Tuesday, June 30, 2015


There are no hidden meanings in our letters besides what you can read for yourselves and understand.
2 Corinthians 1:13

I have always been amazed whenever I read this line at the beginning of the apostle Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth. Right here and in no uncertain terms we have a declaration by one of the writers included in the New Testament that the ordinary Christian can be confident of understanding the simple, saving message of the Word of God. Am I not stretching things a bit? After all, maybe the apostle was only talking about his writings, his letters. Maybe he was even talking only about this particular letter. No, he uses the plural, so that means all of his letters. Too bad we don’t have all of them, but what the Lord wanted us to have, we have.

And he says ‘our letters,’ as well. Doesn’t that mean letters written by the other apostles? And if that is true of the letters, might it not be true of the gospels? Well, they hadn’t been put down in writing yet: they were still being lived. Even so, I get the impression that it was a priority for the first generation of the Church to make sure that whatever was written down was written clearly, concisely, truthfully, simply and directly, in an idiom that the audience would have no trouble understanding. It was, I believe, the same spirit that imbued the reformers of the Church of England to provide scriptures and liturgies in a tongue ‘understanded by the people.’

This primitive protocol of the first generations of the Church was, I think, preserved for many centuries, but as society underwent decay and suffered the barbarian invasions, language changed, native intelligence was stifled, yet for those who could still read and think for themselves the same clear, clean light of the Word of God was still accessible and proved that ‘there are no hidden meanings in [the New Testament scriptures] besides what you can read for yourselves and understand.’

This precious deposit was guarded zealously by the early Church, and what escaped, or was expelled, from the community of faith was taken up and further mutilated by those who had religious principalities to build and fake mysteries to hawk, like frontier potion peddlers. All of this was so obvious even in the days of the holy apostles that they were warning us about people like this right from the beginning. Human nature will always produce spiritual counterfeits. Anything is preferable to the Truth, because Truth is not for sale, it’s free. But lies command a high price: they’re always in demand.

As it was in former times, so it is still today. Just as the attack was pressed home against the Church of the holy apostles, so it is directed against the Church of Christ today.

Be careful, brethren, of objectifying the Church as the ‘organized church’ and looking for esoteric truths. There are no esoteric truths in Christ that can be passed down from master to disciple as in the non-Christian religions, or even as in some forms of Judaism. Whatever makes the claim to be that is patently false. But I didn't say there are no esoteric truths in Christ, just none that can be passed down or handed over: that is what tradition is, and tradition is only the form that can be filled with faith, our personal faith, and through which we can commingle with other disciples of Christ.

Yes, esoteric truths there are, actually, not plural, truths, but only singular, Truth. Esoteric, hidden Truth in Christ there is, but it cannot be described or handed over to anyone, so you will not find authentic esoteric teachings among the church fathers. You may find one or two here or there who have come down to us through the memory of the Church because of their holding some idea that earned them notoriety. But these thoughts will not prove to be fertile soil for the life of the Spirit, only various kinds of poorly drained swampland for the delectation of the superstitious, or else hard, unwaterable clay from which a new man cannot be made, but only slept on by the tough-minded.

Stay close, always, to the words of holy and divine scripture, and follow behind the fathers and mothers of antiquity who followed Christ not with their heads alone but with their feet. There is no ‘formal church’ that became irreversibly corrupt most likely in the first century, either discovered by historical scholarship, or speculated into existence by idle and curious intellects. The very word of Jesus prevents this, for He said that the very gates of hell would not prevail against the Church, and who can imagine either, that the divine Bridegroom, the Nymphios, would hand over his turtledove to the Beast. Whatever the institutional Church looks like outwardly through its activities, the true Church still lives within that structure.

Back to the esoteric. I said there is esoteric Truth, and that there is only One. And I want to qualify that statement just once by telling you that it is the Cross.

One thing that a Christian, that is, a follower of Jesus, can always rely on, no matter what church he belongs to or attends. You cannot go wrong, ever, if you imitate Christ, and do only those things you see Him doing in the gospels. The visible and institutional Church can be falling away around you, but with your eyes fast focused on Jesus, you would scarcely notice. What you would see, however, is what Jesus is doing right now to remedy the situation, and you, if you are following Him, are privileged to share with Him the work that He, not you, sets yourself to do.

Thinking His thoughts, loving as He loves, redeeming the time, welcoming the stranger, overlooking offenses, healing the sick, seeing clearly so that the blind around you may also see, suffering the humiliation of your own human weaknesses without abandoning the work or the discipline of the Son of God, keeping your heart free from malice: These are the worthy tasks, the fulfilling of the only commandment, that erases sin in both the Church and in yourself, because it is letting the fire of Christ burn all unrighteousness from the inside out, leaving only what He has recreated in you and in the Church—that is as close as I can get to pointing to what you will never learn from books, only from following the Son of God, walking with Him the way of the Cross.

So, brethren, as I always say, ‘Go with God.’


mome said...

Of course, Peter says of Paul's letters that "there are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures." (1 Peter 3:16). And Tertullian found so many heretics misusing Paul's words that he ironically referred to Paul as the apostle of the heretics. None of this means that the truth is esoteric, but it does indicate that we may need a rule of faith to correctly understand what we're reading -- and a tradition of inspired reading the inspired scriptures doesn't hurt.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Yes, 'the ignorant and unstable,' of course, I am writing here about the reasonably educated, experienced, and stable Christian, one who actually lives in the Church and accepts her authority. I am not talking about just anyone, either, since you cannot pick up the Word of God and expect to read and understand it without the Holy Spirit. Tertullian may call St Paul whatever he likes, but we know the man exchanged the apostolic faith for heresy himself, whether though ignorance (I doubt it) or instability (possibly).

If I am saying nothing else, I am saying that to read and understand and find practical application in the holy scriptures is not the prerogative or privilege of clergy and seminary graduates alone, which idea is making a come back in the Orthodox and Catholic, and maybe, in other churches as well. What I've written doesn't, I don't think, need any further explanation, but I could add one more thought: The Bible that we study and read should be one written in a language we thoroughly understand. This is why I recommend the Jerusalem Bible (1966, original version, NOT the so-called 'New Jerusalem Bible').

Yes, as the child's voice on the other side of the garden wall was heard to say, 'Take up and read!'

mome said...

I don't disagree with you at all. It just occurred to me as I read the post that there are so many who do twist the scriptures and think what they read is as plain as day. I have someone close to me like that right now in my life. Tertullian was mentioned not in support of his ultimate trajectory, but because he made a keen observation (he said it before he went off the path, and I suppose the other irony is that he perhaps fulfilled it himself).

I wish I could find a small edition of the Jerusalem Bible that I could fit comfortably in the bag I carry with me.