The different names used to describe the day of the resurrection, do not just tell us how the gospel has been received and adapted to the different cultures of Antiquity. The name-giving also reflects a deepened insight into the mystery of Christ by showing us how the primitive church lived the new life of salvation. The message of the empty tomb is connected with occurrences on a certain day, the first day of the week. Furthermore, a meal is the context of the appearances of the Lord to his disciples. Each Gospel introduces the meal in its own way (Mark.16:2,9,14, Luke 24:30,35; John 20:1,19,26).

St. John’s Gospel tells us that the Last Supper took place before the Passover meal and that Jesus died on the day when the Passover lambs were sacrificed. In this way we are told that Jesus’ death brought the ancient Passover sacrifice to fulfillment and his appearance at the meals shows him as the Lord (20:28). In St. Luke’s Gospel, however, the Last Supper is presented as a Christian Passover meal and the effects of the new supper will only be fully realised in the heavenly banquet (22:7f,18).

Resurrection_icon - Blog on Sunday

As to the resurrection story, both St. John and St. Luke seem to reflect St. Mark’s account of the empty tomb. The Lord rose from the dead on “the first day of the week” according to the Jewish calendar (Mark 16:2). On this basis, a worship pattern is established. Because Christ rose from the dead on the day after the Sabbath, his followers regularly met on the first day of the week to celebrate together a eucharistic meal (John. 20:26).

In the same manner, St. Paul takes for granted that Christians will meet every first day of the week for a meal he calls “the breaking of the bread” (1 Cor 16:2, Acts 20:7). This expression refers to a gesture connected with a short prayer at the beginning of the Jewish family meal. Also the wording “the first day of the week” is taken from the Jewish calendar. This gives reason to assume that the Jewish-Christian community celebrated the Eucharist after the conclusion of the Sabbath when the new day began on Saturday evening.

At the same time, we find another way of dating the gathering. It has a specific Christian name, when the meal is said to take place on “the Lord’s day” (Apoc 1:10). In Didaché, which is a very old Judeo-Christian manual, the faithful are told to meet on the “Lord’s day, break the bread and celebrate the Eucharist” (14:1) This change of name for the celebration of the Eucharist probably originated in a community familiar with Greek culture. Unlike the Jews, the Greeks reckoned a day went from dawn to dawn and they would celebrate the meal in the morning with the coming of the new day. This liberation from the evening meal would then make it possible to integrate the meal in Roman planetary week calendar. We read in Justin Martyr’s Apologia I about the Christian assembly: “We come together on the day of the sun, for this is the day which God, drawing matter from darkness, created the world” (67). The day of the Sun is, of course, our Sunday.

Despite the new naming, the day of the celebration of the Christian Sunday remains the first day of the week as in the Jewish calendar. Still, the evolution of the terms reflects a deepened understanding of the importance of the empty tomb. The expression “Day of the Lord” is really equivalent to “Christ’s day”. Using this term, different Church Fathers make it clear that, as the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day is much more than the anniversary of the creation of the world. If the Sabbath was the end of the first creation, The Lord’s Day is the beginning of something greater. The resurrection of Christ restored the world by giving us the first-fruits of the new Creation. Thus the world of creation, symbolised by the seven days, is just a preliminary stage in the plan of God. As the day of the new creation, Sunday is the eighth day of the week, an image of the age to come. Thus the “Day of the Lord” prefigures our eternal rest.



The first public claim that Jesus is raised up from his tomb was made by St. Peter on the Day of Pentecost. The Apostle states before the assembled Jews that God by resurrecting the crucified Jesus has made him “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:24,36). Using a polished doctrinal formula some twenty years later St. Paul declared that through his resurrection from the dead Jesus was proclaimed to be the Son of God (Rom. 1:3f). By founding the truth of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah on an historic event, the next question is how the primitive Church came to this astonishing insight. Of particular importance are the witnesses in the gospels of St. John and St. Luke.

Seeing just the signs

The story as told in the Gospel of St. John emphasises the surprise of the disciples at finding the tomb empty. On the first day of the new week, Mary Magdalene, burdened by sorrow, comes, with other women to the tomb, and finds the stone taken away. She concludes that the gardener had removed the body (20:15) and she hurries to inform Peter and John of the theft.

The empty grave

In a state of shock the two Apostles run to the grave. Peter went into the tomb seeing the linen cloths laying in one place and the face cloth neatly folded in a place by itself (20:6f). In the preceding chapter we have been told that the body of Christ according Jewish burial custom had been bound in strips of linen with 100 pounds of spices (19:39f). On this background, Peter apparently finds Mary Magdalene’s explanation impossible. For if stolen, the gardener would not have been able to separate the body from the linen wrappings. The narrative seems to imply that Peter stands there perplexed and irresolute.

Seeing and believing

Peter’s confusion is then contrasted with the reaction of John, the disciple Jesus loved. The narrator tells that he “saw and believed” (20:8). Previously, we have been told that John, standing with the women under the cross, was the last of the disciples to leave Jesus on his way to Golgatha (19:25ff). Now he is presented as the first believer in the new Covenant.

Abruptly, the narrative now turns to the other disciples telling that they were unable to grasp what had happened. The narrator states: “For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (20:9). The meaning is clearly that this is what John had understood and believed. The empty tomb is the confirmation that the crucified is “both Lord and Christ” – as Peter declared on Pentecost Day.

Subsequently, the narrative relates that the risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalene, Peter and the other disciples. These appearances take place in the evening on the same day, the first day of the week, with the exception of Thomas who comes to belief eight days later. His conversion is set as an example for those later disciples “who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:29).

On the way to Emmaus

The resurrection story in the gospel of St. Luke follows the same pattern. We hear of Mary Magdalene and the other women going to the grave on the first day of the week and returning to tell the apostles that stone was rolled away. Peter, running to the tomb, marvels to find the linen cloths lying by themselves (24:12).


The story then introduces the two wanderers to Emmaus and their conversation with a stranger whom they finally realise is the risen Lord. This identification takes place in two steps. Firstly, the Lord makes them understand his passion and crucifiction saying to them: “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (24:25-27).

Sharing a meal with him, the two finally understood who the stranger was when “he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’“ (24:30-32).

The narrative then ends with the risen Lord appearing to the Apostles on the same day: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day” (24:45-47).

The Passion opens the Scripture

In this way, both the Gospel of St. John and St. Luke include the Eucharist in the passion and resurrection story. The death on the cross was only the end of the earthly life of Jesus. After the resurrection the living Lord is present in the community meal where he feeds the disciples with the bread of Life (John 6:53ff, 19:34, 21:12f; Luke 24:36-41).

To understand this we must use the cross of Christ as the key which opens up Scripture for us. Christ is “Dominus et rex Scripturae” for in his death and resurrection the glory of God is revealed. With this starting point, a new event, Scripture can be read with coherence correlating Adam and Christ in the economy of salvation. The reign of sin has been replaced by the reign of Grace as St. Paul writes to the Romans: “For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many” (Rom 5:15).



Paul - konversjon

When St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”, he described what has been called “The Logos of Beauty”. At the core of things, beauty cannot be separated from truth and goodness; they all come together, bringing the peace of God (Phil 4:8f). In this way there is an inner order in God’s creation which in human life keeps things together.

Authenticity as the greatest virtue

This experience of a God-given cosmos is very far from the present “feel good culture” around us. Postmodern philosophers tell us that in human life there is no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no common reality that binds us together; no objective cultural standard or rules of behavior. But, if no pattern is given to direct us, man must by himself constitute his own lifeworld. Thus, the highest value that binds us together is the right of the individual to be true to his inner self, and the greatest virtue man can aspire to is authenticity. This message is then vulgarised by the media’s overwhelming presentation of self-gratification as an honorable lifestyle. Sadly, the previous vision of a transcendent dimension giving sense to the human condition has been replaced by the spiritual emptiness of self-realisation.

Morals become politics

The problem is simply that this privatised “feel good culture” is easily blurred with “the culture of narcissism”. The search for self-realisation is but a short step away from the pursuit of self-interest. The potential tension between mine and thine is present also in cultural issues. Living in this pluralistic society, presupposes that everybody is willing to accept and confirm the choices other people make in their private realm. Inversely, intolerance and violation are the ultimate moral sins. It therefore becomes the task of the state to insure that there are no constraints hindering the individual’s right to his or her private moral choices – at least as long they are politically correct.

This is easier said than done. For in the real world there will be unavoidable conflicts not only due to divergent lifestyles, but also deep political disagreements. Moreover, the fundamental division on moral issues threatens to tear society apart. In order to uphold the necessary peace the state must therefore use its disciplinary power to quell protest and dissent.

Feelings corrected by authoritative legislation

Thus, the paradox of living in a postmodern mass democracy can be summed up in the phrase: “The Absolute Individual confronts The Absolute State”. In the end the individual is bound to become the loser in this confrontation. When a government prescribes through legislation what is right and wrong, morals become politics.

Interestingly, the roots of this authoritarian thinking go back to a theological movement of the late Middle Ages, called Nominalism. “Nomen” means name and the nominalists inferred that the words we use when we speak about things and matters are but arbitrary conventions, empty names, which cannot produce a conceptual framework rooted in “reality”. This scepticism finds its primary example in the way we use the word “good”. What we call good is not something given in an universal order of things called “goodness”. It is the speaker himself who uses the word “good” simply to describe objects which fulfill his own desires.

Rules of conduct

Rejecting the idea that reason can operate on the basis of a universal human nature, the nominalist approach to knowledge advises us to discern moral meaning from our feelings and sympathies. However, this subjective approach does not necessarily imply that moral conduct is a solitary enterprise. For the will of the individual can find the basic moral direction in life by being obedient to the revealed will of God. In this way, the meaning of “good” becomes authoritatively clarified in terms of God’s commandments. My moral obligation is to internalise the rules of conduct which God enjoins upon me – and all others.

Today in our fragmented multicultural societies this rule based, volitive approach to human conduct, serves by and large as the ethical model behind the idea of human rights. The important difference is that the will of the State has now taken the moral authority previously enjoyed by God.

Discursive conventions

If we accept – with nominalists then and now – that there is no natural order of things, it follows that nature is emptied of meaning; reality is equated with what can be seen, weighed and heard. All the rest is just secondary. For example, modern art illustrates this rejection of natural order. The impressionist painters told us that what might seem beautiful is simply spots of sunlight on our eyes. Similarly, cubism rejects humanism by reducing forms given in real life to meaningless abstractions. Moving one step further, action painting and lyrical abstraction intentionally distorts form, to show that there are no universal standard or order. Beauty is only in the eye of the beholder.

If man’s experience of life cannot transcend his private feelings and personal taste, he is alone in the world. Without a common reality there is only me and mine and my search for private spirituality. In the bewildering images my senses give me, words like “mankind”, “man” and “woman” are just empty images and part of the discursive conventions I use to constitute my own “world”. This self-centeredness leaves no room for the rich concreteness of human life.

Creation and salvation

This whole way of thinking is more than just a theoretical issue for Christian faith. The fundamental challenge in modern individualism is that this fractured understanding of life entails the implosion of the Gospel. The Christian narrative cannot be reduced to emotional responses to God as a heavenly “Law-maker”. God shows himself as God in his creation as the psalmist sings: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all earth” (Ps 8:1: see also Rom 1:20). There is a cosmos given in the experience of beauty telling us that we are at home in the world and that the world is already ordered for beings like us (Roger Scruton, Beauty, 2010). Sin, destruction and suffering cannot hide God’s love for His world, His “cosmos”, to quote the Greek text in St John 3:16.

In his fight against gnosticism St. Irenaeus made an observation of lasting value noting that the gnostics in their search for moral perfection ignored the art and the sciences and interest in sports (Adv. Haer. II, 32. 2). He clearly warns that if we ignore the reality of the material world as God’s creation, then faith itself becomes homeless.

Beauty and meaning

This is not to say that the experience of the world is given to us as naked facts. The advice St. Paul gave to the Philippians was to “think about these things, in order to know what is true, just, good, commendable and worth of praise” (4:8). That the character of the person who makes such a discernment will influence his judgments, do not necessarily make them private assessments. Moreover, that the Apostle places the understanding in the context of living in the Christian community, does not reduce the claim to objectivity. No thinking takes place in a vacuum. There is no standing ground, no place for inquiry, apart from that which is provided from some particular tradition (Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which rationality?, 1998).

– The peculiar aspect with the Apostle’s instruction is that he ends his admonition by the promise that by practicing these insights we will be blessed with the peace of God (4:9). There is a cosmos after all!



It is sometimes said that, at different epochs, particular parts of the New Testament is experienced as relevant for the times. In any case, this has been the fate of the Apocalypse of St John. Thus in the twelfth century Joachim of Fiore made the Book of the Revelation no less than the center of Christian understanding of time. A century later, St. Bridget of Sweden, in her private devotions, is said to have read daily from the Apocalypse. On the other hand, at the time of the Reformation, Luther declared St. Paul’s statement of justification by faith in Romans 1:17 as the doctrinal center of Scripture, while at the same he discarded the Apocalypse from the New Testament canon stating: “My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book”.

The Holy War

In these turbulent times of ours, we may ask if not the time has come now to read again the Book of Revelation. Of particular interest in our cultural situation are chapters twelve and thirteen in the section called “The Holy War” (11:19 – 15:4).

St. Mikael og dragen

Using very dramatic metaphors chapter twelve depicts firstly a war in heaven between the Woman and the Dragon and then the following ramifications on earth.” The Woman” is a symbol of the Church militant representing at the same time Mary in her dual roles as the Mother of Christ and as the Mother of the Christian community (See John. 19:26f). In her troubles the Archangel Michael, champion of the Angelic powers, protects the woman against the Dragon, also named in the text as the Serpent. This is the Devil, cast out of heaven by the power of Christ. The Satanic powers continue their attack on earth persecuting the Woman and her offspring, that is, those “who keep the commandments of God and bear the testimony to Jesus” (12:17). The last expression means that even ordinary Christians are inescapably dragged into the spiritual battle between Christ and his enemies.


The Masquerading Devil

Chapter thirteen then takes us one step further showing how the Devil is using his power also within the world of unbelief. With imagery taken form the Book of Daniel, we are told that the Dragon hides himself behind two “Beasts”, one from the sea and one from the earth.

Acting on mandate from the Dragon and using a strategy of deceitful manipulation, the first Beast successfully perverts people so that all who live on the earth will worship him. This leads to a period of persecution for the Christians who must bear the consequences of their faith.

False Religion

The second part of the chapter then presents for us the beast from the earth. Looking like a gentle lamb but with the seductive voice of the dragon, this second beast serves the first beast by making a beguiling image of it. Those who do who not worship the deceitful monster may be killed or loose their social position. The control which the second beast exercises over the entire society results in that “all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name”. The key to understand the Beast’s name is probably best deciphered in the light of his oppressive activities (13:16ff).

Evil, Anti-Christ and the Fallen Church

In this way the Apocalypse describes with “animal” metaphors the Enemy of God as a hierarchical order. “The Snake” is symbolising Evil per se and “the Beast from the sea” is the Anti-Christ, a monstrous lamb which is destruction and not the source of life. Thirdly, “the Beast from the earth” animates a blasphemous cult in honour of the first beast. This deceptive force is later in the text called “the false prophet” or “the Harlot” (16:13; 17:1ff).

We find a similar hierarchy of destructive powers in the Second letter to the Thessalonians. Here St. Paul warns of a false Messiah who will be revealed during a coming apostasy. This “Son of perdition”, who is accompanied by “The lawless one” works for Satan with power, signs, lying wonders and every kind of deception (2 Thess 2:9f). As instruments of Satan, the Son of perdition and the Lawless one are traditionally identified as Anti-Christ and the fallen church.

A Cunning Devil

Thus, in the same manner as the Apocalypse, St. Paul and St. Peter both warn that the Devil and his angels explore us individually, looking for our weaknesses (Eph 6:10ff; 1 Pet 5:8ff).

It is disturbing for our spiritual comfort that the Devil is described in the Bible as a power with “intelligence” and “will” fighting Christ and his saints (Math 4: 1ff). “Evil”, stated Pope Paul VI in a sermon on temptation, “is not only deficiency, but something active and efficient, a living, spiritual being, perverted and perverting, mysterious and to be feared”.

Consequently, as Christians we are not allowed to think that we spiritually live in a neutral world. St. Paul gives a very challenging description of our predicament when he named the Devil “The God of this Age”. In every age, The Zeitgeist is blinding “the light of the Gospel of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4). We ignore this strife at our own peril.

Times of Trouble

Despite the mythological language used in the Apocalypse and the references to events at that time, the description which is given in Chapter thirteen of the loss of freedom to think and act, seems strangely relevant to the our experience of living in a society becoming more and more corrupted by the ideology of political correctness. Moreover, the brainwashing power of the modern media deceitfully buries serious moral issues “beneath the avalanche of morbid kitsch and populistic trivia”, to borrow the words of Michael Burleigh’s cultural criticism.

The Triumph in Heaven
Lammet på Sion

A further issue is the question of what message is proclaimed from the pulpits. The litmus test is whether the preaching encourages the faithful to “keep the commandments of God and and the faith of Jesus”. Sooner or later, this rule of faith takes us into the spiritual battle with the Devil while at the same time also calls upon angelic powers to bless and protect us.

The message of Book of Revelation for all times is that Christians should not give in even if the situation around them may seem hopeless. The life of a Christian is never easy. In this world we must exercise patience and faith but our endurance is not in vain, for our deeds will follow us to the triumph in heaven (14:1ff, 12f).

The Collect for St. Michael’s Day

Holy Michael the Archangel,
defend us in the day of battle.
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him,
we humbly pray, and do thou, 
O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan
and all the evil spirits, who
wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.



What is the Christian patrimony of Europe? The European civilisation has been called “eccentric” meaning that it is composed from sources outside itself, a fusion mainly of the patrimony from Jerusalem, Athens and Rome. Today, when the relations between Christendom and society are being reset, it is of particular interest to reflect on how a Christian perspective of life gradually imposed itself on pagan society over against a diversity of competitors.

Social and Religious Identity

The gods of the Greeks and the Romans were the divinities of the polis. The Hebrews, on the other hand, understood Yahweh not only as God of Israel; he governed all mankind. This universalism was extended after the exile when the Jews had learned to practice the Law outside the Promised Land. As a radical next step, the Hebrew Church baptised gentiles into the chosen people. Thus, a new category of the faithful was created called “the Christians” (Acts 1:26). Culturally, the Christians could remain Roman, Greek or Ethiopian. This distinction between the social and the religious identity meant that practice of the faith was not the reflection of the given society, but dependent on the ethos of the Church. This separation was formulated by Christ himself when he said we should render to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Matt. 22:21).

The Two Cities

St. Augustine in his great work on the Two Cities – The City of God and the City of Babylon – makes a differentiation between the secular and the divine which paved the way for the medieval understanding of a Christian civilisation in the Middle Ages. Underlining on the one saint-augustin
hand the eschatological nature of the Church as a pilgrim people, at the same time, he emphasised that on their way to the Heavenly Jerusalem the Christians still live in this world. Even if faith assures us the exodus from Babylon, he writes, our pilgrim status, for the time being, makes us neighbours and as long as we are mingled together, we can make use of the peace of Babylon. This, all the more, as in this world, good and bad men suffer alike (XIX:26, I:8). Augustine likewise admonishes the Christian exiles; quoting the prophet Jeremiah’s advise to the Jews in Babylon, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (29:7).

Autonomy of the Secular Domain

The Augustinian understanding of a balanced interplay of the spiritual and the profane laid a similar platform for the relationship between ecclesial and secular domains of life. Over the centuries the church did not claim jurisdiction of secular society. Despite theocratic aspirations of “pious” kings and “political” popes, the refusal of an unwarranted synthesis of Church and State was maintained at least in West European culture. It is of particular importance that the Church respected the secular autonomy of the academic and the legal domains. The independence of religion to the political, meant that the gradual transition to a Christian culture was the political consequence of a cultural diffusion not brought about by political means. Christianity imposed itself by gradually conquering the mind-set of civil society. The moral influence exercised by the Church on society followed from the shared commitment of secular and ecclesial leaders to the values of natural law as ordained by God in his creation (Rom. 2:14f).

The Christian Origin of European Culture

What then are the main biblical notions which Christianity fused into European civilization?

First and foremost the notion that God, our Creator, can be addressed as a person to whom the individual stands responsible for his or her life. This responsibility presupposes that man enjoys moral freedom. Therefore we must ask forgiveness from those we have wronged. To this idea of justice it follows that we must strive to be a better person. The distinction of a before over against a now presupposes that time is not an endless cycle of predetermined repetitions but open to repentance and change. In short, living in God’s creation mankind is invited to enter the history of salvation.

It was this idea of a transcendental reality as the purpose of human life that the philosophers of the Enlightenment rejected. “Man needs no foreign help” to find happiness, say the philosophers, reason can on its own provide progress by integrating the natural and the moral in a higher harmony. The task was therefore to liberate society from the grip of Christianity. The success has been self-destructive. When “God is dead”, as Nietzsche told us, man dies too. European society can not survive if it consciously continues to ignore its own inheritance.



The collapse of faith in Western society is clear. No less palpable is the cultural collapse around us. The fragmentation of society has imprisoned the individual in “the culture of narcissism“. For the Christian an additional problem is that the moral disorientation is correlated with the destruction of the Christian patrimony.

Christianity and Culture

Concerned about the future of the European civilisation after the second world war, T. S. Eliot argued that it is the common tradition of Christianity which has made Europe what it is and he concluded: “If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes”. The impact of Christianity on the moral order in Europe follows from its universalism. Historically, the faith was upheld without repudiating the normative aspect of classical culture. Thus, the heritage from Jerusalem, Athens and Rome were fused into the secular world in such a way that different courses could become the basis for further developments. – Today we see this cultural synthesis imploding under the radical subjectivism of postmodern society.

Three Roman Catholic Voices

After the war Christian thinkers from different denominations foresaw the displacement of Christianity by an aggressive secular humanism. Of particular interest are perhaps the Roman Catholic voices as one might think that this mighty church would have faced the future with no little self-confidence.

However, already in 1950 Romano Guardini, a dominant Catholic intellectual in his time, wrote an analysis of the emerging European culture under the title The End of the Modern World, concluding that with the other traditions also the Christian patrimony will be lost. Strikingly, Guardini did not meet this loss by positing the return to a premodern alternative, but with a new way of living the faith. Homeless in this confusion, the Christians must distance themselves from the cultural chaos and seek together in what he called an eschatological togetherness, based on mutual love.

Professor Ratzinger in Regensburg

Moreover, in 1970 Joseph Ratzinger, then an unknown professor, published a booklet called Glaube und Zukunft, (2/2007). The future pope predicted that a coming crisis of faith will hit like a storm and tear down the church as we know it. The survival process will be painful and the small communities of those who come out of the difficulties, will have to restart from the beginning. Thus, a simple and more spiritual church will make bigger demands on the individual members.

With a similar sense of a cultural shift, Alasdair MacIntyre, in his book from 1981 pointedly titled After Virtue, warned that we are not aware of our predicament. New dark ages are already upon us and in order to survive, he called for the construction of new forms of local communities within which the tradition can be sustained after the example of what St. Benedict did fifteen centuries ago.

Living the Faith in a Post Christian World

Today, we are living to see the fears come true. In fact, we are the last Christian generation having been brought up in a culture oriented towards humanistic and Christian values. The destructive effects of this moral chaos will necessarily differ according to time and place. Sure is, however, that we are now at a turning point. The radical secularisation entails that church life in the future will not be a prolongation of the past. From the crisis the church of tomorrow will emerge without privileges as small communities of engaged believers, served by tentmakers in the power of faith. In this perspective it is worth to notice that in former core Christian areas like Germany and France, pastoral theologians across the denominational divide are discussing a church model for the future based on the house church. Without the buildings of times more privileged, the altar might again be the living room table.

The Challenge

The crisis of faith in Western world has left all denominations bewildered, even paralysed. For struggling Old Catholics and Anglo-Catholics the challenge is to find a way forward in a common faith and tradition. Hopefully, the Union of Scranton will serve as one of the vehicles which could begin to stem the tide of a post Christian culture.



The signs of times seem to be that we are the last generation to live in a culture formed and marked by the Christian faith. Having closed its mind to Christianity, the European culture is itself imploding as the Christian faith was the common basis. The parallel collapse of faith and culture forces us to ask what the future will be like.

Icon of St Basil the great

Relevant as the question is, we must have in mind that we are not the first to to fear the future. To take one example, St. Basil the Great in the fourth century wrote: “A darkness full of gloom and misery has descended on the churches… The terror of universal destruction already hangs over us, yet they (i.e. the faithful with the church leaders) continue to enjoy their rivalries, ignoring the sense of danger.” (On the Holy Spirit, 77)

The Church survived the crisis of his time, but it is interesting that St. Basil pointed to the internal state of the churches as the real danger in the situation. We recognize a similar challenge in our predicament.  Now, as then, party spirit and pride undermine a unified response to the challenge. The present “darkness full of gloom” must be met in two ways, first by a reconciliation between the churches and second by the renewal of the individual.

The ecumenical imperative

When Jesus prayed for his disciples “that they all be one” (Joh 17:21), he gave an ecumenical imperative. In order to bear fruit, unity among Christians is required (15:4f). The question is how we are to fulfill his wish. In well meant ecumenism there is, a danger of “indifferentism” – the willful neglect of real issues – but inversely, there is also the parallel danger in denominational “integralism” – arrogance on behalf of one’s own consuming traditions.

Interestingly, the dialogue between the Old Catholics and the Orthodox in the 1980s concludes that eucharistic fellowship does not require the subjection of one church with its tradition to the other church. In order to establish fellowship, it is necessary not only to check carefully whether they are close enough to each other, but also whether the differences are so significant that separation must continue to exist. With this “matter of fact” attitude the document concludes that churches united in full communion will fulfill their responsibilities to the world not isolated from each other, but on principle together. (Koinonia auf altkirchlicher Basis, 1989: 228. For the text in English, see The Road to Unity, VII,7f)

Clearly the common ground between Old Catholicism and Orthodoxy is the faith of the undivided church of the first millennium However, this platform opens up a way for broader reconciliation as in 1995 Pope John Paul II similarly proposed that the unity in the first millennium between the East and the West can serve as the model for restoring full communion (Ut unum sint, 1995, 55). Moreover, the patristic patrimony of Anglicanism also embraces this model for unity. Likewise, as is shown by the explicit commitment of Lutheran orthodoxy to the Church Fathers, confessional Lutheranism understands itself as based upon the Nicene Creed.

The renewal of the individual

Confronted with an uncertain future, a mood of gloom has descended on the crumbling churches. The rapid decline in church attendance everywhere makes the churchgoer bewildered and disoriented. In order to find a way forward, we must return to basics and listen to the Apostolic exhortations to the young churches in the New Testament letters. Strengthening the faithful, St. Paul and St. Peter admonish them to trample down despair under the hope of the cross.

Among the many New Testament texts which encourage us to stand firm in the faith, I have found particular consolation in St. Paul’s admonitions to the church in Rome: “Let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:4f)

Clearly, St. Paul understands the tribulations of Christians as a purification process. By placing hope in God the patience matures the mind into a “proven character”. Thus, the more we recognize our weakness, the more our hearts are purified by the Holy Spirit so that we can find peace in God through Jesus Christ. 

Fellowship with other disciples, living and dead

In addressing the congregation in Rome, it is striking that the Apostle encourages the individual as a member of the faith community. The proven character and the hopeful heart follow from the discipline learned in the Christian fellowship. St. Peter’s admonition is no different: “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 6:.6ff)



At the end of the millennium, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard reflected on the implosion of social institutions in Western postmodern societies. Among his many observations on the present times, he noted this paradox, that “things – signs and actions – continue to function long after their ideas have disappeared, and they do so in total indifference to their own content… A thing which has lost its idea is like a man who has lost his shadow, and it must either fall under the sway of madness or perish” (The Transparency of Evil, 1993:6).

The most influential Orthodox theologian in the West at this time, Alexander Schmemann, wrote in his diary: “Christianity in general (is) now undergoing a real test to determine what will enable (us) to remain alive in the world of today” (The Journals, 2002:24).

It makes sense to read the last quote in the light of the first. Clearly, today, the very identity of the church is threatened as mainstream Christianity seems to have lost the idea of what it means to be the Church of Christ in the world.

The root of this confusion is to be found in the Enlightenment’s understanding of religion, where Christianity in particular is considered to be pure obscurantism, because its religious claims cannot be proved by reason. Despite this reservation, a deistic notion of a Supreme Being was still warmly embraced. To use Montesquieu’s expression, “A little bit of religion”, can serve as social glue and induce motivation for good deeds. In the same vein “sin” must be redefined as those things which hinder the common good. Consequently, “the truth” of religious ideas is pragmatically decided according to the criterion of political usefulness. From this position, Rousseau praises the virtues of Islam over against Christianity as the Christian faith falsely distinguishes the temporal and the spiritual, the religious and the political.

Nevertheless, in certain church quarters today, the pulpit is used as platform for their “leftist” agenda. Usually, their “progressive” statements are very clear and direct but paradoxically silence reigns about the present conflicts around core issues in Christian ethics, such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Of course, the rejection of the role of churches as one-sided political activists is not to say that there is no need for social change in today’s world. The point is simply that social justice is mankind’s common ethical endeavour across religious lines. “Political” statements must therefore be expressed in the name of reason and not from the pulpit on behalf private sympathies, be it in one way or another.

Moreover, there are enough historical examples to show that political compliance will not legitimate the Christian faith in the eyes of the given establishment but rather breed contempt.

The Life of the Church in the World – A Eucharistic Other-worldliness

The God given task of the Christian Church is to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. This is the one standard by which the mission of the Church must be judged. The grace of God calls people to repentance and holiness. Thus a demarcation line is set between faith and unbelief. Alienated from the Gospel truths, the “Church” becomes an empty shell. In fact, the substitution of the biblical narrative with moral appeals has made the original message of Christianity disappear, to return to the quote from Baudrillard.

What are we then to do to overcome this loss of faith? Alexander Schmemann prescribed his vision for renewal by saying that we must recover an eschatological understanding of life itself, an “other-worldliness” derived from the Eucharist as the center of Christian living. Christians must see this world in Christ and through Christ.

In this perspective we approach the current crisis of faith by returning to the basis of the Christian pilgrimage in the present world. With the liturgical exclamation “Come Lord Jesus”, the Eucharist proclaims the Healing of the nations and Paradise regained (Rev. 22:20). Thus, the Eucharistic Assembly proclaims the coming world, while at the same time manifesting the Church in this world as a present community. Gathered around the Eucharistic table, the altar, as the people of God (1 Cor. 10:16f), we nourish the faith, love and hope which give meaning and value to everything in life (13:13).

The story of Pentecost is the archetype of this communion. The Apostles are gathered to receive the Holy Spirit “with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1f). Faith is essentially the power of union, the miracle that arises between men and women in the love of Christ and in love for Christ. The Church is not set in this world for any other reason than to be the body of Christ, “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:23).



In the gospels of St. Mathew and St. Luke we find with the same wording a saying of Jesus often called “The Hymn of Jubilation”. We read: “Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father'” (Matthew 11:25f, Luke 10:21f).

Jesus seems here to refer to Jeremiah’s prophesy of a new covenant when God will reveal himself directly to his chosen people: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah… I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:31,33).

Inviting his disciples to the Kingdom of God, Jesus presents himself as the fulfilment of these prophesies. Through him, God the Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, reveals his will to the hearts of the faithful. The stumbling block is that this revelation springs out of God’s own initiative in contrast to human cunning and sagacity. Moreover, it must be received in humility. The knowledge of God is given to “babes”.

Elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus refers to his disciples as “the poor in spirit”, “the pure in heart” or “the lowly” (Matthew 5:3,8; Luke 1: 52). In a similar vein, St. Paul paradoxically demands that “the wise of this world, must become a fool, that he may become wise” (1 Cor. 3:18).

Does this mean that the knowledge of God is reduced to an esoteric, gnostic wisdom? Truly, St. Paul teaches that “the spirit of wisdom and knowledge of God comes through the eyes of our heart being enlightened” (Eph. 1:18). However, this is not an invitation to arbitrariness. We are simply invited to interpret life in the light of the faith.

This faith perspective is summarized by St.Augustine with the phrase Credo ut intelligam – I believe so that I can understand. Augustine illustrates this insight with a wordplay found in the Greek version of the book of Isaiah: “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not understand” (7:9).

In his autobiographic work, Confessions, St. Augustine gives an easy accessible introduction to his thinking about the relationship between faith and reason.

Man’s capacity to grasp true understanding of God requires the healing of pride and the fostering of love. Quoting the Hymn of Jubilation, St Augustine maintains that knowledge of God must be learned from Christ who himself was meek and lowly of heart. With Christ as the light of our heart – Lumen cordis – the mind can conceive the truth knowing things through God rather than God through things.


This Augustinian approach to knowledge was taken up 1200 years later by Pascal. His instrumental epistemology concludes that governed by the will, reason can neither prove nor disapprove the existence of God. However, this resignation does not mean that man is spiritually blind. For there is another path in man’s search for God. Our life experience, the wisdom man gains as he lives, feels and thinks, opens the mind to receive the mystery of God, the Father and Lord of heaven and earth. This wisdom, seen with the “eyes of the heart enlightened by God”, is what Pascal speaks of in his famous maxim: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing”.

+Roald Nikolai



What is Mary’s place in the history of Salvation? The best answer is given in the form of a follow-up question: If Jesus is the Son of God who is then his mother?

The child Mary bore in her womb is Christ, the Incarnate word of God. Therefore, the early councils honoured her as the Theotokos – the God-bearer. The sign for this was given by her cousin Elizabeth who greeted the pregnant Mary with the words: «Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb» (Luke 1:42).

Botticelli - Annunciation

In his poems on Mary, the Church Father Ephrem the Syrian (303-373) explains Mary’s amazement of giving birth to the Christ:


«How shall I call you,
O stranger to us
who became one of us?
Shall I call you ‘Son’?
Shall I call you ‘Brother’?
Shall I call you ‘Bridegroom’?
Shall i call you ‘Lord’?
Begetter of his Mother.
By a second birth
from out of the waters!»

(Sebastian Brock, 1975)

By referring at the end to Mary’s baptism, Ephrem understands her relationship to Jesus as a «two-way birth». First Jesus takes on Mary’s body as her son, then Mary takes on Jesus’ glory as a new birth. Thus, through his imagery and parallelism Ephrem, known as «Harp of the Spirit», brings Mary and the Christian believer close together.

A poetical adaption into Norwegian expresses the symbolic imagery in the following way:

«Da Jesus Kristus ble vår bror,
da ble Maria vår egen mor,
vår Far ble ham som i himlen bor,
Jesus og Maria.

I stallen fant Guds moder ly,
hun fødte ham i Davids by,
da var all verden som født på ny,
Jesus og Maria.

Ved Ånden fødes Gud og mann,
hun fødte ham i Juda land,
og vi ble født utav dåpens vann,
Jesus og Maria.»

(Börre Knudsen, 1976)

The mariology developed in Ephrem’s poems to Our Lady is very different from the Roman Catholic understanding of Mary as the mediatrix. Ephrem does not pray to Mary but he prays with her to Christ. Mary is not a distant intercessor, the Queen of Heaven, but she is the Mother of the Church, one of us and one with us.