you for inspection.

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (ca 130-202):

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons ... appealed to the Eucharist to sustain faith in the resurrection of the body

In the 2nd century, Irenaeus of Lyons (ca 130–202) was Bishop of Lugdunum, Gaul (now Lyons, France). His writings were formative in the early development of theology, and he is one of the Fathers of the Church. A disciple of Polycarp, who himself was a disciple of John the Evangelist, Irenaeus is thought to have been a Greek from Polycarp’s hometown of Smyrna (Izmir) in Asia Minor, where he was raised in a Christian family.

Irenaeus, who was rigid in his adherence to orthodoxy, was an important figure defending the place of the four main Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament.

Against Heresies, 5,2,2 (180 AD):

If the body be not saved, then in fact, neither did the Lord redeem us with His Blood; and neither is the cup of the Eucharist the partaking of His Blood nor is the Bread which we break the partaking of His Body … He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be His own Blood, from which He causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, He has established as His own Body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.

Against Heresies, 4,17,5:

Again, giving counsel to His disciples to offer to God the first-fruits from among His creatures, not as if He needed them, but so that they themselves might be neither unfruitful nor ungrateful, He took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, “This is My Body.” The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His Blood.

He taught the new sacrifice of the New Covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve prophets, had signified beforehand: “‘You do not do my will,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name is glorified among the gentiles, and in every place incense is offer to My name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is My name among the gentiles,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 1: 11). By these words He makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to Him, and indeed, a pure one; for His name is glorified among the gentiles.

Against Heresies, 4, 18, 2:

It is not oblations as such that have met with disapproval. There were oblations of old; there are oblations now. There were sacrifices among the people of Israel; there are sacrifices in the Church. Only the kind of oblation has been changed: now it is offered by freemen, not by slaves. There is one and the same Lord, but the character of an oblation made by slaves is distinctive, so too that of an oblation made by sons: their oblations bear the mark of freedom.

We must make oblation to God, and in all things be found pleasing to God the Creator, in sound teaching, in sincere faith, in firm hope, in ardent love, as we offer the first fruits of the creatures that are his. The Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator when it makes its offering to him from his creation, with thanksgiving.

We offer him what is his, and so we proclaim communion and unity and profess our belief in the resurrection of flesh and spirit. Just as bread from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist, made up of two elements, one earthly and one heavenly, so also our bodies, in receiving the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, for they have the hope of resurrection.

Against Heresies, 5,2,2:

If the body be not saved, then in fact, neither did the Lord redeem us with His Blood; and neither is the cup of the Eucharist the partaking of His Blood nor is the Bread which we break the partaking of His Body … He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be His own Blood, from which He causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, He has established as His own Body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.

Saint Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-ca 211/216):

Clement of Alexandria, who was born in the middle of the 2nd century, perhaps in Athens, and died between 211 and 216, is one of the most distinguished teachers in the Church of Alexandria. There he was the head of the Catechetical School, and his pupils included Origen. Clement was the first writer to attempt to set out Christianity in the traditional forms of secular literature. The trilogy into which his principal works are divided are: the Protrepticus (“Exhortation to the Greeks”), the Paedagogus (“The Instructor,” ca 202 AD), and the Stromata (“Miscellanies”)

In The Instructor, Clement of Alexandria says those who take part in the “in faith are sanctified in body and in soul. By the will of the Father, the divine mixture, man, is mystically united to the Spirit and to the Word.”

The Instructor of Children, 1,6,41,3 (202 AD):

When the loving and benevolent Father had rained down the Word, that Word then became the spiritual nourishment of those who have good sense.

The Instructor of Children, 42,1:

O mystic wonder! The Father of all is indeed one, one also is the universal Word, and the Holy Spirit is one and the same everywhere; and one is the Virgin Mother. I love to call her the Church. This Mother alone was without milk, because she alone did not become a wife. She is at once both Virgin and Mother: as Virgin, undefiled; as a Mother full of love.

Calling her children about her, she nourishes them with holy milk, that is with the Infant Word … The Word is everything to a child: both the Father and Mother, both Instructor and Nurse. ‘Eat My Flesh,’ He says, ‘and drink My Blood’ The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutriments. He delivers over His Flesh, and pours out His Blood; and nothing is lacking for the growth of His children. O incredible mystery!

The Instructor of Children, 2,2,19,4:

The Blood of the Lord, indeed, is twofold. There is His corporeal blood, by which we are redeemed from corruption; and His spiritual Blood, that with which we are anointed. That is to say, to drink the Blood of Jesus is to share in His Immortality. the strength of the Word is the Spirit, just as the blood is the strength of the body.

The Instructor of Children, 2,2, 20,1:

Similarly, as wine is blended with water, so is the Spirit with man. The one, the Watered Wine, nourishes in faith while the other, the Spirit, leads us on to immortality. The union of both, however – of the drink and of the Word – is called Eucharist, a praiseworthy and excellent gift. Those who partake of it in faith are sanctified in body and in soul. By the will of the Father, the divine mixture, man, is mystically united to the Spirit and to the Word.

Tertullian (ca 155-230):

Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus) was born, lived, and died in Carthage, in present-day Tunisia. He denounced Christian doctrines he considered heretical, but later in life adopted views that came to be regarded as heretical themselves. Tertullian left the Church of Rome late in his life and joined the Montanists, which explains why he has never been regarded as a saint.

He was the first great writer of Latin Christianity, and is sometimes known as the “father of the Latin Church.” He introduced the term Trinity and probably also the formula “three Persons, one Substance.”

In recalling the Last Supper, Tertullian does not mention either giving thanks or breaking the bread, and locates the giving before the interpretative words.

The Resurrection of the Dead, 8,2 (ca 208-212):

The flesh, then, is washed, so that the soul may be made clean. The flesh is anointed, so that the soul may be dedicated to holiness. The flesh is signed, so that the soul too may be fortified. The flesh is shaded with the imposition of hands, so that the soul too may be illuminated by the Spirit. The flesh feeds on the Body and Blood of Christ, so that the soul too may fatten on God. They cannot, then, be separated in their reward, when they are united in their works.

In his treatise on Prayer (6,2), ca 200/206, Tertullian quotes John 6 in connection with a spiritual understanding of the Lord’s Prayer “give us this day our daily bread.” In a spiritual sense, Christ is our daily Bread, presumably because of the practice of the daily reception of the Eucharist.

Later, in the same treatise (19,1), Tertullian writes:

Likewise, regard to days of fast, many do not think they should be present at the sacrificial prayers, because their fast would be broken if they were to receive the Body of the Lord. Does the Eucharist, then, obviate a work devoted to God, or does it bind it more to god? Will not your fast be more solemn if, in addition, you have stood at God’s altar? The body of the Lord having been received and reserved, each point is secured: both the participation in the sacrifice and the discharge of duty.

On worship on the Lord’s Day, Tertullian writes in The Crown (3,4) in 211:

We take anxious care lest something of our Cup of Bread should fall upon the ground.

Origen (185–ca 254):

Origen (Ὠριγενης Ἀδαμαντιος) was one of the most distinguished of the early fathers of the Church. His writings are important as one of the first intellectual attempts to describe Christianity. In 203 he revived the Catechetical School of Alexandria, where Clement of Alexandria had taught.

Contra Celsum, 8:57:

We are not people with ungrateful hearts; it is true, we do not sacrifice ... to such beings who, far from bestowing their benefits upon us, are our enemies; but to God who has bestowed upon us an abundance of benefits ... we fear being ungrateful. The sign of this gratitude towards God is the bread called Eucharist.

Homilies on Exodus, 13,3:

I wish to admonish you with examples from your religion. You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know, when you received the body of the Lord, you reverently exercised every care lest a particle of it fall, and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish. You account yourselves guilty, and rightly do you so believe, if any of it be lost through negligence. but if you observe such caution in keeping His Body, and properly so, how is it that you think neglecting the word of God a lesser crime than neglecting His Body?

Saint Cyprian of Carthage of Carthage (ca 200-258):

Saint Cyprian was consecrated Bishop of Carthage in 248, was banished in 257 and was later beheaded. He argued that the sacraments are only valid within the Church, and identified the Christian ministry with the priestly and sacrificial functions in the Old Testament. He was the author of the dictum: “Habere non potest Deum patrem qui ecclesiam non habet matrem” (“he cannot have God as his father who does not have the Church as his mother”).

In his account of the Last Supper, Saint Cyprian only quotes part of a Gospel narrative. He uses “blessed” (the word used by Matthew for the bread) rather than “give thanks” (used by both Matthew and Mark) for the cup. He also uses the future tense “will be poured out” rather than the present.

Cyprian, in his Letter of Cyprian to a Certain Magnus (ca 255 AD), wrote: “Finally, the sacrifices of the Lord proclaim the unity of Christians, bound together by the bond of a firm and inviolable charity. For when the Lord, in speaking of bread which is produced by the compacting of many grains of wheat, refers to it as his body, He is describing our people whose unity He has sustained, and when He refers to wine pressed from many grapes and berries, as his blood, He is speaking of our flock, formed by the fusing of many united together.”

In Ephesians (ca 258 AD), he wrote: “The priest who imitates that which Christ did, truly takes the place of Christ, and offers there in the Church a true and perfect sacrifice to God the Father.”

The Lord’s Prayer, Chapter 18 (252 AD):

As the prayer proceeds, we ask and say: ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ This can be understood both spiritually and simply, because either understanding is of profit in divine usefulness for salvation. For Christ is the bread of life and the bread here is of all, but is ours. And as we say ‘Our Father,’ because He is the Father of those who understand and believe, so too we say ‘our Bread’' because Christ is the bread of those of us who attain to His body.

Moreover, we ask that this bread be given daily, lest we, who are in Christ and receive the Eucharist daily as food of salvation, with the intervention of some more grievous sin, while we are shut off and as non-communicants are kept from the heavenly bread, be separated from the body of Christ as He Himself declares, saying: ‘I am the bread of life which came down from heaven. If any man eat of my bread he shall live forever. Moreover, the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.’

Since then He says that, if anyone eats of His bread, he lives forever, as it is manifest that they live who attain to His body and receive the Eucharist by right of communion, so on the other hand we must fear and pray lest anyone, while he is cut off and separated from the body of Christ, remain apart from salvation, as He Himself threatens, saying: ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.' And so we petition that our bread, that is Christ, be given us daily, so that we, who abide and live in Christ, may not withdraw from His sanctification and body.

Letter of Cyprian to a Certain Magnus, 6 (76), 5 (255 AD):

Finally, the sacrifices of the Lord proclaim the unity of Christians, bound together by the bond of a firm and inviolable charity. For when the Lord, in speaking of bread which is produced by the compacting of many grains of wheat, refers to it as His Body, He is describing our people whose unity He has sustained, and when He refers to wine pressed from many grapes and berries, as His Blood, He is speaking of our flock, formed by the fusing of many united together.

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (ca 313-386):

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (Κύριλλος Α΄ Ἱεροσολύμων) was a distinguished theologian of the early Church, and came into conflict with his immediate superiors for his opposition to the Arian party in the Church, and a thorough adherent of Nicene Orthodoxy.

Mystagogic Catechesis 4,1 (ca 350 AD):

1. “I have received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, etc. [I Corinthians 11: 23].” This teaching of the Blessed Paul is alone sufficient to give you a full assurance concerning those Divine Mysteries, which when ye are vouchsafed, ye are of [Ephesians 3: 6] and blood with Christ. For he has just distinctly said, [I Corinthians 2: 23-25] Since then He Himself has declared and said of the Bread, who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He has affirmed and said, who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not His blood?

2. He once turned water into wine, in Cana of Galilee, at His own will, and is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood? That wonderful work He miraculously wrought, when called to an earthly marriage; and shall He not much rather be acknowledged to have bestowed the fruition of His Body and Blood on the children of the bride chamber?

3. Therefore with fullest assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to thee His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that thou by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, mightest be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are diffused through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, [2 Peter 1: 4]

4. Christ on a certain occasion discoursing with the Jews said, [I John 6: 53] They not receiving His saying spiritually were offended, and went backward, supposing that He was inviting them to eat flesh.

5. Even under the Old Testament there was showbread; but this as it belonged to the Old Testament, came to an end; but in the New Testament there is the Bread of Heaven, and the Cup of Salvation [cf. Psalm 116:13], sanctifying soul and body; for as the Bread has respect to our body, so is the Word appropriate to our soul.

6. Contemplate therefore the Bread and Wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord's declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for though sense suggests this to thee, let faith establish thee. Judge not the matter from taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that thou hast been vouchsafed the Body and Blood of Christ.

7. The blessed David also shall advise thee at the meaning of this, saying, [Psalm 23: 5] What he says, is to this effect. Before Thy coming, evil spirits prepared a table for men, foul and polluted and full of all devilish influence; but since Thy coming, O Lord, When the man says to God, , what other does he mean but that mystical and spiritual Table, which God hath prepared , that is, contrary and in opposition to the evil spirits? And very truly; for that had fellowship with devils, but this, with God …

9. These things having learnt, and being fully persuaded that what seems bread is not bread, though bread by taste, but the Body of Christ; and that what seems wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ ...

The Monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos has the skull of Saint John Chrysostom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint John Chrysostom (ca 347-407):

Saint John Chrysostom (Ἰωάννης ὁ Χρυσόστομος), Patriarch of Constantinople, is known for his eloquence in preaching and oratory, his denunciation of the abuse of authority by the authorities in both Church and State. He has given his name to the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. After his death he was given the name Χρυσόστομος (chrysostomos), or “golden mouthed.”

In the Monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos, I was shown the skull of Saint John Chrysostom.

The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom became the liturgical form favoured in the cathedrals and churches of Constantinople

PG 59: 61

This blood is the salvation of our soul; it cleanses our souls, it beautifies our soul; ... it makes it shine even more than gold. Through the pouring out of this blood, it becomes possible to walk the path of heaven.

Saint Ambrose of Milan (ca 337/340-397):

Saint Ambrose (Aurelius Ambrosius) was Bishop of Milan at the end of the fourth century, elected without having been already ordained priest. He is one of the great influential figures of his time, and is one of the four original Doctors of the Church, alongside Augustine, Jerome and Gregory the Great.

On the Mysteries, 9, 50-52, 58 (391 AD):

Let us be assured that this is not what nature formed, but what the blessing consecrated, and that greater efficacy resides in the blessing than in nature, for by the blessing nature is changed … Surely the word of Christ, which could make out of nothing that which did not exist, can change things already in existence into what they were not. For it is no less extraordinary to give things new natures than to change their natures … Christ is in that Sacrament, because it is the Body of Christ; yet, it is not on that account corporeal food, but spiritual. Whence also His Apostle says of the type: “For our fathers ate spiritual food and drink spiritual drink.” [I Corinthians 10: 2-4] For the body of God is a spiritual body.

De Sacramentis:

Whenever the blood of Christ is being poured out, it flows for the forgiveness of sins.

Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430):

Sermons (227):

“I promised you, who have now been baptised, a sermon in which I would explain the Sacrament of the Lord’s Table, which you now look upon and of which you last night were made participants. You ought to know what you have received, what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily. That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ. Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend His Body and Blood, which He poured out for us unto the forgiveness of sins. If you receive worthily, you are what you have received.

Sermons (272):

What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the Body of Christ and the chalice the Blood of Christ … How is the bread His Body? And the chalice, or what is in the chalice, how is it His Blood? Those elements, brethren, are called Sacraments, because in them one thing is seen, but another is understood. What is seen is the corporeal species, but what is understood is the spiritual fruit ... “You, however, are the Body of Christ and His members.” If, therefore, you are the Body of Christ and His members, your mystery is presented at the table of the Lord, you receive your mystery. To that which you are, you answer: “Amen,” and by answering, you subscribe to it. For you hear: “The Body of Christ!” and you answer: “Amen!” Be a member of Christ’s Body, so that your ‘Amen’ may be the truth.

Explanations on the Psalms (33, 1, 10):

“And he was carried in his own hands” [3 King 20: 13 Septuagint?]. But, brethren, how is it possible for a man to do this? Who can understand it? Who is it that is carried in his own hands? A man can be carried in the hands of another; but no one can be carried in his own hands. How this should be understood literally of David, we cannot discover; but we can discover how it was meant of Christ. For Christ was carried in His own hands, when, referring to His own Body, He said: “This is My Body.” For He carried that Body in His hands.

Explanations on the Psalms (98, 9):

“And adore the footstool of His feet, because it is holy” [Psalm 98: 9, Septuagint 99: 9] … In another place in the Scripture it says: “The heavens are my throne, but the earth is the footstool of My feet” [Isaiah 66: 1] Is it the earth, then, that He commands us to adore, since in this other place the earth is called the footstool of God’s feet? … I am put in jeopardy by such a dilemma (Anceps factus sum): I am afraid to adore the earth lest He that made heaven and earth condemn me; again, I am afraid not to adore the footstool of My Lord’s feet, but because the Psalm does say to me: “Adore the footstool of My feet.” I ask what the footstool of His feet is; and Scripture tells me: “The earth is the footstool of my feet.” Perplexed, I turn to Christ, because it is He whom I seek here; and I discover how the earth is adored without impiety, how without impiety the footstool of His feet is adored. For He received earth from earth; because flesh is from earth, and He took flesh from the flesh of Mary. He walked here in the same flesh, and gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation. But no one eats that flesh unless he adores it ; and thus it is discovered how such a footstool of the Lord’s feet is adored; and not only do we not sin by adoring, we do sin by not adoring.

Explanations on the Psalms (98, 9):

“Unless he shall have eaten my flesh he shall not have eternal life” [John 6: 54-55]. [Some] understood this foolishly, and thought of it carnally, and supposed that the Lord was going to cut off some parts of his body to give them ... But he instructed them, and said to them: “It is the spirit that gives life; but the flesh profits nothing: the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” [John 6: 64]. Understand spiritually what I said. You are not to eat this body which you see, nor to drink that blood which will be poured out by those who will crucify me. I have commended to you a certain sacrament; spiritually understood, it will give you life. And even if it is necessary that this be celebrated visibly, it must still be understood invisibly.

The Trinity, (3, 4, 10):

Paul was able to preach the Lord Jesus Christ by means of signs, in one way by his letters, in another way by the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood; for when we speak of the Body of Christ and of his blood, certainly we do not mean Paul’s speaking, nor his parchments nor his ink, nor the meaning of the sounds issuing from his tongue, nor the signs of letters written on skins. By the Body and Blood of Christ we refer only to that which has been received from the fruits of the earth and has been consecrated by the mystical prayer, and has been ritually taken for our spiritual health in memory of what the Lord suffered for us.

Homilies on the Gospel of John (26, 13):

O Sacrament of piety! O sign of unity! O Bread of love! He who desires life finds here a place to live in and the means to live by. Let him approach, let him believe, let him be incorporated so that he may receive life. Let him not refuse union with the members, let him not be a corrupt member, deserving to be cut off, nor a disfigured member to be ashamed of. Let him be a grateful, fitting and healthy member. Let him cleave to the body, let him live by God and for God. Let him now labour here on earth, that he may afterwards reign in heaven.

The City of God (10, 5; 10, 20):

The fact that our fathers of old offered sacrifices with beasts for victims, which the present-day people of God read about but do not do, is to be understood in no way but this: that those things signified the things that we do in order to draw near to God and to recommend to our neighbour the same purpose. A visible sacrifice, therefore, is the sacrament, that is to say, the sacred sign, of an invisible sacrifice. . . . Christ is both the Priest, offering Himself, and Himself the Victim. He willed that the sacramental sign of this should be the daily sacrifice of the Church, who, since the Church is His body and He the Head, learns to offer herself through Him.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria (ca 376-444):

Saint Cyril of Alexandria was the Patriarch of Alexandria from 412 to 444. He came to office when the city was at its height of influence and power within the Roman Empire. He wrote extensively and was a leading protagonist in the Christological debates of the later 4th and 5th centuries. He was a central figure in the First Council of Ephesus in 431, which led to Nestorius being deposed as Patriarch of Constantinople.

Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew 26, 27 (428 AD):

Christ said indicating (the bread and wine): ‘This is my Body,’ and ‘This is my Blood,’ in order that you might not judge what you see to be a mere figure. The offerings, by the hidden power of God Almighty, are changed into Christ’s Body and Blood, and by receiving these we come to share in the life-giving and sanctifying efficacy of Christ.

Sources include:

William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (3 vols, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1970, 1980, 1994).
J.B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan, 1907).
C.C. Richardson, Early Christian Fathers (vol 1, London: SCM Press, 1953).
Maxwell Staniforth and Andrew Louth, Early Christian Writings (London: Penguin, 1988 ed).
JWC Wand, The Greek Doctors (London: The Faith Press, 1950).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These resources were prepared for the Module EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, on the MTh course, on 24 October 2011