Making Known the Mystery

Tissot_Moses_and_Joshua_in_the_TabernacleThe trouble with reading Scripture is that almost everybody thinks they can do it.

This idea is rooted in the assumptions of Protestant thought: only if the meaning of Scripture is fairly obvious and more or less objective can it serve as a source of unmediated authority for the believer. If any particular skill or mastery is required, then the skillful masters will be the mediators of meaning for all the rest. The concept of any intervening authority is anathema to the Protestant project. It is equally unsuitable to the assumptions of the modern world. For the modern world, born in the Protestant milieu, is inherently democratic. The individual, unaided, unbridled, and unsubmitted, is the ultimate authority.

These assumptions are greatly removed from the thoughts of the fathers of the Church. No matter how “literal” a father’s treatment of Scripture might be, he never assumed the meaning of Scripture to be obvious and universally accessible. The clear consensus of the fathers is found in the words of the Ethiopian Eunuch: “How can I [understand the Scripture] unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31).

Andrew Louth, writing in his book, Discerning the Mystery, says:

If we look back to the Fathers, and the tradition, for inspiration as to the nature of theology, there is one thing we meet which must be paused over and discussed in some detail: and that is their use of allegory in interpreting the Scriptures. We can see already that for them it was not a superfluous, stylistic habit, something we can fairly easily lop off from the trunk of Patristic theology. Rather it is bound up with their whole understanding of tradition as the tacit dimension of the Christian life: allegory is a way of entering the ‘margin of silence’ that surrounds the articulate message of the Scriptures, it is a way of glimpsing the living depths of tradition from the perspective of the letter of the Scriptures. Of course the question of allegory in the Fathers is complex (and often rendered unduly complicated by our own embarrassment about allegory): but whatever language the Fathers use to describe their exegetical practice (and there is no great consistency here), they all interpret Scripture in a way we would call allegorical, and allegoria is the usual word the Latin Fathers use from the fourth century onwards to characterize the deeper meaning they are seeking in the Scriptures.

At issue here is something far greater than the interpretation of Scripture. The fathers search for a “deeper meaning” was nothing less than the search for salvation. For ultimately, the deeper meaning is revealed and discerned because it is being read by a “deeper me.” The rational self, regardless of the method being employed, cannot discern the truth of the Scriptures.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (Joh 6:63)


But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1Co 2:14)

As deeply frustrating as it may be, rationality is simply unable to take us where we are meant to go.

This is one of the root problems of various “literalisms.” All literalisms seek to rid Scripture of its mystery. The “plain sense” in the hands of a modern reader is simply the “modern sense.” And though such literalisms may yield readings that are deeply opposed to certain modern conclusions (such as those common in modern science, etc.), they are not therefore ancient and traditional. Such conclusions yield nothing more than a modern man with odd opinions. They do not transform or transfigure anyone or anything.

The debate about the interpretation of Scripture, particularly on the level of most argumentation, is a strikingly modern debate. At stake are modern issues born of the modern era. But they are not the issues of salvation.

Whether evolution is true or not, whether the earth is young or not, and whether the Scriptures lend any clue to such questions is, frankly, beside the point. I had such conversations when I was a child (as did others around me). And though the conversation has become more complex, littered with far more arguments, citations, facts and counter-facts, it is still the same conversation, rooted in the same assumptions and in no way more deeply engaged in the transfiguration of the human person.

Such arguments are similar to those surrounding climate change. No saints will emerge from the debate.

But consider this short hymn (typical of the Orthodox understanding of Scripture):

O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all, O Ark of the Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which Divinity resides (Homily of the Papyrus of Turin).

That Mary is the true Ark, containing the true Manna, is more than a mental exercise in theological exegesis. If truly and rightly perceived, it is the utterance of a heart that is being pierced by the mystery of the gospel. For the gospel is made known to us in a mystery – it is hidden.

The New Testament teaches, and the Church affirms, that Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This is an utterly central teaching of the faith. And yet, you will search in vain to find a single prophecy in the Old Testament that predicts such an event, if the Old Testament is to be read in a literal, historical manner. The only Scriptural reference to Christ’s three days in the tomb is the one He Himself cites: Jonah in the belly of the whale. The single most important and foundational tenet of the Christian faith, which we confess is according to the Scriptures, can only be seen if the Scriptures are read in an allegorical manner.

This is not to deny that the Scriptures have a value on the literal level, but it is to say that the hiddenness of the gospel is precisely that – hidden beneath the literal level.

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1Co 2:7-8)


Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith–to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. (Rom 16:25-27)

In this last passage, St. Paul clearly equates the “gospel” and the “mystery kept secret since the world began.” Further he says it is now made manifest “by the prophetic Scriptures.” But it is obviously the case that the mystery would not have been kept secret had it been discernible with a mere literal/historical reading. The interpretation of Scripture is not available to just “any fool.” It has been hidden, purposively by God. And it is hidden in a figure.

So what should we say about the letter of the word? Is it of no value? If those who wrote it did not see what was hidden in their writings, what did they see?

I recently commented on a question concerning certain statements within the Old Testament that they represented the understanding of those who wrote them, and not necessarily the fullness of the mystery (and hence the truth). The question was then raised as to whether this constituted “progressive revelation,” an evolution within human understanding.

To this I should say, “Categorically no!” Human understanding has not evolved, nor will it evolve. For what we mean by “human understanding” is precisely the very thing we mean by “mere rationality.” The manna, the jar, the ark, the lampstands all clearly refer to manna, the jar, the ark and the lampstands. They do not evolve into the Theotokos. They already and always were the Theotokos, but she was hidden beneath the letter of their description, ready to be revealed in the last days and now made manifest.

So what did the writers and speakers of the Old Testament know?

But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Mat 13:16-17)

They didn’t see what we can see. They may have longed for it. And indeed that which was figured in their speech, in their writings and in their thoughts was always present (since the world began). And they may very well have loved what they did not see. What they saw and wrote is not of no value, for it is the figure and shadow of the truth (in the words of St. Maximus and St. Ambrose). In by God’s grace we now see the figure and what was hidden.

However, still today, there are many Christians who cling to the letter, and even consider themselves as the defenders of the Scriptures and as “Bible believers.” But these same refuse to see the Theotokos (and many other things) hidden within these figures. They ask, “Where in the Scriptures does it teach that she was ever-virgin?” Despising the Eastern Gate of Ezekiel’s temple “which no man may enter for the Lord God has entered there.”

But these modern literalists are not the fathers of the Church, nor the fathers of Orthodoxy. There are even some among the Orthodox who have yet to grasp the clear import of allegory within the fathers. It is not a peculiar technique, an ancient oddity to be tolerated because, well, the “fathers were saints” (and thus the fathers’ allegory becomes a new literalism). It is rather a means by which God makes known the mystery. And He does so, both to hide it from the wicked, but also to transform those who would be righteous. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” And the mystery hidden from the ages in the prophetic Scriptures are equally revealed to the heart, and draw us towards purity and the cleansing fire of the Divine Energies.

And so, before the reading of the gospel in the Divine Liturgy we always pray:

Illumine our hearts, O Master, Lover of mankind, with the pure light of Your divine knowledge.  Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Your gospel teachings.  Instill also in us the fear of Your blessed commandments, that trampling all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things that are well-pleasing to You,

Even so.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


70 responses to “Making Known the Mystery”

  1. Monk Theodore Avatar

    Beautifully written article. I plan to point it out to several people, especially a catechumen with whom I am working.

  2. Mgtpgh Avatar

    Father, Bless. I’m confused by the following:

    “The manna, the jar, the ark, the lampstands all clearly refer to manna, the jar, the ark and the lampstands. They do not evolve into the Theotokos. They already and always were the Theotokos, but she was hidden beneath the letter of their description, ready to be revealed in the last days and now made manifest.”

    Are you saying this revelation has only been made manifest as a recent modern day discovery? Were not the early church fathers also aware of this?

  3. Mgtpgh Avatar

    or am I perhaps a little too literal in my reading of this? 🙂

  4. fatherstephen Avatar

    Only revealed post-New Testament. “Now” is post-New Testament. Modern is a fiction of the “modern” world. But these things “manna, jar, etc.” were written pre-New Testament.

  5. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I believe you. I believe you speak the truth.

    But I also know this is a scary truth. If I accept it then I give up a lot of control over the interpretation of scriptures. I lean toward depending on what the wise say about a passage instead of simply “doing the math” myself.

    This is not unreasonable because if I want to know about a piece of music, I wouldn’t be surprised that an experienced pianist or composer has a more developed opinion about it. With a sculpture I would be prudent to consult a master craftsman.

    But art, science, hobbies and professions can all be sidelines that don’t rule my life. This is different. This is salvation and my life is on the line.

    I believe what you say to be true but must simultaneously confess the difficulty of letting my opinion die and submitting to the wisdom of someone other than me, with the knowledge that my interpretation is neither here nor there, especially when it gets in the way of my salvation.

    God have mercy.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    Forgive me, but I think this is one of the things that stands in the way for many when it comes to Orthodoxy and the Orthodox Church. I found it much easier (emotionally) to be “orthodox” but not “Orthodox.” There is a local “do-it yourself orthodox church” in our area – actually somewhat strange in that it ordains women. And it is very insistent that it is really Orthodox. I have thought repeatedly, “If you were truly Orthodox then you wouldn’t cling to your autonomy.” That autonomy is the heart of Protestantism – and it doesn’t really matter if it wears vestments and chants. I became driven more by the desire to be truly in communion than to be anything else. The Sunday I was chrismated and received into the Church, I thought about the fact that I was in communion with St. Seraphim (and the Church fathers, etc.). I knew I had truly come home. May God indeed have mercy.

  7. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Drewster2000, when one submits to the love of Christ in the Church, one is not submitting to the will of another man no matter how much influence that man has over you. No matter how wrong that person may be. Neither of you stands alone but, in the Orthodox Church at least, is in the midst of and part of the communion of the saints and the living presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of each of you. It is Him to whom you are obedient when you listen (obey) your priest in these things. Even if, God forbid, he is wrong, you will be profited by it. That is one reason why fervent prayer for our priests and bishops is an absolute necessity.

    The priest who received me into the Church was unstable and tortured person who later left the Church entirely. He did some damage, but by his hands I received the greatest gift I have ever been given. By his words, I learned a great deal about myself and my faith, even in the midst of the hurt he caused.

    That is the paradox. If we seek our own will that is what we receive. If we seek Jesus Christ in the Church and want only Him, that is what we will receive.

    It is not easy. In fact it is often difficult–but He is always faithful.

  8. Michael Basham Avatar
    Michael Basham

    Father, I am one of your fans and look forward to your posts. I must, however; disagree with some of your comments in this one. The Scriptures do contain allegory and the beauty contained in God’s word to us is amplified in allegorical language. Appreciating the allegorical understanding of Scripture helps bring it to a fuller and more profound meaning. Additionally, it helps we mere laypersons better understand God’s message to us. I do have a question. Am I to understand that the deeper meaning of Scripture can only be understood if we accept your premise and have the clergy interpret it to us?
    Second, I was disappointed in your failure to mention another focus of patristic exegesis: the Antiochian school with its passion for the literal interpretation of the Scriptures. The story is too long to be developed here except to say in fairness, you must be willing to present more views than just Alexandrian allegory to make you case.
    Third, are you really saying that I, as a layperson, can read John 3:16 and not understand it unless an ordained individual interprets it to me? Am I to wait until the clergy provide me with an allegorical interpretation of Christ’s clear directive to love one another and forgive one another or St. Paul’s teaching about sharing one another’s burden? Please Father!
    The Scriptures were not given so clergy or scholars or academics could interpret them to us and argue about them among themselves. They are God’s love letters to his family and were given for all the reason stated by St. Paul in his second letter to Timothy in chapter 3 verse 16. They are, I believe, much the same as the bread and wine which is given as a gift from God to and for the people of God.
    In reality my main problems with Scripture are not the difficult passages it contains–the passages that do require interpretation by someone with appropriate theological training. My problem with Scripture is the living-out of those passages I do understand, the ones I cannot possibly misunderstand; the ones that don’t need allegorical interpretation, the ones calling me out for my pride and lack of love and for my failure to forgive.

  9. kevien Avatar

    I think it is not entirely true to say that our Fathers used allegory. As father Stephen has said: “That Mary is the true Ark, containing the true Manna, is more than a mental exercise in theological exegesis. If truly and rightly perceived, it is the utterance of a heart that is being pierced by the mystery of the gospel. For the gospel is made known to us in a mystery – it is hidden”

    A heart being pierced is an experience not a method. Allegory is a method. When men and women with pierced hearts interpret the scripture it may seem like they were using allegory but really they were attempting to put the ineffable into words. They spoke from experience. Which is why we, until we have the same experience, must let them help us interpret. And that is why no one without personal experience with the Personal God, no matter how educated and intelligent, can “get it right”.

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think you are misunderstanding the article. Even the Antiochian school, while emphasizing the narrative of the story itself, was interested in the meaning “behind” or “beneath” the letter. Their greatest difference with Alexandria in this matter was the tendency of some in Alexandria to take the allegory in a direction that focused on almost a single word while not quite dealing with the larger narrative structure.

    The term “allegory” as Fr. Andrew Louth uses it here, which is why I included the quote, would be a general term, that is far broader than the kind of “allegory” Alexandria would use, and would include as well the interpretative work of Antioch. He says:

    but whatever language the Fathers use to describe their exegetical practice (and there is no great consistency here), they all interpret Scripture in a way we would call allegorical,

    It is the work towards the hidden meaning, by whatever method, that is the same. And that same work is still a spiritual work and cannot be received by the man who is merely “carnal” (Gk. term is “psychic” or “soulish”). The reason why all of those patristic exegetes were saints was that the truth of their “method” was spiritual – and that what they perceived they perceived spiritually.

    And, forgive me, but yes we do need our priests. For though we know the Scriptures – “do not lust, do not kill, do not steal, forgive,etc.” we still need guidance and their prayers in the spiritual medicine for healing our souls – for we cannot do that by ourselves. Christianity is not an individual effort – it is a work of the whole body – including our priests.

    The Scriptures say, “A word in due season, how good it is!” And this, too, is spiritually discerned.

    The “meaning” of Scripture is hidden – but so is the meaning of your soul. And your own soul is frequently hidden from you, as mine is from me. We don’t see ourselves correctly and we misjudge. We ourselves are an “allegory.” For we are the image of God and sometimes we appear to be demons.

    John 3:16 is a darling of the evangelical world – and they misinterpret almost universally. The Gospel of John is extremely simple on the surface but hides mysteries and the depth of the faith at every turn. There is indeed a modern simplistic reading of the gospels that stands in need of serious correction. So I would say, Yes, everyone needs a teacher. Christ appointed His disciples as teachers – telling them to go and Baptize and make disciples. He did not say, “Go, write plainly, and they’ll pick it up on their own.” Yes, we need teachers – and good ones. Pray therefore that God would send laborers into the harvests. We need many good ones today – desperately.

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    What I have described is not a method – for if it is only a method – then it is not truly reading the hidden word. It is why I have used words like “perceive,” to distinguish it from mere rational understanding (regardless of method). And very simple souls without training often see and perceive what they need.

    But the experience is also the experience of the Church and of the saints and is never just an individual matter. It is grounded first and foremost in the liturgies and services of the Church. Experience that is removed from that is likely just one more version of modern subjectivism – which – while often very touching and sentimental – is not at all the same thing as being united to the Divine Energies.

    The term used by those men and women with pierced heart was “allegoria.”

  12. Robert Avatar

    It is not merely a question as to the need for priests, academics, experts, interpreters, etc.

    The point is that we need….the community of the saints, of the faithful. We need each other.

    Life, truth, experience – none is truly unmediated.

    This of course goes smack-dab against the notion of individualism, with which we are madly infatuated. But it doesn’t change the nature of our lives: we need thoroughly depend on one another for life and for meaning.

  13. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Fr. Stephen,

    This is a fine article with much to consider here. I am comfortable with mystery and what you write makes me want to mine deeper understandings from Scriptures that I thought I understood. Two questions…

    Can you recommend some Patristic reading/recordings that would be a good starting point for non-scholars (i.e. beginners) who want to learn more about what Church fathers had to say?

    Also, why does God hide what He wants us to know? On the one hand, I understand that the process of love is an unfolding and a discovery, both on the individual and community level. On the other hand, why make it so easy for us to misunderstand, given how prone we are to that sort of thing?

  14. Janis Schmidt Avatar

    I always learn something new from Fr. Stephan. Being brought up protestant, I thought our religion superior to all others, that individualism was to be revered, that we, thru reason, would come to know God. This was extremely presumptuous and arrogant, and closed the door to understanding.

    I thought that wisdom, Mary and Jesus are somehow connected. Wisdom in the Bible is always presented as female. (Old Testament) Then we have, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Was the Word, Wisdom?

  15. Matt Avatar

    I recently commented on a question concerning certain statements within the Old Testament that they represented the understanding of those who wrote them, and not necessarily the fullness of the mystery (and hence the truth). The question was then raised as to whether this constituted “progressive revelation,” an evolution within human understanding.

    To this I should say, “Categorically no!” Human understanding has not evolved, nor will it evolve. For what we mean by “human understanding” is precisely the very thing we mean by “mere rationality.” The manna, the jar, the ark, the lampstands all clearly refer to manna, the jar, the ark and the lampstands. They do not evolve into the Theotokos. They already and always were the Theotokos, but she was hidden beneath the letter of their description, ready to be revealed in the last days and now made manifest.

    Thank you for this, Father. This turned out to be one of those things about the faith that I was quite unclear about and did not even realize it.

    Re: autonomy, my own experience with discovering the use of Tradition in reading the Bible has been like that of a child who had discovered some strange abandoned contraption of wood and bamboo lying about, and played with it having no idea what it was. Some of the other kids might try to dissect it, proclaim with unwavering authority that it was a toy monster, or a model boat, or a habitat for some tiny animal, or a part of a space alien blaster, whatever, kick it around, float it in the pond and shoot tiny remote-controlled Nerf guns at it from RC boats,* etc. until an adult comes to retrieve it wipes off one end,… and starts playing music on it. It was a musical instrument all along and none of us would have figured that out, yet in hindsight the shape of it, the wierd little holes and grips, the head-like mouthpiece, all made perfect sense. One might still see that goblin galleon or junebug jungle gym from time to time, but that it properly “is” a musical instrument remains plainly obvious after seeing that proper use.

    *(I only wish we had something like that when we were kids)

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    It’s the Pearl of Great Price, and the Treasure Buried in a Field. I think on the one hand it was hidden so that the enemy could not see it and plan accordingly – on the other hand it is hidden only to the “carnal” person but reveals itself to those whose hearts long to see God.

    But I think it underlines in the extreme what terrible shape we are in. We have constructed a “religion” on many misperceived things, so that we have a Church of the earthly, who in the name of the heavenly do wicked things. So it was in Christ’s own time. He spoke in parables then as well.

    But “deep calls unto deep.” It is not hidden so that we’ll miss it. It is hidden so that it may be revealed and so that we search for it.

    There is, in Orthodox liturgical piety, particularly in the Divine Liturgy, a kind of fascination with the “hidden” and the “revealed.” It’s part of the play we engage in with the doors and curtain of the altar. It reproduces the heavenly pattern and draws our heart towards the mystery.

    It is the blasphemy that we think we understand what we don’t understand that has created the increasingly “demystified” liturgies of our modern times (of all stripes). We have almost no regard for the mystery and instead have reduced the gospel to a mess of moral pottage.

    Even atheists understand morality. When our holy faith becomes little more than a collection of essays on how to behave and services to remember how moral Jesus was – we become the Church of the dead.

    Instead, God wants us to sell everything we have and buy the field.

    It’s little wonder that our children are bored and the faith is despised.

  17. joe Avatar

    Father, Is it clear from the Greek that “in accordance with the scripture” in the Creed refers to Christ being raised again *on the third day* as you seem to say in the article? Could “in accordance with the scriptures” not simply refer to “[Christ] was raised again”, in which case the “scriptures” referred to need not be an allegorical reading of Jonah in the whale, but such OT scriptures “He will not allow his chosen to undergo corruption” (that is from memory and be slightly off but I think there is a verse close to that)? Joe

  18. Michelle Avatar

    I think maybe part of the reason God keeps hidden the very thing He wants us to know is because we start out as babes in Christ, birthed from a carnal state into a spiritual State, and we are only capable of digesting spiritual “milk”, whereas to consume “meat” would in fact harm us. Thus, as young babes we must learn to follow the path shown to us by our spiritual Parents (e.g., the Saints, Church Fathers, Bishops, and Priests) in order to grow into adults in Christ capable of consuming strong meat.
    Similarly, what effect would it have on carnal persons if the hidden glories of God were plainly revealed to them through Scripture? Wouldn’t they trample these Pearls under their feet with numerous blasphemies, leaving their souls more damaged than they began with? I think maybe it is an act of mercy and love that these things are hidden from those who would damage their souls against them.

  19. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes, I thought about your question when I was writing and specifically did not cite 1 Cor. 15 in the paragraph (because it does not mention the 3 days). But the New Testament does (which is what I said) and the Church affirms (in her Creeds) which is what I said that Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. And indeed, the Church reads the entire book of Jonah (one of 15 readings) in the service of Holy Saturday. It is Christ who refers to the “sign of the prophet Jonah.” I think the paragraph stands. An “allegorical” reading is at the very heart of the Christian gospel. It is not a peripheral gloss. That is, I think, undeniable.

  20. PJ Avatar


    You’d appreciate this: I am currently taking a course entitled “Allegory in the Early Church,” which is taught by one of Fr. Louth’s former students. And it is one on one! It has been an education so far — and we’re only just finishing Philo!

  21. PJ Avatar

    Reading Philo has made me realize that, apart from Jesus Christ, the Old Testament does not easily yield up a coherent but powerful allegorical exegesis that reveals the spirit without totally violating the integrity of the letter.

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I think people have trouble with the word allegory in reference to the Scripture because we tend to look at an allegory as something made up by a person to illustrate something else that the allegory is not an integral part of what is being illustrated.

    I don’t think that is quite the manner in which Scriptural allegory is used however. It seems to me that the allegory of the Scripture is more iconic in that the allegory is uniquely and specifically attached to the meaning of the Scripture in a way that allows us to enter into the mystery and the wholeness of the Scripture in a supra-rational manner.

    Course I could be way off.

  23. PJ Avatar


    I recommend Henri de Lubac’s three volume series “Medieval Exegesis,” which actually begins with the earliest fathers and goes all the way up to the Reformation. He also has a shorter volume entitled “Sources of Revelation.”

  24. PJ Avatar


    You might even give Gregory Nyssen’s “Life of Moses” a shot.

  25. John Avatar


    Thank you for this profound article – it, among the many others of yours I have read, has been tremendously helpful in my own life.

    When I read this article, I think of my father – a life-long Protestant missionary, whose main problem with the Orthodox Church (or the Roman Catholic Church, for that matter) is precisely the locus of authority for the interpretation of scripture. I think my father’s protest to your article, however, would be that he does NOT claim the scripture to be easily accessible, and he would certainly never say that he expects his rationality/intelligence/knowledge to enable him to correctly interpret the scriptures; rather, he would say that he trusts the Holy Spirit to guide him in his reading and interpretation. He would say the Holy Spirit is a sufficient guide for understanding – at least on the “major” aspects of the faith.

    I know the standard arguments against such a statement, and don’t ask for you to rephrase them here. I only relate my father’s anticipated protest as a way of saying that the “scripture is easily correctly understood” and “rationality is a sufficient guide to correct understanding” arguments may be straw men.

  26. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Concerning interpretation and who can do it, I think it’s important to use an illustration:

    When a child is 2 he’s told to stay away from the hot stove! No! – and maybe a bum-spank to reinforce this.

    When he’s 5 the advice is changed to “be careful around hot stoves”. And when he’s 8-10 it’s “come help Mommy make pancakes but don’t touch this or that part. Let me show you…”

    Applying this to reading scriptures, it’s quite accurate to say that all people can read scriptures and get much good from them. Reading one’s bible regularly is a good and advisable practice.

    But there are many layers to the Scriptures. The first pass and the 10th may reveal totally different things. This of course has to do with the heart of the reader and their readiness to receive the new understanding. But the lie of Protestantism is that you will get it all on your own if you just keep seeking it. The truth is that asking your neighbor and your priest will get you a lot further a lot faster. This is true of any other area where we want to learn something; ask someone who knows more about the subject than you. So why would it not be true of the Bible and our relationship with God?

    This also may help explain the motivation of those who espouse progressive revelation: all has already been revealed through Christ, but the eyes of a learning and maturing heart progressively see and understand these revelations only over time. Nothing is evolving but our growth and maturity.

  27. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes, you’re right. I tended to shy away from the word “allegory” for many years, preferring the word “iconic.” That might still be a better choice because of baggage associated with allegory. My taking up the word came as a result of reading Fr. Andrew Louth’s treatment.

  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes. My example is a bit of a straw man. Your father’s position, as you’ve noted, asserts its own set of problems. For one, it ignores the role of Church and teachers as taught within the Scriptures themselves. I would even say that it is not as your father says even for him – for he has had teachers. And he uses resources. And though God hears his prayer – it’s not really just him and the Holy Spirit at work. So, how reliable are those resources, etc.? That would be the line of my response.

  29. John Avatar

    *Should have said, ALONG with the many others of yours I have read. 🙂

  30. Drewster2000 Avatar

    John and I must be brothers, because I recognize my father’s stance on this immediately in his description.

    And I have no argument with your advice, Fr. Stephen, but I think for my father it is his freedom to choose his resources and teachers rather than submitting to an authority that is the clincher, the piece he can’t get past.

    God have mercy on Protestant arrogance and help them/us to stop kicking against the goads, to stop protesting everything.

  31. […] light of the present discussion of reading the Bible, I offer this reprint. Our modern age has drunk the kool-aid of philosophical […]

  32. Robert Avatar


    Choice is not so much the issue as the mediated nature of revelation, truth, meaning.

  33. fatherstephen Avatar

    Quite so. The non-mediated revelation (or a version of it) was necessary to the ultimate Protestant project. Interestingly, what was once mainstream Protestant thought was once centered in various state Churches (Anglican, Reform, Lutheran) and they did not hold to these individualized accounts. But they are disappearing while at present the more radical reform, under the guise of modern evangelicalism, has been on the rise (though I think it will likely fail as well). All of these is quite alarming, I think, because with the fall of evangelicalism will come the fall of the last version of modernity at prayer. What we will be left with will be modernity not at prayer (which is already rampant in Europe). The mischief such a model can do is horrific to contemplate.

  34. Becca Avatar

    Catholics use the term typology. Like, The Ark of the Covenant is a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I always found that terminology somewhat helpful.

  35. Wordsmyth Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Once again you’ve given me a great deal to ponder. I find it troubling that there are so many different interpretations of the Scriptures, and so many different understandings of who has the authority to interpret the Scriptures. Thousands upon thousands of Protestant sects, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox … they all worship Jesus Christ, but say the others aren’t the true Church. I know this comment isn’t exactly on point. Sometimes all the different theologies just make my head swim, and it’s disheartening.

  36. Christian Avatar

    “The “plain sense” in the hands of a modern reader is simply the “modern sense.”

    Wow. Yes. I think I’m going to steal this for next year’s catechism class.

  37. […] Stephen Freeman, Making Known the Mystery, emphasis […]

  38. TimOfTheNorth Avatar


    I’ve just recently finished reading _A Patristic Treasury_ by James Payton, published by Ancient Faith. It is a collection of short (paragraph-length) excerpts from the key writings of the major fathers. It’s not organized for in-depth study of a particular theme or father, but I found it helpful for getting a good overview of the patristic “sense” and approach to the faith. It’s easy to read a couple of pages at a time.

  39. Nathan Rinne Avatar

    Father Freeman,

    A very interesting read! If you are interested, I have again responded to your post on the Scriptures from a traditional Lutheran perspective at my blog theology like a child:

    On the one hand I appreciate your critique, but on the other, if provokes some questions and concerns in me.

    If you would care to engage with me a bit on this, I would consider that a gift and blessing. In any case, I wish you Christ’s deepest blessings.


  40. […] Father Stephen Freeman has put up a post that is full of food for thought regarding the Scriptures: “Making Known the Mystery”.  And once again, I am responding here (see the first response here): the title of this post comes […]

  41. simmmo Avatar

    Often what “biblical literalists” mean when they say “literal meaning of the text” is, in fact, “concrete”. You can use a metaphor to refer to something literally. You can also literally refer to something that is abstract. What literalists want to do is make everything in the text concrete.

    Paul’s usage of allegory in Galatians to explain the meaning of the Sarah and Hagar story would be a complete anomaly to such people.

    No doubt there is a concrete reading of the story of Sarah and Hagar. But modern evangelicalism appears to have lost notion that we can invest these concrete events with theological significance. This is often how we get to the hidden meaning of the text. As Father Stephen has pointed out, the Gospel according to St John in particular is full of hidden theological meaning underneath the surface of the concrete events recorded. And this is done very intentionally by the author. This is not so easily uncovered by the untrained reader, which goes to the point of revelation being mediated through the clergy (and also Peter’s statement that the Scriptures are often twisted by unlearned men).

  42. fatherstephen Avatar

    The democratization of Scripture is also their “dumbing down – their being rendered into things any bloke ought to be able to understand. No holy man, no mystic, nothing of the sort required. Everyman’s book, everyman’s god, etc.

  43. fatherstephen Avatar

    Few things illustrate the problems of the democratization of Scripture as the plethora of Bible translations – many of them struggling to make the Scriptures more “understandable.” They are 2000-3000 year old documents with a specialized body of knowledge and historical issues. They are not a “guidebook” a “self-help book,” an “answer book,” a “gee, I wish I knew more about God book,” etc. They are holy writings. They cannot – cannot – cannot – be properly understood or discussed without a fairly good working knowledge of the original languages and accompanying tools. To pretend otherwise is to simply make the Bible into some sort of “magic book” (which it is for many people).

    But I meet people all the time (especially here in the Bible Belt) who think they know the Bible (we have a large number of fundamentalists who think absurd things about the importance of the KJV – and they know nothing, nothing, nothing about the KJV). We have constant letters to the editor in our local paper about Bible and doctrine issues – most of which are distinguished only by their ignorance. It’s appalling. My city was rated the “most Bible knowledgeable” in America.

    There are reactions to these facts that are governed only by ideology about what the Bible should be – including the “I’m just a simple man approach to Christianity, etc.” But these all ignore reality. It’s a collection of difficult books with many layers. And that is just on the “secular” surface. As far as its true meaning for Christians, this requires much, much more. For one, it requires a real Church.

  44. Robert Avatar

    We should hasten to add that the same caution equally applies to the writings of the Church Fathers. This is a complex body of work that ought to be approached carefully, keeping in mind the wide variety of religious, social, and political contexts; utilization of diverse rhetorical strategies; specialized theological and pedagogical purposes; personalities, and languages; etc.

    Not too infrequently one encounters broad generalizations and ridiculous anachronisms about “what the fathers” say about this or the other.

    Certainly this is not a plug for elitism (Hauerwas isn’t and advocate) – the Bible in the vernacular is a good thing. But a healthy dose of Rumsfeldian positive apophaticism goes a long way: “there are things that we know we don’t know.”

  45. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    What we need and often lack (or at least I often lack) is humility.

    Without it, we believe that we know as much or more than the next person – or that we can figure it out with a bit of common sense or effort.

    With humility, we are open to being taught – by the learned, the enlightened and by Christ Himself.

    I’m finally coming around to the latter path, though I wouldn’t have recognized before that I wasn’t already on it. To Him be praise for helping me see.

  46. Robert Avatar

    humility and “nose in the books”!

    patristic unanimity on the first, near consensus on the latter

  47. Janis Schmidt Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephan,

    I have learned so much from you, things I took for granted, you have stood up on their head. You said,

    For the modern world, born in the Protestant milieu, is inherently democratic. The individual, unaided, unbridled, and unsubmitted, is the ultimate authority.

    Whether they admit it or not, America was founded on Christianity, although many of the founding fathers were deists, a pragmatic way of saying not quite an athiest. Two questions: (1) Has separation of church and state made America a more righteous and moral country? (2) What do you think of Thomas Jefferson rewriting the Bible, removing anything he found preposterous, such as healing and raising of the dead?

  48. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Not Fr. Stephen Janis but the US was founded on a set of principles from eclectic sources. To the extent that our founding was influenced by English Common Law, Christianity had influence.

    It is over reaching to say we were ever a Christian country. Equally an over reach to deny the influence of Christian ideas. But those ideas were not applied within a Christian milleau nor were they intended to be.

    There is, practically speaking, no such thing as separation of Church and state unless one makes the state a quasi-divine entity– which it has become. The very thing many early marytrs died refusing to do.

    George Mason, perhaps one of the most Christian of the founders, felt that the Constitution would create a ruler with the powers of a king but worse. That is why he championed the Bill of Rights–all of which is under attack.


    Jefferson’s bible is that of a materialist philosopher’s revealing only of himself.

  49. fatherstephen Avatar

    America is a good example of what was “best” in the foment of the 18th century (Revolutionary France was probably what was worst). America’s founding was almost non-religious when compared to the State religions of Europe. America was indeed the first “secular” country in the world. By secular I do not mean that there is no God – but that God has his place. In the federal system of our founding, each state had the right to “establish” a state Church – and indeed the Congregationalist Church was the “state” Church in New England until around 1830 (so much for the mythical “separation of Church and state”). That idea is actually a “radical” Baptist idea, but not very common among the founders. What they did not want to see (because there could have been no agreement) was a single, national state Church. The colonies were founded by a variety of religionists. My ancestors in the Carolinas (pre-Revolutionary) were Baptists, and gladly joined the cause of the rebellion. Shooting Anglicans probably seemed like a good idea to them.

    Atheism would have seemed like a dangerous idea to most of the founders, no doubt. But they were not particularly pious men for their time. Generally they had a very strong belief in Providence – the “good, ordering of the world by the will of God.” Even the Deists believed in it. It was part of the “modern” world view that had been a part of the Classical world-view.

    The American “heresy” if there is one, would to my mind best be described as our belief in ourselves as a nation of destiny. The various movements regarding the end of the world have always found very fertile soil in this land. We are very “eschatological” as a nation – but the heresy is that we believe that we ourselves are building the Kingdom. “From sea to shining sea,” etc. America as the Promised Land, in various guises has not only been a strong heresy here, but one that has fueled genocide from time to time. The belief in “American Exceptionalism” continues to keep many from thinking straight about our actions in the world. We’re not exceptional – God makes no exceptions. We are, at best, stewards. I will leave to others tonight to consider whether we have been good stewards of what has been given to us.

    World War II might have been our finest moment – but it was not and is not our defining moment. Only the present moment is defining.

  50. Robert Avatar


    Animating this exceptionalism and the Christian “culture warriors” is the idea that America can be compared to, and is held to the same standards as, the people (read “nation”) of Israel of the Old Testament. A dark side to this exceptionalism manifests itself: God condemned Israel for certain offenses, and without considering the many substantial differences, it is asserted that America as a nation also stands condemned before God.

  51. […] have been a bit disappointed that my recent post responding to Father Freeman’s piece did not provoke any discussion here or there.  I really would like to hear what some informed and […]

  52. Nathan Rinne Avatar

    Father Freeman and others,

    I have continued to follow this conversation – I am disappointed that my response did not begin a conversation. I have now done a new post at my site as well, which I offer also in the hope of starting dialogue.

    Blessings to you in Christ,

  53. fatherstephen Avatar

    I posted a reply to your article but it seems to have not appeared. In short, I said that you ignored all of the Scripture references in my article and did not deal with them at all. You chose instead to quote Luther and Melanchton, who are of no interest to me. Neither of them exhibited “holy” lives, only opinion-driven lives. They do not have the character of the fathers.

    I now note with disappointment that you describe yourself as a convert “from” Orthodoxy. This tells me that you were not a convert “to” Orthodoxy but have remained bound in the intellect and the passions. St. Paul’s writings viz. the “mystery” and what I have noted about the deeper level of Scripture is precisely the work of Christ to draw us beyond the intellect and the passions.

    I’m not interested in a “conversation” that chooses to remain there. There’s nothing of salvation to be found in such things.

  54. Nathan Rinne Avatar

    Father Freeman,

    “Neither of them exhibited “holy” lives, only opinion-driven lives.”

    May I ask why you say this?

    My second article that I just linked to above is certainly not about me! – it is about Christopher Jones, who is a convert to Lutheranism from Orthodoxy. I thought that was abundantly clear in the article, but perhaps I need to go back and check it again!

    I certainly agree that Christ draws us beyond the intellect and passions – my blog is titled “theology like a child” for a reason. We are to remain child-like even as we leave childishness behind.

    I hope and pray that you would reconsider and take a second look.

    Blessings in Christ,

  55. Nathan Rinne Avatar

    Father Freeman,

    “In short, I said that you ignored all of the Scripture references in my article and did not deal with them at all.”

    Of course that is because I embrace all of those passages and largely agree with what you say about them. I understand the point about Jonah and the three days but also note that there are other passages that the disciples pointed to regarding the promise of the resurrection of the Messiah.

    Again, blessings to you.


  56. fatherstephen Avatar

    Sorry, I did misunderstand about the other blog.

    But, why would I say this? Forgive, I will sound like I’m ranting for a minute or two here.

    Because, though I like Martin Luther and think him an interesting historical character, I think he is merely tragic and not a great Christian character. The Reformation was not a “popular” movement. It was a movement among academics (at first), like Luther, that would have died had it not been a convenient moment in history when various local Princes were looking for “wedge” issues that suited their political ends. The Protestant Reform was almost strictly “from the top down” (much like the liberal reforms many Churches have suffered over the last half-century). Without State sponsorship, none of them, None of them, would have survived.

    And in every case, it was not that the various Princes were convinced Lutherans, Reformists, or Anglicans, etc., but that these various iterations of christianity, were useful tools.

    I suggest reading through some of Eamon Duffy’s fascinating historical work on the reformation in England (his books could just as easily have been used to describe the reformation process elsewhere). The Reformation was a bloody, state-sponsored attack on Catholicism. It destroyed Churches, stole and expropriated lands (fattening the coffers of the state), radicalized the work life of the population (England before the Reformation had 50 Feast days that would have been “work free” – almost all of which were abolished by the Reforms – resulting in the “Protestant work ethic”).

    The Reformation is not about the Bible – it is about Man – and a radical revision of what man is, how he works, etc. It is a revisioning of the human that resulted in the invention of secularism and is the backbone of secularism to this day. Ironically, it was a system of thought that would eventually lead to its own destruction. Man does not “need” a Church. As the Reformation re-invented him, he needed only his own reason. Just as that reason destroyed Catholicism, it eventually turned its cold, naked eye and the Scriptures and destroyed them. Now Man has nothing but himself. And his reason is presently turned toward himself and he is committing suicide.

    “Like a child” should refer to “innocence” but not being “simple” (in the sense of ignorance).

    Being guided by the Fathers and the path of holiness and asceticism set out for us in the teaching of the holy elders of the Church is without substitute. It is the lack of such things that make Luther and Melanchton of little use in the spiritual life.

    Today the Protestant tools that were once convenient to the rulers in Europe who used them to justify their erection of the nation state, are no longer convenient. Their are languishing and passing away. Sometimes they are useful tools for the culture, but they have lost their culture wars.

    Salvation is not to be found in exploring those tools and pressing them into a service for which they were never meant. Luther and Melanchton are not a manifestation of the work of God in saving the world. They are a manifestation of the rise of modernism and the dissolution of the medieval world in Europe.

    Christianity has barely survived into the 21st century, by God’s grace. If it ever becomes a major part of our cultures again, it will not be in a Protestant form. That time has long passed. The jury is out for this century.

    For me, there is only the life of Orthodoxy and the hope of seeing it planted firmly in my heart and some foundation of it planted. But God will have to water it and give it growth.

    I don’t mean any of this as harsh judgment – but the Protestant Reformation is simply a great historical tragedy whose nature has been often hidden because of the continuing culture agendas that need to hide who and what they are.

  57. simmmo Avatar

    Father I think you are correct about various translations trying to “democratize” the Scriptures. I was once given a book by a very dear friend entitled “Reading the Bible for all it’s worth”. It’s written by a very good Protestant scholar. A good book. However it had a major flaw. It assumed we all approach the Bible as individuals – trying to figure out the meaning of the text by ourselves. Accordingly, it favoured the more “dynamic” translations. I understand his arguments and some of them make very good sense. However, we don’t approach the Bible as individuals. It is a collection of writings written for the Church and to be understood in the life of the Church. The Protestant teaching of the supposed “perspicuity” of Scripture is probably the starting point of this ideology.

    I have not been to the Bible Belt, but having grown up in a fundamentalist setting I think I know a little of what you are talking about. Equally as problematic, in my opinion, are the New Calvinists, who take a very rational, scholastic and cold approach to Scripture. Most of them are educated in Greek and Hebrew. They can appreciate the nuances in the text. They say they subscribe to ancient Creeds and Councils (however if you dig deeper, they actually don’t subscribe to many important parts of these – in truth they only fully subscribe to the “confessions” that came out of the Reformation). But, nevertheless, their ideologies force them to construct an image of God that is really a distortion.

    I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of Luther and the Reformation. It was a very tragic historical development for Christendom. Calvin and Zwingli were, perhaps, even more tragic figures. Protestantism is a spent force. Any substantial Christian “revival” (to speak evangelical language) can not be Protestant. I think, eventually, Protestants will be moved outside of what is considered small “o” orthodox – even the more theologically conservative new Calvinists will fall into this category.

  58. Nathan Rinne Avatar

    Father Freeman,

    Thank you very much for your engagement. It is truly appreciated.

    I shared your comment with a wise pastor friend and he said this: “The number of copies of the 95 Theses that were printed all over Europe, as well as the subsequent peasants’ revolt, as well as the economic impact of the decline of sales of indulgences (from which princes like Frederick the Wise also greatly profited!), as well as the emptying of the cloisters, etc., so forth and so on, would belie an understanding of the Reformation as being simply “from above….”

    The short answer that occurs to me in particular is this: God uses evil for good – using “convenient moments in history” – even as those in Christ’s church certainly must not do evil en route to good (means to ends)? And were not the church fathers also academics in their day? And was the Byzantine state and military apparatus always on the up and up – and did they not “sponsor” the church as well (in spite of protests from certain quarters for more distance to be sure!)? Further, I clearly do think that there is more to commend in Luther, for example, then you do. I see this former monk who basically continued to live like a monk as quite holy indeed. And “like a child”? Eager to trust in the Lord and His words – pure receptivity – without pretense.

    Protestantism may be a spend force, but confessional Lutheran convictions run deep. I fully expect us to be here when Christ chooses to return.

    Blessings to you in Christ. Have a great weekend.


  59. Nathan Rinne Avatar

    My comment above was incomplete. It should have read:

    The short answer that occurs to me in particular is this: *Regarding the bad things you point out about the Reformation* God uses evil for good – using “convenient moments in history” – even as those in Christ’s church certainly must not do evil en route to good (means to ends).

    (no question mark)


  60. Dino Avatar

    I am a little off topic here, but talking of Luther, (as an outsider cradle Orthodox) although he himself does indeed have quite a measure of commendable attributes, his foremost condemnable one is (undiscerningly) “throwing the baby” while (discerningly) “throwing the bathwater”. He did this more than once (when he seemed that he would go the Orthodox route while revolting against the wrongs of Papacy) by carving a new and novel route attesting to the influence of ‘Enlightenment’s’ trust in man’s reasoning faculty and distrust in tradition – (quite understandable in that time and place…).
    I fear that any person who follows their reasoning faculty over and above the counsel of preceding Saints however, is always in grave danger of carving a heretical route. Even the Mother of God herself visited her eldest cousin Elisabeth for affirmation (after having conceived the Divine Logos in her womb through the Holy Spirit) – an action that attests to this notion of remaining within the body of the tradition through what we term (a technical term of spiritual life in one sense) “obedience”.
    There is a key difference between the protestant-style ‘agreement’ after reasoning (with my Spiritual Father for instance, or the Church, or with God) and Orthodox ‘obedience’ and trust in God and His Church Body.

  61. fatherstephen Avatar

    Luther got married. He did not “live like a monk.” I like Luther. But I would not compare him in any way to the Fathers of the Church. If you do, then you should read more biographies of Luther and more on the lives of the Fathers.

    Of course of Church had to deal with political powers. Sometimes, and more than once, those powers became heretical and the Church produced plenty of martyrs (cf. the Iconoclast controversy). Sometimes the political desires of the Emperors had to be resisted (cf. the Council of Florence). Sometimes various persons within the Church were carried away with various blandishments that the powers offered them (most of their names are now forgotten). But others stood firm in the faith and prevailed (cf. Maximus the Confessor, and may their memories be eternal).

    But good scholarship of a historical nature, particularly not driven by the mythology of the Reformation itself, clearly demonstrates that the Reform occurred primarily through State sponsorship. I again suggest you read the works of Eamon Duffy. I’m sure your pastor friend means well, but his answer is a far cry from any serious historical treatment.

    If things are as he suggested, then the confining of the Reformation only to certain parts of Germany, is rather interesting. The final settlement of the Reformation was purely political. It was not a popular uprising. The one serious popular uprising was the Peasants Revolt, which Luther opposed (as he did the bidding of his political sponsors). And the end of that was one of the bloodiest massacres in German history. There’s a monument in Germany to the peasants even today.

    All across Europe, the Reformation followed political lines. In England, the place whose history I know best, the Reformation was clearly “forced” on the population. You should find out what happened to Church lands and monastery properties in Germany. See who got their money and appropriated their wealth. Then look and see who died and why. When you find evidence of its popular acceptance, look next door to a local Catholic princely kingdom, and wonder why “popular” didn’t happen there. Maybe the population went with where their bread was buttered.

    But the creation of secularism through the rise of the Protestant states is pretty much settled history. Read the works of Charles Taylor on the rise of secularism. His work is deeply authoritative and respected. But if you want to argues points or dismiss points as serious as these, then you have to be willing to do the work. Asking a Pastor is not work. Even he may never have bothered to ask these questions.

    I am a former Anglican priest. I did ask the questions and I did the work. And I paid the price (by God’s grace) that came from the conclusions. Many others have done the same and are doing the same. Confessional protestantism has much more to commend it these days than its institutional cousins. There are many brave men and women standing their ground. But their ground is soaked with the political blood of revolution. That same bravery would be better spent standing on the ground of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church rather than the inventions of 16th century men and their princes.

  62. Dino Avatar

    Nathan, do you mean that he kept wearing the cassok? Didn’t Luther have six kids? Even Melanchthon critisised him for his for marrying…

  63. Nathan Rinne Avatar


    I address your concerns in a series I did. Here is the summary:

    And yes, Luther married, but did so in order to specifically make a theological point (i.e. that he was not “under the law” for vows he had taken specifically taken with the intent of working to save his soul – in “On Monastic Vows”, he rightly says vows as he had taken them to become a monk run contrary to the way in which Scripture speaks of vows). My point is that his life continued to be one marked by the habits of prayer, fasting, devotion, and service (his family was known to be extremely generous – to a fault) that he had learned as a monk.


  64. Janis Schmidt Avatar

    Proverbs 3:5-6
    King James Version (KJV)
    5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

    6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

  65. Nathan Rinne Avatar


    England is not Germany and one situation cannot be extrapolated on to the other. My pastor has done this work, studying extensively the Reformation in Germany (He is also an early church scholar) I don’t deny that many used him towards their own ends, but Luther’s theological works also resonated with many (for example men like Albrecht Durer). Would you have had him throw in his lot with the peasants (who appreciated him until he would not endorse their rebellion)?

    “You should find out what happened to Church lands and monastery properties in Germany. See who got their money and appropriated their wealth. Then look and see who died and why.”

    I do not endeavor to defend this, even as I know little about the details (any recommended works on this specifically?). Keep in mind that the Lutherans did claim – I believe rightly – to be the true church. I am not saying that necessarily justifies any appropriation of this wealth.

    “When you find evidence of its popular acceptance, look next door to a local Catholic princely kingdom, and wonder why “popular” didn’t happen there. Maybe the population went with where their bread was buttered.”

    Right. Or maybe the popular impulse was slowed down in some areas via censorship and the like.

    Also, are you familiar with what occurred at Magdeburg (this “stand” vs Rome was, like that of Maximus’, clearly theologically motivated)

    Men like Flacius minced no words regarding men like Melanchton and Bugenhagen (who had been Luther’s pastor), regarding their caving into the demands of the Emperor to still Flacius’ and the Magdeburgers’ voices. He spoke of their past resistance to Rome, and how the tune they sung had changed:

    “But [back] then they still had a prince who said the same war was persecution. And since they were in the same danger with him, they, too, said it was persecution. But now, after they, with their beautiful adiaphorism have reconciled the whore and the beast, and have a lord who says it is not persecution, they, too, say it is not persecution. Now they are writing a secret confession, because the lord wants it so. They are theologians very obedient to the government.” (quoted in Olsen, 203)…

    “Therefore, when worldly people cry that in such a matter one must be obedient to the government, the leaders should answer, one must obey God rather than man. And if they say, the Romans are coming, the preachers should say, one must fear those who can destroy both body and soul more than those who destroy the body alone…They should also warn all people most vigorously to steadfastness in the acknowledged truth, but they should never advise sedition.” (quoted in Olsen, 218)

    Imagine, if you will, that Flacius was right. Rome was trying to destroy the Lutheran confession. What should he have done?

    I understand if you do not see these matters as relevant to you as an EO, but if that is the case, I would urge you to reconsider and to bear with me in patience.

    Finally, I note that Charles Taylor also thinks that secularism is not completely a bad thing, and I must agree with that. Secular should simply mean having to do with this world, and not mean godlessness.

    This will have to be my last communication for a few days. God bless.


  66. Nathan Rinne Avatar


    I address your concerns in a series I did. The summary can be found by googling the coming vindication of martin luther summary and conclusion

    And yes, Luther married, but did so in order to specifically make a theological point (i.e. that he was not “under the law” for vows he had taken specifically taken with the intent of working to save his soul – in “On Monastic Vows”, he rightly says vows as he had taken them to become a monk run contrary to the way in which Scripture speaks of vows). My point is that his life continued to be one marked by the habits of prayer, fasting, devotion, and service (his family was known to be extremely generous – to a fault) that he had learned as a monk.


  67. Janis Schmidt Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephan,

    Your comments on the Reformation and Luther’s role in it is a revolation to me. I am quite astonished at the Catholic Church’s methods of reigning in its priests.

    “Of course of Church had to deal with political powers. Sometimes, and more than once, those powers became heretical and the Church produced plenty of martyrs (cf. the Iconoclast controversy). Sometimes the political desires of the Emperors had to be resisted (cf. the Council of Florence). Sometimes various persons within the Church were carried away with various blandishments that the powers offered them (most of their names are now forgotten). But others stood firm in the faith and prevailed (cf. Maximus the Confessor, and may their memories be eternal).”

    n 661 Maximus again was brought to the imperial capital and questioned; while there, he had his tongue uprooted and his right hand cut off (to prevent him from preaching or writing the true faith), and then was again exiled to the Caucasus, but died shortly thereafter.

  68. Westy Goes East Avatar
    Westy Goes East

    I love this line from the Post-Communion prayers:

    Grant me compunction and contrition of heart, humility in my thoughts, and a release from the slavery of my own reasonings.

    Before becoming Orthodox, I was most definitely a slave (and still struggle with that, to be sure).

  69. Janis Schmidt Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephan,

    Thank you for your enlightening comments on the Scriptures, not all that easy to understand. Sometimes just a word can change the meaning. Forgive me, Father, but I can’t stand these fundamentalists who are panting with eager anticipation for Christ’s return when he separates the chaff from the wheat, and throws the chaff into a huge, roaring fire. Jesus spoke in parables about His mission, to establish the Kingdom of God, but He never spells out the Kingdom, which fundamentalists equate it with some kind of monarchy, which I find ridiculous. The Pharisees liked to quiz Chist on the Kingdom and where it could be found, and Chist said, “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (new American standard, new international) “For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (new living, Holman Christian Standard) “‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (English standard) ” for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (King James) Many other translations support one of these three.

    It seems to me there is a big difference in these three translations: 1. in your midst 2. among you 3. within you

    Forgive my understanding but it seems to me that implying that the Kingdom of God is “among you” or “in your midst” means that all you have to do is discover it, whereas, if the Kingdom of God is “within you” then you must develop it in an active sense. Either way, waiting about for the fires of hell to consume us doesn’t give me a vision of the Kingdom of God.

    Could you give me your interpretation?

    Thank you.


  70. […] An informed confessional Lutheran response is that all of this is all terribly simplistic. First of all, Father Freeman has heard me make the case that the Lutheran fight to preach as they saw fit – particularly at Magedburg in 1550 – simply cannot be seen in this way (see my comment to him about this here). […]

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  1. Carlos, thanks for your reply. Even if the prayers are first person singular, they are for all of us to…

  2. Janine, Yes! I’ve read about the ancient corporate sense and its interpretive power in scripture, but I’m hesitant to apply…

  3. Kenneth, thanks for that reminder about John the Baptist. Carlos, I kind of think that we are confusing ancient forms…

  4. Janine, Thank you for replying! I understand what you’re saying about unworthiness and I totally agree, it is absolutely by…

  5. Father Stephen, Thank you for zeroing in on the shame and recommending your book. I look forward to reading it!

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