08 January 2011

Subterranean scribbling: this needs unpacking

In a recent post on Weedon's blog, Pr. Weedon said:

Third, that Moses is instructed to put the ten words into the ark (Deut. 10), suggests that the fulfillment of the ten words, how they will come to realization, will only be through His work in the incarnate Lord, who is like unto the ark of the living God, tabernacling among us (John 1:14). It is only through union with Christ that the "ten words," which are God's plan and purpose for our lives, come to their true fulfillment. The words are hidden within the Ark - the will of God for our lives to be wholly love is similarly hidden within His Son, who is the perfect embodiment of the will of God for the race of men and to whom the commandments are never condemnatory for His heart and His life are wholly congruent with them - love enfleshed - to love His Father with His all, to love His neighbor as Himself - you and me - that is the very ache, joy, and content of His being. He perfectly lives them and so He is our perfect righteousness given to us; and He will bring about the perfect fulfillment of them which He begins to work within us in this life and brings to consummation at the Day of His appearing (accomplishing what Jeremiah foretold in his 31st chapter - that the Torah would be written on our hearts - that is, that it would be our DESIRE to fulfill it).

I quote the entire passage so as to be fair. What's intriguing here, for an Orthodox Christian, is that Pr. Weedon equates the ark of the covenant to Christ. For the Orthodox, Mary--not Christ--is the ark.

Still, it is difficult to articulate the comparison Pr. Weedon is making here. First, he refers to "the incarnate Lord, who is like unto the ark of the living God, tabernacling among us (John 1:14)." Then later he says "The words are hidden within the Ark - the will of God for our lives to be wholly love is similarly hidden within His Son, who is the perfect embodiment of the will of God for the race of men and to whom the commandments are never condemnatory..."

Something funny is going on here, and someone with more ability than I have (are you reading this, Perry Robinson?) might have fun contrasting the Orthodox Mary-as-ark with the Weedonian Christ-as-ark positions. I have a hunch that somewhere in the Christ-as-ark view will be a Nestorianizing Christology. But the semester has begun once again, alas!



Nathaniel said...

I think if anything it represents an odd sort of Apollinarianism where the 10 "words"/logos resides within the person of Jesus. However, I think it worthy to separate the intention from the effect. The effect of this interpretation is heresy to be sure, but I don't think this to be Pr Weedon's intention but rather just a clumsy construction.

It is not correct to say that the "words" of the Old Testament dwell in Christ. This undoes the entire argument of St Paul against the circumcisors since the end result of this argument is that the OT law is eternal (which it is not). Rather, the "10 words" are Christ himself prefigured (this is the entire argument of Galatians 3). Since this is the case, and not one of our own invention, the Deut 10 passage must be interpreted as Christ himself enters the ark and tabernacles with us. He is, as Pope St Clement calls Him, the sceptre of the majesty of God. The ark is the bearer of the words. Since Christ is the "words" and the shekinah within the ark, the ark may be interpreted as follows:

1. (principally) Mary, the Mother of God
2. the Tomb of Christ
3. the Apostles (who bear Christ to us)
4. the Apostolic (episcopal) office
5. others...

However, interpreting either the ark or both the words and the ark as a prefigured type of Christ maligns the central arguments of St Paul and indeed our Christological dogma.

Lvka said...

For the Orthodox, Mary--not Christ--is the ark.

That's untrue. The metaphor is used for both.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Lvka, I am willing to be corrected. Can you document your claim, please? Thank you!

Nathaniel said...

I decided to research this a bit and, finding plenty of material in the pre-Nicean period alone, I decided to stop at the end of Schaff's ANF due to my limited time. While there are no direct references I can see to the early half of Deut 10, there are numerous allusions. In general there is a lot of interpretive agreement within these works. Thus, I'll highlight the three major uses of the ark-type (pun intended) using Hippolytus and then talk about some variants.

'And, moreover, the ark made of imperishable wood was the Saviour Himself. For by this was signified the imperishable and incorruptible tabernacle of (the Lord) Himself, which gendered no corruption of sin. For the sinner, indeed, makes this confession: “My wounds stank, and were corrupt, because of my foolishness.” But the Lord was without sin, made of imperishable wood, as regards His humanity; that is, of the virgin and the Holy Ghost inwardly, and outwardly of the word of God, like an ark overlaid with purest gold.' (Hippolytus, On Psalm 22/23) He also calls Mary the ark since the Spirit from outside planted the Word within her. (On Daniel II.5,6)

Finally, Hippolytus calls Christ the ark which conquers the world. (On the Psalms I.9)

In Hippolytus (leaving redactions and the multi-Hippolytan thesis aside for a moment) we see all three major interpretations that I tried to highlight in my first post:
1. Christological
2. Mariological
3. Missiological

Each of the Christological interpretations (henceforth CI) in Schaff's ANF use the illustration of the "imperishable wood," an allusion to Acacia wood mentioned in Deut 10:3. This illustration, that the wood used to construct the ark was durable and pure, is then directly tied with Christ's flesh or body. Most of the CIs don't mention Mary, as Hippolytus does in his "On Psalm 22/23" passage (which I consider to be a hybrid Christological/Mariological due to its mixture of both themes). However, it should be pointed out that Mary is a natural fit for inclusion into these passages since without exception they relate to Christ's flesh which, according to all the illustrious teachers sampled, is from Mary. One other oddity of the Hippolytan example is that he inverts the "within/without" imagery so that the Word is on the outside and the Spirit on the inside. This is not typical of the other CIs.

One other slightly odd CI is to be found in a fragment attributed to Irenaeus:
'[The ark is] declared a type of the body of Christ, which is both pure and immaculate. For as that ark was gilded with pure gold both within and without, so also is the body of Christ pure and resplendent, being adorned within by the Word, and shielded on the outside by the Spirit, in order that from both [materials] the splendour of the natures might be exhibited together.' (Irenaeus Fragment, Schaff vol 1, p576)

Nathaniel said...

Although for the most part this is a standard CI, it does have a few oddities. First, it is most likely the earliest of all the interpretations (of any type) chronologically. Second, this fragment is the only case where both the ark and Word are linked to Christ. Third, the Christology of this fragment, although fully orthodox when held together with the broader Irenaean corpus, is certainly unable to hold up to the later rigors of Nicea and its related controversies.

I would not normally build a case on such a small fragment, however, the triadology represented in this fragment is so thoroughly Irenaean it is in this case a safe premise. His triadology can be roughly said to be neo-Philoan where the hands (Philo: powers) are outstretched into the economy, revealing the Father. We must at this point note that this is the exact structure of this fragment: the Word and the Spirit reveal the "splendour of the natures," that is, the Father. Hence we come to the fourth oddity of this passage: it is the only of the CIs which attempts to answer both Christological questions *and* Trinitarian ones.

There are a few other references which to not fit the Christological/Mariological/Missiological pattern above. Since they are not directly related to our context, I'll merely list them:

Clement of Alexandria calls the ark the 'world of thought, which is hidden and closed to the many' but which, when opened, fills all with the Word which it contains. (The Stromata V.VI,V.X) His idea here is something similar to Justin Martyr's "seeds of the word."

Tertullian calls Christ the ark in reference to its 8-day march around Jericho, thus prefiguring his resurrection. In the next chapter he calls the Apostles the 12 stones within the ark. (Contra Marcion - IV.XII)

Victorinus, at the end of the eleventh chapter of his commentary on the Apocalypse, calls Christ's body the temple and the ark represents all the good gifts of God, including the preaching of the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins.

Lvka said...

Metaphores such as Temple and Ark are used for both Christ and Mary, for obvious reasons. I'm amazed that you're surprised: haven't you paid any attention to the services you perform religiously? :-)

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...


Thank you for your thoughtful reflections and research. They are most helpful.


I never said I was surprised. Why should I be surprised that someone else knows more than I do? Perhaps you can offer one or two specific examples, so that I can think about them in context. Thank you.