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This is a series of repost for Easter from Melito of Sardis.
What more can I add here?
Components of the Mystery of the Passover (46-71)
1. The Passover (46-47a)
46. Now that you have heard the explanation of the type and of that which corresponds to it, hear also what goes into making up the mystery. What is the passover? Indeed its name is derived from that event–”to celebrate the passover” (to paschein) is derived from “to suffer” (tou pathein). Therefore, learn who the sufferer is and who he is who suffers along with the sufferer.
2. The Creation and Fall of Man (47b-48)
In the beginning, when God made heaven and earth, and everything in them through his word, he himself formed man from the earth and shared with that form his own breath, he himself placed him in paradise, which was eastward in Eden, and there they lived most luxuriously.
Then by way of command God gave them this law: For your food you may eat from any tree, but you are not to eat from the tree of the one who knows good and evil. For on the day you eat from it, you most certainly will die.
48. But man, who is by nature capable of receiving good and evil as soil of the earth is capable of receiving seeds from both sides, welcomed the hostile and greedy counselor, and by having touched that tree transgressed the command, and disobeyed God. As a consequence, he was cast out into this world as a condemned man is cast into prison.
3. Consequences of the Fall (49-56)
49. And when he had fathered many children, and had grown very old, and had returned to the earth through having tasted of the tree, an inheritance was left behind by him for his children. Indeed, he left his children an inheritance–not of chastity but of unchastity, not of immortality but of corruptibility, not of honor but of dishonor, not of freedom but of slavery, not of sovereignty but of tyranny, not of life but of death, not of salvation but of destruction.
50. Extraordinary and terrifying indeed was the destruction of men upon the earth. For the following things happened to them: They were carried off as slaves by sin, the tyrant, and were led away into the regions of desire where they were totally engulfed by insatiable sensual pleasures–by adultery, by unchastity, by debauchery, by inordinate desires, by avarice, by murders, by bloodshed, by the tyranny of wickedness, by the tyranny of lawlessness.
51. For even a father of his own accord lifted up a dagger against his son; and a son used his hands against his father; and the impious person smote the breasts that nourished him; and brother murdered brother; and host wronged his guest; and friend assassinated friend; and one man cut the throat of another with his tyrannous right hand.
52. Therefore all men on the earth became either murderers, or parricides, or killers of their children. And yet a thing still more dreadful and extraordinary was to be found: A mother attacked the flesh which she gave birth to, a mother attacked those whom her breasts had nourished; and she buried in her belly the fruit of her belly. Indeed, the ill-starred mother became a dreadful tomb, when she devoured the child which she bore in her womb.
53. But in addition to this there were to be found among men many things still more monstrous and terrifying and brutal: father cohabits with his child, and son and with his mother, and brother with sister, and male with male, and each man lusting after the wife of his neighbor.
54. Because of these things sin exulted, which, because it was death’s collaborator, entered first into the souls of men, and prepared as food for him the bodies of the dead. In every soul sin left its mark, and those in whom it placed its mark were destined to die.
55. Therefore, all flesh fell under the power of sin, and every body under the dominion of death, for every soul was driven out from its house of flesh. Indeed, that which had been taken from the earth was dissolved again into earth, and that which had been given from God was locked up in Hades. And that beautiful ordered arrangement was dissolved, when the beautiful body was separated (from the soul).
56. Yes, man was divided up into parts by death. Yes, an extraordinary misfortune and captivity enveloped him: he was dragged away captive under the shadow of death, and the image of the Father remained there desolate. For this reason, therefore, the mystery of the passover has been completed in the body of the Lord.
In studying Melito of Sardis, I happened upon his preaching on the Passover (which I am reposting for this Easter). This is the oldest surviving sermons outside of the New Testament, and as such provides much insight into the heart and mind of this little know Preacher. From time to time, I will offer segments of his Passover Sermon.
The entire sermon is laced with Doctrine, but the central point of it is the Gospel message, that Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected on the third day to provide Salvation for humanity. This is the Gospel. In drawing out the connection between the Passover of the Jews and the Passover of the Church, he brings to the mind the connectivity between the Old Testament and the New, of Israel and the Church, of the union of the Body of Christ.
I am reposting Melito for Easter.
I have posted on Melito some before, and find myself returning to him for a bit especially his homily on the Passover. He provides us with an accurate manner in using the Old Testament, and it is an example that is well served for the past few millenia. He does not create something that is not there, no drench the Prophets with our Hope, but stands in the good Tradition of using the New Testament to read the Old. For a New Testament example of this, we need to turn no further, dig no deeper than the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Note, if you will, the powerful images that Melito presents us with.
In celebration of this Easter, I am reposting several of my posts on Melito of Sardis. In my opinion, he doesn’t get enough attention in the early Christological debates of the 3rd and 4th centuries. The facts are collected, but the comments on Melito are mine.
But if any honest Christian wants to know why the Lord suffered death on the cross and not in some other way, we answer thus: in no other way was it expedient for us, indeed the Lord offered for our sakes the one death that was supremely good. He had come to bear the curse that lay on us; and who could He “become a curse” otherwise than by accepting the accursed death. And that death is the cross, for it is written, “cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree.” – Athanasius, Treasury, p. 176
1. O sacred Head, now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down, Now scornfully surrounded With thorns, Thine only crown. O sacred Head, what glory, What bliss, till now was Thine! Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.
2. Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance, Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee And flee before Thy glance. How art thou pale with anguish, With sore abuse and scorn! How doth Thy visage languish That once was bright as morn!
3. Now from Thy cheeks has vanished Their color, once so fair; From Thy red lips is banished The splendor that was there. Grim Death, with cruel rigor, Hath robbed Thee of Thy life; Thus Thou has lost Thy vigor, Thy strength, in this sad strife.
4. My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me, For it was my transgression Which brought this woe on thee. I cast me down before Thee, Wrath were my rightful lot; Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!
5. My Shepherd, now receive me; My Guardian, own me Thine. Great blessings Thou didst give me, O Source of gifts divine! Thy lips have often fed me With words of truth and love, Thy Spirit oft hath led me To heavenly joys above.
6. Here I will stand beside Thee, From Thee I will not part; O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart, When soul and body languish In death’s cold, cruel grasp, Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.
7. The joy can ne’er be spoken, Above all joys beside, When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide. O Lord of life, desiring Thy glory now to see, Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.
8. What language shall I borrow To thank Thee, dearest Friend, For this, Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? Oh, make me thine forever! And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never, Outlive my love for Thee.
9. My Savior, be Thou near me When death is at my door; Then let Thy presence cheer me, Forsake me nevermore! When soul and body languish, Oh, leave me not alone, But take away mine anguish By virtue of Thine own!
10. Be Thou my Consolation, My Shield when I must die; Remind me of Thy Passion When my last hour draws nigh. Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, Upon Thy cross shall dwell, My heart by faith enfold Thee. Who dieth thus dies well!
Notes: Hymn #172 from The Handbook to The Lutheran Hymnal Text: Is. 50: 6 Author: Paul Gerhardt Based on the Latin poem “Salve caput cruentatum” By Bernard of Clairvaux, 1153, asc. Translated by: composite Titled: O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden Composer: Hans L. Hassier, 1601 Tune: Herzlich tut mich. This text was converted to ascii format for Project Wittenberg by Cindy A. Beesley and is in the public domain. You may freely distribute, copy or print this text.
Intriguing findings from Barna Group:
Many Americans express significant angst over the state of religious freedom in the U.S. Slightly more than half of adults say they are very (29%) or somewhat (22%) concerned that religious freedom in the U.S. will become more restricted in the next five years. As might be expected, those who are religious are more concerned than those who aren’t—particularly Christians more so than those adherents to other faiths. Practicing Protestants (46% very concerned) are more worried about this prospect than others; yet, 30% of practicing Catholics are also concerned. Barna-defined evangelicals, who meet a series of nine theological criteria, are among the most likely to be concerned about such restrictions (71%).
Not only are most Americans worried about the future of religious freedom, many feel the restraints have already started. One-third of adults believe religious freedoms have grown worse in the last decade. Among practicing Protestants, nearly half (48%) say they perceive freedom of religion to have grown worse in recent years. Three out of five evangelicals (60%) perceive religious freedoms to have grown worse.
I wanted to briefly respond to Edmund Standing’s excellent post: Christianity: A form of therapy or a radical alternative?
Let me begin with this quote:
Insanity – a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.
This quotation, for me, hits at the heart of the premise underlying Edmund’s post. Our society’s focus on individualism, consumerism and self, is so alien to our deep needs of community, it is no wonder that maladies of the mind and spirit prevail giving rise to a ‘therapy’ culture.
Edmund makes this interesting point:
Despite what the therapy industry might tell us, true mental illness is still a relatively rare phenomenon, but what we have seen grow exponentially is the widespread sense of being deeply uneasy, hollow, and anxious. Such a feeling in a medical-centred culture is generally nowadays classified as being a manifestation of one or other nervous disorder or depression, and a dubious combination of medication and psychobabble are seen to be its ‘cure’, but perhaps we need to look at such disorders and ‘depression’ (often a very slippery and ill-defined concept) as evidence that the human spirit is crying out under the pressures of living in what is an increasingly unhealthy and unnatural environment.
I agree there is a tendency to over pathologise in our Western culture and a prime example of this can be seen in the war being fought over the new DSM-5 diagnostic manual, within which the removal of the ‘bereavement exclusion’ from the diagnosis of depression will mean that someone could be diagnosed as depressed even if they’ve just lost a loved one.
This to me is an example of pathologising a normal reactive psychological response.
I also adhere to the unpopular stance that “true mental illness is still a relatively rare phenomenon” despite the “one in four” meme.
To me, much of what is spoken of as mental illness nowadays is an entirely rational response to a crappy world.
This is not to denigrate severe and chronic mental illness which debilitates so many and the enormous benefits of therapy to this community.
The irony of the ‘therapy’ culture is that it is entirely understandable. Therapy may be the only environment within which a person can talk, knowing everything said will be held in the strictest confidence. Also, therapy tends to be non-judgmental. There can be a feeling of being ‘connected’ with ‘another’.
Of course, the therapeutic environment is entirely contrived and paid for, but in an increasingly individualistic and lonely society, who can blame folk for turning to therapy.
It also strikes me that another consequence of the loss of community and increasing individualism is the issue of identity; or more specifically, the loss of identity. We used to frame ourselves in terms of our community, but what happens when we lose our community?
Where else can folk in our modern society turn for these provisions?
Which brings me back to Edmund’s post:
One of the greatest losses of modernity has been the decline of community spirit and the sense of being united around common practices. Where once the church and the pub provided the two key venues in which communities could come together, many churches across the land are gradually emptying and pub closures now take place on a weekly basis, as cheap supermarket alcohol leads people out of the old communal space and into drinking at home, often alone. Biblical Christianity offers a way to combine all of this – the experience of community, shared worship, and shared eating and drinking. This Christianity points us to a God of relationships, not a God of the isolated self.
The answer lies not in a culture of therapy, but rather in the rediscovery of the radically relational and communal lifestyle of Jesus and his early followers.
This is by no means a ‘quick fix’ solution and is not something that can happen overnight. It constitutes a significant challenge to the Church to once again return to its roots, to strip away the institutionalisation that has sapped the life out of Christianity’s early core, and perhaps calls for a renewed consideration of what it actually means to be a part of the Church. Most importantly, it constitutes a call to re-think the ‘personal salvation’ theology promoted by much of modern Christianity and to consider the possibility that the call of Jesus is not a call simply to the individual, but rather a call to a wholeness that can only come through community.
I have to agree with this.
I believe the rise of sects such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses thrive off the sense of community they create. They have tapped into something that has been sadly lost in the mainstream denominations. That feeling of ‘belonging’ and ‘community’ and ‘brotherhood’ are heavily emphasised within these organisations. Their ‘identity’ is wrapped up in their affiliation with the group and they do look out for one another.
I’m not one who wishes to live in a another’s pocket; however, there is much to be learned from such groups.
Church can be too often that thing we do on Sunday, complete with our best masks, and we are in danger of standing aloof from one another.
We as Christians need to relearn communal living as this is the real attraction of Christianity.
Edmund made this comment:
…..and an age in which the concept of ‘friendship’ increasingly means nothing more than having a list of people connected to you on a social networking website.
I suspect more and more of us are seeking and receiving our ‘community’ online; I know this is very true for the mentally ill community and perhaps so for Christians also.
Is this a good thing or bad? I’ll let you be the judge of that.
I often read that we should seek our identity in Christ, but more and more, I realise the impossibility of this without the community of his people.
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A cry was heard in Ramah– weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.” (Mat 2:16-18 NLT)
The Murder of the Innocents is a seriously debated account found only Matthew’s Gospel. Recently, the National Geographic has come out with a theory that Herod did not commit these crimes as recorded in the Gospel. There is a simple explanation for the exclusion from history.
From the Catholic Encyclopedia,
The Catholic Encyclopedia in 1910 argued that the Matthew Gospel account “is not contradicted by the mere silence of Josephus; for the latter follows Nicholas of Damascus, to whom, as a courtier, Herod was a hero.” It also cited an 1897 book by A. J. Maas: “Cruel as the slaughter may appear to us, it disappears among the cruelties of Herod. It cannot, then, surprise us that history does not speak of it”.
Josephus makes no mention of this history. The only writer who mentions it is Macrobius, in the Second Book of his Saturnalia, where, relating the jokes and taunts of Augustus, he says: When he heard that, by Herod’s command, the children in Syria under two years of age had been slain, and that his own son had been slain among the crowd, “I would rather,” said he, “have been Herod’s hog than his son.” But the authority of Matthew alone is abundantly sufficient for us. Josephus certainly ought not to have passed over a crime so worthy of being put on record. But there is the less reason to wonder that he says nothing about the infants; for he passes lightly over, and expresses in obscure language, an instance of Herod’s cruelty not less shocking, which took place about the same time, when he put to death all the Judges, who were called the Sanhedrin, that hardly a remnant might remain of the stock of David. It was the same dread, I have no doubt, that impelled him to both of these murders.
Finally, from the College Press NT commentary, which I believe actually helps in understanding how this even could have been passed over.
While the historicity of this event has been disputed by some, R.T. France has provided compelling evidence giving credibility to the Matthean account. Not only is the slaughter of the infants consistent with what is known about Herod, population estimates in and around Bethlehem, coupled with probable birth and infant mortality rates, have led to estimates of around twenty infants being slain by Herod. While not diminishing the tragedy of the situation, such a crime in the light of Herod’s other atrocities may very well have gone unnoticed by contemporary historical sources.
It was indeed a slaughter of the innocents, but it could very have been but a few children, perhaps as the commentary above, nor more than 20. This could easily have been buried in the heaps of historical events that surround Herod and indeed, could have escaped unnoticed since it was such a small number, albeit every murder is important.