Wednesday, 23 November 2011

An introduction to discussing Anglican identity

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Shanghai, the former Anglican cathedral, is being restored … is there a shared, global Anglican identity? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Opening questions:

How many of you are cradle Anglicans?

How many of you have experience of Anglicanism beyond the Church of Ireland?

[Discussion: See how many have experience of the Church of England or the Episcopal Church (TEC). Introduce wider experience of Anglicanism across Europe, in Egypt, the Middle East, Southern Africa, the Far East and the US.]

Being members of the Church of Ireland makes us Anglicans. But I know many Irish people shy away from the use of the word “Anglican” because they fear it is analogous with “English” or that it might imply that the Church of Ireland, in some way, is a branch of the Church of England or – even worse – English people at prayer in Ireland.

And sometimes that is the impression some people have of the term “Anglican Communion” – that it describes churches where English-speaking “ex-pats” go, or is some spiritual or ecclesiological remnant of English colonialism.

Other terms used to describe Anglicans around the world include Episcopal and Episcopalian, terms that are found, for example in Sudan, Scotland, the US, parts of the Middle East, and so on. But the broader term “Anglican” includes other churches too that do not call themselves Anglican or Episcopalian – some, in their own languages, although not in English, even call themselves Catholic (in Hong Kong and Japan, for example).

How many of you have ever heard of the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church, which is a small but indigenous Anglican Church in Portugal?

A worldwide family

Anglicanism is a worldwide family … Saint Luke’s Episcopal cathedral in Orlando, Florida (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Anglicanism is a worldwide family. The Anglican Episcopal family consists of an about 85 million Christians who are members of 44 different churches in 165 different countries. These make up 34 provinces, four United Churches (Bangladesh, North India, South India and Pakistan), and six other churches, spread across the globe.

As Mark Chapman says in his book The Anglican Covenant (p. 2):

“Anyone who travels across the world will soon realize that in some ways Anglicanism is a bit like Microsoft or any other global brand – in that it covers most of the inhabited world, and is the third largest Christian denomination after Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, with perhaps 80 million members. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, may not be quite as well-known as Bill Gates, but I would guess that his beard and his eyebrows command a pretty high degree of international recognition.”

Mark Chapman says that in the days of the British Empire there was an obvious connection between Anglicanism and England … But while many of the member churches in the Anglican Communion claim a direct link with the Church of England, and see this as an important element in what defines them as Anglican, it is not always so, and has not always been so.

There are four Anglican churches on these islands:

● The Church of England
● The Church of Ireland
● The Scottish Episcopal Church
● The Church in Wales.

What is missing?

[Discussion. The Church of Scotland is an established church, but is Presbyterian by nature.]

These four churches have different origins. The Church of Ireland, the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church point out that the origins of Christianity in their countries predate the mission in England of Saint Augustine of Canterbury, who was sent from Rome in the year 597.

Even the Anglicanism in the Isle of Man – although the Diocese of Sodor and man is part of the Church of England – claims to predate the mission of Augustine to England by a century and a half: the diocese was founded in the year 447.

The Church of Ireland claims to be the successor to the ancient Celtic and Anglo-Norman churches. In the late mediaeval period, the churches in the dioceses in the ancient Viking cities of Ireland, including Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Limerick, sometimes continued to look to Canterbury for their episcopal orders and succession.

The Episcopal Church in Scotland has a very different story than either the Church of Ireland or the Church of England. The Reformation in Scotland was followed by turmoil over whether the Church should be Episcopal or Presbyterian. After the Episcopal Church was disestablished in 1689, it suffered under penal laws in force from 1746 to 1792. This Church developed its own (high) liturgy; it had strong links with the dissenting, high church Nonjurors of the Church of England, and did not adopt the 39 Articles until the end of the 18th century.

Although, historically, there have been strong links between the Church of Ireland and the Church of England, there have also been strong links between the Church of Ireland and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

At the restoration of Charles II, and the restoration of the episcopal model of Church in the Church of Ireland in 1660, four of the eight remaining bishops were of Scottish birth, or of immediate Scots ancestry. Later, when it came to framing its own Ecclesiastical Canons, the Episcopal Church of Scotland drew in part on the 1634 Canons of the Church of Ireland.

Just as it would be wrong to define the distinctive characteristics of the Church of Ireland or the Scottish Episcopal Church within the strictures of our links with the Church of England, so too the Anglican Churches around the world cannot be defined as Anglican solely because of their links, directly or indirectly, with the Church of England.

Some of those churches trace their episcopal succession, their liturgies, their ways of doing theology and their stories, back to the Episcopal Church of Scotland. Those churches include the Episcopal Church in the US (TEC), which in turn introduced Anglicanism to many parts of Latin America, to Korea, to Japan and to many parts of China.

The member churches of the Anglican Communion are autonomous yet inter-dependent in their relationships with each other.

Some of the churches in the Anglican Communion trace their historical origins, at least in part, back to the Church of Ireland:

The first Anglican bishop in Canada was Charles Inglis from Glencolumbcille, Co Donegal; Toronto has traditionally been called the “Belfast of Ontario.”

The first Anglican celebration of the Holy Communion in South Africa was by a priest of the Church of Ireland, as marking the origins of what is now the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACNA).

Many other Anglican churches, including those in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, owe their growth and present numbers to Irish missionaries. Irish missionaries were pioneers too in establishing an Anglican presence in parts of Persia/Iran, India, China, and so on.

Indigenous Anglican churches:

In addition, some Churches in the Anglican Communion today are indigenous churches that grew up in their own special circumstances, and looked not to the Church of England, but to the US or even to Ireland for episcopal succession.

The Anglican Church of Mexico originated indigenously in 1810, and sought orders from the Episcopal Church in the US.

The Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church arose through the work of a former Roman Catholic priest. At first it was under the pastoral care of the Bishop of Mexico, but it received its episcopal orders from the Bishop of Meath in 1894, and was not fully integrated into the Anglican Communion until 1980. Is it Anglican? Is it indigenous? Is it a daughter church of the Church of Ireland?

The Lusitanian Church (the Portuguese Episcopal Church) was formed by dissident Roman Catholic priests who formed congregations and adapted the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

The Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar in India, although not a full member of the Anglican Communion, is in full communion with all the member churches, and sends its bishops to the Lambeth Conferences. Yet its origins are in the Syrian Orthodox Church in India.

These churches in the Anglican Communion are diverse in their language, their culture, their origins, and their ethnicity. So, to be Anglican is not to share a common English heritage, culture, and liturgy; nor is it to look to the See of Canterbury as the source of Episcopal government. It would be wrong to equate Anglican with some form of churchy ‘Englishness.’ It would be wrong to assume that the Anglican Communion finds its identity through links with the Church of England.

What holds us together?

So, what holds us together?

Two things have traditionally held the Anglican Communion together – what we call the Lambeth Quadrilateral and what are known as the “Four Instruments of Communion.”

The Lambeth Quadrialteral, which actually originated in the US, is derived from a resolution at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 1888. It is not so much a definition of Anglicanism, but sets out the “bottom line” for discussing union and inter-communion with other churches. It defines the essentials as:

● The Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
● The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
● The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and the elements ordained by him.
● The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

(Lambeth Conference 1888, Resolution 11)

What is missing, or seeks further clarification?

[Discussion: What about: The Book of Common Prayer; the 39 Articles; the ordinal; other sacraments; do we have the same understanding of bishops when it comes to women bishops (refer to recent voting in dioceses in the Church of England), or the same understanding of bishops as they have in Methodism in the US?]

In addition, as Anglicans, we have what we know as the four Instruments of Communion, or instruments of unity:

1, Archbishop of Canterbury:

With the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Primates’ meeting in Dublin … the Archbishop of Canterbury is the focus of unity within the Anglican Communion

The first Archbishop of Canterbury was Augustine in 597. The 104th Archbishop of Canterbury is Archbishop Rowan Williams, who has been in office since 2003. Before that he was Archbishop of Wales. Within the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury functions as the spiritual head of the Communion. He is the focus of unity, since no Church claims membership in the Anglican Communion without being in communion with him. He is primus inter pares or the first among equals among the other primates or chief archbishops and presiding bishops of the various member churches. He is the Primate of All England, while the Archbishop of York is the Primate of England.

2, The Lambeth Conferences:

Lambeth Palace, seen from Westminster on the opposite bank of the River Thames (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The Lambeth Conference of bishops has been described as “the oldest international consultation.” It meets every 10 years solely at the personal invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first Lambeth Conference took place in 1867 in Lambeth Palace; the most recent one was in 2008 in Canterbury. The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion serves as the secretary of the conference. The two archbishops and ten bishops of the Church of Ireland are invited to each Lambeth Conference.

3, The Primates’ Meetings:

The Anglican Primates at their meeting in Swords, Co Dublin, earlier this year (Photograph: Orla Ryan/ACNS, 2011)

The Primates of the Anglican Communion first met as such in in 1979. They are the chief archbishops, presiding bishops, moderators and so on of the member churches. The Archbishop of Canterbury chairs the meetings, which are held at varying intervals at various places in the Anglican world. The primates have no authority as a meeting and their own national churches determine how their ministry is carried out in their own context. The latest meeting of the primates took place in Swords, Co Dublin, earlier this year. The Archbishop of Armagh took an active role, but other Irish people present included the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Bishop David Chillingworth, and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Canon Kenneth Kearon.

4, The Anglican Consultative Council:

The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) was set up in 1968 and first met in 1971. It is representative of the laity, clergy and bishops, of the member churches. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the President the ACC. The Irish members are the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott, Director of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and Mr Wilfred Baker, elected as the clerical and lay member by the Standing Committee. The last meeting was in Jamaica in 2009.

What is missing from these four?

[Discussion: to include the role of the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion; the role of the Mothers’ Union and mission agencies in the growth and unity of the Anglican Communion; whether there is a shared understanding of primacy and the role and authority of bishops.]

Are these four working to maintain and enhance the unity of the Anglican Communion?

[Discussion: the Anglican Covenant, the present debates and divisions, and the idea of impaired communion.]

Without the 39 Articles and The Book of Common Prayer, is there a shared Anglican identity and culture?

The late Archbishop Trevor Huddleston once wrote of how the rhythms and cadences of the English language, which we have inherited from the Anglo-Saxons, Chaucer and Shakespeare, still come across in Anglican liturgy even when it is translated into Swahili and other African languages.

But we no longer have the same liturgies. Our priests and bishops do not all dress in the same way. Nor do we speak the same languages.

Yet, there is a way in which Anglicanism has been shaped by a common story.

The Canticles, sung by great cathedral choirs, often provide the first introduction for many to the riches of Anglican spirituality

For example, the choral tradition that derives from singing the canticles at Morning Prayer (Matins) and Evening Prayer (Evening Prayer) is deeply rooted in many Anglican churches, and the pairing of the “Mag” (Magnificat) and “Nunc” (Nunc Dimittis) as canticles associated with Anglican culture may last a lot longer than the regular observance of Evensong in our parish churches.

An Anglican culture?

King’s College, Cambridge ... the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols creates images Anglican culture that includes hymns, carols, Gothic architecture and the King James Version of the Bible (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

We should also be aware of the way in which Anglicanism is shared in popular culture in a way that reaches far beyond the member churches of the Anglican Communion.

We only have to think of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols from the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, to imagine how deeply woven into popular culture are images of Anglicanism that in one move embraces hymns, Gothic architecture and the King James Version of the Bible.

Secular understandings of “Anglican culture” include the poetry of George Herbert, John Donne and TS Eliot; shared music from Henry Purcell to John Rutter – think of composers like Benjamin Britten, William Byrd, Edward Elgar, Orlando Gibbons, Herbert Howells, John Ireland, John Marbeck, Hubert Parry, Charles Villiers Stanford, Thomas Tallis, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Charles Wood, to name but a few; shared hymns, although many of the hymns we regard as traditionally Anglican were written by the Wesley brothers, both Anglican priests, yet also part and parcel of Methodist identity).

Is there an Anglican culture? (Photomontage: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

And there is a shared literature: the Barchester Chronicles by Antony Trollope; novels such as The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay, or the novels of Susan Howatch and Catherine Fox; plays such as The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams or plays by Alan Bennett, or Alan Bennett as the falsetto-voiced vicar in Take a Pew.

Has anyone seen Maggie Smith or Anna Massey as Susan in Alan Bennett’s A Bed Among the Lentils? Susan, an alcoholic, nervous vicar’s wife who has to travel into Leeds to go to the off-licence because of her debts with the local shop keeper, and who distracts herself from her ambitious, and, as she sees him, vainly insensitive husband and his doting parishioners by conducting an affair with a nearby grocer, and yet discovers something about herself and God in the process. Interestingly, she does not feel cheated when Ramesh Ramesh moves on to marry.

How much of Anglicanism do you think is conveyed in television soap portrayals of vicars in EastEnders and Emmerdale, or in television comedies such as the Vicar of Dibley and Rev, which is now running in a new series?

Appendix 1:

With Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of TEC and Bishop Michael Doe of USPG at the USPG conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire, last year

Member churches of the Anglican Communion:

38 Provinces:

● The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
● The Anglican Church of Australia
● The Church of Bangladesh
● The Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil (Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil)
● The Anglican Church of Burundi
● The Anglican Church of Canada
● The Church of the Province of Central Africa
● The Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central America (Anglican Church in the Central Region of America)
● The Province de L’Eglise Anglicane Du Congo (Province of the Anglican Church of Congo)
● The Church of England
● Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (Hong Kong Anglican Church (Episcopal))
● The Church of the Province of the Indian Ocean
● The Church of Ireland
● The Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Japanese Holy Catholic Church)
● The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East
● The Anglican Church of Kenya
● The Anglican Church of Korea
● The Church of the Province of Melanesia
● The Anglican Church of Mexico
● The Church of the Province of Myanmar
● The Church of Nigeria
● The Church of North India
● The Church of Pakistan
● The Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea
● The Episcopal Church in the Philippines
● The Church of the Province of Rwanda
● The Scottish Episcopal Church
● The Church of the Province of South East Asia
● The Church of South India
● The Anglican Church of Southern Africa
● The Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America
● The Episcopal Church of the Sudan
● The Anglican Church of Tanzania
● The Church of Uganda
● The Episcopal Church (TEC)
● The Church in Wales
● The Church of the Province of West Africa
● The Church in the Province of the West Indies

In addition, there are six extra-provincial churches, five of which are directly under the oversight of the Archbishop of Canterbury:

● The Anglican Church of Bermuda, extra-provincial to the Archbishop of Canterbury)
● Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba (Episcopal Church of Cuba), under a metropolitan council
● The Parish of the Falkland Islands, extra-provincial to the Archbishop of Canterbury)
● The Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church, extra-provincial to the Archbishop of Canterbury
● The Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church, extra-provincial to the Archbishop of Canterbury)
● The Church of Ceylon, extra-provincial to the Archbishop of Canterbury)

In addition, member churches of the Anglican Communion are in full communion with:

● The Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht in Europe
● The Nordic and Baltic Lutheran Episcopal Churches in the Porvoo Communion
● The Mar Thoma Church
● The Malabar Independent Syrian Church
● The Philippine Independent Church, also known as the Aglipayan Church.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer and Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for an introduction to Anglican Identity at the Dublin and Glendalough Fellowship of Vocation in Rathfarnham, Dublin, on 23 November 2011.

The Johannine Letters (7): II John

Scenes from the life of Saint John the Evangelist in the chapel of Saint John’s College, Cambridge: on the left, he survives being thrown into boiling oil outside the Latin gate (ante portam Latinam); on the right, he survives drinking from a poisoned chalice.

Patrick Comerford

II John

1 Ὁ πρεσβύτερος ἐκλεκτῇ κυρίᾳ καὶ τοῖς τέκνοις αὐτῆς, οὓς ἐγὼ ἀγαπῶ ἐν ἀληθείᾳ, καὶ οὐκ ἐγὼ μόνος ἀλλὰ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἐγνωκότες τὴν ἀλήθειαν, 2 διὰ τὴν ἀλήθειαν τὴν μένουσαν ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ μεθ' ἡμῶν ἔσται εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.

3 ἔσται μεθ' ἡμῶν χάρις ἔλεος εἰρήνη παρὰ θεοῦ πατρός, καὶ παρὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ πατρός, ἐν ἀληθείᾳ καὶ ἀγάπῃ.

4 Ἐχάρην λίαν ὅτι εὕρηκα ἐκ τῶν τέκνων σου περιπατοῦντας ἐν ἀληθείᾳ, καθὼς ἐντολὴν ἐλάβομεν παρὰ τοῦ πατρός. 5 καὶ νῦν ἐρωτῶ σε, κυρία, οὐχ ὡς ἐντολὴν καινὴν γράφων σοι ἀλλὰ ἣν εἴχομεν ἀπ' ἀρχῆς, ἵνα ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους. 6 καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ ἀγάπη, ἵνα περιπατῶμεν κατὰ τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ: αὕτη ἡ ἐντολή ἐστιν, καθὼς ἠκούσατε ἀπ' ἀρχῆς, ἵνα ἐν αὐτῇ περιπατῆτε.

7 ὅτι πολλοὶ πλάνοι ἐξῆλθον εἰς τὸν κόσμον, οἱ μὴ ὁμολογοῦντες Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐρχόμενον ἐν σαρκί: οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ πλάνος καὶ ὁ ἀντίχριστος. 8 βλέπετε ἑαυτούς, ἵνα μὴ ἀπολέσητε ἃ εἰργασάμεθα ἀλλὰ μισθὸν πλήρη ἀπολάβητε. 9 πᾶς ὁ προάγων καὶ μὴ μένων ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ τοῦ Χριστοῦ θεὸν οὐκ ἔχει: ὁ μένων ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ, οὗτος καὶ τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει. 10 εἴ τις ἔρχεται πρὸς ὑμᾶς καὶ ταύτην τὴν διδαχὴν οὐ φέρει, μὴ λαμβάνετε αὐτὸν εἰς οἰκίαν καὶ χαίρειν αὐτῷ μὴ λέγετε: 11 ὁ λέγων γὰρ αὐτῷ χαίρειν κοινωνεῖ τοῖς ἔργοις αὐτοῦ τοῖς πονηροῖς.

12 Πολλὰ ἔχων ὑμῖν γράφειν οὐκ ἐβουλήθην διὰ χάρτου καὶ μέλανος, ἀλλὰ ἐλπίζω γενέσθαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς καὶ στόμα πρὸς στόμα λαλῆσαι, ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ ἡμῶν πεπληρωμένη ᾖ.

13 Ἀσπάζεταί σε τὰ τέκνα τῆς ἀδελφῆς σου τῆς ἐκλεκτῆς.

1 The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, 2 because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us for ever:

3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, in truth and love.

4 I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we have been commanded by the Father. 5 But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment just as you have heard it from the beginning – you must walk in it.

7 Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! 8 Be on your guard, so that you do not lose what we have worked for, but may receive a full reward. 9 Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; 11 for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.

12 Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

13 The children of your elect sister send you their greetings.


II John is the 63rd of 66 books in the Bible, and it is the shortest book in the Bible, consisting of a mere thirteen verses. These 13 verses are directed against the same Docetic errors and early Gnosticism that are challenged in both Saint John’s Gospel and I John.


Unlike I John, II John has a title indicating the sender – the Presbyter (Ὁ πρεσβύτερος, ho prebyteros, the priest), and the recipient – the elect lady and her children.

But who are these people?

The tone of the admonitions indicates that the author of II John was well known to his readers and that they acknowledged his spiritual authority.

II John has been traditionally attributed to John the Evangelist, although this is debated. The language of this epistle is remarkably similar to III John. The language, literary style, ideas and manner of II John are very like those of I John. These, along with the early Church tradition make it highly probable that these letters were written by the same author, and the scholarly consensus is that a single author wrote both I John and II John.

However, some commentators have questioned whether the same person also wrote the Gospel according to Saint John, I John and the Book of Revelation. And Harnack and others, while they admitted the canonicity of II John and III John, nevertheless assigned the authorship to another John, whom they named as John the Elder.

Some commentators argue that the rejection of gnostic theology in II John may reveal a later date of authorship than is sometimes claimed. The adherents of gnosticism were most numerous in the second and third centuries, but may not have merited this sort of attention in the first century, when II John is traditionally said to have been written, but when gnostic teachers may not have merited such a response.

The authenticity of II John is attested by very early Fathers: Saint Polycarp II John 7. Saint Irenaeus expressly quotes II John 10 as the words of “John the Disciple of the Lord.” The Muratorian Canon speaks of two Epistles of John. Saint Clement of Alexandria speaks of the larger Epistle of John, and so, as a consequence, we can presume he knows of at least two. Origen speaks of the two shorter letters, which “both together do not contain a hundred lines” and are not admitted by all to be authentic.

The canonicity of II John and III John was disputed for a long time. Eusebius places them among the Antilegomena. The Canon of the Western Church includes them after the fourth century. The Canon of the Eastern Church, apart from Antioch, includes them after the fourth century.

Verse 1:

Who is the letter addressed to?

Unlike I John, which is addressed to several churches, II John is written to one specific church (“the elect lady,” see verse 1). This is probably one of the churches in Asia Minor, although the destination of the letter continues to be debated.

It is possible that II John was a cover letter accompanying I John. But who is it addressed to?

This letter is addressed to “the elect lady and her children,” and closes with the words: “The children of your elect sister greet you.” The “elect lady” is commended for her piety, and is warned against false teachers.

Some translators prefer to render “the elect lady” as the proper name Kyria. Other versions translate the opening greeting as: “The ancient to the lady Elect, and her children.”

Who is the lady elect?

Is she so obviously a Church?

Is she the elect Kyria?

Is the lady Eklekte?

Is she a lady named Eklekte Kyria?

Is this lady one of the elect, but whose name is omitted?

All these interpretations have their defenders.

Other commentators have suggested another possible interpretation. In Revelation 12, the writer speaks of a woman and a dragon. The dragon plots maliciously against the woman and one of her children, but is frustrated in his attempts to do them harm. In anger, he then pursues the rest of her children. II John verse 4 reads: “I was overjoyed to find some of your children walking in truth ...” Could the woman of portent from Revelation be the woman to which this epistle is addressed?

However, Jerome and most other early writers accept that II John is addressed to a particular church, with John urging the members of that church on to faith in Jesus Christ and to the avoidance of heretics, and to love. That interpretation best fits in with the ending to the letter – “The children of your elect sister send you their greetings.”

Verse 2:

We should not forget that the “children” are also the recipients of this letter. They are the members of this Church in Asia Minor, which comes within the presbyter’s sphere of influence. The presbyter loves these “children” who dwell in the truth, and this epistle draws together in a beautiful way the mutual dependence of truth and love.

Verse 3:

These words are familiar to all of us as a shared, modern liturgical greeting. It is a customary one for a Christian letter, but here the author adds “truth and love,” words that are the abiding theme or hallmark of this letter.

Verse 4:

Some of the children, at least, are walking in the truth – in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the phrases “walking in the light” and “walking in the truth” are found regularly to the point that they are almost interchangeable.

Verses 5-7:

In these verses, the author of II John alludes to the main teachings of I John. The command to love is a familiar Johannine emphasis. The source of the difficulty being dealt with here appears to be the same as that dealt with in I John.

Verses 7-11:

II John and adds a command not to show hospitality to false teachers. Anyone whose does so is guilty of participating in their evil teaching.

This Epistle carries a clear warning against paying heed to those who say that Jesus was not a flesh-and-blood figure: “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (verse 7). This establishes that, from the time this epistle was first written, there were those who had docetic Christologies, believing that the human person of Jesus was merely an illusion and he was actually pure spirit.

II John vehemently condemns these anti-corporeal attitudes. This also indicates that those taking such unorthodox positions were either sufficiently vocal, persuasive, or numerous enough to warrant rebuttal in this form.

Verses 12-13:

This letter finishes with a very familiar touch – an apology for the brevity of the letter, and greetings from a sister Church, probably the Church from which the author of this epistle is writing.

Next: III John

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 with MTh students on Wednesday 23 November 2011.