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The Trinity, Sexuality, and Holy Communion June 14, 2007

Posted by Ninja Michael in Philosophy, Theology.

This following is a paper written while I was an undergraduate at Canadian Mennonite University, entitled Sex, the Eucharist, and Truth Telling. It was written for a senior seminar, an integrative studies course meant to allow students to relate their various major areas of study to a common topic, in this case the nature of truth and lies. Students presented their papers (as works in progress) to the class, and received a formal response from another student, with discussion following. The topic for this paper caused a bit of a stir – I will admit that the title “Sex and the Eucharist” was partially meant to make people notice, although it certainly was not meant in any impius way (which seemed to be understood). Rather, it was meant to communicate in a nutshell that gender, sexual relationships, the nature of God, and the sacrament of Holy Communion are closely linked. This is an area of my thought that is still developing, and I hope to do additional work, revising and expanding what I have written earlier.

It is possible to move into a great many directions from this starting point, commenting on everything from family life, to the nature of Christian ministry and ordination. There is certainly a great deal of ecumenical dialogue to be had on these subjects; writing as an Anglican Catholic in a Mennonite context provided an interesting background for something like this, and I was pleased with the discussion that ensued. To a great extent, this paper was meant to stimulate thought and dialogue more than to give a complete picture of my own beliefs, which I would be happy to expand on for those who are interested. For now, what is presented below is almost exactly what I submitted to Professor Paul Dyck last April. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Background and Synopsis

In writing a paper such as this, seeking as it does to integrate various aspects of a student’s university experience, it might be helpful to start with something foundational to the student’s educational approach.   In addition, it would be helpful if the paper could address a topic or topics applicable to the student’s own life experience.   For me personally, my life experience during university has been largely taken up with reflections on some of the big questions of life’s meaning, especially those having to do with the nature of God, spirituality, love and sexuality.   As a young man, a great deal of time has been spent considering what it means to be masculine, how masculinity and femininity relate, and how, in turn, this relates to my faith.   As a theological student aspiring to the Christian priesthood, one of my primary concerns has been to ponder the meaning of worship, and how the Church can best express its love and faith within the context of corporate worship, i.e. within the Church’s liturgy.   Over time, my studies have led me to believe that these two questions are deeply interconnected, that worship is – at its core – a sexual relationship, and that the sexual union is intended to be an act of worship. 

Within the context of this course, dealing as it has with the question of what it means to tell the truth, sexuality and worship have seemed to overlap even more.   To put it as concisely as possible, my belief is that both the sexual act and the act of worship known as the Holy Eucharist are pre-eminent means of truth telling, in that each of them is a profound witness to the nature of God, and the relationship between Christ and his Church.   Moreover, these actions are deeply intertwined with each other, to the extent that it is impossible to truly and completely participate in one of these experiences without opening oneself up to the other.

The Relationship Between Truth and Love

In examining the nature of truth (or of untruth) within a Christian context, it is necessary either to begin with God, or to end up with God eventually, since God is not only the source of truth but Christ, God incarnate, is described as “the Truth” (John 14:6).   God has also been described as “love”, even as a relationship of three persons in love.  When God is understood as Trinity, it may be concluded that God’s existence as love is fundamental to the divine nature, and that this love is the fundamental truth of all existence, in a deeply real way.  

Love is not only the truth; it is also essential to truth telling.   In his book Telling the Truth, Frederick Buechner writes that “to preach the Gospel is not just to tell the truth but to tell the truth in love” (Buechner 8).   This is so not only because one who wishes to communicate truth must have some thought for those receiving the communication; it is a need rooted in the very identity of the Gospel, and of Truth itself.   Buechner himself suggests that truth telling is more than a matter of words, and might not be possible with words at all.   Rather, he suggests finding truth in silence, being confronted with reality itself.   He discusses truth in terms of existence, as something standing in front of us, like Jesus before Pilate, and experienced rather than rationalized.   Although Buechner will examine truth telling through various literary genres, such as Shakespearian tragedy or poetry, “What Jesus lets his silence say is that truth is what words can’t tell but only tell about, what images can only point to” (Buechner 17).   Truth is not a matter of logic alone, but of beauty and loveliness.   Indeed, as we shall see, truth as “Word” can never be communicated apart from truth as “Love”.   In Jesus Truth and Love are one, and when Christ stands in silence to tell the truth, it is love that is offered.   The Incarnation of Christ, in that it is a perfect revelation of the love of God, is the consummate act of telling the truth.   The standard set for us in the Incarnation is the first and foremost reason why it is impossible to tell the truth without love.    

Truth Telling as an Act of Love

The Incarnation, God’s own truth telling is, first and foremost, an action – and relationship – of love.   Therefore our truth telling is most truthful when it takes the form of acts of love, particularly actions joined to the love and truth telling of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  If love is tied up with the very essence of truth, then there are implications for everything from romance to politics, theology to editorial cartooning.   In his recent encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI begins with a simple thesis, “God is Love”, and uses it as point of departure for a discussion on everything from erotic love to the role of charitable institutions.   Both are in some form (however flawed they might be) rooted in the grace and love of God.   When they reveal the love of God as it truly is, they speak truly, and are true.   To the extent that they are flawed, they can be said to lie about the love of God.   This can be true, at some level, of many things.   But is it possible that certain types of actions, or certain elements of reality, are particularly suited to expressing the love of God, perhaps even being avenues by which other parts of life can be restored, healed, and truth-filled?   Do we have opportunities for truth telling (loving) that express in an especially clear way the love of God within the Trinity, and the love of Christ for the Church?   Many actions can be truthful, but certain ones are recognized within Christian tradition as particularly expressive of truth, and being signs of a deep spiritual reality; thus, it might be said that for the Christian, telling the truth is a sacramental undertaking.

Two things that stand out as means of truth telling for the Christian are the sexual union expressed in marriage, and the celebration of the Eucharist.   These two are intrinsically related, in that they both involve a coming together designed to be life giving, and both are representative of Divine Love, revealed in different ways.   Each of these sacraments is “true” in the highest sense of the term, and that to really undertake one or both of these actions is to engage in an act of truth telling in a deep way. 

Sexual Union as an Act of Truth Telling

Having sex (by which I mean lovemaking, not being male or female, which is what the phrase literally means) is an opportunity for truth telling in that it is meant to reveal both the love among the members of the Holy Trinity, and also the relationship of Christ to the Church.   Why is sexual love particularly expressive of the truth or love of God?   Certainly there are other types of love.   Friendship, charity, and agape all come to mind.   Perhaps erotic love could be included here, but what makes it unique?   Although it has been said previously that sexual union is expressive of the love between the members of the Trinity, why is sexual union more expressive of this love than something else?

The answer is that “God is a sexual being, the most sexual of all beings”.   So argues philosopher Peter Kreeft:

The love relationship between the Father and the Son within the Trinity, the relationship from which the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds, is a sexual relationship.   It is like the human sexual relationship from which a child proceeds in time; or rather, that relationship is like the divine one.   Sexuality is “the image of God” according to Scripture (see Genesis 1:27), and for B to be an image of A, A must in some way have all the qualities imaged by B.   God therefore is a sexual being” (“Sex in Heaven”).

According to this view of the Trinity, our sexuality is rooted in something universal, even cosmic, rooted in the very character of God; this automatically makes our sexuality, however it is expressed, a carrier of deep meaning.
From this concept of God as sexual, we can move to see sexuality as “the image of God” that Kreeft claims it to be.   This is one explanation for the creation of humankind as male and female, that the human image of God is incomplete unless two become one.   Yet why is gender necessary, especially since both the Father and the Son are described as masculine?   It is important to keep in mind that the sexuality of God works on several different levels.   The relationship of the Godhead to humanity is a heterosexual relationship, where God and humankind are likened to opposite genders.   The love between the Father and the Son is also heterosexual, in that the Father and the Son are innately dissimilar, although equal in power and glory.  Intrinsic to their Godhead is their relationship; the Father has a unique identity that is dependent on the Son’s unique identity.   The same is true for humanity.   Pope Benedict XVI writes:

[M]an is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole… only in communion with the opposite sex can he become ‘complete’. The biblical account thus concludes with a prophecy about Adam: ‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh’ (Gen 2:24) (Deus Caritas Est § 11).

In Western Christian theology (specifically medieval Roman Catholicism), the Holy Spirit has sometimes been described as the love between the Father and the Son.   The Spirit “eternally proceeds” from the Father and the Son, because the Father and the Son have loved each other from all eternity.   Their love is so deep, and so perfect and complete that it is actually expressed as another person, equal in power and glory to the Father and Son.   In a union between a man and woman, they are not only bound together figuratively as “one flesh”, but this union is capable of being expressed quite literally as a flesh and blood human being, a baby.   For a husband and wife to have sex is to proclaim not only this love within the Trinity, but also the love between Christ (the Bridegroom) and the Church (the Bride), a love that is covenanted, permanent, with the potential to be life giving.   It is to tell the truth, in language far stronger than that of words, of the passionate excitement of God’s own existence, and of the love that flows from God into Creation. 

Celebration of the Eucharist as an Act of Truth Telling

The Eucharist is also an act of truth telling.   Within Catholic theology, when the priest blesses the bread and wine of the Eucharist, their “substance” is transformed into that of the glorified Christ, present in his body, soul, and divinity.   The bread and wine retain the physical features and attributes of bread and wine, but that is not what they are in their essence.   Therefore it is possible for the priest to hold up the bread and say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and for the congregation to be confronted with the truth of Christ in the same way that Pilate was when he asked Jesus what truth was.   For Jesus, who was himself the Truth, it was impossible to engage in a higher form of truth telling than to do what he already was doing, which was being physically present in front of Pilate.  

To celebrate the Eucharist allows the Church to participate in Jesus own act of truth telling – his incarnation, by manifesting his presence which was first and foremost a presence of love.   This action is symbolic in no small number of ways:

The ancient world had dimly perceived that man’s real food–what truly nourishes him as man–is ultimately the Logos, eternal wisdom: this same Logos now truly becomes food for us–as love. The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving. The imagery of marriage between God and Israel is now realized in a way previously inconceivable: it had meant standing in God’s presence, but now it becomes union with God through sharing in Jesus’ self-gift, sharing in his body and blood  (Deus Caritas Est § 13). 

This is why the Eucharist, especially if understood as a manifestation of the incarnate life of Jesus, is perhaps the highest form of truth telling available to the Christian believer.  

The potential for truth telling is not limited to churches that believe that the bread and wine are literally the body and blood of Christ, for every Christian tradition agrees that the Lord’s Supper is a memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ.   This ritual proclamation of Christ’s sacrifice and victory has great potential to communicate a truth that cannot be put into words; it is a type of poetry and beauty, a reality even more undiluted than Buechner’s image of the TV news with the sound off.   Still, it seems to me that if, in some way, Christ is understood to become present through the celebration of the Supper and the reception of the bread and wine, the Eucharist is free to be an even more powerful occasion for truth telling, in that the congregation is not simply presented with the truth of Christ, but with Christ who is truth.   The more emphasis given to the presence of Christ, the more poignant this truth telling seems to become.   When the communion is understood as a partaking of the body and blood of Christ in some real and objective sense (this does not necessarily mean transubstantiation) the parallels with sexual intercourse become most obvious.   The Church is meant to become “one flesh” with Christ as “partakers of the Divine Nature”.   Through this sharing in the body and blood of Christ we participate in the very life of the Trinity, as we are filled with the Holy Spirit, who is the love between the Father and the Son.

The Relationship Between Sexuality and the Eucharist

For the Bride of Christ to truly receive the Body of Christ within the Eucharist is to declare, and to receive, the substance of what that Bride is, as the two become one (as the Church is also revealed – perhaps more clearly than at any other time – to be also the Body of Christ.) Something true happens, and is proclaimed (see Schmemann 25).   Described in this way, the Eucharist is certainly very much like the marital act, as in both cases, there is a deep union being forged between two opposing forces – in one case male and female, and in another case, divine and human. In both cases, the union is spoken of in terms of “one flesh”.

Marriage and the Eucharist are both ways in which a basic human drive (sexuality or hunger) are redeemed and transformed in Christ.   Because the need for food and the passion of sexuality are so fundamental to our life, to experience and live out these as expressions of the love of God is to testify to the truth of God at a foundational level of human existence.   God allows our sexual drive to be used to worship, and God allows us to receive his love through physical nourishment.

For Catholics, the priest is essentially a stand in for Jesus himself, and this is very important to keep in mind, since it provides a perspective on why some Roman Catholic theologians (among others) place such high importance on the gender of the priest.   Within this understanding of the priesthood, if the Eucharist is to be a sexual act, it follows that there is a great deal of symbolism behind the celebration of the Lord’s Supper by a male (where the Church he serves is understood as female).   This perspective is not particularly helpful for churches that do not understand the priesthood in this way, but is offered here as an example of how far it is possible to symbolize the sexual aspect of the Eucharist. 

Sex, the Eucharist, and Lying

As sex and the Eucharist are both places where we can tell the truth, the possibility of untruth, of lying, is also raised.   Therefore, both of these actions have a deep risk associated with them.   In addition to the risk that there will be a discrepancy between the experience of the couple, or the church, and the truth that the experience was meant to contain, there is the danger of a complacency where that truth is not really sought for in the first place.   Certainly to celebrate the unity of the Church in the Lord’s Supper is to, lie if one does not strive for this unity to be expressed in the day-to-day life of the Church.   If one settles for a sexual life that does not tell the truth about the mystery that sexuality is part of, one is not merely “sinning” or doing something “dirty”; one might be said to be “lying”.

Our complacency with sexuality, for example, may come about for what are seemingly the best of motives, a settling for another truth that seems best at the time, what “ought” to be said (see Buechner 6), rather than what in our heart of hearts we most desperately desire to say (perhaps without realizing it).   In our world today, when discussions about sexuality are usually cast in the language of rights and freedoms, theology is an unwelcome intrusion.   However, for the Christian, the sexual act is not only designed as the creation of a good and loving God, but is designed to communicate the most profound of theological truths.   Thus, a discussion of sexuality within the Church without reference to theology is to attempt to separate something from its essence, and the Church already risks lying about what the true nature of sexuality is.   A great deal is at stake; the desire to tell the truth can be extremely costly.   The decision to set something else higher than the truth can be catastrophic. 

Some Specific Concerns

For any particular truth, there are many ways to be just slightly untrue.   And, sometimes there are heated disputes about whether one is actually wrong or not.   In setting up a basic argument – that the relationship between humanity and God is a sexual one, witnessed to in the sacraments of Holy Communion and Marriage (among other things) – there are multiple implications raised, not all of which can be dealt with here, even basically.   The most important thing, perhaps, is to realize that this reality – this truth – does have consequences, if it is actually to be told in human lives.

Something that comes to mind immediately is the current debate in the Church over how to address the issue of homosexual relationships.   It is not my purpose here to begin a lengthy discussion on the ethics of homosexuality, or of the numerous pastoral issues involved.   What has already been attempted within this paper is to give a brief account of the meaning of gender within a cosmic understanding of sexuality, to see gender as fundamental to the image of God the Holy Trinity, and the relationship between Christ and the Church.   As was mentioned earlier, the relationship that exists within the Godhead is a heterosexual one, even a fruitful and procreative one.   Since this relationship is the truth behind human sexuality, there is a grave potential for our sexual relationships to fall desperately short of the mark of honest truth telling.   This is why any question dealing with sexuality and gender has such serious implications; this is true of many other things, not just homosexuality.   But in outlining beliefs about the nature of sexual truth, it is not intended to judge other persons’ experiences, as if they were devoid of God’s truth.   It has been said that within a homosexual relationship, there is also a seeking for the “other”.   It is also true that within many heterosexual relationships, the relationship is damaged severely, and does not function as it ought to – as an exchange of equality in diversity.   The only response that may be given here is that the basic urge behind all sexual relationships – whether heterosexual or homosexual – is a drive for completion in the other.   All sexuality, whether it intends to or not, witnesses to this basic heterosexual reality; Holy Matrimony witnesses to it more completely than any other sexual arrangement possible on earth.   Our goal as truth tellers should be to conform to this truth as closely as possible, keeping in mind that all participate in one way or another in a love relationship with God, and that all are sinners (and thus are all liars).

The concept of sexuality as an expression of truth or falsehood also has serious implications for married couples.   Within the Roman Catholic Church, a great deal of discussion has occurred in the last few decades over the issue of contraception (most other religious bodies began permitting the use of contraception early in the 20th century, although its acceptance has not been universal even among Protestants).   For the Catholic Church, marriage is an expression of the love between the Father and the Son, manifested in the person of the Holy Spirit.   Love, by definition, is meant to be life giving.   Therefore, if a couple arranges for their love to not have that life giving potential, could that arrangement possibly be considered a lie about the true theological nature of love and sexuality?   Just as a kiss is never “just a kiss”, so sex is never “just sex”; it exists within a framework of truth telling   As an example of Catholic thought on this subject, allow me to quote from Hogan and LeVoir’s book, Covenant of Love, which examines Pope John Paul II’s teaching on sexuality:
In an act of love, husband and wife should give themselves to each other and should be open to the transmission of life.   The denial of either good, conjugal love or procreation constitutes a falsification of the act.   With conjugal love or procreation denied, the act no longer reflects God’s fruitful love.   Most would grant that a husband seeking only children from his wife without any thought of her welfare is using her.   Such a man denies the value of conjugal love.   However, the husband who denies the possibility of procreation also is using his wife.   (The wife, of course, would be using her husband if she denies either conjugal love or the procreation of children.)   For God, life and love are not separated and thus, for us, as images of God, life and love should not be separated, i.e., conjugal love and life should always be united (Hogan and LeVoir 55).

This does not mean that a couple that cannot have children is participating less fully in an act of sexual truth telling, since opening themselves up to God’s creative love may well prove fruitful in other ways.   On the other hand, to refuse to admit the creative element of love is a type of negation.   It is not my intention to continue this argument one way or another here, but merely to give it as an example of where this line of thought (connecting marriage with truth telling) can take us.   There is a large number of ethical questions involved which must be examined, including to what extent couples that desire children may space their births, and whether couples must continue bearing children indefinitely.   Many have taken the above view as a basic principle, while allowing exceptions in particular cases.   Still, it is an example of what is at stake when one examines sexual relations from the perspective of truth telling or lying, and stands as a challenge that must be answered.

A Poetic Conclusion

Near the beginning of this essay, the difficulty of describing truth in language was discussed; this was a starting point for an examination of love as truth telling.   Perhaps when examining topics of a sexual or sacramental nature, as has been attempted here, prose fails even more quickly than in other cases.   Buechner mentions several times in his book that we are likely to come closest to capturing truth verbally when using the language of poetry (Buechner 44).   If one is to claim a sexual relationship with the Divine – complete with a physical consummation – how could it be adequately described in any other language?   Therefore, as a concluding illustration, please allow me to quote from John Donne (Holy Sonnets XIV): 

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new. 

I, like an usurp’d town to’another due, 

Labour to’admit you, but oh, to no end; 

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue. 

Yet dearly’I love you, and would be lov’d fain, 

But am betroth’d unto your enemy; 

Divorce me,’untie or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I, 

Except you’enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me  

Within this poem, Donne uses several images of a romantic nature to describe his relationship to God, such as those of betrothal.   He also writes that he would never be “chaste”, unless God “ravish” him.   At the beginning of this essay, part of my thesis was that it is impossible to fully participate either in sex or the Eucharist without opening oneself up to both.   Here I would add that it is impossible for us to experience sexuality as intended by our Creator unless we experience a sexual relationship with God.   The pre-eminent means prepared for this is physical, in Jesus’ giving of his flesh and blood to his bride.   Unless the bride receives his flesh, she cannot be chaste, and her sexuality cannot be the expression of truth that it is meant to be.   And for the bride to receive the body of Christ without realizing the intense love and communion given therein is also to fail in her mission to tell the truth.   Her worship is the beloved’s adoration of her lover, and her knowledge of his flesh.   It is an exchange of life where our “sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body… our souls washed by his most precious blood… that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us” (Book of Common Prayer 84).

This physical and spiritual intimacy, glimpsed within the nuptial union, and within the Holy Eucharist, is our truth.   Since sexuality is found first of all in God, it is a fundamental part of our existence, even if we do not actually participate in a marital union.   Indeed, those who are celibate may find it possible to devote themselves to their union with Christ in ways that a married person may find difficult.   We have a union with Christ that is expressed even in physical form.   For those who do not have genital sexual relations, the sexuality of God remains a model to strive for earnestly.   When both marriage and the Eucharist have passed away, our life as the Bride of Christ will continue, engulfed in a love beyond all reason. 

Benedict XVI.  Deus Caritas Est. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/

Buechner, Frederick.  Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale. New York: HarperCollins, 1977. 

John Donne.  “Batter My Heart” http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/

Hogan, Richard M. and John M. LeVoir.  Covenant of Love: Pope John Paul II on Sexuality, Marriage, and Family in the Modern World.  Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1986.

Kreeft, Peter. “Is There Sex in Heaven?” http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/sex-in-heaven.htm
Schmemann, Alexander.  For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy.  Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004. 

The Book of Common Prayer.  Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1962. 


Maximus the Confessor May 22, 2007

Posted by Ninja Michael in Theology.

Recently, while studying Eastern Christian theology at the Skeptytsky Institute in Ottawa, I had the opportunity to read Four Centuries on Love, by St. Maximus the Confessor. The following analysis, entitled “Love, Passion, and Disaffectedness” was my term paper for the class. While I’m on the subject, I highly recommend the Sheptytsky Institute (part of the Faculty of Theology at St. Paul University) for those Ottawa residents interested in studying the Fathers, Church history, or dogmatic theology from an Eastern, or just simply Orthodox, perspective. The Institute includes both Eastern Orthodox and Eastern-rite Catholic students and faculty. This year I was able to study with four different professors, two Ukrainian Catholic, and two Eastern Orthodox. The course the following paper was written for, on Eastern Christian Spirituality, was given by Fr. Maxym Lysack, pastor of Christ the Saviour Orthodox Church, an English-language parish located on Somerset Street – which I also recommend to anyone interested in exploring the Byzantine tradition.

Note: Maximus’ work is divided into “centuries” – sets of 100 verses each. In text references refer to the century and individual verse or paragraph.


Maximus the Confessor was a 7th century Christian monk and author. Although he came from an upper class background, and during his youth worked as a civil servant in the Imperial court, Maximus felt the call to live an ascetic life. In the Monothelite controversy, Maximus defended the Orthodox position with such strength that his enemies felt it necessary to silence him; after being convicted of heresy he was sentenced to have his tongue and right hand removed. (It is this faithful witness in the midst of suffering for which Maximus has received the title “Confessor”.)

It is interesting to note Maximus’ insistence on Christ’s human will (which was the central issue in the Monothelite controversy) when reading through a work such as his Four Centuries on Love (or Charity), a work that has a great deal to do with the transformation of the human will, the redemption of human inclinations and desires, with their reorientation towards the love of God. The book is a compilation (with some condensation, “for greater ease of memory and reflection”, as Maximus says in the Forward) of various patristic sources, on the subject of “love” (as Maximus describes it). One might see a great number of themes in this collection; indeed, one can find here a comprehensive guide to the Christian faith, starting with the most basic principle, yet containing practical advice for various situations.

The book does not appear to progress in any obvious linear way. Rather, in each set of one hundred short paragraphs or verses, he lays out largely the same material yet going ever deeper, progressing on slowly over the course of the work; many similar precepts are stated several times, with slight variations. The work is written in such a way as to be useful both to monastic students, and also to those living in the world.

In analysing this text, three main themes come to mind. They are not successive sections in the book, neither are they chronological stages in the Christian life, but they are sequential to Maximus’ argument. The first is the supremacy of the love of God; the second is the nature of what Maximus refers to as “the passions”; the third is a collection of practical advice for reorienting human will and desire towards God. Along with this advice, Maximus says a great deal about the consequences of attaining a state of freedom from the passions, what Maximus called “disaffectedness”.

The Nature of Love

Since Maximus does cover many different facets of the Christian life in his book, the title “On Love” is especially telling. It is clear that Maximus considers love to be the central meaning and focus of the Christian life – he says that there is “nothing higher than the love of God” (1:9) – consequently, any truth or good should be seen in terms of love for God, and any evil as a lack or defect in love for God. He beings with a simple definition of his subject. “Love is that good disposition of the soul in which it prefers nothing that exists to knowledge of God” (1:1). Maximus goes on to say that one “who loves God prefers knowledge of God to all things created by Him, and ever strives for it with desire” (1:4). This striving for God is described in beautiful language (1:10,12):

When, urged by love, the mind soars to God, it has no sensation either of itself or of anything existing. Illumined by the limitless Divine light, it is insensible to all the created, just as is the physical eye to stars in the light of the sun… When, through love, the mind is ravished by knowledge of God and, standing outside all that exists, is conscious of God’s infinity, then in its ecstasy it becomes aware of its own nothingness, and in all sincerity repeats the words of Isaiah, ‘Woe is me! for I am pricked to the heart; for being a man, and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people having unclean lips; and I have seen with mine eyes the King, the Lord of hosts’ (Isaiah vi. 5).

Maximus encourages his readers to consider how much greater God is than anything he has created. Since this is true, the totality of human existence is to love God. Because God is so wonderful, there is no higher joy that a human being could experience than simply to be awestruck by the Divine Presence. There are many who have given their lives to the study of a certain art or science because they find it wonderful and beautiful; there are many lovers of music or of geography who go to great lengths to experience a place, to hear a sound. A higher form of love might be the desire of two individuals for each other. But Maximus insists that the Divine presence and beauty of God so far surpasses everything else that it would be madness to devote one’s life to any other pursuit. He writes (4:1):

When the mind reflects on the absolute infinity of God, on this unfathomable and greatly desirable deep, it is first filled with wonder; and then it is struck with amazement how God has brought into being from nothing all that is. But as there is no end of His greatness, so too is His wisdom unsearchable. (Ps. cxliv. 3.) And in another place he says, “Blessed is the mind which, passing by all creatures, constantly rejoices in God’s Beauty” (1:19).

Maximus sees the love of a person for God as inseparable from the love that one ought to have for other persons. “He who sees in his heart a trace of hatred towards another for some fault of his, is a complete stranger to love of God. For love of God can in no way tolerate hatred of man… Blessed is the man who can love all men equally” (1:15, 17). Rather, the Christian will love even difficult or sinful people, even though not approving of their behaviour: “He who loves God cannot but love every man as himself, although the passions of those who are not yet purified find no favour with him. Therefore, when he sees them converted and reformed, he rejoices with great and ineffable joy” (1:13).

Passion: A False Love, A Misdirected Desire

Maximus devotes a good deal of his book to an examination of what he calls “the passions”. Now it is important to realise that for Maximus, not every human desire or inclination falls into the category of the passions. Rather, it is Maximus’ primacy of love that explains his understanding of the passions; he uses this word “passion” to describe a disordered love or desire, one placed ahead of God – “an unnatural movement of the soul” (3:16). In stark contrast to the Gnostics, Maximus defends both creation and the human will in strong language, emphasising the goodness of nature, and of human senses and desires – yet only within the proper order of things.

Maximus makes the crux of his argument early in his work where he describes how God is so much greater than his creation (1:5):

If all that exists exists by God and for God, and God is better than anything which came into being through Him, then a man who abandons God and occupies himself with lower things thereby shows that he prefers above God what has come into being through Him.

Maximus wishes to correct the orientation of human desire away from God, onto things that God has made. Since God is so much greater than those things that he has made, for someone to desire something else more than God is to live a life contrary to love itself. Passion, therefore, is the opposite of love; one may wish to think of passion as a false love, one fundamentally out of step with its own nature.

There are various sorts of passions, both passions of the mind (such as hatred or envy), and also of the body (such as lust or gluttony). Especially for the monastic, treatment of this passionate state will involve various types of renunciation of physical pleasure and comfort. At the same time, and this is most refreshing, Maximus does not deny the physical world, the value of family (or even conjugal relationships) and love of Creation. But Maximus stresses that love of these things is only proper when it is subservient to love of God. Consider the following (2:15):

When it turns towards the visible the mind naturally apprehends things through the medium of the senses. Neither the mind, nor the natural apprehension of things, nor the things, nor the senses are evil, for they are all created by God. What then is evil in this? Obviously it is passion, which attaches itself to the natural apprehension of things. And passion need have no place in the natural apprehension of things, if the mind is awake.

It follows that it is good to find joy and delight in food, in marriage and childbearing, and in the world around us, when it is properly understood that these things are created by God, and that our use of them is to be directed towards the glory of God, and that we should love God who is himself better than anything he gives us – ultimately it is the gift of himself that we long for. Not only that, but Maximus stresses that our experience of the natural world need not be passionate. He describes evil as “an erroneous judgment about things apprehended, accompanied by their wrong use”. He continues, using the example of lust (3:17):

Thus right judgment concerning intercourse sees its purpose in childbearing. But a man who sees in it nothing but lustful pleasure, errs in his judgment, taking the bad as good. Such a man commits abuse.

If Maximus’ language ever seems weighted against the world, it is indicative of the nature of the problem faced by humanity. Rarely do we find human beings who have too little love of the body, of food, of sexual activity, of excitement, of “passion” itself (to use the term loosely). Far too often humanity has a disturbing lack of love for the one who created all these things. It is not that God’s creation is not valuable, and if this were the point being attacked, that is where the defence would resist; rather, our problem is that we have turned God’s Creation against the Creator. Maximus argues that this improper use of physical things, at the expense of love for God, ultimately – to use what has become a common image of tragedy – destroys the things we love. This is the heart and centre of our “Passion” – in our madness we have attempted to set the world upside down, and Maximus would like it set upright again.

The Promise of a Cure

Along with establishing the nature of God as the highest and best, the natural object of our love, and the nature of passion as a disordered love or desire for the things of the world, Maximus devotes a great deal of writing to the cure for our fallen state, brought about by a suppression of the passion, and a reorientation of the individual towards God.  Maximus both gives practical advice as to how this cure may be achieved, and describes, very compellingly, the nature of this redeemed state, a state that Maximus frequently refers to as “disaffectedness” or “passionlessnes”. He writes that a soul that is free of passions will be pure, and be “constantly gladdened by the love of God” (1:34).  Put simply, Maximus’ argument is that an unnatural desire for created things results in various forms of worry. If we have an improper desire for fame or popularity, then we will be forever bound to the opinion that others have of us.  An unnatural desire for (or a desire for the improper use of) something will result in our being bound to that which we desire.  Fortunately, it is possible even for the passions themselves, in a sense, to be rehabilitated. Maximus speaks of both “blameworthy” and “praiseworthy passions of love” (3:71):

A blameworthy passion of love occupies the mind with material objects; but a praiseworthy passion of love makes it cleave to the Divine. For, as a rule, on whatever objects the mind lingers with attention, to these it inclines fondly; and where it inclines fondly, there it brings desire and love, whether they be Divine objects, immaterial, akin to itself, or things of the flesh and passions.

Just as Maximus has gone to great lengths to explain how God is the only infinite and proper source for our desire, and that putting any other desire above (or even alongside) God is disordered, he now explains that a restoration of our proper love for God, along with a suppression of unnatural desire, will bring peace.  One who is not subject to passions of envy and hatred will be able to experience a peaceful and loving relationship with friends and neighbours.  One who is not enslaved by desire for wealth, food, or sexual activity, will potentially be able to live in the world, married with children and earning a good salary, without being bound to these things.  If one chooses to become a monastic, it is not because those things renounced are evil in themselves; rather, Maximus sees this renunciation as an act of love for God, not as something under compulsion.  So in whatever way our lives are lived, they are to be lived to the glory of God.

Maximus prescribes various exercises that can assist in suppression of evil passions. He says, “in relation to the passion of fornication, fast, practise vigil, work and withdraw from men; in relation to anger and sadness, count as nothing honour and dishonour and other earthly things; in relation to rancour, prayer for those who have offended you – and you will be delivered” (3:13).

One of the greatest of pitfalls for those fighting against the passions is that they become prideful and puffed up. Maximus returns to his theme of love, finding within it the standard that Christians should aim for, rather than any lesser appearance of virtue (3:14):

Do not take your measure from the weakest among men but, rather, broaden yourself into the measure of the commandment of love. If you take men as your measure, you will fall into the abyss of arrogance; but broadening yourself into the measure of love, you will reach the height of humility.

The road that Maximus would have us follow is indeed a hard road, but the results certainly sound attractive. He writes, “He who loves God leads the life of an angel on earth, fasting and keeping vigils, singing psalms and praying, and always thinking good of every man” (1:42).


Perhaps the best conclusion to an analysis of this text is to turn back to Maximus’ introduction to his work. In his forward, addressed to a “Father Elpidios”, Maximus laments that while “there are many… who burden the conscience by instructive words, yet those who teach by deeds or learn through deeds are few”. Maximus expresses hope that his writing will not fall into the first category, but that it will be of practical help to Christians struggling along the path to holiness. Thus, his instruction is that the book should be read “with fear of God and love”, even if not necessarily with “an inquisitive spirit”. Maximus’ book does, in many ways, offer this practical assistance. The book begins with the simplest of starting points, that God should be loved more than all things, and that all things contrary to this love are out of order. He is able to examine the nature of disordered love, not only exposing it for what it is, but offering concrete examples of how the passions can be done away with, and love ultimately healed. Maximus, also in his forward, acknowledges that not all of his writing will be “easily clear to everyone”, even if much of it seems simple at first. Indeed, it is delightfully simple, yet incredibly profound, and also beautiful. To read Four Centuries on Love is not merely to read a collection of patristic wisdom on the Christian life, although it is that; it is to experience some of the love that the author so passionately describes, and to begin to be drawn into the pursuit of God.

Works Cited

Maximus the Confessor. “Four Centuries on Love.” Early Fathers of the Philokalia, translated by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer. London: Faber and Faber, 1954.

Anglo-Catholic Ninjas Exclusive: Archbishop Hepworth’s vestments catch fire during Japanese ordinations April 17, 2007

Posted by Ninja Michael in Theology.

During a recent episcopal visit to Japan, TAC Primate (and honourary Grand Crozier Master Ninja) Archbishop John Hepworth’s rochet (fancy episcopal surplice) caught fire during an ordination service, after the archbishop accidentally backed into some candles. Remarkably, nobody in the sanctuary seemed to notice the problem; fortunately the archbishop’s secretary was on hand to assist in putting out the fire. After the service, the archbishop asked the low-church priest serving as his chaplain whether he expected Anglo-Catholic bishops to spontaneously burst into flames. “Yes, I do”, was the reply.

Introduction to the Synoptic Problem March 30, 2007

Posted by Ninja Clement in Theology.

Source: “Synoptic Problem Website” by Stephen C. Carlson.

The synoptic problem concerns the literary relationship between the first three “synoptic” gospels of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Synoptic Problem Website surveys proposed solutions and provides a clearing-house for materials related to its resolution.

The major evidence for resolving the synoptic problem is internal: the patterns of agreements and disagreements in the wording of the Greek text of the gospels. The premier tool for studying these textual patterns is the synopsis, which places parallel texts side-by-side in vertical columns. To a much lesser extent, researchers have also considered the external evidence, which constitutes the testimony of the early Christians on the origins of the gospels.

Many solutions to the synoptic problem have been proposed, and please see the Overview of Proposed Solutions for more information.

2SHThe most prevalent solution is the Two-Source hypothesis (2SH) or Mark-Q theory, which holds that Mark was the first gospel, and both Matthew and Luke independently augmented Mark with a lost, sayings collection called Q, its most controversial part. A good website expounding this solution is Mahlon Smith’s Synoptic Gospels Primer.

FHA vigorous challenger to the Q hypothesis is the Farrer theory (FH), which also calls for the priority of Mark, but “dispenses” with Q as unnecessary by arguing instead that Luke used Matthew. The clearest exposition of this position now is Mark Goodacre’s book, The Case Against Q.

2GHAnother challenger, somewhat more popular in America, is the Griesbach hypothesis or Two-Gospel hypothesis (2GH), which not only gets rid of Q but Markan priority as well, arguing that Matthew was first, primarily on account of the external evidence. Their Web Site for the Two Gospel Hypothesis is maintained by Thomas R. W. Longstaff.

AHA more traditional analysis of the external evidence, however, is that of the Augustinian hypothesis (AH), in which the chronological order of the gospels is the same as the canonical order (Matt, Mark, Luke).

Oakes on Balthasar on Modernity March 20, 2007

Posted by Ninja Clement in Theology.
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Source: “Hans Urs von Balthasar”, by Edward T. Oakes in Key Thinkers in Christianity, Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason and Hugh Pyper, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)  

…For Balthasar, the often strained relations between secular culture and Christian thought stem fundamentally not from Christianity’s failure to keep in step with history but from modernity’s habit of seeing things from the wrong end of the telescope. Indeed Balthasar’s critique of the Enlightenment bears interesting resemblances to that found in many postmodernist thinkers – not surprising, considering how greatly he was influenced by Nietzsche. But in contrast with the extreme perspectivism that has become the standard position of postmodernism, Balthasar will always insist that there is a whole that governs communication across the partial perspectives seen by the finite mind: perspectives are partial because there is a whole that exceeds our partial grasp. Indeed, this is the source of his polemic against all systematic thought: that it pretends to have captured the whole in a graspable ‘system’…

…certain other themes emerge, many of which also show Balthasar’s deep anti-Kantianism. For example, it is a fundamental thesis of Kant’s that religion must be able to justify itself before the bar of ‘reason alone’. But Balthasar’s own aesthetic starting point insists that the Particular (for example, an event of history) gives a deeper insight into reality that does the (abstract) Universal of reason. We see this especially in his christology, where, in a fascinating image, he insists that the claim of Jesus to be ‘the way’, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6) is equivalent to the whitecap on a wave claiming to be the sea itself: one phenomenon inside the world of Becoming has claimed to be Being itself (‘before Abraham was, I am’)…

Mary for Evangelicals March 19, 2007

Posted by Ninja Clement in Theology.


From the book product page

“Is Mary for evangelicals? Should there be such a thing as an evangelical Mariology? Is she Our Lady, too?

With his feet planted firmly in the evangelical tradition, Timothy Perry began to think that there must be more to Mary than generally meets the evangelical eye. Should we maintain that two thousand years of Christian thought on Mary is almost wholly wrong? How could the mother of our Lord, simply by virtue of the fact that she was God’s chosen means of the incarnation, not deserve more serious theological reflection? And where might this lead?

This book addresses the increasing evangelical interest in Mary and contributes to the current discussion of Mariology in evangelical-Roman Catholic dialogue.

Beginning with Scripture, Perry probes the texts and traces the lengthy development of Christian thinking and practice related to Mary. From the earliest church fathers through the medieval thinkers and Protestant Reformers, and then on through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to present-day Catholic thought, Perry takes us on a fascinating and informative tour. Finally he concludes with a constructive–and even surprising–theological proposal for an evangelical Mariology that is rooted in, and demanded by, a high Christology.”

Timothy S. Perry, Ph.D., is an associate professor of theology at Providence College, Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada.

Spring Training March 16, 2007

Posted by Ninja Michael in Theology.

One of my favourite things about journeying into Anglo-Catholic ninjahood has been Lent, believe it or not. It’s quite surprising, considering that the church I grew up in was not devoid of Lenten observance, and that I hadn’t especially gotten into it. One congregation we attended put up a board each spring advertising “40 Days of Prayer and Fasting”, along with a sign up sheet for particular days (with particular prayer intentions for each day). I think that actually signed my name up once or twice, and either forgot which days I had signed up for, or just didn’t make much progress in the intercessory prayer or fasting categories – and, since we were supposed to be praying for particular people, I felt incredibly guilty. I was a little young, of course, although there are lots of little kids who do great at Lenten observences. It seems to me that you just have to know how to properly go about Lent, and to be prepared for it. Also, that you have a theological underpinning for why you are actually doing this.

There are many reasons, but I never thought about them very much until the past few years. Perhaps the first that comes to mind for me is the santification of time. Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, through His holy Incarnation, entered into time. He was prophesied in time, was born in time, and now time witnesses of Him. Each year we celebrate the birth of Christ, and much of the world still tends to number years from that birth. In Christ we find time and eternity, and thus, in some small way, we can witness to the Eternity of Jesus through the Times of Jesus. Including Lent, which in the Christian calendar falls roughly between the season of Epiphany (which, especially for the Eastern Churches, is a celebration of the Baptism of Christ as well as the Visitation of the Magi) and Christ’s death on the Cross. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, he fasted. Therefore, we as well take forty days to journey with our Saviour, as a pilgrimage into His ministry, following him to the Cross. But it is not just his fast we commemorate, or his death we anticipate. In this fast, we enter into the whole of the Christian mystery, and find how God’s grace has sanctified even time, even self deprivation.

There are many benefits to the Lenten discipline – it does tend to give one a greater appreciation for the thing that one has given up. Meat has never tasted so good to me as during Lent. And, I have learned to value many fish and vegetarian dishes that I never thought I would like. I have begun to see this time of year as something to look forward to, almost as a sort of appetizer, where my hunger for the feast is awakened. Disciplining oneself in one area often helps with other areas. We are encouraged to “take up”, not just give up things for Lent. If one saves money on food or entertainment, it is good to give it to those who are in need. Time saved from certain activities can be devoted to others. It is part of a whole package of spiritual discipline.

These two attitudes – towards time, and towards spiritual discipline in general – figure into my earlier failure to get started on Lent. I didn’t appreciate what the season was for. It had no particular beginning; most Evangelical churches do not observe Ash Wednesday, and so – even if Lent is observed somehow – it is difficult to get into the swing of it. (The Church has historically recognized this by having a “pre-Lent” period as well! Traditional Anglicans still observe it.) We tend not to mark time well without ritual; they are intimately connected. Without a beginning, no wonder that the days of Lent, instead of a journey, became individual days of prayer that one could sign up for, disconnected of larger reality, and easily forgotten. Without a sense that this season was, first and foremost, a witness to the Incarnate Lord, and secondly, a way of growing my relationship with Him, it was next to impossible to use it to intercede for the needs of others. There is no foundation!

So, in short, if you want to observe a Holy Lent (and it is certainly not too late… you can begin next Sunday), understand how it fits into the Church year. Journey consciously through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany (and pre-Lent) as well. Prepare. Keep up your excercise through the year. Perhaps Lent can be used to kick off a practice of fasting or abstaining from meat one day a week; after doing it everyday for weeks, one day becomes rather easy. Attend an Ash Wednesday service next year; for now, or if beginning Lent late in the future, do something in your private prayers to mark the beginning of your fast. (If your church doesn’t do Ash Wednesday, it is a perfect opportunity to visit another church, or perhaps to request such a service in your own congregation.) Remind yourself of your mortality, of Jesus saving death and resurrection, and begin to journey with him in the desert. (Think of it as spring training for ninjas.)

The Book of Concord March 10, 2007

Posted by Ninja Clement in Theology.

Source: “A Brief Introduction to the Book of Concord”, The Book of Concord website  

The Book of Concord contains documents which Christians from the fourth to the 16th century A.D. explained what they believed and taught on the basis of the Holy Scriptures. It includes, first, the three creeds which originated in the ancient church, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. It contains, secondly, the Reformation writings known as the Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms, and the Formula of Concord.

The Catechisms and the Smalcald Articles came from the pen of Martin Luther; the Augsburg Confession, its Apology, and the Treatise were written by Luther’s co-worker, the scholarly Phillip Melanchthon; the Formula of Concord was given its final form chiefly by Jacob Andreae, Martin Chemnitz, and Nickolaus Selnecker.

II. The Lutheran Confessions

Among the particular Lutheran Confessions the two catechisms [Small and Large] of Dr. Martin Luther are the earliest. Luther published them in the spring of 1529 to help Pastors and parents give instruction in the chief parts of Christian doctrine.

The Augsburg Confession was written by Melanchthon in 1530. Emperor Charles V had invited the Lutheran princes and theologians to attend a meeting of government leaders at Augsburg. He wanted to discuss how the religious controversy in his empire could be settled, so that German Lutheran princes would join the imperial forces to keep the Turks out of Europe. The Augsburg Confession is composed of several documents which already existed but which were combined by Melanchthon to give a clear but conciliatory summary of the teachings and practices of the Lutheran pastors and congregations. It is to this day the basic Lutheran confession.

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession was published in 1531. After the Augsburg Confession had been read to the emperor, a committee of Roman catholic theologians prepared a reply called the confutation. The Apology defends the Augsburg Confession against the accusations of the Confutation.

The Smalcald Articles were written by Luther in late 1536. On June 4, 1536, Pope Paul III announced that a council would be held in Mantua beginning May 8, 1537, to deal with the concerns of the Protestants. The elector (or prince) of Saxony requested Luther to prepare some articles for discussion at the council. Luther indicated on which points Lutherans would stand fast and on which points a compromise might be possible. These articles were never used for their intended purpose, but Lutherans at once recognized their value as a statement of pure evangelical doctrine, and they were therefore included in The Book of Concord.

The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope was prepared by Melanchthon at the Protestant meeting at Smalcald in 1537 where Luther’s articles were to be discussed but, partly because Luther became ill, were never publicly presented to the assembly. Instead Melanchthon was requested to prepare a treatise which actually is an appendix to the Augsburg Confession.

The Formula of Concord was written a generation after Luther’s death. Serious controversies had arisen among theologians of the Augsburg Confession which threatened the very life of the Reformation. The Formula of Concord deals with these dissensions and presents the sound Biblical doctrine on the disputed issues.

The Woman in Revelation 12 March 8, 2007

Posted by Ninja Clement in Theology.
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Source: “Marian Issues and Final Document”, “Mary:Grace and Hope in Christ”, by the Anglican- Roman Catholic International Commission (2004)

Para. 28. In highly symbolic language, full of scriptural imagery, the seer of Revelation describes the vision of a sign in heaven involving a woman, a dragon, and the woman’s child. The narrative of Revelation 12 serves to assure the reader of the ultimate victory of God’s faithful ones in times of persecution and eschatological struggle. In the course of history, the symbol of the woman has led to a variety of interpretations. Most scholars accept that the primary meaning of the woman is corporate: the people of God, whether Israel, the Church of Christ, or both. Moreover, the narrative style of the author suggests that the ‘full picture’ of the woman is attained only at the end of the book when the Church of Christ becomes the triumphant New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-3). The actual troubles of the author’s community are placed in the frame of history as a whole, which is the scene of the ongoing struggle between the faithful and their enemies, between good and evil, between God and Satan. The imagery of the offspring reminds us of the struggle in Genesis 3:15 between the serpent and the woman, between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed.4

Para. 29. Given this primary ecclesial interpretation of Revelation 12, is it still possible to find in it a secondary reference to Mary? The text does not explicitly identify the woman with Mary. It refers to the woman as the mother of the “male child who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron”, a citation from Psalm 2 elsewhere in the New Testament applied to the Messiah as well as to the faithful people of God (cf. Hebrews 1:5, 5:5, Acts 13:33 with Revelation 2:27). In view of this, some Patristic writers came to think of the mother of Jesus when reading this chapter.5 Given the place of the book of Revelation within the canon of Scripture, in which the different biblical images intertwine, the possibility arose of a more explicit interpretation, both individual and corporate, of Revelation 12, illuminating the place of Mary and the Church in the eschatological victory of the Messiah.


[4] The Hebrew text of Genesis 3:15 speaks about enmity between the serpent and the woman, and between the offspring of both. The personal pronoun (hu‘) in the words addressed to the serpent, “He will strike at your head,” is masculine. In the Greek translation used by the early Church (LXX), however, the personal pronoun autos (he) cannot refer to the offspring (neuter: to sperma), but must refer to a masculine individual who could then be the Messiah, born of a woman. The Vulgate (mis)translates the clause as ipsa conteret caput tuum (“she will strike at your head”). This feminine pronoun supported a reading of this passage as referring to Mary which has become traditional in the Latin Church. The Neo-Vulgate (1986), however, returns to the neuter ipsum, which refers to semen illius: “Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem et semen tuum et semen illius; ipsum conteret caput tuum, et tu conteres calcaneum eius.”

[5] Cf. Epiphanius of Salamis (†402), Panarion 78.11; Quodvultdeus (†454) Sermones de Symbolo III, I.4-6; Oecumenius (†c.550) Commentarius in Apocalypsin 6.