A Brief Introduction to Revolutionizing Your Bible Reading Through Covenant Family Theology (and its Implications towards Restoring the Early Church’s Christian Unity in Diversity “So That the World May Believe” (John 17:21)
The Covenant Family Theology (or simply “Family Theology”) framework I have built upon Scott Hahn, my famous theology professor’s exceptional Covenant Theology approach to the Scriptures (which I have discovered is in a direct line of development with the Deifying Adoption or Divine Sonship theme in the Early Church Fathers’ Biblical interpretation, and put together also considering the Biblical insights of Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant scholars – a combination of the gifts of all who love the Bible as God’s Inspired Word!) – is a comprehensive systematic Biblical theological framework for understanding the Bible which ties together
- the entire text of both Testaments (including many difficult passages which at first seem incomprehensible or even offensive to the Christian mind),
- all of the fundamentals of traditional Christian orthodoxy or Catholic (Universal Christian) dogma, especially the Trinity, and
- Christian history since the Biblical record ended, including the failures and divisions of Christians which are all part of a divinely patient process of God the Father raising His human Covenant Family since Adam gradually to its maturity in love.
This framework literally revolutionizes Bible reading because it makes plain the ‘Big Picture’ or single overarching story of the whole Bible which flows and unfolds naturally from the heart of the Eternal Trinitarian God who is Love – and shows how current Christian history is a natural continuation of the story of the Bible, a wonderful story of God creating a human family specifically in order to adopt it into His Eternal Trinitarian Family of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, unified through family bonds with the one God who is Love. Covenant Family Theology shows how God is divinely loving, wise and patient with His adopted children’s immaturity in love (including divisions) throughout the human history of all the major Covenants including the New Covenant of Jesus Christ which was not an end to His plan (we still await the Eternal Covenant of the New Heavens and New Earth after Jesus returns) but rather was Him giving His adopted Covenant Family the latest and highest standard of love yet to strive for knowing we would struggle in this task as the earlier Covenant Families had in their tasks. Our loving Father God knew we Christians too would often fail as all the earlier Covenant families did (as Christian history attests to), yet He knew Christians, as the Jews before them (who at first were very inconsistent at worshipping Yahweh [the LORD] but who by the end of the Old Testament were zealous for Him as a nation), would also very gradually mature in love, our growing maturity currently demonstrated in the last century’s Ecumenical Movement towards healing the scandalous divisions in our Christian Family, so that we may better display the love for each other by which Jesus said the world would know His disciples (John 13:35), “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21). Covenant Family Theology, because it applies the wonderful insights of Scott Hahn’s systematic Biblical Covenant Theology for understanding the Bible to Christian history since the Biblical record ended and shows how the nature and structure of the Undivided Early Church of the First Millennium is the fulfilment of God’s plan for His adopted child humanity (Hebrew adam) from the beginning, the Early Church’s Pentarchy of Gentile Patriarchates (cultures renewed in Jesus) plus Jerusalem being the fulfilment of many Biblical prophecies of the nations (civilizations, cultures) to the North, South, East and West of Jerusalem (where the Church was born in Acts 2) coming to worship the True God whose Old Testament Temple was in Jerusalem, has many Ecumenical implications towards the eventual restoration of early Christian unity in diversity.
Some of these implications of unity in diversity have already been discovered and followed with wonderful ecumenical results since Vatican Council II (1962-5, the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church) specifically looked to the Undivided Early Church (which did NOT exhibit the “unity equals uniformity”principle which was behind the 2nd Millennium schisms of the One Church of Christ) as its model for its first-ever dogmatic ecclesiology (Doctrine of the Church), an ecclesiology which was born in the official Orthodox/Catholic”Dialogue of Love” since 1958 and has been wonderfully and beautifully clarified with Eastern Orthodox help in the official Catholic/Orthodox Theological Dialogue since 1982. This Early Church “unity in multiplicity” or “unity in diversity,” so well explained in Biblical terms by Covenant Family Theology, is not only already in the process of healing the first “Great Schism” of Christianity of 1054 which split the Undivided First Millennium Church into a divided Catholic and Orthodox Church. Vatican II’s ecclesiology, explained Biblically by Covenant Family Theology, is also behind the milestones which have been made in Protestant/Catholic brotherly relations in Christ Jesus “so that the world may believe,” such as the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) Accords and the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Lutheran World Federation (later signed also by the World Methodist Council) and the Catholic Church, and the Manhattan Declaration in which Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant/Evangelical Christians stand together to be “salt and light” to society (see the links to each of these on the “Off-Site Links” section of the sidebar). There is all the greater hope for our wounded, divided Christian Family to heal and better show the world our “love for one another” by which Jesus said the world would recognize His disciples, “so that the world may believe” when it sees that highly attractive Family Love in us, the more Christians come to explore the Bible, aided by Covenant Family Theology which really makes the whole Bible come alive as our Family History as Christians, and as an exciting story of God raising His Covenant children to their maturity in Love which continues in the Christian Church today and is still being lived by us even with our divisions in the Family which we are called to heal as part of the ongoing adventure story of the God of Love’s Covenant Family.
© 2009, 2014 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
Go to Excerpts from The Bible’s ‘Big Picture’ — Using “Family Theology” to Understand the Single Overarching Story Told Throughout the Scriptures, Which Makes the Bible Our Family History as Christians
Go to The Spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church : An Overview of the Family Theology that Revolutionizes Bible Reading and its Implications Towards the Eventual Re-Establishment of the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity
A Longer Introduction to the Covenant Family Theology that Revolutionizes Bible Reading and its Implications Towards the Eventual Re-Establishment of the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity
It is my hope that Covenant Family Theology (or Family Theology) will revolutionize any Christian’s Bible reading because in a few dozen pages I present a framework for understanding the “Big Picture” or single overarching story of the Bible’s thousands of pages covering thousands of years of human civilization written over thousands of years by dozens of inspired human authors in different languages and different genres of literature. Any particular passage of the Bible you read will fit somewhere within this single unfolding story, and many passages will make much more sense if one understands this ‘Big Picture’ interpretational framework of Family Theology. I hope that Covenant Family Theology will also revolutionize any Christian’s faith life because it shows how the Christian era we live in which began near the end of the Biblical Revelation is the continuation of the Bible’s single overarching story of God slowly and patiently raising His human Covenant Family descended from Adam ever closer to its full maturity in love. The story of the Bible is not just our family history as Christians, because this story is not finished – we are still living it!
What I call Covenant Family Theology (or just Family Theology) is a Biblical, systematic theology and is a broad synthesis of
- orthodox, Catholic (Universal Christian) dogma (the fundamentals of historic, orthodox Christianity, especially the Trinity)
- with Scott Hahn’s Biblical Covenant Theology which ties the two Testaments together into one coherent (and very beautiful) whole, and
- with Christian history since the Biblical record ended, to the current time
-providing a wonderfully beautiful and inspiring way of looking at the whole history of humanity and the Church (redeemed humanity) to the present day, as all flowing from the heart of the Eternal Trinity of Love who created humanity in His Image and Likeness specifically so He could adopt us into His own Trinitarian Family of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God the Covenant Father in binding Himself to humanity (Hebrew adam) as our Father committed to raising us gradually and very patiently to the maturity of Love (which God is) so that we “look like our Father” and clearly belong in His Family of Love. Even our weaknesses, sins, mistakes, and divisions in all of the Covenant Families past and present (Biblical and post-Biblical to the present day) are merely symptoms of the Eternally patient Divine fathering process in which God gradually raises us to overcome our manifest immaturity in Love and gradually become more like He who is Love. Covenant Family Theology (or Family Theology) may be regarded as at core Scott Hahn’s Covenant Theology (which ties the whole of both Testaments together as one coherent whole in exceptionally fruitful manner), extended backwards to the inner life of the Holy Trinity of Love, and extended forwards to Christian history after the Biblical record ended, to the present day, and operating from within the “hermeneutic of faith,” the traditional faith of the still-living Christian community (and mysterious Body of Christ Himself) which wrote, redacted, collected and canonized the Bible in the form we know today, which is the natural context of the Bible as Bible, as Scripture inspired by a single Transcendent God (and not just as a collection of disparate ancient books written by different people through different eras of history). The dependence of this theological framework on my professor Scott Hahn’s Covenant Theology articulated so clearly in modern times is no defect, since, as shown below, Scott Hahn’s Covenant Theology is a mature expression of a direct line of development in Biblical Theological interpretation since the Early Church Fathers.
I was raised a conservative “mainline” and then Evangelical Protestant Christian (after my traditionally orthodox mainline Protestant church “lost its grip” on the fundamentals of historic Christianity as so many of the oldest and largest Protestant denominations have) who had read his Bible multiple times out of deep loving respect for it as the inspired words of our loving God to His beloved children. When I first encountered Scott Hahn’s Covenant Theology (even before I became his pupil), I immediately recognized it as by far the most incredible, beautiful, fruitful, inspiring (and by far most comprehensive) way to interpret the Bible I had ever come across in all my wide Christian experience. I had been greatly spiritually enriched by my different experiences as a “conservative” mainline Protestant Christian, a “non-denominational” (and “Church-hopping”) Evangelical Protestant Christian (with wide experience in various Evangelical churches and even [on the side] a “Messianic Jewish” community of Jewish believers in Jesus as Israel’s Promised Messiah), and as a Roman Catholic Christian (later and today an “Eastern Orthodox in Communion with Rome” or “Eastern Catholic” Christian, finally restoring my family’s heritage in the ancient Eastern (non-Roman) Rites of the Catholic Church with the lawfully-presumed approval of Pope Benedict XVI). Still I had never encountered a way to interpret the Bible anything like Scott Hahn’s. His Covenant Theology explained the whole Bible in a way that was utterly life-transforming. Covenant Theology made the whole Bible – even passages which at first seemed incomprehensible or even offensive to the Christian mind – really come alive as my own family history as a Christian.
As I learned about Covenant Theology I came to understand that my professor Scott Hahn (like me, and like Blessed Cardinal Newman before us) had received “the best of both worlds” by being raised a Protestant Christian and becoming a Catholic Christian. In this vein, more recently as a professor teaching the Early Church Fathers I noticed that the homilies/sermons of Saint John Chrysostom (c.347-c.407) and many other Early Church Fathers read like a two-hour Protestant Bible Study, but they were delivered in the middle of Sunday Holy Mass (Western term) or Divine Liturgy (Eastern term), the Liturgy of the Word (the Bible and the preaching on it) followed immediately by the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Holy Communion with Jesus Himself in the consecrated Bread and Wine, His Body and Blood, as Jesus instituted). Thus the Undivided Early Catholic/Universal Church of the First Millennium, which eventually utterly transformed the brutal ancient pagan and barbarian societies around it with the Love of Jesus, was fed by BOTH the Bible AND the Sacraments. In the words of my professor (Protestant pastor-turned Catholic scholar) Scott Hahn:
in the writings of the early [Christian Church] fathers … I ran smack up against a Church I could only recognize as Catholic. It was liturgical, hierarchical, sacramental. It was Catholic, and yet it held all that I loved about the Reformation tradition too: a deep devotion to Jesus, a spontaneous life of prayer, a zeal to transform the culture, and, of course, a burning love for scripture.
Unfortunately, since the Protestant Reformation, Protestant/Evangelical Christians typically focus on the Bible to the exclusion or neglect of the Sacraments (though this is getting better in some areas of highly fragmented Protestantism), and Catholic and Orthodox Christians typically focus on the Sacraments to the neglect of the Bible outside of the Bible readings in the Eucharistic Liturgy and (mostly for priests and religious brothers and sisters) the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office/Breviary (although this is getting better since Vatican II, learning from the good example of Protestants on this point and recapturing the ancient Catholic tradition, strongly promoted the reading of the Bible). The neglect of either means Christians fighting the evil Satan has wrought in our society with only one “boxing glove” – the Bible or the Sacraments. The First Millennium Church was empowered spiritually by both! I repeatedly tell my theology students that the Early Church utterly transformed the brutal ancient pagan cultures around them with the love of Jesus, and we can absolutely do it again – IF we learn the lessons of the Early Church Fathers!
The “Hermeneutic of Faith”
I knew Scott Hahn had put together his Covenant Theology framework with careful attention to the Early Church Fathers and how they interpreted the Bible, and to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, especially the PBC’s landmark 1993 document The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (produced under the Chairmanship of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), the great value of which not only Catholic but many Orthodox and Protestant scholars have recognized, for how it recognizes and incorporates the best elements of the modern historical-critical methods of Scripture study while also calling attention to their defects which have in the past caused Protestant “mainline” denominations (like the one I was raised in) to lose their grip on traditional, historic Christian faith (and which precipitated the similar “Modernist” controversies in the Catholic Church, quelled by the popes). This outstanding document provides helpful guidelines for (while making best use of the modern methods’ strengths) instead of using the anti-supernatural and anti-Christian assumptions of the Enlightenment the methods were originally developed under, and instead of using one’s default (and often unconscious) underlying assumptions (whatever they happen to be) as one’s “hermeneutic” or interpretational approach to the Bible, rather consciously employing “the hermeneutic of faith,” which is the natural context of the Bible, which is a collection of books written, collected, and canonized by a Living Faith Community which had experienced God actively, directly and personally in the Old Testament and had also been witnesses to the Resurrected Jesus in the New. This is interpreting the Bible traditionally “from within the heart of the Church” – attentive to the still-living “subject of the Church” (Ratzinger), the Living Body of Christ Himself or (more concretely) the ongoing believing community of the Christian Church Christ founded which wrote, collected, and canonized the Bible. This Church is the only proper context for truly theological studies of the Bible as Divinely-Inspired Bible (and not merely as a purely human collection of disparate ancient documents, which the modern historical-critical methods assume in their deficient philosophical foundation).
Having learned Covenant Theology from Scott Hahn directly, I knew that in addition to the Church Fathers and the PBC, Scott Hahn in developing his Covenant Theology had considered and incorporated the Biblical insights of Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant scholars – thus drawing from a combination of the gifts of all who love the Bible as God’s Inspired Word.
What I did not realize until I was professor of a course on the Church Fathers, following the development of Christianity through the First and into the Second Millennium, is that Scott Hahn’s Covenant Theology, on which I had already based my Covenant Family Theology framework which extends Hahn’s Biblical Covenant Theology backwards to the Inner Life of the Eternal Trinity and forwards to post-Biblical Christian history to the present day, is actually on a direct line of development through history from the Early Church Fathers’ interpretation of the Bible as having a primary message for the Christian of deifying adoption or Divine Sonship, the Covenant as Scott Hahn has identified it being the form and manner of God’s adoption of humans into His Divine Trinitarian Family.
Some Key Biblical Passages for Covenant Theology and Family Theology
The Scriptures are drenched with the concept of covenant, so eloquently and fruitfully elucidated by Scott Hahn. What are covenants for? Not mere contracts, covenants, much more common in the ancient world, always involve, like marriage, the only covenant still common today, an exchange of persons (not just goods or services as in a contract) in a family-making bond of kinship. The Biblical Covenants are the means and manner of our human adoption into God’s Divine Family of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wherein parenthood, childhood, and the bond of Love which binds them are within God Himself, within the Holy Trinity of Love who created humanity saying “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26 TNIV), specifically so that God could adopt us into this Divine, Trinitarian Family Life of Love. The New Testament theme of our “adoption to sonship,” becoming sons in God the Father’s only-begotten (not adopted) Son Jesus Christ, as members of Christ’s very Body the Church through the indwelling in us of the same Divine Holy Spirit who “proceeds from the Father” (John 15:26) and who overshadowed Mary so God the Son could become human like us, making us related to God as Family and so “partakers of the Divine Nature,” appears in the following key Scripture passages:
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:15 TNIV
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. – Romans 8:23-25 NIV
the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. – Romans 9:4 NIV
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. – Ephesians 1:4–6 NIV
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. – Galatians 4:4-7 NIV
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. – John 1:12-13 NIV
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature – 2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV
Note that Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:4-6 indicate that the indwelling Holy “Spirit of adoption as sons” (Romans 8:15 ESV) makes us already adopted children of God, therefore already saved by Him – specifically saved from being outside of God’s Family. Yet, along with many other Scripture passages, our final salvation is “future,” and in Romans 8:23-25 our adoption and therefore salvation is associated with “the redemption of our bodies” as well as our souls at the final Resurrection of the Body. Since human beings were created a body-soul unity, to be whole, and wholly saved, we must be saved body and soul, as we who have already been adopted by God at our Baptism (when we formally entered the New Covenant) will be at the final Resurrection of the Body. Until then, though saved from being outside of God’s Family, we still struggle with sin, primarily located in the still-fallen human bodies our redeemed human souls are integrally united to, hence even Saint Paul the Apostle laments “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 TNIV).
Romans 9:4 indicates that the (non-Christian) Jews also have the adoption to sonship, which is an important factor of Covenant Theology. Although the New Covenant of Jesus “the New Adam” uniquely restores the indwelling “Holy Spirit of adoption” Adam lost through sin which had made Adam a supernaturally adopted “son of God” (Luke 3:38), and which makes Christians supernaturally adopted children of God as in John 1:12-13, still all of the Covenants by their very nature as Covenants (not mere contracts) are family-making, adoptive Covenants, the 5 Old Testament Covenants being “legal” adoptions by God who then fathered the Old Covenant Families to ever-greater maturity in love until (“in the fullness of time”) they were ready for Israel’s Promised Messiah to come and restore the supernatural adoption of the indwelling Holy Spirit Adam lost, first of all to the Jews who recognized Him and accepted Him. Then, these Messianic Jews/Judeo-Christians, through their now-Holy Spirit-empowered ministry, at last fulfilled Israel’s original mission as God’s “first-born son” (Exodus 4:22) nation, to bring back to God all the “other son,” fallen-away “Gentile” lines of the previous universal Covenant Family of faithful Noah, who lived in the Gentile nations/cultures surrounding Jewish Jerusalem where the New Covenant Family of the Church was born. So there are two kinds of adoption by God in the Bible – the legal adoption of Covenant and the supernatural adoption of the indwelling Holy Spirit which makes God’s own Divine Life of Grace dwell within us, which may be likened to a “blood transfusion” which makes us not merely legally adopted by God but actually a “blood relative,” or, as the Bible says, “partakers of the Divine Nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Christians have both the adoption of Covenant and the supernatural adoption, but all the rest of human beings are not mere rebellious creations but actually runaway children of God, adopted by God at least through the Covenants God made with Adam and Noah and their descendants (all humanity); Jews (descended from Abraham’s “Son of the Promise” Isaac) and Arabs (descended from Abraham’s first son Ishmael by Hagar, who God also specially blessed) belong also to the Covenant with Abraham; and Jews additionally belong to the Covenant with Moses (and are associated with the Covenant with David their greatest King, though not all Jews are descendants of David, as Jesus was, fulfilling the Davidic Covenant and all the prophecies of David’s Messianic descendant). Along this line Pope Benedict XVI in The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood noted that for Christians the human family is divided into “the Christian brother” (with whom we share both the New Covenant and the fullness of supernatural adoption) and “the other brother” – God’s other Covenant children now estranged from Him, whom it is our mission to pursue and invite back into the mature fullness of God’s Family household, the Christian Church.
The Line of Development of Biblical Interpretation from the Early Church Fathers to Scott Hahn’s Covenant Theology which Undergirds Covenant Family Theology
The Eastern and Western Church Fathers of the Early Church Patriarchates or culturally-based regional particular or “Sister” Churches (each representing a major Gentile culture around Jerusalem renewed in Jesus in fulfilment of Biblical prophecy) would gradually develop and clarify the fundamental Christian doctrines or dogmas against heretical challenges (as described below) and would gradually develop the theology which finds a mature expression in Scott Hahn’s Covenant Theology.
Saints Irenaeus and Athanasius
Saint Irenaeus (c.115-202 AD) was the Christian Church’s first systematic theologian. He learned about Jesus from the Overseer/Bishop Saint Polycarp, one of the most beloved martyrs of the Early Church, who learned about Jesus from the Apostle John himself. An Eastern Christian, he was made the Western overseer/bishop of Lyons. His famous work “Against Heresies” greatly helped to finally defeat the very early Gnostic heresy which the Apostle John himself had had to contend with. Saint Athanasius (c.293-373 AD) was the Eastern Christian Patriarch of Alexandria, the “Father of Orthodoxy” and the first “Doctor” (Latin for “Teacher”) of the Catholic (Universal) Church, who was the greatest defender of the Divinity of Jesus against the Arian heretics who denied it and the first person to put together the 27-book Canon of the New Testament all Christians recognize today in 367 AD (adopted and put in the order all Christians know it by the 393 and 397 AD Councils of Hippo and Carthage and ratified by Pope Saint Innocent I in 405 AD). Both of these giants of the Early Church theologically developed the New Testament’s adoption to sonship theme testified to in the above Bible verses.
The Cappadocian Fathers
The Arian heresy raged for most of the 4th Century, supported by Roman Emperors. The aged Eastern, Alexandrian Patriarch Saint Athanasius “passed the torch” of defending the Divinity of Jesus against the Arian heretics to the younger Eastern, Byzantine, “Cappadocian Fathers.” These were the Saints and Doctors of the Church Gregory Nazianzen “The Theologian” (c.329-389) and Basil the Great (c.330-379), and Basil’s younger brother Saint Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-395; all of them local Christian overseers/bishops/eparchs). Among many wonderful Western and Eastern Church Fathers of the 4th Century, together these three were the premier Christian theologians who helped finally defeat Arianism at the 2nd Ecumenical Council of 381 AD in Constantinople, which was initially presided over by the city’s bishop/eparch Saint Gregory Nazianzen, who the East calls “the Theologian” for his piercing explications of the Trinity against the heretics who denied it. Not only did the Cappadocians do so much to end Arianism by clarifying the Church’s belief in the Divnity of Jesus, they also theologically clarified and the Second Ecumenical Council dogmatized the Divinity of the Holy Spirit against all heretical challenges, completing the primary Christian dogma/fundamental doctrine of the Trinity. Against the Apollinarian heretics who agreed Jesus was Divine but said he was not really human the Cappadocians established the important principle “what Christ did not assume, He did not redeem” and the 2nd Ecumenical Council declared the true humanity as well as true divinity of Jesus.
Even more than all this, the Cappadocian Fathers, against the Eunomian heretics who thought that God’s nature could be fully known, permanently established a vital principle in the Christian Church, that whatever “kataphatic theology” or positive things we may be able to discern and know about God through His Divine Revelation and human reason applied to it in theology (and the Cappadocians helped define quite a lot of this!), the infinite God will always remain ultimately utterly incomprehensible to our finite human minds, totally transcendent, beyond us, and “wholly other” than us, shrouded in magnificent mystery no matter how much knowledge of Him we attain. Thus “apophatic theology,” the theology of negation, is a necessary balance to kataphatic or positive theology (note in this vein how much we have to describe God using negative prefixes, defining God by what He is not – uncreated, incorporeal, immaterial, incomprehensible, unbegotten, unoriginate, unchanging, incorruptible, immortal, unlimited, invisible, immeasurable, and so on). Although apophaticism and its mystical dimensions, revelling in the utter transcendence of God, that our God is so beyond us we can never fully understand Him and His “thoughts that are not our thoughts” and His “ways that are not our ways”(Isaiah 55:8), will become a hallmark of Eastern Christian spirituality moreso than in the West, still this is also vital in the West and the younger Western, Roman Saint and Doctor Augustine (c.354-430), following this lead, will balance his own wonderful later kataphatic development of the dogma of the Trinity as a Trinity of Love with the apophatic recognition, “if you comprehend it – it’s not God.” In this vein there is a delightful Western legend about Saint Augustine, who is often regarded as the greatest theologian of the Early Western Church (certainly the most prolific), who wrote a massive 15 book work on the Trinity: Saint Augustine was walking along the beach and noticed a child scooping seawater into a cup and pouring it into a bucket. He looked so intent upon this task that Saint Augustine asked him, “what are you doing?” The child replied, “I’m trying to put the ocean into the bucket.” St. Augustine said, “you can’t fit the ocean into a bucket!” The child replied, “and neither can you understand the Trinity.”
Apophatic theology’s emphasis on the ultimate unknowability of God despite how much we come to know of Him even through His Self-Revelation in Jesus naturally leads to mysticism, a loving sense of awe in God’s Presence encouraging one to calm the mind’s attempt to “figure out” God and simply “be still and know that I am God.” God can be loved passionately even though He cannot be comprehended fully. So the Cappadocians, these top Eastern Christian theologians who established the necessity of apophaticism for Christian theology, were also masters of the Christian spiritual life: Saint Basil the Great is known as the Father of Eastern monasticism (even many Western, Roman Rite Catholic Christian monks and priests are “Basilians” following Saint Basil’s monastic Rules), and Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s sublime mystical writings are, I would say, nothing less than mind-blowing (I refer the reader to my short work “Be Ye Perfect” by Never Ceasing to Lovingly Pursue the Limitless God (into “the Luminous Darkness”): A Review of Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s The Life of Moses, or, Concerning Perfection in Virtue). The greatest paradox of the Christian faith is that God is both Transcendent and Immanent. On the one hand God is utterly beyond us and incomprehensible, Transcendent. And on the other hand, because of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ whereby God the Son, Second Person of the Eternal Trinity, united Himself to our humanity and became one of us, and even mysteriously made us His Body the Church through which He still reaches out physically to love and serve the world through us, God is intimately and personally with us and available to us, Immanent.
Saint Irenaeus (from the East though made a bishop in the West) the Church’s first systematic theologian, and Eastern Patriarch Saint Athanasius, the Church’s first “Doctor” and the “Father of Orthodoxy,” both developed the Doctrine of the Incarnation which made God immanent to us, and they began to describe the goal of Christian life with the Greek word theosis, or deification, based on 2 Peter 1:4 wherein we Christians become “partakers of the Divine Nature” or, depending on the translation, “participants in the Divine Nature” or “sharers in the Divine Nature.” Along this same Biblical line Vatican Council II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church would later describe the Grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit as “the Divine Life shared with us.” Saint Athanasius even, to powerfully make the point of this Mystery of humankind sharing in God’s Divine Life, deliberately used the initially shocking phrase, “God became man so man might become God.” As the Christian “Father of Orthodoxy,” first “Doctor” (Teacher) of the Undivided Catholic Church, and the first person to put together the New Testament Canon, he of course did not mean this in the pantheistic sense of the non-Christian Eastern Religions, but in the mysterious Biblical sense of “I said, ‘You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High’ ” (Psalm 82:6 NASB), which Jesus Himself quotes to emphasize it: “Jesus answered, “It is written in your law that God said, ‘I said, you are gods.’ This Scripture called those people gods who received God’s message, and Scripture is always true” (John 10:34-35 NCV). The Eastern Christian concepts of deification and Uncreated Grace, or, in more Western terms, God sharing His Divine Life of Grace with us, can be understood as living ever more fully the life of God’s Divine Grace, as we will completely when we are perfected in Heaven, our wills no longer ever sinfully contrary to the will of the indwelling Divine Holy Spirit. The Early Church Fathers actually used this understanding of the “deification” of all Christians against the Arian heretics who denied Jesus’ divinity in the 4th Century, for how could mankind be “deified” through Christ, coming to “share in the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), becoming part of the Divine Family of God, if Christ were not Divine, as the Arian heretics claimed He was not?
The Byzantine Cappadocian Fathers among others will develop this concept of deification in Irenaeus and Athanasius, and enhance it with the apophatic theology they established against the Eunomian heretics, but they do not generally use the language of adoption which Irenaeus and Athanasius had also developed (but which they themselves did not clearly link together with deification). The Roman Patriarchate’s Saint Ambrose (c.340-397 AD) in the West, while defending the divinity of the Holy Spirit against the heretics will actually link the two together, speaking of the Holy Spirit Divine Grace of adoption and linking it directly with 2 Peter 1:4’s “partakers of the divine nature,” but this connection is not developed even by his most famous Roman disciple Saint Augustine, who frequently references our Christian adoption as sons in the Bible but without explicitly identifying it with deification.
Saint Maximus the Confessor, Giant of Christian East and West, and Deifying Adoption
These two great Biblically rooted streams of the Christian Sacred Tradition, that of Christian “adoption to sonship” (Romans 8:15, 23; Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 4:5) and that of Christian deification as “partakers of the Divine Nature” (2 Peter 1:4) will finally be united in a more systematic way in Saint Maximus the Confessor (c.580-662), a giant of both Christian East and West. This theological uniting of these Biblical concepts will be so significant for later Christian theology both East and West, and for Scott Hahn’s Covenant Theology and my Covenant Family Theology framework built on it, that I digress here to describe Maximus and his grand contributions to the Universal/Catholic Church of East and West, since today he is too little known (even though, according to the criteria by which others were named “Doctors” of the Catholic Church, he should also be named one – an oversight which will hopefully be corrected in time).
Saint Maximus was an Eastern, Byzantine Rite Christian who lived for 25 years in the Roman West and who, together with his friend Pope Saint Martin I, was tortured by the heretic Byzantine Emperor and later died from these injuries received for upholding the orthodox Christian faith against the Monothelite heresy. Maximus was the premier heroic Christian theologian whose theology in explicit development of the previously more implicit Sacred Tradition handed on in the Church was later adopted (after his death) by the 6th Ecumenical Council (Constantinople III) in order to finally defeat the Monothelite heresy. This heresy ostensibly agreed that Jesus was both fully Divine and fully human, as previously theologically explicated by Pope Saint Leo the Great (c.400-461 AD) and dogmatically defined following Leo at the 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451 AD. However, in a compromise with Chalcedon the Monothelite (“one-will”) heretics still argued that Jesus had only one will, the Divine Will. This, like the earlier Monophysite (“one-nature,” the Divine) heresy Chalcedon had been called to defeat, violated the principle identified by the Cappadocian Fathers centuries before against the Apollinarian heretics, “what Christ did not assume, He did not redeem.” Sin is primarily located in our diseased human wills which wilfully choose against the good we ought to do, so if Jesus did not even have a human will, how are we humans redeemed by His Incarnation and death? By eliminating the human will of fully human Jesus, the Monothelites sought in wrong-headed manner to eliminate the possibility of Jesus’ human will being potentially in opposition to His Divine Will, but in so doing they even violated the Scriptures, notably at Gethsemane, wherein Jesus’ human will, naturally balking at the prospect of immanent torture and death on the Cross, is most clearly distinct from His Divine Will (united with His Father’s) yet still obedient to it: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Saint Maximus the Confessor best explained theologically how Jesus had both a fully human and a fully Divine will, which were in perfect harmony with each other. It must be a mere oversight that Maximus has not yet been named a “Doctor” (Teacher) of the Catholic Church, as has every other early theologian whose theological work played the role his did in an Ecumenical Council.
Saint Maximus, having lived long in both East and West and well understanding both the Eastern and Western theological expressions of Christianity which were united in one First Millennium Catholic Church, two whole centuries before this became an issue of contention between East and West wrote an important letter explaining the equivalence in underlying meaning of the Eastern phrase “through the Son” and the Western phrase “and the Son” used to describe the procession of the Holy Spirit “from the Father” which appears in the Bible and in the 4th Century Nicene Creed (Roman Rite Christians later adding the words “and the Son” – Latin filioque – to the Creed, Eastern Christians adding no words but understanding the Creed in the “through the Son” sense). Unfortunately, without computer databases of the Early Church Fathers’ writings available back then, Maximus’ important 7th Century contribution never entered the often hot-headed later on-and-off disputes over the filioque of the 9th – 15th Centuries, until a member of the large Eastern delegation at the 1439 Reunion Council of Florence produced it from his library, at which time it swiftly brought about the joyfully-proclaimed reunion of the Catholic and Orthodox Christian East and West previously separated into Western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches in 1054. This 1439 reunion is still held to by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic particular or “Sister” Churches in the one Catholic Communion today.
DIGRESSION: The Roots of the Great Schism Between Eastern and Western Christianity, Which Covenant Family Theology Offers Much to Help Heal
Unfortunately, during the East/West separation the situation had gotten much more complicated than the superficial filioque dispute, in ways which caused the majority of the Christian East to separate again and not seek reunion with the West again until modern times. To explain this properly I digress further in the next paragraph before getting back to Saint Maximus’ contribution to Covenant Family Theology, because I think it is important to understand what separated Christian East and West – a profound loss of the Early Church’s sense of mutually-enriching unity in diversity and falling into cultural prejudice between East and West -in order to get the most out of Covenant Family Theology’s identification of the Biblical roots of God’s plan from the beginning to HAVE one Christian Church which would specifically BE multi-cultural as the Undivided Early Church was, such that each culturally-based “Sister Church” would have a different cultural perspective on the infinite truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ, and each Sister Church would develop their different insights into different, complementary, liturgies and theologies, and each Sister Church according to God’s plan would then pool their insights together so as to together come up with the best and most thorough explications of the saving Christian faith, as they did at the Early Ecumenical Councils of the First Millennium Church before the Great Schism.
Christian East and West had mostly lost contact for centuries after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire to the barbarians and the growth of the Muslim Empire in between them, blocking both land and sea routes. Isolated from each other both sides gradually forgot the mutually enriching unity in diversity of the Undivided Early Church and replaced it with the ultimately satanic “unity equals uniformity” principle which accuses others of being wrong or inferior wherever different (the Hebrew word accuser is satan). The documents of the brief 9th Century and lasting 11th Century schisms are thus dripping with cultural prejudice on both sides, and reunion attempts were always short-lived because they sought and found reasonable solutions to superficial theological disputes which were only symptoms, not the root, of this underlying problem of “unity equals uniformity” principle which no longer respected or rejoiced in the differences between Christians. The anti-Eastern prejudice of the Western, Roman side of the Church coming to feel it was superior to the East wherever different had its worst expression in the 1204 4th Crusade in which prejudiced Roman Catholics actually sacked the Christian city of Constantinople, seat of the Eastern, Byzantine Patriarchate which was the home of so many First Millennium Eastern Catholic Saints and Doctors. This despicable crime was not an act of the Roman Church and Pope Innocent III was horrified to hear of it and excommunicated the ringleaders. Unfortunately, however, he did foolishly acknowledge and have ecclesial relations with the Latin, Roman Rite Patriarchate the Crusaders set up in the city to replace the legitimate (and very beautiful) ancient Byzantine (Greek) Rite Patriarchate, forcing Eastern, Byzantine Christians to worship in Western, Roman ways in their own capital. This appeared to give the pope and the Roman Church’s stamp of approval to the bigoted occupying Crusader army who were only removed forcibly by the Byzantines 60 years later, giving the Byzantines decades to grow in a hateful grudge against the Roman Catholic force which so disrespected them and their different ancient ways of being Christian which had contributed so much to the Ecumenical Councils.
Catholic Christians believe the pope, as head of the college of bishops who succeeded the Apostles which, gathered in an Ecumenical Council, speaks infallibly as the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit according to Jesus’ promise of the Spirit to guide His apostles (and their successors) into “all the truth” (John 16:13), also has the Spirit-given ability (only in a very rare and very rigidly defined set of circumstances) to speak infallibly on the whole college’s behalf, as Peter the Head (Greek Protos, “First” or “Chief” of the Apostles in Matthew 10:2) frequently spoke (usually in lesser matters) on behalf of the whole group. Outside of this extremely rarely used ability of the pope to define matters of faith or morals without gathering the whole college of bishops in Ecumenical Council (and note the only twice in history this was done, in 1854 and 1950, it was still done with the consultation of the bishops so the pope acted truly as their spokesman), popes are entirely fallible and can make exceptional errors in judgement. It must be said that one of these errors was that although Innocent III could not have forcibly removed the military structures the Crusaders set up in Constantinople, he did not stand up in protest to protect the dignity of the legitimate Eastern Rites of so many Catholic Saints of the East as his successor Pope Benedict XIV in the 1700s would, when he prescribed punishments for Roman Catholic missionaries working in Eastern Orthodox territories who were making their “converts” practice the Roman Rite. Pope Benedict XIV as the universal-level protos (first or chief) of all the Patriarchs and their Patriarchates East and West celebrating different Eastern and Western Rites in the 1700s stood up against Roman Rite prejudice with the words, “the point is to make them Catholics, not Romans.” But the fact Innocent III failed to similarly defend ancient and legitimate (and enriching!) Eastern differences from the particular Roman Church’s particularly Roman norms after the debacle of the 1204 Crusade, and the fact this intolerable situation lasted 60 years until the Roman Catholics were forcibly and militarily removed, understandably engendered a grudge in the populace of the East, who returned the Crusaders’ Western superiority and anti-Eastern prejudice, now taken to a higher level in the violent sacking, with a more virulent and vehement strain of the previous Eastern superiority and anti-Roman prejudice which had contributed their side of the 1054 Great Schism. This left them particularly vulnerable to the Muslim manipulations of their later conquerors to sabotage the East/West Reunion at Florence.
The 1439 Reunion Council of Florence, though sadly still without explicitly recognizing and dealing with the underlying root of the Schism in the unconscious “unity equals uniformity” principle and the accompanying cultural prejudice on both sides, yet made much genuine Ecumenical progress because the bishops and theologians of both sides (and the Byzantine Patriarch and the Roman Pope, who were present) took so much time to so thoroughly hash out the theological differences and language barriers and concluded that they indeed shared the same orthodox and Catholic faith of the First Millennium, and had merely been “aiming at the same meaning with different words,” which led them to joyfully if prematurely together declare the Great Schism healed. The Eastern and Western leaders actually involved in the Council, therefore, having had opportunity to “step into each other’s shoes” and see their same faith from a different perspective, had many of their unconscious prejudices dismantled and reduced by undergoing this long ecumenical process at Ferrara in 1438 and Florence in 1439. Not so the populace back home, however, and there was much popular resistance to the union in the East afterwards, though all the Patriarchs of Constantinople held to the union, and there is reason to hope they may have eventually led their flocks to let go of the old grudge and prejudice for the 1204 sacking and fully accept the union, had it not been for Muslim interference. The East/West Reunion of Florence finally failed for the majority of the Christian East after the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1453, and the manipulations of the new Muslim Sultan Mohammed II, who picked the most anti-Roman of his conquered slaves, the leader of the opposition to the union, who was the hand-picked successor of the only Eastern leader at Florence not to sign the union, and made him the new Patriarch of Constantinople, knowing he would abandon the reunion with the Christian West which well suited the Sultan’s Muslim purposes. Because of the Muslim interference, the anti-Roman prejudice of the populace could no longer be gradually curbed by education and pastoral leadership from a Christian-chosen Patriarch, but was fanned into a flame still burning in some quarters by a Muslim-chosen Patriarch. Only in modern times, when the evil of prejudice, of judging others as wrong or inferior wherever different, has become consciously recognized as evil because of how the Nazi regime systematically applied it, have the conditions been right for Christian East and West to once again seek to restore their First Millennium unity they always knew Christ desired for them, and they have already, in the official Catholic/Orthodox Dialogue of Love begun in 1958 and Theological Dialogue begun in 1982, together re-established a sense of the proper “unity in multiplicity” or “unity in diversity” of Christ’s Church which they lacked for so long. This unity in diversity will be shown to be Biblically rooted as God’s plan for His Church from all Eternity, the Undivided Early Catholic Church’s Pentarchy of Patriarchates the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, in Covenant Family Theology, built on Covenant Theology, which is a mature and sophisticated expression on a direct line of development with the “deifying adoption” or “Divine sonship” theme of the Biblical interpretation of the Early Church Fathers.
<End of Digression>
Picking up where we left off after that important digression: Saint Maximus the Confessor, as a giant in both Christian East and West, is first to in a more systematic way tie those above two important streams of the Tradition of Biblical interpretation together, identifying our Christian deification as “partakers of the Divine Nature” (2 Peter 1:4) with our adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:5 et al), in phrases such as “the fullness of deity dwell[s] in us by adoption” (Maximus, Chapters on Knowledge II:21).
Saint Symeon the New Theologian
The deification theme based on 2 Peter 1:4 was always more prominent in the Christian East than in the West, and its combination with Biblical “adoption to sonship” as a deifying adoption in Maximus gets more thoroughly developed more quickly in the Christian East. The next major figure to develop this theme in the East is the Byzantine Saint Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022), who may be described as an “Eastern Catholic,” living before the Great Schism that separated the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Catholic Church in 1054, and who also may be described as a “Charismatic” Christian, a Christian mystic of the highest calibre who was Abbot of an Urban Monastery in Constantinople which had much contact with the laypeople of the city, and who was utterly convinced that the heights of mystical experience of the God who is Love were meant for every baptised Christian, all made sons in God’s Family “by adoption and Grace” (Symeon, The Discourses).
Saint Gregory Palamas and Eastern “Palamism” as a Mature Sophisticated Development of the Eastern Church Fathers, Complementary to Western Scholasticism
Later the Eastern, Byzantine Saint Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) will develop a very sophisticated theological system (sometimes called Palamism) which is a mature development of the thought of the Eastern Church Fathers on a direct line with Saints Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers, Maximus, and Symeon the New Theologian. The long line of Fathers who spoke of the paradoxical Transcendence yet Immanence of God are given a new sophisticated terminology in Palamas’ distinction between the Uncreated Essence and the Uncreated Energies (Greek energeia) of God, the Essence being the Transcendent, utterly incomprehensible and “wholly other” aspects of God we will never understand fully, and the Energies being the aspects of God (including “Uncreated Grace”) which indwell us and empower us spiritually, which are immediately, personally, and intimately Immanent to us. His system takes the deifying adoption of Saints Maximus and Symeon to new heights, speaking of “His deifying gift and energy, the grace of adoption, the uncreated deification” by which we are made part of God’s Family and sharers in the nature of God Himself in a loving relationship with God, “This grace is in fact a relationship” (Palamas, The Triads). Saint Gregory Palamas was initially canonized in the East after the Great Schism but he has been approved by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for Eastern Catholic veneration as a Saint, where he is considered a “Father of the Church” by the traditional Eastern use of the term which unlike the West does not restrict “Church Fathers” who made enormous contributions to the Church to the First Millennium (usually ending with Eastern, Antiochian Saint John Damascene (c.676-749). The Catholic Church in the West developed instead the formal use of the term “Doctor” to denote Christians of any Millennium, early or late, Eastern or Western, who made such huge contributions to the Universal Church. Palamism, being so clearly a sophisticated, developed expression of what the previous Eastern Fathers had written, thus represents “mature Eastern theology.” Though “Palamism” as a theological system developed directly from the Eastern Fathers is very compatible with the theology coming out of the 20th Century Catholic “ressourcement” movement culminating in Vatican II which deliberately “got back to” the early sources of Christianity in the Fathers, pre-Vatican II it was treated with suspicion by many Western theologians, since its theological categories were not immediately clearly compatible with Scholastic theological categories, during the inappropriate dominance of Scholasticism to the exclusion of complementary approaches which developed in the West while it was unnaturally cut off from the East. Even for the natural mystery of the physical universe more than one approach is necessary to best describe the universe, currently Einsteinian Relativity for the “macro level” and Quantum Mechanics for the “micro level,” even though the two approaches are not apparently compatible with each other! How much more does the greater supernatural mystery of God and His ways require more than one approach to best illuminate it, which is why, as Covenant Family Theology shows, God arranged at Babel for there to be different cultures which, renewed in Jesus in the Early Church Patriarchates, would together be able to discern and explicate more of His Mystery than any of these Eastern and Western Patriarchal Sister Churches could alone. In fact Palamism is very easily compatible with Vatican II categories based on the Fathers’ theology which the Catholic Church cannot ever outgrow since these Early Church Fathers laid the foundations of Catholic theology, and it has been recognized by the Catholic Church as fruitful and valuable as a complimentary system to Scholasticism, which retains its own valuable contribution to Catholic theology though it should not inappropriately dominate Catholic theology as it once did when the Catholic West was isolated from the Catholic East. Still, in a demonstration of East/West complementarity, Scholasticism even has “Eastern roots” in the Eastern, Antiochian Catholic Saint and Doctor John Damascene, who like later Scholasticism would base his explication of the Orthodox and Catholic faith on the philosophical categories of Aristotle.
The Development of Deifying Adoption/Divine Sonship in the West
As discussed above, Saint Ambrose in the Roman West connects Christian adoption by God with Christian deification by God earlier, Saint Augustine frequently refers to Christian adoption (and Pope Saint Leo the Great calls Christians “the people of God’s adoption”), but it is Saint Maximus as (posthumous) hero of the 6th Ecumenical Council, an Eastern Father also associated with the West for his quarter century there, who really solidly ties the previous Traditions together as “deifying adoption.” Although this theme will be developed more thoroughly more quickly in the East, both before and after the Great Schism, after Maximus it is also part of the Western Christian consciousness. The theme shows up in Western Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who writes that “a man, being made a partaker of the Divine Nature, is adopted as a son of God, to whom the inheritance is due by right of adoption” (Summa Theologica I-II 1.114 a.3 resp.), which as the East’s deifying adoption identifies our deification as “partakers of the Divine Nature” (2 Peter 1:4) with our adoption as sons of God. The Council of Trent will similarly speak of “Divine adoption.” The Biblical theme of the Christian’s adoption by God comes up also in Western Saints Bernard of Clairveaux, Bonaventure, John of the Cross, (Saint and Doctor) Alphonsus de Liguori and others, and frequently in the Doctor of the Church Saint Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). Bellarmine’s “adoption by Grace” implies Trent’s “Divine adoption,” and by the time of Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church “Grace” will commonly be defined as “God’s Divine Life shared with us,” which is essentially the Eastern concepts of “Uncreated Grace” and “deification” with different words. Through Grace, God’s Divine Life shared with us, we are adopted by God the Father and become members of the very Body of Jesus Christ who is the only natural (not adopted) Son of God, “sons in the Son.”
Scott Hahn’s Covenant Theology and Covenant Family Theology (or Family Theology) Built on It as Heirs to the Long Tradition of the Biblical Interpretation of Deifying Adoption/Divine Sonship Since the Early Fathers
So, through the above Western Tradition and possibly influenced by the early 20th Century Western Church’s “ressourcement” or “getting back to the sources” movement leading up to Vatican II, which exposed Roman Catholic Christians again to the treasures of the Eastern Tradition of the Church Fathers which had more markedly developed “deifying adoption,” Western Saint Josemaría Escrivá (1902-1975) was exposed to this great Biblical theme developed through Christian history since the Early Fathers, and he made divine sonship (which is clearly equivalent to deifying adoption) the foundation of his movement Opus Dei which promotes among lay Christians the universal call to holiness. Protestant pastor turned Catholic scholar Scott Hahn became a member of Opus Dei, and it seems not surprising that with such a foundation for the movement Hahn, as a Biblical Theologian soaked in the Scriptures, noticed in the Scriptures that the Covenant is the precise legal form of adoption and thus Hahn makes humanity’s being made part of God’s Divine Trinitarian Family through Covenant adoptions the essence of his Biblical Covenant Theology. This makes Scott Hahn’s highly popular Covenant Theology a mature flowering of the Sacred Tradition of Biblical interpretation on a direct line of development through Christian history from the Early Church Fathers. Since my Covenant Family Theology framework is built on it, I believe this is what makes the “broad synthesis” I call Covenant Family Theology so fruitful, so helpful for inspiring the reading of the Bible and so full of implications for the eventual restoration of Christian unity in diversity “so that the world may believe.”
The Development of Covenant Family Theology from Covenant Theology and Endorsements Confirming its Value and Fruitfulness for Ecumenism and Vatican II Implementation
I offer to the reader the Covenant Family Theology or Family Theology framework presented in my various works with a certain confidence in its fruitfulness, having been encouraged by the feedback of my professors including Dr. Scott Hahn who laid for it the firm foundation of Biblical, systematic Covenant Theology which (since I became a professor of the Church Fathers) I have now (above) identified as being a mature flowering of the deifying adoption/Divine Sonship line of Biblical interpretation since the Early Church Fathers, as well as being attentive to the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s guidelines for interpreting the Bible from within the heart of the Church. Since I studied under Scott Hahn, he has been further developing and strengthening the scholarly basis of his exceptional Covenant Theology which undergirds my fruitful Covenant Family Theology framework. While most of his very popular books are written for a popular audience, his 2009 book Kinship by Covenant: a Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises is part of the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library, which gives his Covenant Theology approach the highest scholarly credibility. Moreover, his book Covenant and Communion: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (also 2009) among other things demonstrates from the writings of Pope Benedict XVI (before and after becoming pope) the compatibility of Hahn’s Covenant Theology with the Biblical Theology of the most learned pope of modern times (Hahn noting that Ratzinger/Benedict had influenced his own work over the years).
My first major work using the Covenant Family Theology framework (extending Hahn’s Biblical Covenant Theology backwards to the inner life of the Eternal Trinity and forwards to the Undivided Early Church after the Biblical record ended) was Love Unbounded: Tracing Salvation History from the Eternal Trinity to the New Covenant Church – Using Covenant Family Theology to Answer the Question How and Why Does Jesus’ Death Save Us? The first draft of this book was a greatly over-length paper for Dr. Scott Hahn (and some other Master’s Theology work for him) which he wrote was “outstanding,” “excellent,” “clear, thoughtful and thorough.”
Thus encouraged by Scott Hahn’s feedback to continue pursuing theological work from within this Covenant Family Theology framework built on his Covenant Theology, I wrote several essays and other works assuming that framework, and developed the framework further in my book The Bible’s “Big Picture”: Using “Covenant Family Theology” to Understand the Single Overarching Story Told Throughout the Scriptures, Which Makes the Bible Our Family History as Christians. While working on this I realized that what I had thought was separate theological work on the precise historical nature and structure of the Undivided Early Church of the First Millennium was actually a natural outgrowth of Biblical Covenant Family Theology, the Pentarchy of Early Church Patriarchates or regional Sister Churches, each representing a different major culture to the North, South, East and West of Jerusalem, actually fulfilling much Biblical prophecy and lining up very closely with God’s Covenant plan for humanity right from the first chapter of the Bible, wherein God tells Adam to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” a command which guaranteed the development of the different cultures which, once renewed in Messiah Jesus, in the Undivided Early Church would be able to mutually enrich each other with their different cultural perspectives on the infinite truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ, and together pool their different insights at the Early Ecumenical (worldwide) Christian Councils so as to together come up with the best and most thorough explications of the saving Christian faith against all heretical challenges. This same Church structure also lined up with Vatican II’s dogmatic ecclesiology which had looked to the Undivided Early Church as its model, a model that has already born much fruit in the Catholic Church’s ecumenical relations with the Eastern Orthodox and other Churches. This meant Covenant Family Theology was an even broader “broad synthesis” than I had first imagined, even more fruitful than I first imagined, having even more to contribute to the restoration of Early Christian “unity in diversity” “so that the world may believe” when it sees our Christian “love for one another.” This one framework, which I can substantially (though not exhaustively) present in only a few dozen pages, helps one to understand the whole Bible and all Christian history to the present day as one beautiful story of God the Covenant Father of Love raising His adopted child humanity (Hebrew adam) gradually to its maturity in love, a wonderful story which we Christians are part of and are still living today (even in our divisions due to immaturity in love which were expected by God and accounted for in His plan). This one framework also shows us how to think about the Church in mature ways that are very fruitful towards restoring First Millennium Christian unity in diversity, in ways which flow naturally from the fundamental doctrines/dogmas of Christianity (especially the Trinity) and in ways which are also very consistent with Vatican II’s wonderful ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church) based on the Undivided Early Church, and how it has already been beautifully clarified in the official Joint Catholic/Orthodox Dialogue which is slowly healing the first “Great Schism” of Christianity. Thus knowing this surprisingly simple framework helps Christians to be on the cutting edge of what God is doing to restore loving Christian unity in diversity today in order to enhance the Church’s mission “so that the world may believe”! (John 17:21).
Writing a whole host of smaller and larger works in greater or lesser degree related to Covenant Family Theology but all assuming its framework, I eventually published draft web versions or excerpts of many of them on my Christian Unity in Diversity Central and The Institute for Promoting the Gift of Truth websites run by Donum Veritatis – The Gift of Truth Ministries which I founded. The larger works most directly related to Covenant Family Theology are So That the World May Believe, especially its Volume I: Rediscovering the Early Church’s Unity in Diversity, and the shorter collection of “Handouts” teaching the Covenant Family Theology framework, Covenant Family Theology and The Spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church: An Overview of the Covenant Family Theology that Revolutionizes Bible Reading and its Implications Towards the Eventual Re-Establishment of the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity. The value of this body of theological work was confirmed by my old professor Dr. Alan Schreck, who I studied under along with Scott Hahn when Dr. Schreck was Chairman of the Theology Department of the Franciscan University of Steubenville (which Blessed John Paul II called “the Catholic University most faithful to the teachings of the Church, in the whole world.” [A]). Considering this body of theological work, Dr. Alan Schreck wrote to my Ukrainian Catholic Bishop that it teaches “the true meaning and proper implementation of the Second Vatican Council,” which I gratefully received as high praise coming from Dr. Schreck who as well as a Church historian is an expert on Vatican II, having written a number of books on the Council and regularly teaching it at Franciscan University of Steubenville, known world-wide for its dynamic Catholic orthodoxy. Dr. Schreck further encouraged me to continue theological and educational work in this direction by formally endorsing my Christian education and Vatican II implementation ministry, writing
This ministry is certainly deserving of the prayers and financial support of all faithful Catholics . . . I strongly support, and recommend your support of the Donum Veritatis (The Gift of Truth) Ministries as an effective and important means to spread the Catholic faith and to promote Christian unity. It really is a ‘gift’ to the ‘Internet Generation.’ ”
Further recognition of the ecumenical fruitfulness of the Covenant Family Theology framework which is behind everything on my ministry’s websites came from my being invited to the 6th, 7th, and 8th Annual Springtime of Faith Rome Summits for being considered “one of the dynamic leaders building the New Springtime Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have talked about” (sadly I only attended the 7th Annual Summit due to severe funding problems during my current doctoral studies). These Catholic-hosted Ecumenical Summits brings together Protestant and Catholic leaders (including Cardinals, Vatican II Council Father and Vatican Curia Cardinal Francis Arinze heading the Springtime of Faith Foundation’s International Episcopal Advisory Board), and I am honoured to have the distinction of being the first Eastern-Rite Christian to attend the Summits, which allowed me the opportunity to present to the gathered Roman Catholic and Protestant/Evangelical leaders the generally encouraging state of the current East/West Christian dialogue towards healing Christianity’s first Great Schism which set the bad precedent and bad tone for all the others. With such recognition from Scott Hahn, Dr. Alan Schreck, long-time Theology Chair of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and the Springtime of Faith Rome Summits, I am encouraged that I can present the Covenant Family Theology Framework to readers for their great benefit as Bible readers and as active Christians empowered by the traditional Christian faith to fruitfully work towards the reunification of the Christian Church (a “unity in Love” in the short term and even, in the long term, a full structural “unity in diversity” patterned after the Undivided Early Church’s Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox (non-heretical) Christian particular or “Sister” Churches) for a united Christian witness to the world which so desperately needs to see the Love of Jesus in us “for one another” (John 13:35), so that we may like the Early Church also fruitfully work towards the transformation of our greater society with the Love of Jesus.
Covenant Family Theology as a Complement to (And an Orthodox Foundation For) Other Theological Approaches to Understanding the Bible
Covenant Family Theology is not meant to replace all other ways of looking at the Bible, nor to answer all theological questions which can be asked of the Bible’s infinitely rich text. Rather, Family Theology is a Systematic Biblical Theology which provides a foundation and background for other, deeper and more focused theological investigations. I believe Family Theology is the best such background available because of how its “Big Picture” encompasses the entirety of the Christian Scriptures (both Testaments) and incorporates all the fundamentals or essentials of Christian faith.
In the natural sciences, Einstein’s Relativity Theory explains the natural universe in “macro” very well – it gives “the Big Picture” of the universe. However, it is not sufficient for answering smaller questions – and thus other perspectives on the universe are needed to supplement Relativity Theory, particularly Quantum Mechanics which explains the natural universe in “micro” very well. Likewise in the theological sciences, no one interpretational theory can answer every single Biblical and theological question, and so Covenant Family Theology must be supplemented by other theological approaches to yield the fullest understanding of the Bible. As different theological approaches come and go all the time, and since none that I am aware of are near so Biblically comprehensive and fundamentally orthodox as Family Theology, I would suggest that theological ideas can appropriately be judged by whether or not they are compatible with Covenant Family Theology.
Theology Is Not Faith, but Faith Seeking Understanding
Still, it should always be kept in mind that theology is not faith – it is faith seeking understanding. Faith is an obedient response to what God has revealed to His Family the Church in His Living Word, Jesus Christ, who came to Earth, died, rose, ascended, and who today dwells in our hearts; and in His Written Word, the Bible (and the dogmas or fundamental interpretations of the Bible which are the standards of orthodox Christianity – see the “Creed” Tab). Theology is faith seeking understanding, the science of human wisdom applied to the data of this Divine Revelation, looking for patterns of order and building theories of how the various elements of Divine Revelation we accept in faith “fit together.” It is very possible to share completely common orthodox Christian faith in what God has revealed, and have widely different theological opinions. In fact, this is a big part of the mutually enriching unity in diversity of the Undivided Early Church – many of our different theological insights are complementary not contradictory, and we can learn much from each other’s insights, which enriches the faith of all parties. Some theological theories are incompatible with each other, some of which are tried for a while by some Christians and prove not so fruitful, and are eventually dropped for better, more fruitful theories – just as scientific theories are – but this does not mean the Christians who held these theological theories for a time did not share completely orthodox common Christian faith in what God has revealed with those who did not hold it. Theology is not faith, it is an attempt to intellectually understand what we believe in faith (therefore differences in theology are not sufficient grounds for Christian divisions, as they were not in the Undivided Early Universal (Greek katholikos, or Catholic) Christian Church of the First Millennium, which was composed of several different orthodox Christian regional “Sister Churches, both Eastern and Western. I present Covenant Family Theology to the reader because I believe it is an exceptionally fruitful way of understanding the entire Bible in a way which is completely orthodox, true to the fundamentals of Christianity, and demonstrates how New Covenant Christian history is a continuation of the Biblical Covenant history in a way which could be very fruitful towards the divided Christian Church of today eventually re-establishing the loving unity in diversity of the Early Undivided Church of Jesus Christ, as Jesus prayed for which obligates us to seek such unity.
Excerpts from The Bible’s ‘Big Picture’ contains only an overview of Family Theology and how it shows the “Big Picture” of the entire Bible, focused on the Covenant Theology aspect of Family Theology. For those interested in understanding and exploring this deeper, I go into more detail to describe and demonstrate Family Theology (especially the Trinitarian Theology part of it) in my book-length essay, Love Unbounded: Tracing Salvation History from the Eternal Trinity to the New Covenant Church – Using Family Theology to Answer the Question “How and Why Does Jesus’ Death Save Us?” , from which several excerpts are published on this website. Several things I simply state in Excerpts from The Bible’s ‘Big Picture’ I take the time to “prove” from the Scriptures and the Early Church’s understanding of them in this essay.
Covenant Family Theology as Not Only an Extremely Rich and Beautiful Framework but Also as Potentially a Common Overview Framework for Biblical Studies, as a Further Basis for Renewed Christian Unity
A solid overview of the Trinitarian Theology and Covenant Theology which I combine (together with Christian history) as Covenant Family Theology (or “Family Theology”) can also be found, respectively, in the books First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity and A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture, both by my former professor, the noted author and Biblical theologian Dr. Scott Hahn. Carefully attentive to the Early Church Fathers and the Pontifical Biblical Commission (especially the PBC’s The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church), Dr. Hahn drew on much Jewish, Eastern and Western Christian, Catholic and Protestant Christian Biblical scholarship to put together Covenant Theology as I present it, so it represents the collective Biblical insights of all who love God and His written Word in Scripture. While Scott Hahn is famous for writing popular works of theology, his scholarly book Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises (from The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library) puts his Covenant Theology, which is the core of my Covenant Family Theology work, at the cutting edge of scholarship, his contribution recognized at the highest level.
Covenant Family Theology is built upon Trinitarian and Covenant theology, and it follows the “golden threads” throughout the tangle of human history from the Biblical Covenant made with Adam through to the present day New Covenant Church of Jesus “the New Adam.” Thus Family Theology is a thoroughly orthodox way of looking at the Scriptures – true to traditional, historic, orthodox Christian faith as preserved by the Catholic, Orthodox, and conservative/ Evangelical Protestant churches (see the Common Creed). Protestant Christian readers will want to know that Family Theology is also a thoroughly Biblical way of looking at the Scriptures, for it incorporates the entire Bible, respecting every verse as the Divine words of God to His adopted Family the Church (and making beautiful sense out of a great deal of its “difficult” passages). Catholic Christian readers will want to know that Family Theology is also a thoroughly Catholic way of looking at the Scriptures, which keeps the official dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church (from the Early Church Councils which established Christian fundamentals through to Vatican Council II) completely in view, and it actually provides the best theological and Biblical explanation for several things which the Catholic Church now officially teaches as its mature reflection on Divine Revelation since the ecumenically-focussed Vatican Council II, but without explaining in near such depth as Family Theology explains them.
It is my hope and prayer that Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Christian readers (and ‘Messianic Jews’) – who already share common Scriptures and a vast common faith listed in the Common Creed– will find in Family Theology a wonderfully beautiful common framework from which to view ‘the Big Picture’ of the Bible and its ongoing story through history of the one, common Covenant Family of the Holy Trinity of Divine Love which we all belong to through Jesus Christ.
© 2007, 2010,2014 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
Go to Excerpts from The Bible’s ‘Big Picture’ — Using “Family Theology” to Understand the Single Overarching Story Told Throughout the Scriptures, Which Makes the Bible Our Family History as Christians
Go to The Spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early Church : An Overview of the Family Theology that Revolutionizes Bible Reading and its Implications Towards the Eventual Re-Establishment of the Undivided Early Church’s Unity in Diversity
If you were informed, educated, inspired, touched or intrigued by any of the materials or book excerpts on this website, please prayerfully consider supporting the free internet publication of more materials like them by going to Prayer and Donations Support
[A] This was testified by Father Ilija Zivkovic, the Minister General of the Franciscan Third Order Regular (TOR), at Mass in Christ the King Chapel at Franciscan University of Steubenville, on Monday, July 28, 2003. The worldwide head of the TOR, based in Rome, reported that he saw John Paul II frequently, and he said that whenever the Pope saw him, “Holy Father always asks, ‘how is Steubenville?’ “ When he talked to Blessed John Paul II shortly before coming to Steubenville in 2003, “Holy Father said Steubenville was the CatholicUniversity most faithful to the teachings of the Church, in the whole world.” I am certain that the Pope did not intend his statement as part of a definitive ranking of faithful Catholic Universities, but Blessed Pope John Paul II clearly intended to convey his high opinion of Franciscan University of Steubenville as one of the most faithful Catholic Universities in the world, as a compliment to the head of the Order which runs the University.