MARCHING TO A WORTHY DRUMMER INSTALLMENT #9

Chapter 4: The Western Christian Church’s Viewpoint of the Nature of the Holy Spirit (continued)

Two and a half centuries later Augustine experienced much the same revulsion as Justin did over the moral tawdriness of the Roman society in which he lived. Having become a Christian thirty two years after his birth in 354 A.D., Augustine had spent much of his dissolute pre-Christian years in the enjoyment of the depravity of the society in which he lived. The shame and regret of these early years served to drive Augustine into a passionate rejection of loose morality and unbridled lust. The strength of his feelings in that regard are demonstrated throughout his book City of God, an example of which is given in Chapters 4 and 5 of Book II:

“When I was a young man I used to go to sacrilegious shows and entertainments. I watched the antics of madmen; I listened to singing boys; I thoroughly enjoyed the most degrading spectacles put on in honour of gods and goddesses – in honour of the Heavenly Virgin, of of Berecynthia, mother of all. On the yearly festival of Berecynthia’s purification the lowest kind of actors sang, in front of her litter, songs unfit for the ears of even the mother of one of those mountebanks, to say nothing of the mother of any decent citizen, or of a senator; while as for the Mother of the Gods – ! For there is something in the natural respect we have towards our parents that the extreme of infamy cannot wholly destroy; and certainly those very mountebanks would be ashamed to give a rehearsal performance in their homes, before their mothers, of those disgusting verbal and acted obscenities. Yet they performed them in the presence of the Mother of the Gods before an immense audience of spectators of both sexes. If those spectators were enticed by curiosity to gather in profusion, they ought at least to have dispersed in confusion at the insults to their modesty.

“If these were sacred rites, what is meant by sacrilege? If this is purification, what is meant by pollution? And the name of the ceremony is ‘the fercula’, which might suggest the giving of a dinner-party where the unclean demons could enjoy a feast to their liking. Who could fail to realize what kind of spirits they are which could enjoy such obscenities? Only a man who refused to recognize even the existence of any unclean spirits who deceive men under the title of gods, or one whose life was such that he hoped for the favour and feared the anger of such gods, rather than that of the true God.

“5. The obscenities performed in the worship of the ‘Mother of the Gods’

 

          “The last people I should choose to decide on this matter are those who are more eager to revel in the obscene practices of this depraved cult than to resist them. I should prefer the decision of Scipio Nasica, the very man whom the Senate chose as their best man, whose hands received this devil’s image and brought it to Rome. Let him tell us whether he would wish his mother to have deserved so well of her country that she should be accorded divine honours. For it is well known that the Greeks and the Romans, and other peoples, have decreed such honours to those whose public services they valued highly, and that such people were believed to have been made immortal and to have been received among the number of the gods. No doubt he would desire such felicity for his mother, if it were possible. But let me go on to ask him whether he would like such disgusting rites as those to be included among the divine honours paid to her? Would he not cry out that he would prefer his mother to be dead, and beyond all experience, than that she should live as a goddess, to take pleasure in hearing such celebrations?   It is unthinkable that a senator of Rome, of such high principles that he forbade the erection of a theatre in a city of heroes, should want his mother to be honoured as a goddess by such propitiatory rites as would have scandalized her as a Roman matron. He would surely have thought it quite impossible for a respectable woman to have her modesty so corrupted by the assumption of divinity that her worshipers should call upon her with ritual invocations of this sort. These invocations contained expressions of such a kind that had they been hurled at any antagonist in a quarrel, during her life on earth, then if she had not stopped her ears and withdrawn from the company, her friends, her husband and her children would have blushed for her. In fact the ‘Mother of the Gods’ was such a character as even the worst of men would be ashamed to have for his mother. And when she came to take possession of the minds of the Romans she looked for the best man of the country, not so as to support him by counsel and help, but to cheat and deceive him, like the woman of whom the Bible says, ‘she ensnares the precious souls of men’. Her purpose was that a mind of great endowments should be puffed up by this supposedly divine testimony and should think itself truly exceptional, and therefore should cease to follow the true religion and piety – without which every national ability, however remarkable, disappears in the ruin which follows on pride. And thus that goddess should seek the support of the best men only by trickery, seeing that she requires in her worship the kind of behaviour which decent men shrink from even in their convivial moments.”

Augustine was enormously influential to the Christian Church at a time when Church doctrine was still being formulated and heresies were still emerging, to be debated upon and rejected. In his wake, the Church charted a course that polarized itself away from any hint of the depravities associated with the corrupt gods and goddesses of the world about her. This extremity of purification, for which purity was equated with chasitity, cleansed the Judeo-Christian God of any taint of sexuality.

A thousand years later, this insistence upon purity had not only remained, but had crystallized into a rigid perfectionism, enshrined by the medieval cleric Jerome Zanchius, a rigid adherent of the heavenly perfection envisioned by Aristotle and Ptolemy. I describe this attitude in the words of Earl’s wife Joyce in my novel Buddy:

“The sixteenth century was especially bad,” she continued. “The reactionary atmosphere at that time virtually ensured that perfectionists would enter the religious scene. Their theological precepts constituted a complementary philosophical companion to Ptolemy’s geocentric cosmology of perfection. God, they claimed, being the Creator of that perfection, was Himself of a like nature. Listen to these characteristics, Earl. To them, God was the Embodiment of simplicity, perfection, unchangeability and independency of being. These qualities, in turn, implied to them that God was above some of the defining characteristics of lesser beings such as the human race. Passion is included among these ‘lesser’ characteristics constituting the human nature that don’t belong to God.”

Zanchius, in his rather pretentious work Absolute Predestination Stated and Defined, included some Scripturally unjustified statements regarding the nature of God, of which the following excerpts are representative:

“VI.—I shall conclude this introduction with briefly considering, in the sixth and last place, THE MERCY OF GOD.

“POSITION 1.—The Deity is, throughout the Scriptures, represented as infinitely gracious and merciful (Exod. 34.6; Nehem. 9.17; Psalm 103.8; 1 Peter 1.3).

“When we call the Divine mercy infinite, we do not mean that it is, in a way of grace, extended to all men without exception (and supposing it was, even then it would be very improperly denominated infinite on that account, since the objects of it, though all men taken together, would not amount to a multitude strictly and properly infinite), but that His mercy towards His own elect, as it knew no beginning, so is it infinite in duration, and shall know neither period nor intermission.

“POSITION 2.—Mercy is not in the Deity, as it is in us, a passion or affection, everything of that kind being incompatible with the purity, perfection, independency and unchangeableness of His nature; but when this attribute is predicated of Him, it only notes His free and eternal will or purpose of making some of the fallen race happy by delivering them from the guilt and dominion of sin, and communicating Himself to them in a way consistent with His own inviolable justice, truth and holiness. This seems to be the proper definition of mercy as it relates to the spiritual and eternal good of those who are its objects.”

Zanchius continues as follows in his Chapter 1, entitled in grandiose manner “Wherein the Terms Commonly Made Use of in Treating of this Subject are Defined and Explained.”:

“HAVING considered the attributes of God as laid down in Scripture, and so far cleared our way to the doctrine of predestination, I shall, before I enter further on the subject, explain the principal terms generally made use of when treating of it, and settle their true meaning. In discoursing on the Divine decrees, mention is frequently made of God’s love and hatred, of election and reprobation, and of the Divine purpose, foreknowledge and predestination, each of which we shall distinctly and briefly consider.

“I.—When love is predicated of God, we do not mean that He is possessed of it as a passion or affection. In us it is such, but if, considered in that sense, it should be ascribed to the Deity, it would be utterly subversive of the simplicity, perfection and independency of His being. Love, therefore, when attributed to Him, signifies—

“(l) His eternal benevolence, i.e., His everlasting will, purpose and determination to deliver, bless and save His people. Of this, no good works wrought by them are in any sense the cause. Neither are even the merits of Christ Himself to be considered as any way moving or exciting this good will of God to His elect, since the gift of Christ, to be their Mediator and Redeemer, is itself an effect of this free and eternal favour borne to them by God the Father (John 3.16). His love towards them arises merely from “the good pleasure of His own will,” without the least regard to anything ad extra or out of Himself.

“(2) The term implies complacency, delight and approbation. With this love God cannot love even His elect as considered in themselves, because in that view they are guilty, polluted sinners, but they were, from all eternity, objects of it, as they stood united to Christ and partakers of His righteousness.

“(3) Love implies actual beneficence, which, properly speaking, is nothing else than the effect or accomplishment of the other two: those are the cause of this. This actual beneficence respects all blessings, whether of a temporal, spiritual or eternal nature. Temporal good things are indeed indiscriminately bestowed in a greater or less degree on all, whether elect or reprobate, but they are given in a covenant way and as blessings to the elect only, to whom also the other benefits respecting grace and glory are peculiar. And this love of beneficence, no less than that of benevolence and complacency, is absolutely free, and irrespective of any worthiness in man.

“II.—When hatred is ascribed to God, it implies (1) a negation of benevolence, or a resolution not to have mercy on such and such men, nor to endue them with any of those graces which stand connected with eternal life. So, “Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9.), i.e., “I did, from all eternity, determine within Myself not to have mercy on him.” The sole cause of which awful negation is not merely the unworthiness of the persons hated, but the sovereignty and freedom of the Divine will. (2) It denotes displeasure and dislike, for sinners who are not interested in Christ cannot but be infinitely displeasing to and loathsome in the sight of eternal purity. (3) It signifies a positive will to punish and destroy the reprobate for their sins, of which will, the infliction of misery upon them hereafter, is but the necessary effect and actual execution.”

I respond to this odd theology as follows, which I present in my novel Buddy in terms of Joyce’s continuing commentary to her husband Earl:

“Ouch. God above passion? That’s not what I get out of the Bible. Think about it. The consequence of a passionless God is a Deity possessing neither romance nor intimacy within or outside the Godhead. That would make the Godhead void of any gender-driven feelings, which is essentially equivalent to a genderless God. But if gender is not involved in the Godhead, God being above that kind of thing, we would end up with a passionless God incapable of experiencing for Himself that which He fashioned in His creation and asks of us to respond toward Him. That would give us an experiential edge on God as well as to suggest hypocrisy in His nature.

“I’m with you,” Joyce replied. “Beyond that problem, the perfectionists’ definition of God not only suppresses love, His most important attribute, but inhibits those to whom Scripture was written from loving Him back. This is a serious issue because it runs counter to His Great Commandment to love Him with all our hearts, and our souls and our minds.

“Their God was instead, in His perfection, of a remote grandeur. This notion gave rise to a God whose primary attribute is his majestic greatness. By defining God with majesty in mind, love became a secondary attribute, despite John’s emphatic identification of God as the very embodiment of love. They went too far. The perfection embodied in their eulogies renders them sterile.

“The perfectionists’ Pasteurization of God has led them to a view of God as residing in absolute flawlessness, so void of blemish that, like the smooth and featureless moon of their era, their statements of position approach the theological equivalent of Aristotle’s perfect cosmos, which was embellished upon by Ptolemy and published in his Almagest in 150 A.D.   They had nothing whatsoever to do with Scripture. In their application of Ptolemaic principles of perfection in the cosmos to their theology, the perfectionists’ God, then, is a perfectly round, gigantic, cold and opaque marble.”

In brief, Zanchius defines a God whose primary attribute is his majestic greatness. Had his mind access to expressions denoting higher level superlatives, he certainly would have included them. In defining God in this way, he automatically makes love a secondary attribute, despite John’s emphatic identification of God as the very embodiment of love. Zanchius’ passionless God, in fact, is alien to the God of Scripture. This is to be expected, as he assigns attributes to God without any reference whatsoever to Scripture itself.

Zanchius’ God, then, being positionally remote from and by nature very different from the mankind of His creation, is alien to it as well.

[to be continued]

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