And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
"'After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.'
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues."
Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. (ESV)
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St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus and Martyr
23 October 2015
When the ancient theologian Gregory Nazianzus says "The Godhead is undivided in separate persons," he is propounding a mental train wreck. It reminds me of the old Peggy Lee tune: "Alone Together." How's that again? If the Godhead is undivided how can there be separate persons? The question is separate in what way? There are separate persons within the Trinity, but only a single essence. However, Gregory is not afraid to predicate to God both unity and separation. He puts it rather more starkly because he says that God is "undivided" and "separate." What is the opposite of separate? It is undivided. When God reveals Himself in these terms He is making mockery of our much-vaunted wisdom. All we can do with this is to confess our creaturely weakness and inability to fathom the deep wisdom of our God, who reveals Himself to us as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Analogies fail to sufficiently clarify the relations among the persons while living the proper weight to the unity of the Godhead. We can talk about the unity between a human father and son, but they do not share a will or essence, despite being two different persons. Gregory mentions those who use the analogy of humanity as a category of unity, but, of course, humanity is a kind of ideation, a categorization of all persons. They certainly don't share a single unified will, just ask any two persons (especially Lutheran persons!). This is why Gregory calls us "compound" beings. We might even change our minds from minute to minute in our personal experience; we might careen from joy to deep despair in just a moment. We can't even be unified within ourselves without trying to express unity with other persons. We only approach god-like unity within ourselves when we are quietly confident of our own will and its expressions of God's grace toward us. In this way we begin to have the divine image renewed in our lives (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10
). In the divine essence there is no disunity of will. There is no question that the Son does the will of His Father.
The church's unity of heart, mind and will around the confession of the truth is the way in which the Head of the church works in the church. She speaks what her Head has given to her. The Apostle Paul challenges our multiple wills by saying, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment" (1Co 1:10
). About this admonition it is easy to say, "That's impossible! That will never happen!" We have plenty of evidence that it will never happen. But our heavenly Father has united us into the Head, who is Christ. His will is ours by connection to Him through Word and sacraments. There is only one will in the church: God's. There is but one teaching for His church: God's own. The God with the unified will, wills that His church share and express that will.
"To us there is one God, for the Godhead is one, and all that proceeds from Him is referred to one, though we believe in three persons. For one is not more and another less God; nor is one before and after another; nor are they divided in will or parted in power. You cannot find here any of the qualities of divisible things. To speak concisely, the Godhead is undivided in separate persons. There is one mingling of light, as it were three suns joined to each other. When then we look at the Godhead, or the first cause, or the divine authority, that which we conceive is one. However, when we look at the persons in whom the Godhead dwells, and at those who timelessly and with equal glory have their being from the first cause, there are three whom we worship.
"Our enemies will perhaps say, 'What of that? Don't the Greeks also believe in one Godhead, as their more advanced philosophers declare? Do we not say that our humanity is one, namely the entire human race; yet they have many gods, not one, just as there are many men. But in this case the common nature has a unity which is only conceivable in thought. The individuals are parted from one another very far indeed, both by time and by dispositions and by power. For we are not only compound beings, but also contrasted beings, both with one another and with ourselves; nor do we remain entirely the same for a single day, to say nothing of a whole lifetime, but both in body and in soul are in a perpetual state of flow and change. Perhaps the same may be said of the angels and the whole of that superior nature which is second to the Trinity alone, although they are simple in some measure and more fixed in good, owing to their nearness to the highest good, that is God."
Gregory Nazianzus, Fourth Theological Oration, 14-15
Collect for St. James of Jerusalem
O Lord Jesus Christ, You made Your brother James bishop of Your church in Jerusalem. Grant, we beseech You, that as he continually made supplication for the sins of Your people and labored to reconcile in one body both Jew and Gentile; so Your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at disagreement and enmity, and may ever be an effectual witness for the salvation of all people; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For President Matthew Harrison, of the LCMS, that he might be strengthened in every good deed
For the work of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty, as funds are raised to support the defense of life, marriage, and religious freedom
For Diva Pilli who underwent surgery yesterday, that the Lord of all would be with her and grant her healing
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015