Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pseudo Dionysius and Other Orthodox Pseudo Saints

Something has come up in the comments that I have neither the time nor the desire to explore in great detail, but I wanted to bring it up here for the sake of anyone who may be following the conversation, and who might be interested in tracking some of these things down.

The anonymous commenter EBW has taken issue with my portrayal of Ananias, which I derived from Darrell Bock, who, in his Commentary on Acts, refers to him as a "non-apostle." Ananias was the individual who, in Acts 9, laid hands on Saul after his Damascus Road experience, "so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit."

Bock said, "It is significant that here a non-apostle is the mediator of the Spirit. The church's ministry is expanding in ways that mean that non-apostles will do important work."

In retelling the story of his conversion, in Acts 22, Paul describes him as "a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there." That's all the scriptural reference we have to him. It should be noted that Luke does not describe him as "one of the seventy."

Nevertheless, the Orthodox church holds that he is "one of the seventy." EBW wants to say "he was sent" to lay hands on Paul, and therefore, he was an "apostle" (supposedly supporting Bellisario's claim that Paul somehow need to "have hands laid upon him to receive apostolic authority"). There is no "early tradition" on Ananias, only "later tradition." I've provided a link to some of that later "tradition":
Later tradition has much to say regarding Ananias. He is represented as one of the "Seventy," and it is possible he may have been a personal disciple of Jesus. He is also described as bishop of Damascus, and reported to have met a violent death, [either a] slain by the sword of Pol, the general of Aretas, according to one authority, or [b] according to another, stoned to death after undergoing torture at the hand of Lucian, prefect of Damascus. His name stands in the Roman and Armenian Martyrologies, and he is commemorated in the Abyssinian Calendar.
It looks like "earlier tradition" was silent, and "later tradition" can't make up its mind. This is a sure recipe for a phony.

There's a reason why I don't want to track down every Orthodox "Saint" who has a feast day.

When Paul preached at Athens, he was not well received. Nevertheless, "a few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus" (Acts 17:34).

In the fifth century, there were some writings that appeared under the name of "Dionysius the Areopagite." These writings were cited as authentic by both Pope Gregory the Great and John of Damascus. Thomas Aquinas quoted large portions of these writings as if they were authentic and passed them along.

Yet he was a fake. He was not the Areopagite from Acts 17, but a 5th or 6th century Neoplatonist. It was only at the time of the Reformation that critical scholarship began to expose this supposed "apostolic father" as a fraud.

Yet the Orthodox Church still reveres him as authentic -- the OCA website says that even though he "piously borrowed an illustrious name, this in no way diminishes the profound theological significance of the works." To be sure, Pseudo-Dionysian characterizations of God [more than Biblical writings about God] still shape Roman Catholic conceptions of God and hierarchy.

We live in a world in which Christianity is locked in a huge number of struggles, and the most important thing it offers is that it is the Truth. Based on this Truth, Christians seek high office. We ask that laws be written, based on Judeo-Christian ethics. We do not need to have non-Christians characterizing Christianity as if it were just one more religion among the cults. It's bad enough that a devout Mormon may be running for President again.

Christianity is "a sure faith." It is based on genuine historical events. Jesus Christ was a real man, who was crucified by Roman authorities who are attested in history. His disciples were eyewitnesses to his life, death, and resurrection. They gave their lives in support of this testimony. Other Christians argue every day that the Biblical account of creation in Genesis coheres with the scientific truth of the creation of the universe. Each day, Christians struggle to bring the Christian account to the world and to the culture in millions of different scenarios.

None of us should be in this struggle for the sake of playing "make-believe." Nothing in Christianity says we need to check our brains at the door. Christianity is "true truth." Nothing about it should come off as false.

14 comments:

Lvka said...

Well... he was one of the Lord's disciples, as the Bible [that you've quoted] clearly says. (Not sure what your mental problem is here with him).

Ananias didn't ordain Paul, he cured him of his illness, healing his blindness.

Paul was called by Christ Himself, as both Acts and his epistles make abundantly clear.

BUT they also make it clear that he consulted himself with his fellow-Apsotles, and did not go off as a maverick or renegade. (Galatians 1:18-19, 2:1-2, 2:9; etc.)

Lvka said...

The disciples of the Lord were not unlimited in number, so Bock's off when he speaks of ther "expansion" of the church's ministry so as to include Ananias, who was there from the get-go...

And I don't quite understand what seems so "significant" to him that non-apostles are mediators of the Holy Spirit: I mean, it's not exactly like the Scriptures make it a secret that the Holy Ghost is given by the laying on of hands of the Apostles AND elders (priests, shepherds, bishops), like in 1 Timothy 4:14, for instance.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Yet he was a fake. He was not the Areopagite from Acts 17, but a 5th or 6th century Neoplatonist. It was only at the time of the Reformation that critical scholarship began to expose this supposed "apostolic father" as a fraud.

Yet the Orthodox Church still reveres him as authentic -- the OCA website says that even though he "piously borrowed an illustrious name, this in no way diminishes the profound theological significance of the works."


Laughably pathetic delusion which need not perpetuate itself. The fact that it does evidences intentional self-deception.

John Bugay said...

he was one of the Lord's disciples, as the Bible [that you've quoted] clearly says.

Yes, he's very clearly called a "disciple." What he's not very clearly called at all is "one of the seventy." The fact that he is from Damascus, and not, say, Galilee is very telling.

Ananias didn't ordain Paul, he cured him of his illness, healing his blindness.

Did you see EBW's comment? Much less Matthew Bellisario's statement? He's trying to tell me (a) that Ananias (a) was an apostle, and (b) "ordained" Paul.

Paul was called by Christ Himself, as both Acts and his epistles make abundantly clear.

Yes, you and I are on the same side on this one!!!

BUT they also make it clear that he consulted himself with his fellow-Apsotles

Of course he would want to consult with them -- meet with them, let them know what happened. That Christ had called him to be one among them. But neither they nor this consultation added anything to his Gospel or to his authority.

And I don't quite understand what seems so "significant" to him that non-apostles are mediators of the Holy Spirit:

It seems possible that he's just trying to leave open the possibility for a Pentecostal understanding of the early church.

EBW said...

Mr. Bugay,

I can see how battle-weary you've become. Fighting a lack of desire, anonymous commentators, OCA, early and late traditions, phonies, frauds, Mormons and cults is very difficult.
Now, just before exhaustion sets, please try to address my "WRITTEN" (biblical, for any non-apostles reading this)
portrayal of Ananias as an Apostle to Saul.
Your writing was not in vain. In fact, it has given me much to consider for tracking these things.

John Bugay said...

EBW -- what you've "written" was a very stretched and strained way to force the issue that Ananias was "an Apostle to Saul."

I am not questioning that God would call him to perform one act or service for Paul. But what you haven't done is show (a) that he had any authority at all, or (b) that he passed along any authority at all.

Paul laid out some very definite qualifications for what constituted "an Apostle" (beyond merely being "sent") and none of that is found in Scripture, with respect to Ananias. You're just reaching for something that isn't there.

But yes, by all means, go track down the early (late) sources on Ananias.

Lvka said...

Yes, he's very clearly called a "disciple." What he's not very clearly called at all is "one of the seventy."


Christ did not possess an infinite or unlimited number of disciples; there were the 12, the 70 [Luke 10:1], some were hidden (like Joseph and Nicodemus), and then there were the pious myrrh-bearing women. Their total number amounted to about 120 [Acts 1:15]. Since Ananias was a "disciple" [Acts 9:10], and since he was neither of the 12, nor among the hidden, nor a woman, it follows that he was one of the 70 that Christ "sent" to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom in Luke 10:1. -- QED.

John Bugay said...

Lvka: Since Ananias was a "disciple" [Acts 9:10], and since he was neither of the 12, nor among the hidden, nor a woman, it follows that he was one of the 70 that Christ "sent" to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom in Luke 10:1. -- QED.

Better check that again.

Jesus's command in Matt 28 is to "make disciples."

More than 3000 "received his [Peter's] word and were baptized" on Pentecost (Acts 2:47)

Acts 6:1 -- "Now in these days when disciples were multiplying in numbers ..."

Bock: This is the first appearance in Acts of the noun for "disciples" (matheton) ...

So from a time prior to Ananias, there were far more "disciples" than just the 70. Again, given that Ananias is from Damascus, which is a far ways up the road from Jerusalem/Galilee, it's not likely that he was one of the 70.

Acts 14:21ff, Paul and Barnabas are "making many disciples" and "strengthening the souls of the disciples."

It very much appears that in Acts, Luke's use of the word "disciples" does not refer to "the 70 (or 72)"

It pays to check commentaries, where the collective wisdom resides of many who have studied these texts.

Lvka said...

Yes, you're right. -- Then I guess the fact that Ananias was one of the original or initial number of disciples of Christ hangs upon church tradition alone.

You're wrong when you say that he was "from" Damascus, though: he was "at" or "in" Damascus (which is something else altogether).

What I wanted to say was that though the number of "disciples" (or "followers" or "believers") increased, the number of the 12 or the 70 did not.

EBW said...

On behalf of the those who twist and deny:

1) Ananias was a disciple at Damascus. Scrpt is silent on his
origins.

2) Though incomplete in itself, Luke writes of his being sent from the resurrected Christ. This is the first Apostolic qualifier (AQ).

3) He preached to Saul. Acts 22:14,15 AQ#2 Acts 10:14-17

4) He taught Saul to observe Christ's very specific command.
Acts 22:15,16 AQ#3 Matt 28:16-20

5) He loosed what Christ bound. This constitutes a miracle. Matt.16& 18 Mark 16:14-20 AQ#4 Matt 10:1-4

Here is my proof that Ananias shared in Apostolic authority.
Also, he passed in on to Saul:

1) Laying on of hands Acts 9:12
( see Acts 13:1-3 for another example)

2) Baptism - receiving the grace unto the remission of sins and apostleship.

This is the biblical witness without support from Tradition or arguments of silence. No "Apostle" reference does weaken my argument.

Persuaded ?

John Bugay said...

EBW -- I'm not denying Ananias played an important role, but I am persuaded that you're reaching for something that just isn't there. In reality, he defies classification; his role is a unique, one-time role. He is moved in exactly the way that Jesus says the Spirit moves in John 3: "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

We do not know where Ananias comes from, nor do we know where he goes. To say anything more than that is truly "to go beyond what is written."

Ananias is not an apostle. He passed along a specific word from "the God of our Fathers," but it was essentially same word that God had already passed along to him -- (see Acts 26).

He does not have authority over Paul. Paul is in no way subordinate to Ananias. Paul is not somehow a part of a chain of succession. Paul, an apostle, is foundational to the church. (Eph 2:20, Rev 21:14).

Further to that, "authority" in Paul's thinking derives not from some magical power derived from "the laying on of hands," it derives from the message of the Gospel itself.



Nor can it be said that you are "arguing from Scripture." You are taking the words of Scripture and assigning your own meaning to them. You misunderstand what Scripture is. It is not some puzzle to be taken apart and put back together again, to suit your needs.

In Acts 9, what is the point of the pericope? Is it to derive that Ananias was an Apostle? No. It is to give us information about the origin of Paul's commission from the Lord. In the Acts 22 pericope, Paul is defending himself before an unruly crowd of Jews, and the point is that Jesus has commissioned Paul as part of an established divine plan. Paul was not commissioned to be part of any "succession". In either of these places, was Ananias the main character? Would it have been easy for Luke to have included that he was "one of the seventy"? If he were, do you think that would have been noteworthy for Luke? Instead, we hear nothing of it.

While Ananias has a definite role in this incident, nothing more is said of him in Scripture. It is fairly clear that the office of "bishop" did not exist at this time in church history, nor for probably another 70 years at the very earliest (Ignatius). If he was "sent," then where else was he "sent" after he accomplished this, or to whom? We have silence.

cont.

John Bugay said...

Regarding your argument:

1. The first time we see him, he is "a disciple at Damascus." How, precisely is this not a comment on his origin? Or rather, how is "silence about his origin" an affirmation for you that he still was one of the seventy? On the ground that "it doesn't exclude it"? It certainly doesn't "include" it either. How important is that? What is more important: what Scripture actually says? Or what you want it to say? Scripture is silent about the green men on Mars, too. Do you suppose that this silence is an affirmation of green men on Mars?

2. Is being "sent" from Christ an automatic qualifier for being an Apostle? Christ "sent" the 10 lepers he healed, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." Do you want to suggest that these were "Apostles"?

3/4. He did not "preach" to Saul. Everything that Ananias said to Paul had been said to him by the Lord --

Note what Ananias says in Acts 22:
"The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name."

Note what the Lord says in Acts 26:
"But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me."

Paul's commission is directly from the Lord. Ananias is just a confirmation of the message. Then Ananias disappears, and only the word from the Lord remains.

The only thing that Ananias adds to that is "be baptized." And even heretics can baptize someone, according to the Catholics.

You are seeking to "prove" something from Scripture. Instead you are twisting Scripture -- taking a word here and a word there, and putting them together like some sort of strange ransom note. Ananias was not an apostle. It is not found in Scripture, nor is it a necessary deduction from Scripture. It is only necessary to those who want desperately to scrape up some kind of Scriptural justification for a non-existent theory of "succession."

Lvka said...

Is being "sent" from Christ an automatic qualifier for being an Apostle? Christ "sent" the 10 lepers he healed, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." Do you want to suggest that these were "Apostles"?


The Seventy were "sent" by the Lord to preach the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. [Luke 10]


------------------------------
Now, as to ordination: when Ananias lays his hands on Paul to receive the Holy Ghost [Acts 9:17], that shows that Ananias was EITHER an elder OR an Apostle, because --in the entire New Testament-- they are the ONLY ones who can do that. Not even deacons could do that. (As results from a careful reading of Acts 8).


In Acts 9, Paul receives the Holy Spirit, NOT the power to give it. IOW, he is chrismated or confirmed there, not ordained. -- I just thought I should mention that.

Lvka said...

Now as to Paul's ordination by other elders or Apostles, see Acts 13:3. Paul has already become an elder or Apsotle by Acts 19:6.