Confessional Lutheran theology, hagiography, philosophy, music, culture, sports, education,
and whatever else is on the fevered mind of Orycteropus Afer
+ Saint Mary, Mother of God +
15 August, New Testament
The honor paid to Saint Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ our Lord, God, and Savior goes back to the earliest days of the Church. Indeed, it goes back farther: Even before the birth of her Son, Mary prophesied, "From now on all generations will call me blessed. (Luke 1:48
ESV)" Confessing her as "Mother of God" also confesses that the One whom she bore was and is, indeed, true God.
The New Testament records several incidents from the life of the Virgin: her betrothal to Joseph
, the Annunciation
by the angel Gabriel that she was to bear the Messiah, her Visitation
to Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, the Nativity of our Lord, the visits of the shepherds and the magi, her Purification
and the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple at the age of forty days, the flight into Egypt, the Passover visit to the Temple when Jesus was twelve, (Matthew 1:16, 18-25
; Matthew 2
; Luke 1:26-56
; Luke 2
); the wedding at Cana in Galilee and the performance of her Son's first miracle (at Mary's intercession, see John 2:1-11
), the occasions when observers basically said of Jesus, "How can this man be special? We know his family!" (Matthew 13:54-56
; Mark 6:1-3
; Luke 4:22
; see also John 6:42
); an instance when she came with others to see Him while he was preaching (Matthew 12:46-50
; Mark 3:31-35
; Luke 8:19-21
); and her presence at His crucifixion, where Jesus commended her to the care of His Beloved Disciple (John 19:25-27
). Mary was also present with the apostles in Jerusalem following the Ascension, waiting for the promised Spirit (Acts 1:14
). Thus, we see her present at many of the chief events of her Son's life.
Besides Jesus, only two people are mentioned by name in the Creeds. One is Pontius Pilate, Roman procurator of Judea from 26 to 36 AD. Knowing that Jesus was crucified by Pilate's order pins down the date of His death within a few years, certifying that we are not talking "once upon a time," like worshipers of some mythical god. His death is an historical event, something that really happened.
The other name in the Creeds is that of Mary. They say that Christ was "born of the virgin Mary." That is, they assert that he was truly and fully human, born of a woman and not descended from the skies like an angel. Jesus was not a spirit temporarily cloaked in a robe of human-seeming flesh.
Telling us that His mother was a virgin excludes the theory that Jesus was an ordinary man who was so virtuous that he eventually, at His baptism, became filled with a "Christ Spirit" by God. His virgin birth attests that He was always more than merely human, always one whose presence among us was in itself a miracle, from the first moment of His earthly existence. In Mary, Virgin and Mother, God gives us a sign that Jesus is both truly God and truly man. Emphasizing this point, the Council of Ephesis
in AD 431 officially titled her Theotokos
(God-bearer) and rejected and condemned the title Christotokos
(Christ-bearer). Ask the Pastor
comments on the distinction in Blessed Virgin Mary: Mother of God
We know Little of Mary's life except as it intersects with the life of her Son; this is appropriate. The Scriptures record her words to the angel Gabriel, to her kinswoman Elizabeth, and to her Son on two occasions. The only recorded saying of hers to "ordinary" hearers is her instruction to the servants at the wedding feast: "Do whatever he [Jesus] tells you. (John 2:5
ESV)" Perhaps this should be the summation of her message to the world. To this day, she reminds us, "Listen to Jesus. Pay attention to my Son. Do as He says."
She didn't seek the regard of others on her own behalf. If our honor for the Blessed Virgin doesn't turn our attention from her to the One whom she bore and suckled, to the Word made flesh, then we may be certain that it is not the blessing that she seeks. A right regard for Mary always directs us to Him who made her womb His first earthly dwelling-place.
In different parts of the Church, the date is remembered in various ways. Roman Catholicism celebrates the Assumption of Mary
and claims that she was taken, body and soul, to heaven. However, I've found contradictory teachings in the Roman Church, arguing whether she was translated in the manner of Enoch
, if she died and was resurrected on earth and then taken to heaven, or if her dead body was taken and then rejoined with her soul in heaven.
Meanwhile, Eastern Orthodoxy celebrates the Dormition of the Theotokos
. It claims that Mary certainly died but that when Thomas visited three days later, her body was gone from the tomb. As to whether the body will be kept in heaven until the general resurrection on the Last Day or already rejoined with her spirit, Orthodoxy will not make a final dogmatic pronouncement.
In the rest of Christendom that follows a sanctorial calendar, the general belief seems to be that she likely died and awaits the resurrection with all others who departed in the Faith.
Luke 1:(39-45) 46-55
Collect of the Day
Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your only Son. Grant that we, who are redeemed by His blood, may share with her in the glory of Your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Grant, we humbly pray, O Lord, to Your servants the gift of Your heavenly blessing that, as the Son of the Virgin Mary has granted us salvation, we may daily grow in Your favor; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Labels: acts, assumption, biography, christianity, creed, dormition, feasts, festivals, gospels, hagiography, jesus, mary, new testament, theotokos, virgin
+ Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr +
10 August AD 258
, a gulf
, and a seaway
are named in his honor. A number of Christian congregations and almost anyone known as "Larry" likewise owe their names to this martyr of the ancient Christian Church.
Early in the third century A.D., Lawrence (Latin, Laurentius
, also often known as "Lorenz," "Laurence," or "Lorenzo"), who was most likely born in Spain, made his way to Rome. There he was appointed chief of the seven deacons and was given the responsibility to manage church property and finances.
The emperor at the time, thinking that the church had valuable things worth confiscating, ordered Lorenz to produce the "treasures of the church." Saint Lorenz brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity. He was then jailed and eventually executed in the year 258. Many accounts tell of his being roasted on a gridiron until dead. However, some scholars think that this tradition came about due to a faulty transcription and that the phrase assus est
(he roasted) should have been rendered passus est
His martyrdom left a deep impression on the young church. Almost immediately, the date of His death, 10 August, became a permanent fixture on the commemorative calendar of the early Church.
Psalm 65:1-8 or 34:1-10
Deuteronomy 33:1-3 or Isaiah 26:1-4, 8-9, 12-13, 19-21
Revelation 7: 2-17 or 21:9-11, 22-27; 22:1-5
Stir up, O merciful Father, Your people to true brotherly affection that we may gladly do good and serve our neighbor, as did Your servant Saint Lawrence, when he emptied the treasure of the Church to help the poor; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Labels: biography, christianity, church history, commemoration, feasts, hagiography, lawrence, lorenz, martyrdom, roman empire
+ Hermann Sasse, Theologian and Confessor +
9 August AD 1976
Lutheran pastor and theologian Hermann Otto Erich Sasse was born on 17 July 1895 at Sonnewalde, Lower Lusatia (Lausitz), Germany. He was the eldest of five children born to pharmacist Hermann Sasse and his wife Maria, née Berger. In 1913,he began reading theology and ancient philology at the University of Berlin. In later years, he claimed that his tutor in practical theology was war, as he was one of only six survivors from his battalion after engaging in trench warfare in Flanders.
After the war, he continued his studies and was ordained in 1920 in St Matthew's Church, Berlin. He served in several Brandenburg parishes took the licentiate in theology in Berlin in 1923. Sasse came to Hartford Seminary, Connecticut in 1926, where he earned a master's degree.
Hermann Sasse married Charlotte Margarete Naumann (d. 1964) on 11 September 1928 in St. Nicolai's Church, Oranienburg, Germany. Their union was blessed with three children.
During the tough economic times of the Great Depression, During the Depression, Sasse was made a Sozialpfarrer
(pastor with social duties). As such, he reached out to those in need in the community, particularly to factory workers in Berlin.
Although remembered as one who resisted the watered-down theology of unionism, Sasse participated in the Ecumenical Movement and was a delegate and interpreter during the first world conference of the Faith and Order Movement in Lausanne, Switzerland (1927). He also attended the 1932 disarmament conference in Geneva.
Among German theologians, he ranks as one of the the earliest to speak out against Nazism. While criticizing some of its theology, he participated actively in the Confessing Church Movement that had emerged under Martin Niemöller
and others. Sasse and Dietrich Bonhoeffer
were among the small but growing church opposition to Hitler. In 1933, they were the primary authors of the Bethel Confession
. This strongly trinitarian document also clearly condemned discrimination against the Jews. Rejecting an all-Aryan German Church, the Confession stated, "Instead of giving up, either willingly or unwillingly, in one area the ecclesial fraternity with the Jewish Christian that is created by word and sacrament, the Gentile Christians should rather expose themselves to persecution."
Although he'd been working hand-in-hand with its members, Sasse left the synod that produced the Barmen Declaration
. He objected to Karl Barth and others leading the Confessing Movement to wrongly arrogate church authority for itself. During this time, he continued as professor in church history at the University of Erlangen, Bavaria, a position he received in 1933. The German government withdrew his passport in 1935 but his popularity as a lecturer and protection from the dean of the faculty helped him to retain his university post through the Nazi era.
Uncomfortable with its theological compromises, Sasse protested at the 1948 formation of the Evangelical Church in Germany
. His opposed its policy of restoration rather than renewal and expressed disquiet over state-supported university faculties of theology. This led him to join the Lutheran Free Church.
After receiving a call to teach at Immanuel Seminary
(now Australian Lutheran College) in North Adelaide, South Australia, he migrated in 1949. There, he worked mightily to unite Australia's divided Lutheran churches, devoting much energy to this cause. Exercising his considerable teaching and writing skills, he helped to formulate and forge new doctrinal bases of agreement and was rewarded by seeing the 1966 church union.
Sasse stayed active in the German Lutheran communities of Adelaide and Melbourne. Through his many contacts, he assisted immigrants with pastoral advice and care.
Sasse also retained his global Lutheran connections — many in the United States knew him as "Mr. Lutheran." He maintained world-wide correspondence through regular doctrinal and pastoral "Letters to Lutheran Pastors." He continued to encourage ongoing theological research, particularly in the areas of Scripture as Word of God and the Eucharist. While maintaining his justly deserved reputation for strongly defending confessional and conservative positions, Sasse also kept active personal contacts across denominational boundaries.
From its inception, Sasse involved himself in Australian Roman Catholic-Lutheran dialog. He finally retired from the seminary in 1969 but stayed active in the affairs of the Church. The Federal Republic of Germany honored him with the Order of Merit in 1972.
Sasse saw over 450 of his works published. Included among them are Here We Stand (Minneapolis, 1946) and This is My Body (1959). A fire in his North Adelaide home claimed his life on 9 August 1976. Survived by two sons, he was buried
in Centennial Park, Pasadena, South Australia. One obituary declared Sasse "Australia's most distinguished acquisition from the Continental theological scene."
Hermann Sasse was one of many who stood steadfast in confession of the Evangelical, Orthodox, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith. For a sampling of some of the others in Lutheranism, please see The Meanies of Grace
. For more on and by Sasse, I recommend What Sasse Said
and Hermann Sasse and the Liturgical Movement
as possible starters. You can also find plenty of Sasse to read through this CPH search
O Lord God, heavenly Father, we pray that, as You raised up Hermann Sasse to resist the evils of Nazi philosophy and through him led Lutherans in Germany, Australia, and around the world into renewed appreciation of their confessional heritage and trust in the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, so You would continue to provide Your Church with faithful pastors and leaders, keeping them steadfast in Your grace and truth, defending them against all enemies of Your Word, and bestowing on Christ's Church Militant Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Labels: australia, biography, christianity, church history, commemoration, confessionalism, ecumenical movement, german history, germany, hagiography, lutheranism, sasse, theology
+ Joanna, Mary, and Salome +
3 August, New Testament
These "myrrh bearers" or "faithful women," as they're called among some Christians, with Mary Magdalene
, are named in Scripture as the first visitors to the tomb of the crucified Christ early on the first day of the week. Their trek to His sepulcher was recorded in each of the Synoptic Gospels, although each includes different details. (see Matthew 28:1-8
, Mark 16:1-8
, and Luke 24:1-11
Joanna was the wife of Chuza, a steward in Herod's household (Luke 8:3
). Mary, the mother of James the son of Alphaeus
, also faithfully provided care for Jesus and His disciples from the time of His Galilean ministry through His burial after the crucifixion. Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew 27:56
), joined with the women both at the cross and in the bringing of the spices to the garden tomb.
These "faithful women" have been honored in the Church throughout the centuries as examples of humble and devoted service to the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 23:54-24:11 or Mark 16:1-8
Blessed Lord, through Your only-begotten Son You overcame death and by Your Holy Spirit You call us to Him that we might believe and be saved. Grant that as the women came to His tomb on Easter morn and found joy where they expected sorrow, so we might also come to Christ Jesus, casting our cares upon Him and receiving forgiveness, peace, and the sure and certain hope of everlasting life through Him who reigns eternally with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Labels: biography, commemoration, easter, gospels, hagiography, jesus, joanna, mary, mary magdalene, new testament, resurrection, salome
+ Joseph of Arimathea +
31 July, New Testament
Saint Joseph is mentioned in all four Gospels. He came from a small village called Arimathea in the hill country of Judea and was a respected member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council in Jerusalem. Scholars presume that Joseph was a man of considerable means, since he owned his own unused tomb in a garden not far from the site of Jesus' crucifixion (Matthew 27:60
A man waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, he went to Pontius Pilate after the death of Jesus and asked for Jesus' body (Mark 15:43
). Along with Nicodemus, Joseph removed the body and placed it in the tomb (John 19:39
). Their public devotion contrasted greatly to the fearfulness of the disciples who abandoned Jesus.
The perfume flask depicted here reminds us of Joseph's hurried work of preparing Christ's body for burial, which would have included rubbing the spices brought by Nicodemus on the body and the wrapping cloths.
Labels: biography, commemoration, crucifixion, good friday, gospels, hagiography, jesus, john, joseph of arimathea, luke, mark, matthew, new testament, nicodemus
+ Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr +
30 July AD 1540
Remembered as a disciple of Martin Luther
, Robert Barnes is considered to be among the first Lutheran martyrs. Born in 1495, he became the prior of the Augustinian monastery at Cambridge, England. Converted to Lutheran teaching, he shared his insights with many English scholars through writings and personal contacts.
During a time of exile to Germany he became a friend of Luther and later wrote a Latin summary of the main doctrines of the Augsburg Confession
Upon his return to England, Barnes shared his Lutheran doctrines and views in person with King Henry VIII
and initially had a positive reception. In 1529 Barnes was named royal chaplain.
The changing political and ecclesiastical climate in England later claimed him as a victim; he was burned at the stake in Smithfield in 1540.
His final confession of faith was published by Luther, who called his friend Barnes "our good, pious table companion and guest of our home, this holy martyr, Saint Robertus."
For a bit more on Barnes, please read the introduction to Lutheran Carnival 26
at A Beggar at the Table
Labels: biography, christianity, church history, commemoration, english history, hagiography, lutheranism, martin luther, martyrdom, reformation, robert barnes
+ Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany +
29 July, New Testament
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were disciples with whom Jesus had a special bond of love and friendship. The Gospel According to Saint John records that "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus (11:5
On one occasion, Martha welcomed Jesus into their home for a meal. While she did all the work, Mary sat at Jesus' feet listening to his Word and was commended by Jesus for choosing the "good portion, which will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:38-42
When their brother Lazarus died, Jesus spoke to Martha this beautiful Gospel promise: "I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live." We note that in this instance, it was Martha who made the wonderful confessions of faith in Christ (John 11:1-44
Ironically, raising Lazarus from the dead made Jesus' enemies among the Jewish leaders more determined than ever to kill Him (11:45-57
Six days before Jesus was crucified, Mary anointed His feet with a very expensive fragrant oil and wiped them with her hair, not knowing at the time that she was doing it in preparation for her Lord's burial (John 12:1-8
Labels: bethany, biography, commemoration, gospels, hagiography, jesus, john, lazarus, luke, martha, mary, new testament, resurrection
+ J. S. Bach, Musician, Composer, and Theologian +
28 July AD 1750
Johann Sebastian Bach
(1685-1750) is acknowledged as one of the most famous and gifted of all composers past and present in the entire western world. Orphaned at the age of ten, Bach studied with various family members but was mostly self-taught in music.
He began his professional career as conductor, performer, composer, teacher, and organ consultant at age 19 in the town of Arnstadt. He traveled wherever he received good commissions and steady employment, ending up in Leipzig, where the last 27 years of his life found him responsible for all the music in the city's four Lutheran churches.
Acclaimed more in his own time as a superb keyboard artist, the majority of his compositions fell into disuse following his death, which musicologists use to date the end of the Baroque Period
and the beginning of the Classical Era
. However, his compositional ability was rediscovered, in large part due to the efforts of Felix Mendelssohn
The genius and sheer magnitude of Bach's vocal and instrumental compositions remain overwhelming. Also, whether due to nature or nurture, he was but one of the giants in, perhaps, the most talented musical family of all time
Christendom especially honors J. S. Bach, a staunch and devoted Lutheran, for his lifelong insistence that his music was written primarily for the liturgical life of the Church, glorifying God and edifying His people. For an overview of the Christological basis of his work and a strong argument that he was among the theological giants of Lutheranism, please read J. S. Bach: Orthodox Lutheran Theologian?
Today we remember his "heavenly birthday," for it was on 28 July AD 1750 that the Lord translated Mr. Bach to glory.
Soli deo gloria
— To God alone the glory! These words appear on most manuscripts of Bach's compositions as testimony to his faith and his idea of music's highest, noblest use.
Labels: bach, biography, christianity, church history, commemorations, german history, hagiography, liturgics, lutheranism, music
+ Olaf II of Norway +
29 July AD 1030; transferred to 27 July
Ólafr Haraldsson (also known as Olav
, Oláfr hinn helgi
, and Olavus rex
) was born in 995 to Harald Grenske and Åsta Gudbrandsdatter. While Snoore says that he was baptized in 998 in Norway, it's more likely that it was by the hand of Archbishop Robert in Rouen, France around 1010. As was common among young Norsemen, he spent much of his youth going a-viking (raiding), first in the Baltic, then Denmark, and finally in the British Isles. He was nicknamed "Digre" (physically large) and some believed him to be a reincarnation of a previous (pagan) Viking king Olav Digre. While involved in numerous armed conflicts, Olaf also developed a deep interest in Christianity.
Olaf declared himself King of Norway in 1015. Following battles with various petty kings, he ruled until 1029, although his strength was greatly reduced following his loss in the Battle of the Helgeå (1026). As monarch, he struggled to root out heathenism and make Christianity the religion of the realm. Like his ancestor Olaf Trygvesson, he frequently attacked the old faith and customs. Olaf destroyed pagan temples and built Christian churches in their place. He brought many bishops and priests from England, a practice later followed by King Saint Canute of Denmark. It appears that he based ecclesiastical organization on the Anglo-Saxon model.
The rebellion against Olaf stemmed but in part from his unflinching Christianity. Many of the nobles were also exasperated by his ongoing struggle with the old Norse method of governance and his never-ending desire for a truly united Norway. The governing clans enlisted King Canute of Denmark and England for help in ousting Olaf. Once he was banished, the clans elected Canute as King of Norway. Therefore, he became not only an icon of the Christian Faith but also one of Norwegian nationalism — an image he carries even among secular Norwegians to this day.
After Canute's vassal Håkon Eiriksson died, Olaf returned from his two year exile and met the rebellious clans at Stiklestad on 29 July 1030. Although neither King Canute or the Danes took part, Olaf — who fought courageously — was mortally wounded at that battle and died in the battlefield. His final recorded words were the prayer, "God help me."
He was disinterred a year after his death and his remains moved to the Church of St. Clement in Nidaros (current Trondhjem). There, Bishop Grimkel and Earl Einar Tambeskjelver placed his corpse in a coffin and laid it on the church's high altar. At that time, the bishop also declared Olaf a saint. Although Olaf was embraced by most Norwegian Lutherans, his remains disappeared as part of the iconoclasm that occasionally accompanied the Reformation.
His cult spread widely in the Middle Ages, moving from Norway to Denmark, Sweden, and even parts of England. Although a rather harsh ruler and prone to rough treatment of his enemies, Olaf became Norway's patron saint. The cult of Olaf not only unified the country, it also fulfilled the conversion of the people, something for which the king had fought so hard. While divisive in life, Olaf in death held a unifying power that defied outside state and religious rulers attempts to undo his dream.
Although Olav was certainly not the first to introduce Christianity to Norway, he first codified the faith in 1024, laying the basis for the Church of Norway. So high did Olaf's legal arrangements for the Church of Norway come to stand in the eyes of the Norwegian people and clergy, that when Pope Gregory VII attempted to make clerical celibacy binding on the priests of Western Europe in 1074-75, the Norwegians largely ignored him, since celibacy wasn't mentioned in Olaf's legal code for their church. Although he continued to be known through most of his life as Olaf digre
, in death he remains best known by as Olav den hellige
(Olaf the Holy).
The coat of arms of Norway is a lion holding the battle axe of St. Olaf in his forepaws.
Wisdom 10:10-14Psalm 31:1-7
James 1:2-4, 12
Almighty, eternal God, you are the crown of kings and the triumph of martyrs. We thank You for the bold confession made by Your blessed martyr, Olav We praise your greatness in his death and we pray You give us the crown of life that You have promised those who believe in Your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
, the Catholic Encyclopedia
, and the Christian Cyclopedia
Labels: biography, christianity, church history, commemoration, hagiography, iconoclasm, lutheranism, martyrdom, norway, olaf, scandanavia
+ Saint James the Elder, Apostle +
25 July, New Testament
James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John
were among Our Lord's twelve disciples. Together with Peter
, these two were privileged to behold the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1
; Mark 9:2
; Luke 9:28
). They witnessed the healing of Peter's mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31
) and the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:37
; Luke 8:51
). Jesus called them aside to watch and pray with Him in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before His death (Matthew 26:37
; Mark 14:33
James and John may have been from a higher social level than the average fisherman. Their father could afford hired servants (Mark 1:20
), and John (assuming him to be identical with the "beloved disciple") had connections with the high priest (John 18:15
Jesus nicknamed the brothers Boanerges
— Sons of Thunder — (Mark 3:17
), probably commenting upon their headstrong, hot-tempered, and impulsive natures. So they seem to be in two incidents reported in the Gospels. Once, Jesus and the disciples were refused the hospitality of a Samaritan village, and James and John proposed to call down fire from heaven on the offenders (Luke 9:51-56
). On another occasion, they asked Jesus for a special place of honor in the Kingdom, and were told that the place of honor is the place of suffering (Matthew 20:20-23
; Mark 10:35-41
In about AD 42, shortly before Passover (Acts 12:1-2
), James was beheaded by order of Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great (who tried to kill the infant Jesus; see Matthew 2
), nephew of Herod Antipas (who killed John the Baptist — Mark 6:14-29
— and examined Jesus on Good Friday — Luke 23:6-16
), and father of Herod Agrippa II (who heard the defense of Paul before Festus — Acts 25:13-26:32
). James was first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom, and the only one whose death is recorded in the New Testament.
James is often called "James Major" (also "the Greater" or "the Elder") to distinguish him from other New Testament people named James. Tradition has it that he made a missionary journey to Spain, and that after his death his body was taken to Spain and buried there at Compostela
. His supposed burial place there was a major site of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, and the Spaniards fighting to drive their Moorish conquerors out of Spain took "Santiago de Compostela!" (Saint James of Compostela) as one of their chief war-cries. (The Spanish form of "James" is Diego
. In most languages, "James" and "Jacob" are identical. Where an English Bible has "James," a Greek Bible has Iakobos
The sword (the instrument of his death) and the scallop shell are both traditional representations of the apostle.
Grant, O Lord, that as Saint James the apostle readily followed the calling of Your Son Jesus Christ, we may by Your grace be enabled to forsake all false and passing allurements and follow Him alone; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Labels: apostle, bible, biography, disciple, feasts, festivals, gospels, hagiography, jacob, james, jesus, john, martyrdom, new testament, zebedee
+ Saint Mary Magdalene +
22 July, New Testament
The Gospels mention Mary of Magdala as one of the women of Galilee who followed Jesus and His disciples. She witnessed His crucifixion and burial, and went to the tomb on Easter Sunday to anoint His body. She was the first recorded witness of the risen Christ and was sent by Him to tell the disciples
. Thus, early Christian writings sometimes refer to her as "the apostle to the apostles" (apostle
means "one who is sent").
Confusion sometimes abounds as to whether she is the same person as Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha and Lazarus) or the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus's feet (Luke 7:36-48
). Add in the statement that Jesus cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2
) and you get the origins of a tradition that she was a prostitute before she met Jesus.
Following the assumption (possibly quite misguided) that Mary Magdalene truly had been a spectacular sinner whose penitential sorrow was deep and complete — and possibly because John described her as crying at the tomb of Jesus — artists often portray her either as weeping or with red eyes from having wept. This appearance (and a slight corruption in translation) led to the English word "maudlin," meaning "effusively or tearfully sentimental
." Magdalen College
at Oxford and Magdalene College
at Cambridge (note the different spellings) — both pronounced "Maudlin" — derive their names from this Saint Mary.
Since the printing of Dan Brown's book The Da Vinci Code
and the subsequent motion picture, ancient, heretical ideas about marriage or a less permanent sexual relationship between Mary and Jesus have gained ground. Some even twist an offhand statement from Martin Luther to buttress this argument. Contrary to these false teachings, please read Was Jesus Married
and Luther, Jesus, and Mary Magdalene
John 20:1-2, 11-18
Almighty God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, restored Mary Magdalene to health and called her to be the first witness of His resurrection. Heal us from all our infirmities, and call us to know You in the power of Your Son’s unending life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Labels: apostle, bible, biography, christianity, easter, feasts, festivals, gospels, hagiography, jesus, mary, mary magdalene, new testament, resurrection
+ The Holy Prophet Ezekiel +
21 July, Old Testament
Ezekiel, the son of Buzi, was a priest, called by God to be a prophet to the exiles during the Babylonian captivity (Ezekiel 1:3
). In 597 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army brought the king of Judah and thousands of the best citizens of Jerusalem — including Ezekiel — to Babylon (2 Kings 24:8-16
Ezekiel's priestly background profoundly stamped his prophecy, as the holiness of God and the Temple figure prominently in his messages (for example, Ezekiel 9-10
). From 593 B.C. to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 B.C., Ezekiel prophesied the inevitability of divine judgment on Jerusalem, on the exiles in Babylon, and on seven nations that surrounded Israel (Ezekiel 1–32). Jerusalem would certainly fall and the exiles would not quickly return — the just consequences of their sins.
Especially in the early part of the book, much of what the Lord "said" to His people was delivered in the form of action prophecies. In these, Ezekiel acted out representations of coming events pertaining to the fall of Judah, the destruction of the temple, and the seeming end of the Davidic line of kings. These action prophecies included the eating of the scroll (3:1-2
), being struck with dumbness (3:22-27
), sketching of the city of Jerusalem (4:1-3
), lying on one side and then the other (4:4-8
), eating restricted rations cooked on a fire of dried dung (4:9-17
), and shaving his hair and beard with a sword before dividing the hair (5:1-4
). Some seem a bit strange at first glance, once we understand their meaning and context, their messages are quite easily comprehended.
Once word reached Ezekiel that Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, his message became one of comfort and hope. Through him God promised that his people would experience future restoration, renewal, and revival in the coming Messianic kingdom (Ezekiel 33-48
Much of the strange symbolism of Ezekiel's prophecies was later employed in the Revelation to Saint John
. Among these are the visions of the four living creatures as seen in Ezekiel 1
and Revelation 4
for a hymn stanza written for the Commemoration of Ezekiel
Labels: babylonian captivity, bible, biography, christianity, christology, commemorations, ezekiel, hagiography, israel, old testament, prophet, revelation
+ The Holy Prophet Elijah +
20 July, Old Testament
The prophet Elijah, whose name means, "My God is Yahweh [the Lord
]," prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel, mostly during the reign of Ahab (874 – 853 B.C.).
Ahab, under the influence of his pagan wife Jezebel, had encouraged the worship of Baal throughout his kingdom, even as Jezebel sought to get rid of the worship of Yahweh. Elijah was called by God to denounce this idolatry and to call the people of Israel back to the worship Yahweh as the only true God (as he did in 1 Kings 18:20-40
Elijah was a rugged and imposing figure, living in the wilderness and dressing in a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt (2 Kings 1:8
). He was a prophet mighty in word and deed. The Lord worked many miracles through Elijah, including the raising of the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24
) and the effecting of a long drought in Israel (1 Kings 17:1
At the end of his ministry, he was taken up into heaven as Elisha
, his successor, looked on (2 Kings 2:11
). Later on, the Lord proclaimed through the prophet Malachi that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6
), a prophecy that was fulfilled in the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist
(see Jesus' words in Matthew 11:1-19
for a hymn stanza written for the Commemoration of Elijah
Labels: 1 kings, 2 kings, ahab, biography, commemorations, elijah, elisha, hagiography, israel, jezebel, john the baptist, old testament, prophet, transfiguration
+ Ruth of Moab +
16 July, Old Testament
, the subject of the book bearing her name, is an inspiring example of God's grace. Although she was a Gentile, God made her the great-grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:17
), and an ancestress of Jesus Himself (Matthew 1:1-17
A famine in Israel led Elimelech and Naomi of Bethlehem to emigrate to the neighboring nation of Moab with their two sons. The sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth, but after about ten years, Elimelech and his sons died (Ruth 1:1-5
Naomi then decided to return to Bethlehem and urged her daughters-in-law to return to their families. Orpah listened to Naomi's plea, but Ruth refused, replying with the stirring words: "Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. (1:16
After Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, Boaz, a close relative of Elimelech, agreed to be Ruth's "redeemer" (3:7-13
). He took her as his wife, and Ruth gave birth to Obed, the grandfather of David (4:13-17
), thus preserving the Messianic seed. See Boaz, Ruth, and the Genealogy of Jesus
at Ask the Pastor
for a deeper theological examination of the account of Ruth and Boaz, including its Christological connection.
Ruth's kindness and selfless loyalty toward Naomi — and her faith in Naomi's God — have long endeared her to the faithful and redounded to God's praise for His merciful choice of one so unexpected.
Labels: biography, boaz, christianity, christology, commemorations, david, feasts, festivals, genealogy, gospels, hagiography, jesus, matthew, naomi, old testament, ruth
+ Bo Harald Giertz, Bishop and Theologian +
12 July AD 1998
Bo Harald Giertz was born 31 August 1905 in Räpplinge, Borgholm, Öland (Kalmar), Sweden. He came from a prominent family and his father was a noted surgeon and head of one of Sweden's largest hospitals He was also an atheist. Bo planned to follow in his father's path and in 1924 he enrolled in the School of Medicine at the University of Uppsala. While there, however, theological students began challenging his belief system and, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he came to faith in Jesus Christ, left the school of medicine, and entered the University School of Theology.
In 1934, Giertz was ordained in the Linkoping Cathedral. He became assistant to the bishop and was given responsibility for working with the youth. His own faith and his conviction concerning the relevance of Christianity were on display for the thousands of young people who came under his care. Even as orthodox Lutherans lauded him, he also drew attacks from modernists in the Swedish state church and secularists as his writings spread in newspapers and periodicals. The public knew him as a talented and faithful confessor of a Church doctrine that was based in Scripture, confessed in the Creeds, and expounded in the Lutheran Confessions.
Giertz became a priest in Torpa in 1938, serving that parish until 1949, when he was consecrated as Bishop of Gothenburg. While serving Torpa, he wrote With My Own Eyes
, a retelling of the Gospels (1947), four theological works, Christ's Church
(1939), Church Piety
(1939), The Great Lie and the Great Truth
(1945), and The Battle for Man
(1946), the catechetical book The Foundation
(1942), and two novels The Hammer of God
(1941) and Faith Alone
(1943). These latter, particularly Hammer of God
, became popular throughout Scandinavia and then around the globe.
The attention to theology and care for souls that Giertz evidenced in Torpa continued when he became Bishop of Gothenburg in 1949. As the youngest man elected and consecrated to serve the Church of Sweden as a diocesan bishop, he combined a somewhat pietistic type of pastoral care with High Church Lutheran theology, traits that are noticeable in his novels. Following the decisions of the Swedish Parliament and the Church Assembly to ordain women in the Church of Sweden (1958), Giertz became a leader of the opposition. In that same year, he invited all confessional groups in the Church of Sweden to form The Church Movement for Bible and Confession in response to the Assembly's decision.
The demands of the bishopric and the challenges of women's ordination and modernist theology slowed his writing for a time but once he became Bishop Emeritus, Giertz returned to the printed word in full force. He wrote The ABCs of Our Christian Faith
in 1971, following it with The Knights of Rhodes
(1972), another best-selling novel, the devotional books To Believe in Christ
(1973) and To Live with Christ
(1974), a new translation of the New Testament with Commentary (1977-1982), and, as a nonagenarian, he wrote The Living God — A Guide to the Christian Faith
(1995). Most of Giertz's writings are not now available in English but new translations have begun to appear as the desire to read him grows.
Giertz pioneered a return to every Sunday celebration of the Lord's Supper, something that had largely vanished in the Church of Sweden due to the erosion caused by Pietism and Rationalism. He strongly urged pastors to pray the Daily Offices, something he applied in his own devotional life. Although often rejected by the leaders of the Church of Sweden, Giertz remains popular with true Lutherans in his own country, throughout Scandinavia, and across the world. Of him, the Reverend Hans O. Andrae wrote, "In his vision of the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church, Giertz integrated a vibrant Evangelical-Lutheran orthodoxy, the Church's traditional liturgy, and sincere church piety into a harmonious and powerful wholeness."
O Lord God, heavenly Father, we pray that, as You raised up Bo Harald Giertz to lead Swedish Lutherans into a renewed appreciation of their confessional heritage and trust in the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, and as You spoke to the entire Church through his writings, so You would continue to provide faithful pastors and leaders, keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, defend us against all enemies of Your Word, and bestow on Christ's Church Militant Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Labels: biography, bo giertz, christianity, church history, commemorations, european history, hagiography, lutheranism, sweden
+ The Holy Prophet Isaiah +
6 July, Old Testament
Isaiah son of Amoz is considered to be the greatest of the writing prophets and is quoted in the New Testament more than any other Old Testament prophet. His name means "Yahweh [the Lord
] saves." Isaiah prophesied to the people of Jerusalem and Judah from about 740 B.C. to 700 B.C. and was a contemporary of the prophets Amos
, and Micah
Isaiah was a fierce preacher of God's Law, condemning the sin of idolatry. He was also a comforting proclaimer of the Gospel, repeatedly emphasizing the Lord
's grace and forgiveness. For this he is sometimes called the "Evangelist of the Old Testament." No prophet more clearly prophesied about the coming Messiah and His saving kingdom. He foretold the Messiah's miraculous birth (Isaiah 7:14
), His endless reign (2:1–5
), and His public ministry (61:1–3
), but most notably His "Suffering Servant" role and atoning death (52:13-53:12
The apostle John's description of Isaiah, that Isaiah saw Jesus' glory and spoke of Him (John 12:41
), is an apt summary of Isaiah's prophetic ministry. The seraphim's refrain of, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord
of hosts, (Isaiah 6:3
)" during his call into the prophetic ministry (Isaiah 6
) is the basis of many Christian hymns and liturgical pieces.
Hymn: Isaiah, Mighty Seer
Isaiah, mighty seer, in days of old
The Lord of all in Spirit did behold
High on a lofty throne, in splendor bright,
With flowing train that filled the Temple quite.
Above the throne were stately seraphim,
Six wings had they, these messengers of Him.
With twain they veiled their faces, as was meet,
With twain in reverent awe they hid their feet,
And with the other twain aloft they soared,
One to the other called and praised the Lord:
"Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Behold, His glory filleth all the earth!"
The beams and lintels trembled at the cry,
And clouds of smoke enwrapped the throne on high. (from Isaiah 6:1-4
Canticle: Isaiah 12
You will say in that day:
"I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.
Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation."
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day:
"Give thanks to the Lord,
call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel."
for a hymn stanza written for the Commemoration of Isaiah
Labels: biography, christianity, christology, church history, commemoration, hagiography, isaiah, jesus, lutheranism, old testament, prophet
The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
2 July, New Testament (One Year Lectionary)
This major Christological feast commemorates the joyous visit Mary paid to her relative (probably her cousin) Elizabeth, following The Annunciation
. Inspired by the amazing news that she was to become the mother of the Christ and in response to the joyous word that her old and previously barren kinswoman was also pregnant, she joined Elizabeth during her sixth month of pregnancy
(see Luke 1:39-56
After Mary declared the wondrously good news, Elizabeth replied to the Virgin, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! ... Behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. (vv. 42, 44
)" She concluded by giving full credit and glory to God while also commending her young cousin's hearty faith: "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. (av. 45
Mary responded with the Magnificat
, the beautiful song of praise beginning, "My soul magnifies the Lord. (vv. 46-55
)" It's not clear whether Mary stayed there until after the birth of John
or if she left immediately beforehand; Luke merely said that the Virgin "remained with her about three months and returned to her home. (v. 56
And so, as we encounter God sending the Forerunner and the Messiah into the world, we see a study in contrasts. Two women stand before each other. One seemingly too old to bear children now carries the final prophet of the Old Covenant. The other, youthful and as yet unwed — completely unprepared in the eyes of the world — carries the One who brings both the Advent and the Fulfillment of the New Testament. And again we see, in the fullness of time, one age passing away while another age begins — an age that has no end but which lasts unto eternity.
The reaction of Jesus' unborn cousin and the words of his mother also serve as reminders to many Christians about the sanctity of life. Christian pro-lifers point to John's celebration as clear evidence of the humanity and the consciousness of children who are still in utero
In Roman Catholicism, Vatican II changed the date of the observation from 2 July to 31 May in order to more accurately reflect the Bible's chronology regarding the life of Christ. Several other Western churches followed suit. In The Lutheran Church —Missouri Synod
, today is celebrated in the One Year Lectionary while the Three Year Lectionary moves the feast date to 31 May.
Note: This illustration by Albrecht Dürer is from the Web Gallery of Art.
Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your Son and made known through her Your regard for the poor and lowly and despised. Grant that we may receive Your Word in humility and faith, and so be made one with Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name.
And His mercy is for those who fear Him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped His servant Israel,
in remembrance of His mercy,
as He spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.
Labels: christianity, christology, church history, elizabeth, feasts, festivals, gospels, jesus, john the baptist, luke, magnificat, mary, new testament, visitation
+ John the Steadfast, Elector of Saxony +
30 June AD 1468; transferred from 16 August*
The first Protestants weren't Martin Luther
and his fellow theologians. Instead, the word was originally applied to the German rulers who opposed the imperial laws adopted at the Second Diet of Speyer
in 1529. Chief among these protesters was John, Elector of Saxony, who thereby gained a reputation as the first and foremost Protestant.
Although John is not well-known outside of Lutheran circles, he should be. He earned the title John the Steadfast (Johann der Beständige
) for his steadfast confession and defense of the Evangelical (Lutheran) doctrine and its pastors and theologians. Without his unshaken conviction that Luther's teaching was true and his steadfast actions in defense of the Reformation probably there would be no Lutheran nor Protestant churches today. Without John's protection, Luther likely would have experienced the same fate as Jan Hus
, who was burned at the stake at the Council of Constance. Without John's wisdom in political affairs, the Lutherans in Germany might have been murdered like the 70,000 French Calvinists
on Saint Bartholomew's Day
German Lutherans maintain special remembrance of the role that John the Steadfast played in defending their religion. The Wittenberg Castle Church has two prominent tombs today. These are not the graves of Luther and Philipp Melanchthon
, who are buried in front of the pulpit, but the tombs of John and his elder brother, Elector Frederick III
. The electors are buried in front of the altar under huge bronze memorial slabs. They are flanked by alabaster statues, depicting them kneeling in prayer, and by magnificent bronze sculptures of the two electors in ceremonial garb and sword.
John the Steadfast was born on 30 June 1468 at Meissen, a city now known for its famous porcelain. He received a scholarly education, was trained in the arts of the knight, and gained prestige in battles against the Ottoman Turks.
John became an enthusiastic reader of Martin Luther's writings. When the papal bull was published against Luther in 1520, John was responsible for making sure it was not enacted in Electoral Saxony. At the Diet of Worms, his correspondence helped to convince and encourage his brother Frederick the Wise to be more bold in his defense of Luther, resulting in Luther's protection at the Wartburg.
In October 1522, John heard Luther preach sermons at the court of Weimar on the powers and limits of secular authority (German: Von weltlicher Obrigkeit
). These sermons became John's personal political philosophy.
Upon the death of Frederick in May 1525, John became the Elector of Saxony. In those days, the Saxon Elector was second only to the emperor in power and influence in the Holy Roman Empire. Upon his accession, John announced to the clergy of Saxony that, in the future, the pure Word of God should be preached without human addition and that all useless ceremonies were to be abolished. In February 1526, John ratified a treaty with the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, which was soon joined by other Lutheran states. This was the beginning of political organization in defense of the Lutheran church.
John the Steadfast also defended the Lutheran church from economic disaster. The Saxon aristocracy had been appropriating church lands, which had previously been used as capital assets to pay the salaries of clergy, teachers, janitors, maintenance, and capital improvements. John put a stop to this capital drain, ensuring that the church was properly endowed for the present and future. John also assisted Luther and Melanchthon in the reform of the University of Wittenberg, setting a pattern for Lutheran universities until the present day.
The imperial laws adopted at the Second Diet of Speyer in 1529, if enacted, would have resulted in the eradication of the Lutheran religion in the Holy Roman Empire. Along with his allies, John the Steadfast protested these laws. Emperor Charles the Fifth
then challenged the Protestants to defend their new religion and its practices, which they did at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. Their defense is known as the Augsburg Confession
, with its first signature being that of Elector John the Steadfast.
From this history, we learn that the first defenders and confessors of the Lutheran church were laymen. Their spiritual heirs should remember that the Lutheran church cannot survive without laymen who continue to confess and defend this faith.
John the Steadfast met his Savior on 16 August 1532* and was succeeded by sons John Frederick I
and John Ernest (Johann Friedrich
and Johann Ernst
). John Frederick became sole elector of Ernestine Saxony in 1542.
Thanks to Martin Noland for permission to use his article on Elector John posted at Brothers of John the Steadfast
*Transferred to his birthday because the LCMS Calendar of Commemorations remembers the patriarch Isaac on 16 August.
Labels: biography, christianity, church history, commemoration, elector john, frederick the wise, german history, hagiography, john the steadfast, lutheranism, martin luther, reformation
+ Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles +
29 June, New Testament
The Confession of Saint Peter
("You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God") is commemorated on 18 January, and the Conversion of Saint Paul
on his approach to Damascus a week later, on 25 January. On 29 June we commemorate the martyrdoms of both apostles. The date is the anniversary of a day around AD 258, under the Valerian
persecution, when what were believed to be the remains of the two apostles were both moved temporarily to prevent them from falling into the hands of the persecutors.
The Scriptures do not record the deaths of Peter or Paul, or indeed any of the Apostles' deaths
except for James the son of Zebedee (Acts 12:2
), but they are clearly anticipated (see the readings below), and from an early date it has been said that they were martyred at Rome at the command of the Emperor Nero
, and buried there. As a Roman citizen, St. Paul would probably have been beheaded with a sword. An early tradition claims that St. Peter was crucified head downward.
The present Church of St. Peter in Rome replaces earlier churches built on the same site going back to the time of the Emperor Constantine
, in whose reign a church was built on what was believed to be the burial site of Peter. Excavations under the church suggest that the belief that this is the true home of his burial predates Constantine.
Acts 15:1-12 (13-21)
Merciful and eternal God, from whom the holy apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul received grace and strength to lay down their lives for the sake of Your Son, grant that, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we may with like constancy confess Your truth and be at all times ready to lay down our lives for Him who laid down His life for us; even Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Labels: apostle, biography, commemorations, feasts, festivals, hagiography, martyrdom, nero, rome, saint paul, saint peter
+ Irenaeus of Lyons, Pastor and Confessor +
28 June AD 200
Irenaeus (ca. AD 130-200), believed to be a native of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey), studied in Rome and later became pastor in Lyons, France. Around 177, while Irenaeus was away from Lyons, a fierce persecution of Christians led to the martyrdom of his bishop. Upon Irenaeus' return, he became Bishop of Lyons.
His most famous writing is Adversus Haereses
(Against Heresies). This work condemned several errors but focused especially on Gnosticism, which denied the goodness of creation. In opposition, Irenaeus confessed that God has redeemed his creation through the incarnation of the Son. Irenaeus also affirmed the teachings of the Scriptures handed down to and through him as being normative for the Church.
Despite a few stray texts, very little suggests that he did not die a natural death. He was buried in Saint John's Church, Lyon — a congregation later renamed in his honor. Huegenot Calvinists
destroyed his tomb and his remains during in 1522, during a period of iconoclasm
Almighty God, You upheld your servant Irenaeus, giving him strength to confess the truth against every false doctrine; keep us, we pray, steadfast in Your Word and grant us the practice of true religion, that in constancy and peace we may walk in the way of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Labels: biography, christianity, church history, commemoration, european history, french history, hagiography, irenaeus, lutheranism, lyons, patristics
+ Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Confessor +
27 June AD 444
Saint Cyril (ca. AD 376-444) became Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt in 412. Throughout his career he defended a number of orthodox doctrines, among them the teaching that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is "rightly called and truly is the Mother of God
" — Theotokos
, "the God-Bearer" (Formula of Concord, Epitome, VIII:12
). In 431 the Council of Ephesus
affirmed this teaching that the Son of Mary is also true God.
The Council was responding to the Nestorian heresy
, which distinguished so completely between the divine and human natures of Christ that claims were made that the divine Christ did some things while the human Jesus did others.
Some of the differences are quite subtle; perhaps even Nestorius himself could not have foreseen the full ramifications of his position, including a "resurrection" of only the divine nature. Ephesus condemned the title of "Christ-Bearer" (Christotokos
) for the Virgin, since the Nestorians would only claim that Mary bore the Christ, but not God Himself.
Cyril receives almost as many brickbats as he does bouquets, even from orthodox Christians, because he's also known for being what one person calls "an ill-tempered, quarrelsome, hasty, and violent man
." This seems especially so during his early years as Bishop of Alexandria.
A particularly acute example of his extreme rigidity comes from his closing of Novatianist
churches, although the Novationists weren't particularly unorthodox. Their "fault" was as much one of pride as of theology — they descended from those who'd stood firm in the persecutions of earlier years and refused to associate or worship with the heirs of those who recanted the Faith under persecution. Their main theological aberration were insisting upon rebaptism of converts from "lapsed" Christianity and an attitude that was, perhaps, less than Christ-like in dealing with erring brothers.
Cyril also ran the Jews out of town. The reason given was that they were seditious and violent, although we're left with little evidence. This action likely contributed to an ongoing feud with Orestes, the imperial prefect. These disagreements seemingly spilled over into a quarrel with the prefect's friend, the neo-platonist scholar Hypatia
, who was later murdered by a mob.
Few have directly condemned Cyril for her death but the leaders of the mob certainly claimed the bishop as their leader. In modern times, Carl Sagan, in his book Cosmos
, blamed Hypatia's death (and the destruction of the great Library of Alexandria) on dogmatic Christianity's desire to root out rational paganism. However, other scholars see the whole feud as an internal Church struggle and no one has yet established a definitive cause (or date) for the final destruction of Alexandria's library
At any rate, and despite the considerable rancor that accompanied his early years as bishop, the mature Cyril worked diligently to reconcile the Nestorian and Orthodox parties. His efforts led many of the less virulent Nestorians back to full communion.
The writings of Cyril on the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ reveal him to be one of the most able theologians of his time. Cyril's Christology influenced subsequent church councils and was a primary source for Lutheran confessional writings. He still speaks clearly to our age, especially as the old Christological heresies are trotted out under new guises.
Heavenly Father, You used Your servant Cyril to confess the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and of Your Son being one person with fully divine and human natures. Grant that we, also, might be constant in Your Word, bold in Your confession, and steadfast in Your worship, to the glory of Your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Labels: alexandria, biography, christianity, church history, commemorations, cyril, hagiography, lutheranism, nestorianism, patristics, theotokos