The Early Church
November 02, 2013 Length: 1:05:32Dr. Stefanie Yazge
Dr. Stefanie Yazge: I’d like to start with the theme passage for the Institute from the Book of Acts.
And with many other words he (meaning Peter) testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized, and that day about 3,000 souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the Apostles.
Now all who believed were together and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all people. And the Lord added to the Church daily those who were being saved.
What a time and place it must have been to experience, because who and what they’re experiencing and celebrating is an itinerant rabbi who had no real credentials to be a rabbi, because you went to rabbi school at the temple and studied to get those credentials. Instead, they got the son of a carpenter, a wood-worker. And he took on as disciples and followers: a tax-collector—and if you think we dislike the IRS, it’s not even close to how the Jews felt about the tax-collectors, because who were the tax-collectors? They were fellow Jews who were working for the Romans, because if you wanted to collect the taxes and you had to go door-to-door to do that, or you had to show up someplace to give them whatever they said you owed. If a Roman did it, they could knock on your door, and you could tell them, “Well, there’s only three of us in my household.” They don’t know you from Adam. But if they send in one of your own… “We know you’ve got five in that house.”
C1: And they worked on commission.
Dr. Yazge: It’s not even commission. It’s worse! A commission is a part of a sale that you get to tack on, right? 15%, whatever it is. They were allowed… They had to collect what they had to turn in to Rome, and they could add whatever they wanted on top of it. And some of them added, apparently, a lot.
So this unqualified rabbi has a tax-collector in his group. And then eleven uneducated fishermen, and a bunch of women. This Jesus of Nazareth goes even further, because he teaches such crazy things as: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.” There’s no waiting until the end of time for the kingdom. It’s here and it’s now. And he spent three years doing this teaching and showing all who cared to listen, anyone who was interested, anyone who even had a mustard-seed sized faith, what that means. That included everything in the prophecy of Isaiah he read in home synagogue the day he began his public ministry, which is in Luke 4.
And Jesus reads before the assembly:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to recover the sight of the blind, to set at liberty those who were oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
And they liked him so much they wanted to throw him off a cliff, because who is he to say these things? Because there’s only one person who could say these things, and he can’t be that guy.
Because we have God’s kingdom now breaking into time and space, he also shows them it includes children and those who have become like them. Where do children fit in the culture? As property. They’re not persons. When you saw something happen to a child, and their parents did whatever, including turning them over as part of a debt, paying a debt, selling them into slavery, there’s no Child Services person who’s going to come out and talk to the parents, because they don’t merit that. Jesus says you have to become like them. Why would Jesus decide that you have to become like one of those children? Why is that his example?
A1: Lowliness, humility, simplicity.
Dr. Yazge: All of those things. What else?
A2: Purity of heart.
Dr. Yazge: Which allows for what?
A3: Openness to receive.
Dr. Yazge: Who?
Dr. Yazge: And? God. And therefore… Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote a wonderful, wonderful little article. I don’t know if it had been a transcripted something he had done on the radio programming that he did for years when it was still the Soviet Union, about becoming like the children. Some of his points were, in addition to all of this, what we see in kids, that simplicity, that trust, and the way a little kid loves is how? Unconditionally. As long as you don’t break the trust, and sometimes even when you do, they will still love you.
They also see everything for exactly what it is. Every parent can probably attest to some incident with their child when they’re in public and their child says something that would be considered socially inappropriate, like, “Oh, Mommy, that lady’s dress is really ugly!” They see what is, and when it comes to being a child of God, what God wants us to see is what is, to see God in front of us, in each other, to see God himself present in our midst. So Jesus is telling them they have to be like children, and I’m sure that they didn’t get that.
Not only that, in addition to children, he has women in his entourage, women who’ve helped support his ministry, women who are his friends—“Martha, Martha!”: it’s always one of my favorite readings—his friendship with Mary and Martha, his relationship with Mary Magdalene, especially if you never read The DaVinci Code, to have that twisted by what others may say about that relationship today.
Then he goes on to say having mercy is more important than following the letter of the Law, that righteousness or being right with God comes from the relationship that starts with knowing the Law written in our hearts, because the spirit of the Law is love of God and every neighbor, including those awful Samaritans. And that’s why it’s sad that most people today, when they think about the Good Samaritan—“What a great guy!”—the audience thought he was the enemy. They didn’t like him at all. Women caught in adultery and nasty tax-collectors aren’t condemned, and repentance is the beginning of finding entrance to that kingdom here and now.
What’s Jesus’ reward for all of this? Crucifixion. His mother and followers, both men and women, saw him hung on the cross by the Romans as a common criminal, between two other convicted criminals. He was beaten and mocked, and died of suffocation. That’s after they did the scourging thing, and you really don’t want the details of that. His disciples fled, went into hiding, and must have been absolutely devastated. How could this have happened? But two days later, the weeping of the ointment-bearing women turns to joy, as they hear the news from the angel: “He is risen, just as he said he would.” But what does this mean? What are the implications, and what does it mean for everyone? In that moment, Mary Magdalene and the women became the ones who, with fear and great joy, announced the good news to the disciples, who are still hiding.
It appears the disciples, including the Eleven, others close to Jesus, had 49 days to think about what it meant before the Holy Spirit descends on them at Pentecost. It’s interesting that we have uneducated fishermen who become the fishers of men—we sing that at Pentecost, right?—proclaiming what it meant that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. Peter, the one who denied Christ, now proclaims the good news to the multitude who came together in Jerusalem for this great feast, and that feast celebrated the giving of the Torah, or the Law, to Moses at Mount Sinai. It should show us the shift. Moses got the Law; we get the Holy Spirit.
If you take this home and you’re doing it, the next thing in the notes would be: have whoever’s doing this together read from Acts 2:17-36, a whole lot of what Peter had to say. I’m going to read just a little bit of it, because Peter, who was afraid and in hiding and denied Jesus, is now the spokesperson. He says about Jesus that
He is the fulfillment of what God had planned, manifest by a man attested to you by God by miracles, wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourself also know him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and have put to death whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that he should be held by it.
To finish his first public preaching, Peter answers the crowd question: “What shall we do?” with the instruction:
“Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, for the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
Heeding that call, the people then, those who gladly received his word, were baptized. And that day about 3,000 souls were added to them, and they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the Apostles. Now all who believed were together and had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all as anyone had need.
We know from the Book of Acts of the Apostles that the Lord’s call was carried to all the world, to the ends of the earth. One of his most vocal and active Apostles was St. Paul. What we know about the earliest days of the Church is because of his work and his writings. Paul, who was called Saul, was both Jewish and a Roman citizen, and an educated man. His Jewish roots are referred to in several passages which, when you get the package with all the notes, has all this listed. In the Book of Acts, we hear about his Roman citizenship, and that’s why he ends up being taken to Rome, and that’s why he’s killed there.
He saw his ministry to the Gentiles, to the non-Jews in the Roman Empire, but what’s the territory of the empire? By the way, you’ll get all the graphic stuff, too, as part of the package. There’s a map of what the empire looks like around the Mediterranean, because we know it goes further north. So you see those places that we still have today, some under different names, because I don’t think you can get a flight to “Cappadocia.” And [you can see] how Greece at that point was basically Macedonia and Achaia. Asia is now Turkey. You see Rhodes, you see Crete, you see Italy. That’s the part of the ends of the earth that Paul is going to preach to, at least on the northern side. As a matter of fact, we get in the Book of Acts where Paul went. I’m sorry it doesn’t show any bigger, and I can’t do anything about that, but when you have it you can see it, so you can see the cities.
Out of Antioch he goes to the island of Cyprus. He goes up to Perga, he goes to Iconium, he goes to the other Antioch. So you can see the cities in his first journey, where he starts out closer to home. Then the second trip, as he heads further out, and he ends up in the cities of Troas, Philippi—names we’ve heard somewhere else—Athens, Corinth, and makes his return back through Jerusalem, taking the collection there that he’s made on his journey. Then his third trip. Some speculate there was a fourth trip, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. He wanted to go to Spain. He didn’t get there. Actually, when he writes to the Romans, he’s introducing himself because he hasn’t been there yet, and hoping that he’ll find enough funding to complete that trip, but that doesn’t happen.
He’s venturing out. It tells us where he went and some of what he preached in Acts, which seem to get him tossed out of town on more than one occasion. But if we want to know about how these communities were being formed around what was already called “the Tradition,” from what we had in Acts of gathering to hear the Apostles’ doctrine, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers, we should remember that the first account of the Eucharistic gathering is in Paul’s letters—because the Gospels aren’t written yet. In order to know the early Church, we have to read his letters or his epistles, that were written to people whom he came to know in these cities, in these trips, where the Church was being born.
So what is Paul’s message? Well, Paul’s preaching of the good news centers on what has been revealed to him by God, because he had that little episode with the horse or getting knocked off of it on his road to Damascus. That moment when Jesus says to him, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he has direct training with God to come and understand what he should be doing. That message is about Christ crucified and risen. It’s a message that can be shared by proclaiming it to everyone.
However, it’s not just an intellectual message. It is more importantly a dynamic and life-changing one, as Paul can attest himself, for “it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for Jew first and also for the Greek.” As far as being in the tradition of Acts, Paul is the one who repeats that night, what happens that night, when Jesus offers the bread and the cup. Paul’s important because his letters appear at least a decade before those written gospels, and therefore we know what’s happening as people are learning about the good news, how that is a part of the fabric of the preaching of the Gospel. It wasn’t like, “Oh, listen to me. I’ll tell you all this, and then let’s do this for about six weeks, and maybe I’ll come back another time and we’ll add a little of this. If you’re good enough, then…” It’s not. It’s all part of the message of Paul, because it’s all part of the good news. It’s something we enter into, that’s why it’s not just the intellectual “Let me tell you a few good things you might want to know.” He wants to show them Christ.
Why were people so taken with the messages to become believers? [It is a good question to ask] because we know that right after these good days or, as they were speaking the other night, that shining moment of Camelot at Pentecost [didn’t last]. As the Church spreads, it doesn’t take long for persecution to take hold. And it wasn’t because the Romans wanted to kill them because of a different God. It was because these people who believed Jesus was the Christ, who is God, wouldn’t worship Roman gods too. Why would they be willing to do all this? Well, there’s a pervasive message of love and hope, reinforced by St. Paul and made manifest by the Spirit in their lives that provides them a joy that only God can give in the face of anything and everything.
So what do we know about the early Church from St. Paul? From Paul’s letter to Timothy, we know that an order and a structure emerged early. There’s no such thing as a leaderless group. There’s no such thing as organization without some kind of structure to hold it up, because by the late 50s Paul has to write Timothy this little letter to help him—and the people, apparently, that he’s working with and dealing with—about what the order of things should be by the people who are now the main supports in the structure.
But he writes to them within the community of laos. We translate that “laity,” and that’s not right. “Laos tou Theou” is the “people of God.” And there is no division, but within the community, you have certain people who have certain responsibilities, and Paul understands the requirements of those who need to be, or would be, an overseer, an episkopos, a bishop; a deacon, male or female; a presbyter; and a member of the order of widows.
I do like to point out that the Orthodox Study Bible, the heading at I Timothy 5:3 ignores the widows’ ministry and only talks about them as those who are served. I think the greater message there is: widows are no longer those who are just served, because under the Law they’re commanded to take care of widows and orphans, and if you don’t, God will remember that and he will make your wife a widow. It’s that explicit in Exodus. Well, not only are they served, but they serve now. They have a ministry of prayer.
Therefore, what we see in this letter is there’s a structure whose purpose is to support the life and mission of the community. Everyone has a role, a purpose, a function, and is expected to fulfill it. Even slaves are to be treated with human dignity.
What do we know about the people in the growing communities of the early Church? Well, because of the limitation of time, we’re going to focus primarily on the faithful at Corinth because I think they reveal things that are common to many communities. So what do we know about Corinth? Well, one of my favorite words: it’s located on the isthmus between what is Greece to the north and the Peloponnese to the south. By the way, courtesy of NASA; your government funding at work. Do you see the blue line right through the middle of that isthmus? I don’t know how well I can point it out. Right here. That’s a canal that was built about 120 years ago. Until that time, they would unload boats on the north side or the south side of the isthmus onto carts and drag them across. Mm-hmm. It was called “Diolkos.” You can still see the tracks from the wheels, from thousands of years of dragging carts that had to be unloaded and then loaded back onto boats on the other side. There’s the modern canal; only built it in 1897.
Q1: Did they dig down that far?
Dr. Yazge: Yes, they had to dig through rock, and that’s why the original road, which doesn’t show up on that satellite view, didn’t go straight across. It had to wind around because… They blasted through mountains to put that in, which is probably why it took thousands of years.
Q1: Because they didn’t have the technology.
Dr. Yazge: Right. Exactly.
C2: They have a bungee-jump, by the way, on the end of one of those things.
Dr. Yazge: Are you serious?
C2: Yeah, I did it.
Dr. Yazge: Is that an act of faith?
C2: If you’re on your Byzantine adventure trip: bungee-jumping.
Dr. Yazge: That could be a great tour. Package that up. Take a group.
C3: Really biblical.
Dr. Yazge: Yeah! How deep is your faith? This is more of what the ancient city looked like, according to a painting, and those are the ruins. This is from the Acrocorinth, which is the summit of Corinth. Of course, all the ancient cities had walls to protect them.
What do we know about the city? When Paul got there, it was a city that was in the process of rebirth. In the third century before Christ, it was a port city that was consuming itself in sinful living with activities that seemed to go with sailors coming to town. It was a very bustling port city. This is actually based on a report by a Greek geographer whose name was Strabo, who wrote about the year 20 AD. He said there were a thousand temple prostitutes at that acropolis place there. Even if that’s an exaggeration, 500 would still be a lot. There was the temple of Aphrodite that was part of this that doesn’t show in this picture.
However vibrant the port city was, the Roman commander Lucius sacked the city in 146 BC, because the people of Corinth got on board and were part of an alliance with the wrong side in the battle. They sided up with the Greeks to the north, and the Romans coming from the west just trounced them. The way he dealt with the city after he won was to sack it, kill all the men, and take all the women and children as slaves. So it was pretty much a ghost town for more than a hundred years, but things changed when Julius Caesar came back and decided to found a colony there, complete with plots of farmable land that were given to Roman settlers.
Most of the people who settled there were freed men and women. They’re freed slaves, but they are not full Roman citizens. Most of those people came from Italy, parts of what is now Greece, Syria, and Egypt. They came and were able to become craftsmen. They could find and do work, because it was a city that was still growing, being reborn, resettling itself. But if you were a craftsman, what was your sort of socio-economic place in that reviving city? Not wealthy. You could make sort of a daily wage, but you weren’t going to retire early. But we also know within this community of Corinth we have Gaius, who’s among them who has a house big enough for the whole Christian community to gather. And Erastus was the city treasurer, CEO, and quite wealthy.
Here’s some more of the ruins, and in those ruins… Here’s the design for the city, so you see it was a growing place. They put buildings back up. Notice how they show the agora? There’s a picture somewhere on the internet—and I can’t believe I didn’t save it when I saw it—of a Liturgy being held there with about 100 priests lined up, and the altar set up at one end. I thought that was pretty spectacular, and like I said, I’m kicking myself because I didn’t save the picture.
Erastus, the city treasurer. See his name there? He paid for the paving of some of the streets personally, and that’s what it says on that stone. So we have some real Roman well-to-do citizens in this community that Paul comes to.
And within just a few years new Corinth settlers’ enormously profitable commerce at this crossroads had brought thousands more eager settlers from all over the Mediterranean, and enormous personal wealth to a local ruling class, and a growing number of self-made men and women. In addition, some of the wealthy Greek families that had roots there came back home. New Corinth, as ancient Corinth, thrived. This was the city that Paul came to know, and the people whom he served.
What do the Corinthian Christians themselves tell us about the early Church? Well, even as St. Paul takes the good news further and further away from Jerusalem, he still goes to the synagogues first, and we have that in the Book of Acts. So it is in Corinth where in Acts 18:1-5, we tell how he arrived and how he sought out Aquila and his wife Priscilla, who were Jews recently expelled with all the Jews from Rome by the decree of the Emperor Claudius. So we knew there was a Jewish presence and synagogue because Paul went to the synagogue every Sabbath and that Paul lives and works there with the Jews Priscilla and Aquila, or the tent-makers or the leather-workers, for 18 months. There were also Jews in the community including Sosthenes, who had been a leader in the synagogue, and Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, who was a leader, and he and his entire household were baptized.
However, the Jews eventually rejected Paul and his message, so Paul moved on to preaching primarily to the Gentiles. Among the Gentiles, apparently, were God-fearers. Giving a reference to Titus Justus in Acts 18. These were people who believed in one God, the God of the Jews, but they weren’t obligated to follow the ceremonial demands of the Law, including circumcisions, and the dietary restrictions didn’t apply. However, they were required to observe the fast for the Day of Atonement, and the Jewish Law was their moral code, which means they were predisposed to what Paul was going to say, because they already had a mindset for it without being Jewish. We know that he stayed there for those 18 months, and he stayed with those in the working class.
The conclusion is, then, the Church in Corinth is a really diverse place, really diverse: people from everywhere who’ve come with nothing [and] those who’ve come back to their home place, who had been forced to be away. The result is it shows us how well the message of the good news brought by Paul is received by all, and no matter one’s background or socio-economic situation in life, they’re drawn in. It can also make things more difficult, because such a diverse group has to learn how to grow together as they learn to live the faith.
So what’s Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians reveal about the early Church? First of all, Paul’s thankful to God for them because, by the grace of God, they were enriched so that no spiritual gift is lacking. They responded to God’s call to be in fellowship with Jesus Christ. It’s a pretty typical opening in his letter, because the only time he’s really, really irritated—I mean irritated—[is] when he writes to the Galatians, and the opening sort of could be summarized as, “You forgot already?” But instead, he loves this community. They seem to have responded and are receiving the gifts of the Spirit, but what a factious bunch!
How do we know that? Because right after how much he thinks of them and loves them comes: “Some of you say you belong to Paul. Some of you say to you belong to Cephas. Some of you belong to Apollos. Some of you to Christ.” Don’t you realize you all belong to Christ? As a matter of fact, I’m so irritated with you I’m glad I didn’t baptize any of you! Except for, well, those couple, but anyhow I’m glad that…
He tells them they need to focus on the word of the Cross, but their Greek and Roman and Jewish roots are causing them problems, because Christ crucified is a stumbling-block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles. The Corinthians are struggling with their culture and historic legacy. They didn’t stop being who they were because they became Christians. It all comes along.
The lowliness of many of the faithful has only shown what God can do and has done in those that the world doesn’t view as having value. But they are still having a hard time understanding, remembering, and being faithful to what they’ve learned, chosen, and embraced as Christians.
So what are the issues that reveal these things? In the first chapter, they have to be reminded about the unity of the community, because they’re all claiming to be followers of somebody except Jesus… well, some of them. He’s telling them: You have to remember that your unity… You were brought together in the Spirit, and you are temples of the Holy Spirit, which makes the division so much worse, because it’s the Holy Spirit on them personally and as a community that joined them together in the first place. They, to quote him, are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. Basically: Don’t forget who you are and who you belong to!
He goes on in that chapter. They’re judging each other—imagine that—some believing themselves to be superior. Paul reminds them of his own ordeals. Apostles who are fools for Christ’s sake, admonishing them because he loves them. They need to understand true wisdom. We don’t know how many people were offenders in the community, but from our own experience, how much does it take to cause disruption in the church?
When we get to chapter five, that sexual immorality thing they had an issue with in their past has not left town, because a man is sleeping with his stepmother. I tell my college students, “You don’t have to watch the trash on TV…” He’s sleeping with his stepmother and Paul tells them—because they’ve written him! Chloe’s people have given him a report, and they have written a letter to him. So he’s answering their questions, and his response to “What do you do with this guy?” is: You put him out of the community. He has to be removed so that “his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” That we can’t endure these things. For his sake he needs this.
Chapter six: members of the church are suing each other in civil courts. This kind of unrighteousness will keep them from the kingdom of heaven, just like lots of other sinful behaviors they used to engage in before. However, it’s better to bear the wrong than submit to the laws of the pagans and be judged by them. I would probably find that sort of tough to swallow today, and we’ve got all of this that we supposedly know better than they did because they’re still understanding in a way that we’ll never appreciate. How that must have gone over. And it must have continued to be an issue, because St. John Chrysostom addresses this in his Homily 16 on this passage, so maybe the problem didn’t go away.
Chapter seven: some people are concerned about marriage and its effect on their spiritual life. Oh, we could do several jokes about that, but we’ll stick to the early Christians and St. Paul. They must be actively pursuing a godly life and considering the concept of living celibate because of the desire and the hope and the thinking of Paul that Jesus is coming back soon. Therefore we should be focused just on our life in Christ. Paul, for as much as he wants Jesus to come back today, tells them: God has distributed to each one their place, where they are in their life, what they’re doing. “As the Lord has called each one, so let him walk.” If you’re married, stay married. If you’re not married, so much the better: don’t get married. Because that way you can focus on these other things. And if you’re not married, don’t worry about not having a spouse, because it’s not going to matter.
In Corinthians 9, some are more knowledgeable than others; some are just better educated. So that includes those in this Christian family in Corinth who realize that food offered to pagans, by pagans to their gods, is food offered to nothing. So if you want to eat it, eat it. You’re not worshiping some other god; don’t waste the food. But there are those who, if they see this, are going to be scandalized, the “weaker brethren.” So therefore, out of love for the weaker brethren, don’t do it. Don’t do it. Love them enough to not do something that legally you could do, because any law only comes second to the concept of love of God and neighbor.
The conduct of men and women in public worship, and the whole issue of head-coverings was quite the topic of conversation, apparently. However, we often oversimplify and misunderstand what was going on, and that’s why I particularly like looking at history, looking at the sociology, looking at the life circumstance, the cultural customs, and all of that, as we try and understand this, because he said something about, “Men, don’t cover your heads,” right? Chapter 11. Men, do not cover your heads.
“A man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head.” Why would that be? Well, I found a source as I was looking for things to use with this. It’s about a 55-minute lecture by a Protestant theologian—I’m assuming he’s a theologian; he’s very well-versed in history—about what went on, and I’m going to include the link to that on the resources page. I asked Bishop Gregory, because he sat in yesterday morning, with that 48-point caveat and warning and disclaimer: This is here for informational and discussion purposes, because, like Bishop Gregory said, “We should be able to take information that didn’t drop out of the hands of an Orthodox and evaluate it because, well, it might have truth there, and it might actually further our own understanding of our own theology.”
In this presentation, this scholar brought up the fact that, in Roman society, only a Roman citizen could wear the toga. When they went to pagan temples to worship, the one who was presiding or prophesying or doing whatever put his hood up, but if you’re coming into the Christian assembly, leave your pagan practice outside. Mm-hmm. It also would obviously increase the noticeable class difference, because everybody else who wasn’t that full Roman citizen is not going to be garbed like that, so you make it really noticeable because they’re the guys with the hoods. So: men, don’t put that hood up, or the back of your toga.
Women. All right. [Clap] First of all, the “woman” that’s used in the Greek, “gynē,” is “woman” or “wife.” The scholar proposes, and I would tend to agree with him, that he’s talking about the women who are wives, because he’s talking about a veil. The expression “to take the veil” meant “to be married,” because when you were married and you went in public, there was a tunic and a veil that you then put on as a sign that you were a married woman. So he’s not talking to all women. He’s talking to the wives of Roman citizens, the way he was talking to their husbands a moment ago. Until even recently, how did we sometimes describe a couple who was married? “I now pronounce you…”
A4: ...man and wife.
Dr. Yazge: “Man and wife.” If he’s speaking to the wives and they’ve taken the veil, when they come into the temple and they are prophesying—which also tells you women had a public role in worship, despite what other people will say about Paul, and some of the things he says in particular places—he didn’t tell them, “Don’t prophesy, because you’re a woman”; he said, “Cover your head with a veil.” The set-up… I’m going to have to ask you to envision this because I can’t walk away. Yesterday I drew it on the board. They wore these outfits in public. A woman at home didn’t have the veil on and the tunic; she wore her house clothes, whatever those were.
They met in the home of someone that had a house large enough for the community to gather. What’s that look like? Well, first of all, you can tell from the rooms the house comes right up to the street. There’s no majestic lawn with the big, circular driveway; you’re up against the street. When you went into the house, the big place you saw in the center was a big open area, which is where you had enough space for people to gather, then the closed rooms were around the side of that. According to him, in Roman custom and culture, you opened your front door at the beginning of the day, and you had a servant who sat near the front door to be the gatekeeper.
When the Christians all gathered together, it wasn’t like it was exactly a private space, because anybody who came by could look into the doorway and see what you’re doing. That included all the pagans in town who were wondering what are these guys doing. It mentions in the text that… I’m looking for the spot it talks about the angels in this. Ah! “For this reason, a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels.” So what does a head-covering have to do with angels? As far as I know, angels don’t wear head-coverings. As bodiless hosts… It’s the word “messenger,” “angelos” in Greek; it’s translated “messenger.”
Who else has that word “angelos” attached to his name in Greek? The messenger who goes before Christ’s face? John the Baptist is called “angelos.” It’s used several different places. Sometimes it means an angel; sometimes the translation in English ought to be “messenger.” He contends this should be “messenger,” because those who are taking back the message to other pagans and to the officials in town about what these Christians were doing would have looked in through the front door to these gatherings with these married women with their heads uncovered.
He contends in the Roman Empire at that point they were having lots of issues. Women had become more… They were moving towards having independence as persons, because they were still property. The whole inheritance thing. And they actually got to the point where they could have the inheritance, with a guardian, because they weren’t allowed to do anything else, because they had no legal status. His point is: Paul could only push back on so many things at one time. So rather than cause himself even more trouble… It’s like: “You know what? Just do this, because it’s a respect thing.” Then he puts it in terms of how it relates to Christ and to God. Given the cultural setting, this is his response to a practical problem.
Chapter 11: the Eucharistic gathering. Obviously, they’re in the tradition of Acts, but the wealthier people who didn’t have to work as long got there first. Remember, you have this mixed community: some very wealthy people and mostly people who are some sort of artisan, back-breaking work, kind of menial whatever. How long did those people work every day?
A5: From sun-up.
Dr. Yazge: Sun-up to sun-down. What did the wealthy people bring to the meal?
A6: Their servants.
Dr. Yazge: What else did they bring to the community covered-dish?
A6: Wine, meats, luxury things.
Dr. Yazge: All those wonderful foods that they were accustomed to. And what did the poor brick-maker bring?
Dr. Yazge: Bread. If they were olive pickers, maybe they brought some olives. What’s going on in the community when they gather for the Lord’s Supper? And Paul’s furious.
A6: Disparity. Gluttony. Drunkenness.
Dr. Yazge: Huge disparity. Yeah! Drunkenness. You people who get there early! You’re eating everything, and half of you are drunk! by the time the rest of the community comes in! Don’t you discern what you’re receiving in the Lord’s Supper?
So he has to find a way to get this across to them, because the issue isn’t just the “They’re not getting what they have in the Lord’s Supper” together. It goes actually beyond that. This wide social diversity of the community, it shouldn’t surprise us that they’re having a hard time seeing each other as equals. You have the city treasurer in with probably the guy who carved the stone that has his name on it. So if they can’t understand what it means when they gather for the Lord’s Supper, to be one community, one body, they probably don’t understand the life of the community in general. So Paul addresses this, and I’m sure he, with his visits there, had to have had some lovely conversations, really, in 18 months. I wish I could be there with him for a weekend.
When he wrote to the Galatians [he said] that when they become baptized believers in Christ, “There’s neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, but you are all one in Christ.” And in Corinth he has to explain what this means, because he’s already told them in the beginning that they’ve already received the Spirit and these spiritual gifts. So he’s going to use this context of getting them to understand who they are as the body of Christ with these spiritual gifts, so that they understand that they’re given to everyone, and why, because he has to make it graphic. Even they had to be able to see what he was talking about, so he’s going to make clear to them how the body of Christ lives, which is different from what the world does, where the status or possessions or lack of them don’t mean anything if you don’t use your gifts for the good of the entire body, and all parts count.
That’s when we get, in I Corinthians 12, this whole “one body, many parts.” If one part hurts, the whole body hurts. And you would understand that, because if you’ve ever stubbed your toe or had a hangnail, those are painful things in your whole body. I remember falling off my bike as a kid and getting a strawberry on my knee. Ugh! My whole body shook. So he has to point and use that image, because they are the body of Christ, to get across: “These differences have to stop.”
Now, why? Why? Well, because what they’re doing is based simply in love, because Christ loved us, loves us. We have to discern this, therefore he goes from this they are one body and many parts, none more important than any other, none greater than any other, by showing them, then, the more excellent way, that all of this is about not the differences in their gifts but in the love that they have that makes them one body, and that’s where we get Corinthians 13, which is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry in all of Scripture, and if you really want to know what a Christian is or ought to be, you read that. There’s a summary lesson, and that’s why Paul takes the time to put this across, so that they understand he’s not chewing them out because they have differences—because they are different—but in the body of Christ it means something new, and it means something different.
Because of all this, he moves on towards the end of the letter about reiterating the importance of the Resurrection, that all of this is about life, this thing that causes Jews and Greeks these problems, trying to accept who this person Jesus is and what he did, because that Resurrection is the triumph of life over death, and that’s the life they’re supposed to be living together. It’s a total paradigm shift. It goes against everything that they had believed. So that they might need to hear again about it, because they’re still struggling with it, shouldn’t be surprising. He had to repeat the message.
Then, of course, he doesn’t finish without mentioning the collection for Jerusalem, because they are not a community unto themselves. They are not independent members. They’re not independent little bodies of Christ. So he reminds them, because he needs to take that collection to Jerusalem, and he wants their help as well.
So what have we learned about the early Church from this?
Dr. Yazge: Before we get to that point, we do know that they continued in the Tradition of the Apostles, and it’s funny, because Tradition, how old was it? 20 years, not even? We also know they’re not a homogenous group; that they somehow magically didn’t become perfectly enlightened Christians by their baptism, who got along all the time; and that they were not full of perfect faith.
Now, this idea of being perfected… “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The Greek word is “telos.” That word means “end.” To become perfect is to become, by the time you get to the end, everything God created you to be in his image and likeness. The given in our situation is: we’re going to make lots of mistakes between here and there, but that is the goal we’re moving to in the end. Therefore, we get up when we fall down. We get up when we’re knocked down. We let people get [us] up when we don’t even know we’ve fallen down. So that we can become what we’re supposed to be, because we do it as a body.
I have a bad knee. I’m sure my left leg would love to leave my right leg home, because it’s a bother. It is an incredible strain on my left leg. Thank God for bionics; we’re going to address that issue. But in the body of Christ, can we say, “You know, that corner of the room…” Or as the bishop said yesterday, “Every parish is two or three funerals away from being a perfect parish.” We don’t have that luxury. But it’s true, right? Say you haven’t thought of this, and please edit this out before you post it… There was no bishop in the room, and I don’t know who he was.
Dr. Yazge: We have to do this thing together, because it’s based in something much bigger than we are, and it’s about where we want to be now, because that kingdom has broken in now. That’s why we can’t wait and say, “Those poor slobs, those poor suckers, those poor dumb people, those poor rich people… in God’s kingdom someday it’ll all be fixed.” No! Paul’s telling them, “You are that, here and now. That’s why you have to live this way now. You’re already in the day of the kingdom. Therefore act like it. Be it. Do it.” And he never says, “And it’s really easy. By next week you’ll have this conquered.” That’s why it’s the word “telos” as opposed to the word for yesterday.
He is trying to encourage this group, so from there it would be what? They struggled with ignorance in its literal sense: things they just didn’t know. They just didn’t know it yet. They didn’t know it from their past. They have to learn it in their present, in their future. Their spiritual immaturity: how long have they been at this? Not long. Cultural conditioning. Finding and exhibiting respect for each other as truly equal brothers and sisters in Christ. Outwards signs of various kinds of superiority. Find the charitability toward weaker brethren. And they have to deal with just plain pride, because when they do, Paul’s pointing them to the more excellent way, which is how they love each other in the body of Christ.
Given all that, it shouldn’t be surprising that Paul has to, toward the end of the letter, talk to them again about what the Resurrection means, because that’s the lynch-pin of it all. Despite their struggles to learn and grow, they are filled with joy and hope, because it doesn’t say, “Oh, we have a copy of the letter that the Corinthians sent back saying: Hey, we’re checking out of this. We have our deposit back. We’re going home.”
What have we learned from the early Church? Is it Pam?
Dr. Yazge: What have we learned from the early Church?
Pam: We haven’t changed any.
Dr. Yazge: Seriously, if we went through that list of issues I’ve raised, has anything changed much? No.
C4: We’re hard learners.
Dr. Yazge: We are very hard learners, which is why we keep reading St. Paul, because the message still applies. He didn’t write to us, but, well, we can certainly read it with eyes that appreciate what we should hear from those words so that we can grow past where we are. The Church just keeps teaching us, and the lessons that don’t change. That’s why we hear them in that cycle, the Gospels, the Scripture readings for the year. “Oh, Father, it’s that Gospel again.” “Well, what did it say?” “I don’t know.” Well, why do you think we’re reading it again? Because we need to hear and hear and hear, and hopefully hear it with different ears.
C5: And in different years.
Dr. Yazge: Well, and hopefully, every year, to say that I was at the same point I was last year when I heard whatever Gospel would be tragic, if I haven’t moved in some direction, some way, some how, that I can hear it with new ears.
C6: For the first time. I’ve read it every year, and this year it means something to me. And that’s us in our process, in our own journey. That’s why we get it. The message is the same message, but we’re not always ready to hear that. That’s why it doesn’t get changed: because it doesn’t need to. It’s a perfect message, and we just need to be ready to hear it.
Dr. Yazge: Right. Or whatever the lens is that we’re looking at the world with at that moment. What else is in our life? Is it St. Paul’s thorn-in-the-side person? Or am I being the thorn in the side? Given my situation in life, how am I relating to others who are part of the body, whom I may or may not like or want to be with, whom I can’t [tell], “Don’t come to church Sunday; I don’t like seeing you”? Or the proverbial place for life in the parish is often reflected in the kitchen. So maybe we need to read I Corinthians [at] certain times of preparation in our kitchens, because the more excellent way might not be the same way you stir the pot or roll the grape leaf or shape the kibbe.
This is why I think taking a look at the early Church, just through Corinthians, because when I got the topic, it was like: the early Church, in an hour and 20 minutes… because I think they provide a kaleidoscope, really, of what we find in the early Church as far as the composition of people, the culture. You have the Jewish faction, you have the Greek faction, you have the Greco-Roman, you have pagan worship, you have moving from the synagogue. You have all of those things that, somewhere or another, are probably found in every community. So hopefully what you take home with you is a way to try to explain a little bit of this to groups in your parish, whatever age group you’ll have some of the video or the visual stuff, just because I think it’s interesting, and I’ll include that little video clip link for the whole deal with women, men, covering their heads.
Q2: What’s the name of that? Do you know?
Dr. Yazge: It’ll be included in the thing, and I actually have it up here if you want to copy the link. It’s YouTube, so it’s widely accessible. I tried to download it, and I don’t know how that works, so you’ll just have to follow the link. Did you have a question, Bob?
Bob: I think one of the issues that come out of this is that there seems to be, or there’s always been, an idealization of the early Church, and everybody’s thinking about, “Let’s go back to the good old days,” and it is so fraught with conflict on multiple issues, multiple levels, that we need to get some reality into this, and I think it’s good that we could have this and learn more about it.
Dr. Yazge: I’m glad, and that was actually something behind deciding how to do this, is we really have a romanticized vision of the early Church, and I know, even trying to deal with college students when I try to teach New Testament or anything dealing with the early Church and having them read the words of Scripture, it doesn’t live for them, so they get this picture of some kind of Jesus who to them comes across boring because they’ve heard it just read, in a society that they know nothing about, they’ll never see. But if you were going to be a Christian, that was great, because everything was perfect back then, right? It’s like: No, it’s not. It’s never perfect. That’s why “perfect” is the word “telos.” That’s what we’re working toward, because we’re not there yet. That’s the goal. So to get rid of some of this idealized stuff that we have… I mean, the ideal thing would have been sitting at Jesus’ feet, or greeting him at the tomb and going [gasp]—dying of a heart attack when you saw him alive again. That would have been perfect, but after that it gets dicey because—it’s us. We’re all humans, and how we all deal with it is not going to be perfect yet. So thank you.