Reading: Unit 8 Lecture Transcripts & Illustrations

Unit 8 Lecture 1

Today, I am going to recount for you some of the powerful thoughts from a man named Melito from the church at Sardis. In Revelation 3 the Lord had rebuked the church at Sardis rather strongly. 60 or so years later, the church was being led by one named Melito whose words continue to ring with a brilliance that we can appreciate and learn from today.

From the Discourse on Soul and Body.

For this reason did the Father send His Son from heaven without a bodily form, that, when He should put on a body by means of the Virgin's womb, and be born man, He might save man, and gather together those members of His which death had scattered when he divided man.

And further on: -The earth shook, and its foundations trembled; the sun fled away, and the elements turned back, and the day was changed into night: for they could not endure the sight of their Lord hanging on a tree. The whole creation was amazed, marveling and saying, "What new mystery, then, is this? The Judge is judged, and holds his peace; the Invisible One is seen, and is not ashamed; the Incomprehensible is laid hold upon, and is not indignant; the Illimitable is circumscribed, and doth not resist; the Impossible suffers, and does not avenge; the Immortal dies, and answers not a word; the Celestial is laid in the grave, and endures! What new mystery is this? "The whole creation, I say, was astonished; but, when our Lord arose from the place of the dead, and trampled death under foot, and bound the strong one, and set man free, then did the whole creation see clearly that for man's sake the Judge was condemned, and the Invisible was seen, and the Illimitable was circumscribed, and the Impassible suffered, and the Immortal died, and the Celestial was laid in the grave. For our Lord, when He was born man, was condemned in order that He might Show mercy, was bound in order that He might loose, was seized in order that He might release, suffered in order that He might feel compassion, died in order that He might give life, was laid in the grave that He might raise from the dead.


From the Discourse on the Cross.

On these accounts He came to us; on these accounts, though He was incorporeal, He formed for Himself a body after our fashion, -appearing as a sheep, yet still remaining the Shepherd; being esteemed a servant, yet not renouncing the Sonship; being carried in the womb of Mary, yet arrayed in the nature of His Father; treading upon the earth, yet filling heaven; appearing as an infant, yet not discarding the eternity of His nature; being invested with a body, yet not circumscribing the unmixed simplicity of His Godhead; being esteemed poor, yet not divested of His riches; needing sustenance inasmuch as He was man, yet not ceasing to feed the entire world inasmuch as He is God; putting on the likeness of a servant, yet not impairing the likeness of His Father. He sustained every character belonging to Him in an immutable nature: He was standing before Pilate, and at the same time was sitting with His Father; He was nailed upon the tree, and yet was the Lord of all things.

We have collected together extracts from the Law and the Prophets relating to those things which have Been declared concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may prove to your love that this Being is perfect reason, the Word of God; He who was begotten before the light; He who is Creator together with the Father; He who is the Fashioner of man; He who is all in all; He who among the patriarchs is Patriarch; He who in the law is the Law; among the priests, Chief Priest; among kings, the Ruler; among prophets, the Prophet; among the angels, Archangel; in the voice of the preacher, the Word; among spirits, the Spirit; in the Father, the Son; in God, God; King for ever and ever. For this is He who was pilot to Noah; He who was guide to Abraham; He who was bound with Isaac; He who was in exile with Jacob; He who was sold with Joseph; He who was captain of the host with Moses; He who was the divider of the inheritance with Jesus the son of Nun; He who in David and the prophets announced His own sufferings; He who put on a bodily form in the Virgin; He who was born in Bethlehem; He who was wrapped in swaddling-clothes in the manger; He who was seen by the shepherds; He who was glorified by the angels; He who was worshipped by the Magi; He who was pointed out by John; He who gathered together the apostles; He who preached the kingdom; He who cured the lame; He who gave light to the blind; He who raised the dead; He who appeared in the temple; He who was not believed on by the people; He who was betrayed by Judas; He who was apprehended by the priests; He who was condemned by Pilate; He who was pierced in the flesh; He who was hanged on the tree; He who was buried in the earth; He who rose from the place of the dead; He who appeared to the apostles; He who was carried up to heaven; He who is seated at the right hand of the Father; He who is the repose of those that are departed; the recoverer of those that are lost; the light of those that are in darkness; the deliverer of those that are captive; the guide of those that go astray; the asylum of the afflicted; the bridegroom of the Church; the charioteer of the cherubim; the captain of the angels; God who is from God; the Son who is from the Father; Jesus Christ the King for evermore. Amen.

This is He who took a bodily form in the Virgin, and was hanged upon the tree, and was buried within the earth, and suffered not dissolution; He who rose from the place of the dead, and raised up men from the earth-from the grave below to the height of heaven. This is the Lamb that was slain; this is the Lamb that opened not His mouth. This is He who was born of Mary, fair sheep of the fold. This is He that was taken from the flock, and was led to the slaughter, and was slain in the evening, and was buried at night; He who had no bone of Him broken on the tree; He who suffered not dissolution within the earth; He who rose from the place of the dead, and raised up the race of Adam from the grave below, This is He who was put to death. And where was He put to death? In the midst of Jerusalem. By whom? By Israel: because He cured their lame, and cleansed their lepers, and gave light to their blind, and raised their dead! This was the cause of His death. You, O Israel, were giving commands, and He was being crucified; you were rejoicing, and He was being buried; you were reclining on a soft couch, and He was watching in the grave and the shroud. O Israel, transgressor of the law, why have you committed  this new iniquity, subjecting the Lord to new sufferings-your own Lord, Him who fashioned you, Him-who made you, Him who honored you, who called you Israel? But you have not been found to be Israel: for you have not seen God, nor understood the Lord. You have not known, O Israel, that this was the first-born of God, who was begotten before the sun, who made the light to shine forth, who lighted up the day, who separated the darkness, who fixed the first foundations, who poised the earth, who collected the ocean, who stretched out the firmament, who adorned the world. Bitter were your nails, and sharp; bitter your tongue, which you sharpened whet; bitter was Judas, to whom you gave hire; bitter your false witnesses, whom you stirred up; bitter your gall, which thou prepared; bitter your vinegar, which thou made; bitter your hands, filled with blood. You killed your Lord, and He was lifted up upon the tree; and an inscription was fixed above, to show who He was that was slain. And who was this? (that which we shall not say is too shocking to hear, and that which we shall say is very dreadful: nevertheless hearken, and tremble.) It was He because of whom the earth quaked. He that hung the earth in space was Himself hanged; He that fixed the heavens was fixed with nails; He that bore up the earth was borne up on a tree; the Lord of all was subjected to ignominy in a naked body-God put to death! the King of Israel slain with Israel's right hand! Alas for the new wickedness of the new murder! The Lord was exposed with naked body: He was not deemed worthy even of covering; and, in order that He might not be seen, the luminaries turned away, and the day became darkened because they killed God, who hung naked on the tree. It was not the body of our Lord that the luminaries covered with darkness when they set, but the eyes of men. For, because the people quaked not, the earth quaked; because they were not filled with fright, the earth was frightened. Thou smote your Lord: you also have been smitten upon the earth. And you indeed lie dead; but He is risen from the place of the dead, and ascended to the height of heaven, having suffered for the sake of those who suffer, and having been bound for the sake of Adam's race which was imprisoned, and having been judged for the sake of him who was condemned, and having been buried for the sake of him who was buried.

And further on: -This is He who made the heaven and the earth, and in the beginning, together with the Father, fashioned man; who was announced by means of the law and the prophets; who put on a bodily form in the Virgin; who was hanged upon the tree; who was buried in the earth; who rose from the place of the dead, and ascended to the height of heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father.

There is much more that could be quoted from Melito of Sardis. I think you have a glimpse of his soaring rhetoric that has been handed down over all these centuries. His insights are still filling the pious heart with joy and the faithful mind with thoughts worth pondering.


Unit 8 Lecture 2


Last week, I looked at a passage from Irenaeus that showed how he was demonstrating that there was a developing rule of faith for his inquirer Marcianus.  Today, I want to take another look at some writings from Irenaeus that open our eyes to the idea that there was, in the mid 100’s already a sense that the Lord’s Supper had a mystical effect on the Christian. Irenaeus provides us with a sense of the growing sense that the Eucharist is a sacrifice which we render to God each time we celebrate it. This, you may know, developed into the rather difficult sticking point between the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church in the 1500’s, and in fact, among the reformers themselves. I am going to read for you some of his words written about 170 or so. These do not just have to do with the Lord’s supper. I wanted to also present some of the context in which we find his comments on the Supper. All of these are found at the website.

In this first excerpt, Irenaeus is challenging a philosophical idea concerning the creation. It seems to me that he is doing this in order to set the stage for what he will be considering a few paragraphs later. 

Inasmuch as certain men, impelled by what considerations I know not, remove from God the half of His creative power, by asserting that He is merely the cause of quality resident in matter, and by maintaining that matter itself is uncreated, come now let us put the question, What is at any time … is immutable. Matter, then, is immutable. But if matter be immutable, and the immutable suffers no change in regard to quality, it does not form the substance of the world. For which reason it seems to them superfluous, that God has annexed qualities to matter, since indeed matter admits of no possible alteration, it being in itself an uncreated thing. But further, if matter be uncreated, it has been made altogether according to a certain quality, and this immutable, so that it cannot be receptive of more qualities, nor can it be the thing of which the world is made. But if the world be not made from it, [this theory] entirely excludes God from exercising power on the creation [of the world].

Next he draws on the Old Testament story of how Naaman the Syrian leper is healed in obedience to Elisha’s instructions.


And dipped himself,” says [the Scripture], “seven times in Jordan.” It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [it served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: “Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

So Irenaeus is setting up a teaching that God can act on this creation as he so desires for the salvation of his people. Creation does not exist apart from God’s will. Creation responds to the word of God. So, as a part of creation, we need to be given a new life.

He goes on: 

If the corpse of Elisha raised a dead man, how much more shall God, when He has quickened men’s dead bodies, bring them up for judgment?

So now he begins to lay out the implications of his teaching, he says,

True knowledge, then, consists in the understanding of Christ, which Paul terms the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery, which “the natural man receives not,” the doctrine of the cross; of which if any man “taste,” he will not give in to the disputations and quibbles of proud and puffed-up men, who go into matters of which they have no perception. For the truth is unsophisticated (ἀσχημάτιστος); and “the word is close to you, in your mouth and in your heart,” as the same apostle declares, being easy of comprehension to those who are obedient. For it makes us like Christ, if we experience “the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” For this is what the apostolic teaching is all about and the most holy “faith delivered unto us,” which the unlearned receive, and those of slender knowledge have taught, not “giving heed to endless genealogies,” but studying rather [to observe] a straightforward course of life; lest, having been deprived of the Divine Spirit, they fail to attain to the kingdom of heaven. For truly the first thing is to deny one’s self and to follow Christ; and those who do this are borne onward to perfection, having fulfilled all their Teacher’s will, becoming children of God by spiritual regeneration, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven; those who seek the kingdom of heaven as the highest goal shall not be forsaken.

So Irenaeus is encouraging his readers and listeners to realize that to know Jesus is the first and greatest desire of a person’s heart. All of our longing is for God. And when we long for God we will not be forsaken. In the next section, Irenaeus goes on to speak of the sacrifice of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist. Pay close attention to how he frames the teaching in the context of what has just been spoken of regarding being obedient to God in seeking Jesus:

Those who have become acquainted with the secondary (i.e., under Christ) constitutions of the apostles, are aware that the Lord instituted a new sacrifice in the new covenant, according to [the declaration of] Malachi the prophet. For, “from the rising of the sun even to the setting     my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice;” as John also declares in the Apocalypse: “The incense is the prayers of the saints.” Then again, Paul exhorts us “to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” And again, “Let us offer the sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of the lips.” Now those sacrifices are not according to the law of Moses, the handwriting of which the Lord took away from among us by cancelling it; but these sacrifices are according to the Spirit, for we must worship God “in spirit and in truth.” And therefore the offering of the Eucharist is not a fleshly one, but a spiritual; and in this respect it is pure. For we make an offering to God of the bread and the cup of blessing, giving Him thanks in that He has commanded the earth to bring forth these fruits for our nourishment. And then, when we have perfected the sacrifice, we invoke the Holy Spirit, that He may show us this sacrifice, both the bread the body of Christ, and the cup the blood of Christ, in order that the receivers of these symbols of Jesus’ death may obtain remission of sins and life eternal. Those persons, then, who perform these offerings in remembrance of the Lord, do not fall in with Jewish views, but, performing the service after a spiritual manner, they shall be called sons of wisdom.

Do you notice how he is calling the Eucharist a sacrifice? It is this concept which will grow in various areas of the church over the centuries. There are those who would call it a memorial meal, but as the old catholic church was dealing with the teachings of the Gnostics in particular, they had to emphasize that God was intimately involved in the creation of the world, that the Son of God was integral to the creation of the world, and that the Son of God became flesh, real flesh and lived among us and dies and rose again for us. So they needed to emphasize a literal understanding of the words of the institution of the sacred meal by Jesus.


Unit 8 Lecture 3

If I have not said it already, I really must say that I have for many years been intrigued by the writings of a man we call Tertullian. I have mentioned him several times already in previous weeks. His importance to the growth of Latin theology cannot be overstated. He really is the founder of the theology that many of us are heirs to. He is the one who made powerful use of his wisdom to shape the thinking and teaching of the church of the West as it would become known some centuries later. Today, I want to share with you some of his words found in a letter to the roman authorities. In it he mocks the way the emperor thinks he is serving the empire when he is killing Christians. Tertullian wants his to know that such is not the case. We turn to what is known as his apology, chapter 37. You can find the entire apology as we have it today at online.

Chapter 37 begins with Tertullian asking a question that resounds with truth – he says, I few are commanded to love our enemies, who is going to be injured by us? He writes as follows:

If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies, as I have remarked above, whom have we to hate? If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become as bad ourselves: who can suffer injury at our hands? In regard to this, recall your own experiences. How often you inflict gross cruelties on Christians, partly because it is your own inclination, and partly in obedience to the laws! How often, too, the hostile mob, paying no regard to you, takes the law into its own hand, and assails us with stones and flames! With the very frenzy of the Bacchanals, they do not even spare the Christian dead, but tear them, now sadly changed, no longer entire, from the rest of the tomb, from the asylum we might say of death, cutting them in pieces, rending them asunder. Yet, banded together as we are, ever so ready to sacrifice our lives, what single case of revenge for injury are you able to point to, though, if it were held right among us to repay evil by evil, a single night with a torch or two could achieve an ample vengeance? But away with the idea of a divine group avenging itself by human fires, or shrinking from the sufferings in which it is tried. If we desired, indeed, to act the part of open enemies, not merely of secret avengers, would there be any lacking in strength, whether of numbers or resources?  The Moors, the Marcomanni, the Parthians themselves, or any single people, however great, inhabiting a distinct territory, and confined within its own boundaries, surpasses, indeed, in numbers, one spread over all the world!

Tertullian is making the point that since Christians are so spread out over the face of the earth, they are not a threat in any single area. So why should you want to kill us?

 It was only yesterday that we began to be, and we have filled every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum,—we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods. For what wars should we not be fit, not eager, even with unequal forces, we who so willingly yield ourselves to the sword, if in our religion it were not counted better to be slain than to slay? Without arms even, and raising no insurrectionary banner, but simply in enmity to you, we could carry on the contest with you by an ill-willed quarantine alone. For if such multitudes of men were to break away from you, and take themselves to some remote corner of the world, why, the very loss of so many citizens, whatever sort they were, would cover the empire with shame; no, in the very forsaking, vengeance would be inflicted. Why, you would be horror-struck at the solitude in which you would find yourselves, at such an all-prevailing silence, and that blankness as of a dead world. You would have to seek subjects to govern. You would have more enemies than citizens remaining. For now it is the immense number of Christians which makes your enemies so few,—almost all the inhabitants of your various cities being followers of Christ.130 Yet you choose to call us enemies of the human race, rather than of human error.  Let me ask, who would deliver you from those secret foes, who are always busy both destroying your souls and ruining your health?  Who would save you, I mean, from the attacks of those spirits of evil, which without reward or hire we exorcise?  This alone would be revenge enough for us, that you were henceforth left free to the possession of unclean spirits.  But instead of taking into account what is due to us for the important protection we afford you, and though we are not merely no trouble to you, but in fact necessary to your well-being, you prefer to hold us enemies, as indeed we are, yet not of man, but rather of his error.

 Tertullian’s logic is a clearly laid out argument. He says, look, Here are the facts: First, we believe that it is better to die than to kill someone else. Second, we have filled every place with our people – only the temples of your gods remain unfilled with Christians. Third, If we were to fight by simply walking away, your empire would be deathly quiet because there would be no one left in the cities and the countryside. Fourth, if we desired vengeance, we could just leave you to the possession and oppression of the evil spirits who be keep at bay to preserve your life. Since all these are true, one cannot think we are enemies, but you still call us that.


In chapter 39, he moves to a positive statement of what Christianity is about and its practices that are taught and encouraged. He writes,

I shall at once go on, then, to exhibit the peculiarities of the Christian society, that, as I have refuted the evil charged against it, I may point out its positive good.131 We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope. We meet together as an assembly and congregation, that, offering up prayer to God as with united force, we may wrestle with Him in our supplications. This violence God delights in. We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of the final consummation.132 We assemble to read our sacred writings, if any peculiarity of the times makes either forewarning or reminiscence needful.133 However it be in that respect, with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more steadfast; and no less by inculcations of God’s precepts we confirm good habits. In the same place also exhortations are made, rebukes and sacred censures are administered. For with a great gravity is the work of judging carried on among us, as befits those who feel assured that they are in the sight of God; and you have the most notable example of judgment to come when any one has sinned so grievously as to require his severance from us in prayer, in the congregation and in all sacred intercourse. The tried men of our elders preside over us, obtaining that honor not by purchase, but by established character. There is no buying and selling of any sort in the things of God. Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day,134 if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, piety’s deposit fund.  For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession. But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one135another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death. 

Tertullian is a man whose writings are worth getting to know. I have given you only a short taste of some of them here.

Last modified: Thursday, August 9, 2018, 1:10 PM