Tag Archives: Church History

Learning from Then for Now and Tomorrow

“The teachings of our godly fathers are scorned. What the apostles have handed down is vilified. The inventions of modernizers are fashionable in the churches. Instead of being theologians, men are now fabricators of devious new systems of belief. The glory of the cross has been rejected, and the wisdom of this world wins the top prizes. The shepherds are driven away, and in their place dreadful wolves come in, hounding the sheep of Christ. The houses of prayer stand empty; mourning crowds have retreated into the desert. The older folk weep when they compare the present with the past. The younger folk are to be pitied all the more, for they don’t even know what they’ve lost.”

How descriptive of the church of our time! Someone who recognizes and states so plainly the straits in which the modern church finds herself is surely someone worthy of a hearing! But, if you read this thinking it to be a Keller or a Ferguson or a Trueman, you are mistaken.

It’s Basil of Caesarea… and it was written in the fourth century.

Truly, we have much to learn from our past for the sake of our present… and our future!

Upcoming Project: Ad Fontes! (To the Sources!)

I have recently decided that I would like to start a project that will likely take me several years. In fact, I’ve been purchasing what I’ll need for said project for the past few months. I’m now very close to being ready to start, and I would like to share my mad idea with you, as you’ll be seeing quite a bit of it on my website in the future.

I’ve been a reader ever since I was a wee Lucas. My reading has been omnivorous; I love novels, savor poetry, delight over Shakespeare’s works (as you’ve likely noticed), learn from history, salivate over syllogisms, wonder at science and mathematics… I even read shaving cream labels and toothpaste tubes. But, of all the reading I do, nothing takes up more of my time – indeed, it is my life’s work – than studying the Scriptures and the works of the great commentators and theologians throughout Christian history.

Of course, as a Pastor and Teaching Elder in God’s church, much of my work is precisely that – pastoring and teaching, pastoring by teaching, and teaching by pastoring, as though the two could ever really be separate. My writing work is predominantly taken up in sermons and lessons; but, I’ve also been posting a lot of meditations, poetry, and the like on here.

The project, which would be additional to my regular sermons, studies, and writings on Scripture, is to study in more detail the great theological works of Christianity, beginning with the Apostolic Fathers (if you don’t know who they are, stay tuned!) and ending somewhere around Kuyper and Bavinck. My hope is to begin regularly sharing with you the insights I find there in short posts that will be accessible to a modern reader. That being said, these posts won’t be summaries, or merely sharing quotes from the works I’m reading. They’ll be more like my own personal meditations – gleanings, if you will – from portions of what I’m studying, along with applications.

Obviously, you can see why this project will take years. I see it not only as a way to introduce modern Christians to some of the major influential personages in our history, but also as a means of continuing my own development as a Pastor-Theologian. I’ve read a great deal of the Church Fathers, Medieval theologians, Reformers, Puritans, etc.; but the only library greater than the one I have read is the one I haven’t.

It’s important also to state that while I will be also reading some connected material, especially in helping me understand historical contexts, etc., my main focus will be on the works themselves. The reason for this is something akin to what C.S. Lewis stated so well in his introduction to On the Incarnation by Athanasius:

“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.

The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator.

The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

In other words, I won’t just be reading books about Basil of Caesarea, etc.; no, I’ll be reading the works written by Basil of Caesarea, Tertullian, Augustine, Origen, Calvin, etc. And I hope that my posts about these great theologians will also inspire you to read works by them.

Clearly, I won’t be able to read every theologian, nor will I be able to read everything written by the theologians I do read. But, my hope is to read at least their major works (along with some of the minor ones). Also, many of the works I’ll be reading, I’ll actually be re-reading. But that’s a good thing, as I’ve learned recently in my re-reading of Augustine’s Confessions; I think I can comprehend that work better now than when I first read it many moons ago – and what a rich feast it has been to my soul!

I’m excited about beginning; like I said, I’m almost there. I have a few books to finish before I begin my project. I’m excited about studying these works, yes; but I’m also very excited about opening up the treasure box of our Christian heritage and sharing it with others.

As always, I desire your prayers that the LORD will give me strength and wisdom and a deeper love for Him and for His people. Pray also that this project would truly be helpful – for me, for you, and for anyone else who reads my future posts!

“Your Valentine”

Asterius, the Roman judge, a man respected by all who knew him, even more by those who knew only his reputation, sat weeping in the dark like a lost child.

This was not the first time. During the day he played the part expected of him – honorable, grave, and firm. To his servants he was a fair master. To his wife he was a loving husband. And to his little daughter…

The tears flowed freely as he sobbed alone. “My little girl… what will become of you, my sweet Camilla?” The child had reached her sixth year and had only ever known darkness from her entrance into this world. Though she could not see, she was not unhappy; she played with the other children, had learned to navigate the home and its surroundings, and her smile brightened her father’s darkness. But at night, while Camilla lay sleeping in her bed, and his wife in hers, Asterius would mourn his daughter’s blindness and weep for her future.

“Why do you weep, Asterius?” A voice pierced the surrounding night.

It was Valentinus the Christian. As Asterius turned toward the voice, he could make out by what little light there was the man’s long, flowing white hair. Valentinus was not an old man, but his hair was white as snow; indeed, something about his eyes seemed ancient. For his crimes against the Emperor, crimes which included being a leader in the movement he called The Way, and performing marriages in the name of the Jew, Jesus, Valentinus had been arrested and imprisoned. Because he was a citizen of Rome, he avoided the executioner’s block and the common pits where they generally threw the undesirables. Instead, Asterius had put him under house arrest… and that in his own house. Something about the man…

“I weep for my daughter’s blindness,” he replied. “I weep because the gods have cursed her with this fate… have cursed her, my flower, my sunshine!” At this he dropped to the ground, weeping uncontrollably.

“I weep… every night I weep… because no matter how many offerings I offer, how many prayers I raise to them, she is still blind!” He looked deeply into the ancient eyes of Valentinus. “How can one bright as she live in such darkness? The gods are cruel!”

The bishop sat on the ground beside Asterius and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“I once had a child, a son. His name was Gaius, but my wife and I called him ‘little cub.’ I loved him dearly; I loved her… My fondest memory is of them. I can see him playing at her feet. I can see the sun shining through her golden hair.” Valentinus smiled.

“What happened to them?” Asterius asked.

“My Lord took them to Himself,” he replied. “But I will see them again!”

“How do you know? How do you know that this life is not all there is? that the gods are not just stones?”

“Your gods are stones, Asterius,” Valentinus answered. “Nothing more. They do not hear you because they cannot hear you. I know I will see my wife again because my God lives; because the Christ has risen, my wife and my son will rise also unto a new and everlasting life, as will all who have trusted in Jesus.”

Asterius’ mind, always reaching for a hope, began to calculate upon the words of his prisoner. Valentinus was here in his home for espousing this atheism, this denial of the Roman gods. But, Valentinus’ faith was stronger than his own. True, the bishop might have denied the gods, but he did so because he believed his God was true and living. Perhaps this God would hear the prayers that had so long gone unheard by stone; perhaps He would answer the prayers of His white-haired servant.

“Valentinus, can your Jesus heal my daughter? You say He hears you; will you pray that my Camilla will see? I am a wealthy man. Ask whatever you wish, and if I can do it, I will. But please, beseech your God to heal my sweet girl! Please!” Asterius grasped Valentinus’ hand, the judge begging the prisoner for his help.

“I will pray for your daughter,” said Valentinus. “And all I ask of you is that when my Jesus has given your daughter sight, you and your household turn from these dead stones to the living God in faith, and that you be baptized and taught The Way.”

Asterius consented. Perhaps he knew that becoming a Christian meant becoming an outsider, a persecuted and hated thing in the eyes of all Romans. But he didn’t care about “the eyes of all Romans”; he only wanted his little girl to see. Gently, he woke his wife and told her what Valentinus had said. She rose from bed and went with him to wake Camilla. Within a few moments, he was again on the terrace before the white-haired bishop.

The girl was not frightened or in the least alarmed by everything that was transpiring. Rather, she seemed to see more clearly than those around her that all would be well as her father placed her in Valentinus’ arms.

He looked upon the girl with a deep love, the love of a father for his child, and then, closing his eyes, he prayed: “Father, hear my prayer for the sake of Your Son, Jesus the Christ! You Who make the seeing and the blind, Who sent Your Son to open the eyes of those who could not see, open her eyes. Be glorified this night, my Lord!”

There was no lightning bolt that split the sky. There was no earthquake that sent the surrounding columns tumbling to the earth. No, that night, a little girl smiled and laughed when she looked with her own opened eyes into those of the white-haired man who held her. And Asterius and his wife fell to their knees, weeping tears of joy and thanking again and again the God Who lives!

The coming days would see the breaking of Asterius’ household gods, the deaf idols of stone in which he had once trusted. He and his wife and his servants would all be catechized and baptized by Valentinus over the following weeks, as would little Camilla, to whom Valentinus became a second father. After his release, the bishop and Camilla would often write to one another, maintaining their friendship through their correspondence.

Eventually, Valentinus would be arrested again for following Christ and for performing Christian marriages for believers who loved one another. This time, however, he would be brought before the Emperor Claudius II, and when Valentinus attempted to convert the Emperor to Christianity, Claudius ordered his execution.

Before he died, Valentinus wrote a final letter to his daughter in Christ:

My sweet girl,

I go now to our Lord, to await the resurrection of the dead. This is not the end. Just as my beloved wife and son have gone before me, so now I am going before you. But we will meet again. One day our eyes that see so dimly here will look upon the glorious face of our Lord Jesus and we will live forever with Him in His Kingdom. Remain steadfast, dear one, and walk in the Way of Christ our Savior. My love for you and for your family does not die with my body; love goes on, and I will carry it with me to heaven. Even when all else fades, love endures.

Grace and Peace to You,

Your Valentine

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Valentine’s Day, or The Feast of St. Valentine, will soon be upon us. Valentine (Latin, Valentinus) is a difficult personage to nail down historically; Valentinus was a common name between the 2nd and 8th centuries, and there are numerous martyrs who bore this moniker. What I have presented here is my own take on the tale most commonly told about THE Valentine after whom the day is named; that is, he was a bishop near Rome who was martyred at some point around 270 AD for his faith and for performing Christian marriages. Tradition gives us the tale of his healing the judge’s blind daughter. Little else is known about this particular historical Valentine; of course, my account is fictionalized and I took artistic and historical license, but I hope the message gets through. Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.” William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” Revelation 19:6-8

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:25-33