Reading History: John of Damascus answers Why the Cross?

As we continue our Easter related posts, we are going to look at John of Damascus’ reflections on the cross in his work Orthodox Faith. An eighth century theologian, John is best known for defending the veneration of icons and imagery when this issue was causing major divisions (link). Though intermixed with a defense of venerating the symbol of the cross (mostly removed from this post), John’s writing shows how central the cross is to orthodox Christianity.

The rest of this post contains excerpts from Book 4 chapter 11 (CCEL).


John_Damascus_(arabic_icon).gifEvery action, therefore, and performance of miracles by Christ are most great and divine and marvellous: but the most marvellous of all is His precious Cross. Continue reading

Reading History: Justin Martyr answers Why the Cross?

Around 150 years before Athanasius wrote On the Incarnation, Justin Martyr wrote Dialogue with Trypho. As a Christian philosopher, Justin explored the case for Christ through a conversation with a Jewish seeker named Trypho. As the conversation unfolds the need for the cross is affirmed.

The rest of this post contains excerpts from chapters 89-95 from CCEL.


Then Trypho remarked, “Be assured that all our nation waits for Christ; and we admit that all the Scriptures which you have quoted refer to Him. … But whether Christ should be so shamefully crucified, this we are in doubt about. For whosoever is crucified is said in the law to be accursed, so that I am exceedingly incredulous on this point. It is quite clear, indeed, that the Scriptures announce that Christ had to suffer; but we wish to learn if you can prove it to us whether it was by the suffering cursed in the law.”

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Justin the Philosopher by Theophanes the Cretan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I replied to him, “If Christ was not to suffer, and the prophets had not foretold that He would be led to death on account of the sins of the people, and be dishonoured and scourged, and reckoned among the transgressors, and as a sheep be led to the slaughter, whose generation, the prophet says, no man can declare, then you would have good cause to wonder.

But if these are to be characteristic of Him and mark Him out to all, how is it possible for us to do anything else than believe in Him most confidently? And will not as many as have understood the writings of the prophets, whenever they hear merely that He was crucified, say that this is He and no other?” Continue reading

Reading History: John Chrysostom on Ignatius of Antioch

John Chrysostom (347-407) was an influential Christian leader during the fourth century. He was known as an eloquent speaker and writer. His “last name” means “golden mouthed” and in 392 was included in Jerome’s collection On Illustrious Men (link #129). That would essentially make him a “legend in his own time”. He served as a leader in Antioch (~386-397), under bishop Flavian, until he was kidnapped and taken to Constantinople to become its arch-bishop (link).

In Antioch a day was set aside to to commemorate their hero Ignatius. On one of these occasions, John Chrysostom gave a noteworthy homily that we still have today (link). As John gave this speech, he and those who heard him enjoyed “deep peace on all sides”. This was in contrast to Ignatius and the early Christians who faced “precipices and pitfalls, and wars, and fightings, and dangers” during the first two centuries of its existence. This was also a time when the Arian controversy, which has consumed nearly a century of debate and the attention of two ecumenical councils, has finally started to fizzle out.

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Antioch, envisioned as the whole world

This speech, as much as it is about remembering Ignatius, is also reminding people about the place that Antioch holds. In commending Ignatius, John lauds the size and history of the city in which he is speaking. Continue reading