Is the earliest hymn an apologetic excuse?

Cato the Younger (Rome character)

Cato the Younger (Rome character) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We know the familiar hymn found embedded in Paul’s Dio Chrysostom-like-letter to the Philippians,

who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2.6-8 NASB)

Scholars often point to this as an early Christian hymn.

Note, I do not intend for this to be that sort of scholarly post filled with footnotes — consider this a few thoughts along the way.

In Lucan’s Civil Wars, Cato, Caesar, and Pompey are presented by the narrator as inept at knowing their import to Roman history. While Pompey and Caesar may serve as a model for examining how myth is created, Cato better fits our concern due to an already identified connection between Civil Wars and the Gospel of Mark.

Throughout the poem, Cato pictured as a divine-man, favored by the gods, but not fully knowing his destiny. He does, at come point, come to the realization he will die and Rome will fall. However, what awaits the memory/myth of Cato is far greater than Caesar’s Rome — Cato’s memory lives on and grows. This is something Lucan points out as unknowable to the General. How could he, if Cato was to be the consumate Stoic, care about what lies beyond himself. His goal was to accept fate and move on. Fate is thankless and you met it with the same manner.

Another comment — Epictetus (55-135) built on previous Stoics to suggest we were given a part of the divine substance as our soul. We operate with Fate (an image Lucan nearly abuses in his poem) to bring about the ultimate goal.

If Jesus was understood through a Stoic lens, could we not wonder if he refused to speculate about his fate (which includes the pre-existence and teleos) but marched onward. Thus, he never entertained the idea of his divine status awarded to him, according to Paul, after the resurrection when he would have been unrestrained by the restrictions of not knowing (the fetters of humanity). For Socrates (mixing philosophers here, I know), while he sought to rely on reason, there were times he relied on daimonion. In other words, Socrates knew there were times he was “blocked” from divine wisdom and thus fell to his human ways.

Anyway, what if the hymn was an apologetic for what Jesus wasn’t, and thus an allowance for later Christians to worship him through myth/memory rather than a defense of who Jesus was?

Here’s some more thoughts…

You cannot prove a negative, even a negative defense. Is this a defense of a negative stance? In other words, where the believers in Jesus having to defend against the idea of the crucified messiah and worse, the ignorant and crucified messiah?

“Jesus forget everything he knew when he passed through the veil of forgetfulness.” “See, that’s why he didn’t know much and just stood there in the rain.” “But then we was given deity status.”

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Dio Chrysostom, Paul, Letter 44, and Philippians – Friendship

The cognitive environment for Paul was shared with Dio Chrysostom, in that as Vanderspoel points out, where the Greek language went, so did the Greek culture which included rhetoric and philosophy (124). Paul identified with the Greek heritage, and as other Scripture points out, the Greek people and language played a part in the early Church. If we take Paul, roughly, as a philosopher, or at the very least, a sophist, we may even begin to draw a closer comparison between Paul and Dio Chrysostom, especially in their role as one returning from exile to meet friends who have long since honored him. As the Prusites did for Dio Chrysostom, the Philippians did for Paul (1.7). The settings, then, are similar enough to cause a comparison as far as the emotional setting of the two letters.

One of the features which are shared by both letters is the lack of urgency. Unlike Romans, a city which Paul was fast approaching but had never been too before, or unlike Galatians which saw a church in serious conflict, Paul’s letter to the Philippians is set in a style of almost leisure. There were no real pressing concerns except for that of unadulterated friendship which drove Paul to issue his writings. Dio Chrysostom, likewise, having no immediate threat to conquer, or city to set right in civil matters, found time to write for no other reason than to speak glowingly about his admiration of the Prusites. As Stowers notes (35), the letter writing of this age remained on the fringe of rhetorical devices, but included the “aesthetic entertainment” as its purpose. While, entertainment may not in fact be Paul’s pure purpose, and neither Dio Chrysostom’s, there is a certain amount of expected beauty from both authors in their words to their dear friends. This beauty no doubt muted any expected hardness of tone from the writers. For Paul, gone are the harsh tones of Galatians and the prosopopeia of Romans, replaced instead with an emotional thankfulness to the Philippians. Unlike the city of Tarsus, which Dio Chrysostom seemed to have harsh advice for, the city of Prusa received only gentleness (Stowers:80)

Dio Chrysostom’s Letter 44 was written upon his return to Prusa, a city which had endeavored to hold him in their heart as much as he had held them in his heart during his more than a decade exile. The city, as Dio Chrysostom points out, was new with very little to offer the world. It wasn’t the expected residence of the famous orator, but he had chosen it because of the nearness to heart. The great love shared between Prusa and Dio Chrysostom is evidence by the third paragraph, but before that, the letter starts with heaps of adoration poured upon the receptors of the audience. While not exactly in the normal epistle format (lacking a formal introduction), Dio Chrysostom opens up by praising the city in what could be an Asianic flourish, but given that the ancient rhetor was known rather as an Attic speaker, we are only left with the notion that these were genuine moments of praise offered by the returning speaker.

Paul, after a brief introduction (compared to Romans), launches into extreme praise for the Philippian Christians. Paul writes that in every prayer, he was mentioning the church due to their diligence in sharing the Gospel story. For him, however, the Philippians had made the first move, creating a debt for Paul, because they had first held him in their heart, and had shared with him in his imprisonment. Now, Paul was returning the honor, much like Dio would do to the Prusites, by writing such a glowing letter.

Dio, following Plutarch’s advice in his work How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend, quietly speaks to what we can assume to be a present civic need, although one which is not perhaps pressing, in a frank way indicating that he was not just writing to flatter the citizens of the city. In the final two sections of Letter 44, Dio speaks to the Prusites about the need to pursue wisdom along with the already ample supply of eloquence. Further, independence, or some measure of self-governance, must be sought after using their natural qualities, which I would assume would be an open, and noted, warning against active resistance, almost as if Dio Chrysostom is suggesting that the Prusites earn their independence rather than actively seek it. There is also evidence that there is some measure of concern for the role of state morality, in which the author is seeking a “orderly behavior in civic matters”, which had already made ancient city-states grand. All of this plays into Dio Chrysostom’s move to frankness about the idea of independence. The temper of the audience, no doubt, expected the great civic orator, to bring some measure of independence, but he was being a true friend, rather than an Asianic flatter, in urging them to continue to reform towards a goal of self-governance.

Paul, while writing a letter to friend without the great theological or moral crises (1st Corinthians) he had written regarding to other congregations, has an undercurrent of concern for unity in the Philippian church. This breaks through in 2.2-5 (which leads into the great Christological hymn, suggesting that Christ is to be emulated) and 14-15. Perhaps as part of this plea for unity is the spiritual boundaries set out against those who would undo the sought after unity. Paul has stern language for them in 3.2 (cf 3.18-19). With the mention of the three plagues against the audience, Paul again returns to the idea of being of the “same mind” (3.15, 4.2 in which the Apostle specifically cites two people in particular who should be of the “same mind”). This isn’t just an epideictic speech in which Paul is casting praise and blame, but a sincere letter in which he writes to his friends but warns them against certain people, perhaps because the church was showing patience or love to them which was presenting a likely future of threatening to derail Christian unity in the city, and thus the love of the Philippians.

Vanderspoel points out that Dio Chrysostom would often write speeches for the Emperor Trajan in which a particular behavior of the emperor was drawn out and expanded perhaps in order to show what sort of behavior was to be truly emulated (127). It was a desired end, for the civic-minded orator, that the civic rules possess behaviors, virtues, which could be emulated. By drawing out one particular behavior, it was possible that the emperor, and other leaders, would seek to always emulate that one, and thereby, produce a well-rounded and morally capable civic ruler. In the second paragraph, Dio Chrysostom points out that that crowd should listen to him and take his advice. What follows them is the drawing out of certain behaviors of the Prusites. He begins by noting that his father was honored for being a good citizen and an upright administrator. He goes on to note the many honors his family had received for being upstanding citizens, and loyal to the emperor, in the city. After this, he goes on to write about the other cities, which simply do not measure up to Prusa. Finally, he draws a comparison between the beehive and the city of Prusa, citing the former’s morality of granting love to all of its members. Dio Chrysostom is attempting to draw out, then, the tradition in Prusa of honoring his family because of his family’s loyalty to the emperor and their civic morality. As discussed previously, this fits into Dio Chrysostom’s final words of advice to the city, to remain and strength their civic virtue.

If we were to find the same thing in Paul, it would be his urging of the Philippians to continue to share the Gospel while their love continues to increase with knowledge and “full insight” (1.9). In the first part of the letter, Paul focuses on the great love which the Christians have not only for himself, but more abstractly, for sharing the Gospel. This tears at him, as he wants to see the further work of the Philippians, but equally wants to be with Christ. Finally, he is convinced that due to their great love and unfailing loyalty to the Gospel’s message, that he would be better for him to remain. This is the way to stand against those who would seek their own interests and not Christ’s, to continue to share the Gospel in love. There is also, as mentioned previously, the emulation of Christ, which may be comparable to the parable of the beehive in Dio Chrysostom. In 2.2-5, the Philippians are told to have the same mind, and to do this, one must have humility, which is what Christ was said to have as he emptied himself and took upon the form of a servant.

While Paul and Dio Chrysostom were writing nearly a generation apart, the cognitive environment should not be that completely foreign as to disallow a simple comparison. Both men are writing to friends and doing so not in the midst of crisis, but perhaps in a state of pre-crisis, which due to the love of the authors for the audience they feel compelled to head off. Dio Chrysostom writes without the emulation afforded the divine, while Paul, seeking emulation, points backwards to the Philippians and their history of love as well as to Christ for whom Paul was now suffering. Rather, Paul’s letter seeks divine emulation and mission while Dio Chrysostom seeks emulation of other cities for temporal gain. Even with the few differences, the styles are similar in that neither man seeks to be a flatterer, perhaps giving their own personal favor for previous honors bestowed, but seeks to be a true friend in guiding their audience through an impending crisis.

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On the Incarnation of Christ our Lord

The key tenant to the Christian faith is indeed the Incarnation, as in the Incarnation is bound the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote to the church at Philipi, he wrote something, or rehearsed something into print, that has stuck with the Church, and in the hearts and minds of the Saints, for the last two thousand years.

For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11 NKJV)

It is too simply said that for the child to have been born already Christ the Lord, then more than a measure of preexistence must be. We know that in the beginning the Word existed, and further that the Word was God having spoken or God in Actions, and thus no separate deity, and no lesser God. It is the nature of the Incarnation – Deity or Created – that still separates some. It is also the very divine nature of the Incarnation that provides for us a common ground, a foundation for discussion on the Godhead itself.

Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had:

Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 NLT)

Athanasius said,

That mystery the Jews traduce, the Greeks deride, but we adore; and your own love and devotion to the Word also will be the greater, because in His Manhood He seems so little worth.

Although Trinitarian, Athanasius is correct here, and the more so because of his long battles against the Arians.

Ignatius of Antioch, the great bishop of that city, wrote long before Athanasius,

There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible, —  even Jesus Christ our Lord.

Where is the boasting of those who are styled prudent? For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the economy of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water. - Epistle to the Ephesians

In each of Ignatius’ seven letters that have been preserved, he calls Jesus Christ God,

Ephesians:“Ignatius … to the Church which is at Ephesus, … united and elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, our God” (Proem.)

“Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God, ye have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you”. (ch.1)

“Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God…” (ch.20)

Magnesians

Do ye therefore all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one. (Ch. 7)
Philadelphians

“Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him…” (Ch. 8)

Polycarp

“…I pray for your happiness for ever in our God, Jesus Christ, …” (Ch. 8)

Romans

“Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that willeth all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, which … is named from Christ, and from the Father, which I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments; who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, [I wish] abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God.” (Proem)

Smyrnaeans

“I Glorify God, even Jesus Christ, … He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for all ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church.” (Ch. 1)

“Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians].” (Ch. 2)

“For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, “Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit.” And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after his resurrection He did eat and drink with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father.” (Ch. 3)

Trallians

“Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and [truly] died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life.” (Ch. 9)

“But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds? Why do I long to be exposed to the wild beasts? Do I therefore die in vain? Am I not then guilty of falsehood against [the cross of] the Lord?” (Ch. 10)

From the first generation after the Apostles, on who are great men such as Polycarp (to all under heaven who shall believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead.” (Ch. 12) and our Ignatius, there is the very doctrine that it was God in the flesh (in carne – Latin, in the flesh). It was to them the central doctrinal point, and one that would cause doctrinal discussions until even our modern times. What is the nature of the Incarnation?

It is well said that without the Incarnation there is no Christianity, and with no true Christianity, no Christian. This shared faith of ours, this very path to eternal life, is based on the premise that a sacrifice was needed in order to restore the human ability to have not only fellowship, but a relationship with God, just as in Eden before Time. The Scriptures presents the history and future of humanity as having begun in a Garden in which we would walk and talk with the Lord God and because of our sin in Adam, we were separated from God, but there will come a time in the future that Humanity will be given that chance one more, but it all hinges on that sacrifice. Christ must be Deity in order for the Sacrifice of the Cross to be efficacious, for human sins to be “removed” and/or “conquered”.

Arianism, ancient and modern, would have us demote Christ to some secondary being or to some adopted Son, removing from Him that immanent deity and replacing it with a lesser divinity either gained or created. By doing this, there is the notion that Christ was suddenly created, thrown into existence and thus the Incarnation was not Christ coming in the flesh, but instead being created.

The Incarnation expresses first love and then obedience, or perhaps obedience because of love. Without it, and with Arianism, you have only a created sacrifice of only forced obedience without love. Paul writes, perhaps borrowing from an earlier hymn, that the living God thought more of humanity and His creation than He did of His deity and willingly gave it up. He robed Himself with the flesh of humanity (Galatians 4.4) being born of a woman, being made subject to the law, that is sin, thus we return here to the idea that God was a slave, that is to those same mortal coil that we share, you and I.

The setting of a garden provides for us a setting to test obedience. In Eden, God told Adam have it all, except for one fruit of a certain tree. He was disobedient. In Gethsemane, Christ is pictured in the throws of anguish, with his sweat becoming as great drops of blood, which as been pointed to as a sign for physical duress. Here is our Lord in the flesh who became a slave to sin, walking in humility for over three decades, teaching, preaching, and serving – in His our of need, when His soul was abundantly sorrowful – He prayed that His cup would pass from Him. Could Christ have walked away from us, leaving His creation to suffer the pains of death without God?

Did He have that right?

Indeed, for His creation had been disobedient, His people has repeatedly turn from Him to worship other gods, and now, one of His closest friends, along with the Roman Empire, were on the way to betray Him. Yet, the love that first caused His obedience is what He succumbed to and what He would give His life for, but without the Incarnation – and the preexistence that it requires – there is no obedience and thus no love, only a duty and a requirement. There is no true sacrifice, but an offering.

All of those that attribute deity to Christ find that the Incarnation is the essence of Christianity – He was more than a good man, a prophet, a created being – He was and is God. The doctrine of the purpose of the Atonement, or perhaps the ability of the Atonement, is secondary to the Doctrine of the Incarnation itself, which must first be correct so that the others may align.