Review: McGuckin’s The Path of Christianity

John McGuckin’s project is unique in that he starts his account in the 2nd Century, not the 1st.  This allows him to explore the different “secessionist” offshoots from the main church. This meant for the Church that the office of the bishop had to arise primarily to confront fringe and schismatic groups (Ebionites, Natsirim, Montanists, etc).

Post-Apostolic Fathers

Related imageWith Clement of Rome we see the terminology of presbytery as a group of elders but we are also beginning to see one presbyter/episkopos beginning to have administrative authority.  With Ignatius of Antioch the role of bishop is now monarchical.  Yet when Polycarp writes to the church of Philippi, he speaks not of a bishop but a council of presbyters (McGuckin 65; Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians 6.1).

Cyprian

For Cyprian there can never be schism in the church, it is always schism from the church. He isn’t just arguing for unity, but for unicity. Disobedience to the church is a crime against the unity of the church (220). If you are out of the church, you are cut off from the grace spigot.  Not surprisingly, Cyprian set himself up for failure.  His theory couldn’t answer later questions: like who is the true church when the patriarch is a slave to the Ottomans or the Soviets or to George Soros?  

Justinian Reforms

Justinian didn’t simply “shut down” the Academy in Athens.  He cut off govt funding and forced them to pay their way.  They couldn’t do that (because people didn’t want to see a mix of Plato and magic), so the magician-philosophers went to Persia (and then came back).

Early Liturgy and Prayer

It is very difficult for many people to approach the ancient fathers on prayer.  For some, it looks too much like Buddhism.  And for many activists theologians, it doesn’t make sense to do hesychasm when you can be lobbying on Capitol Hill.  Nevertheless, the “stillness” model rests upon a particularly sophisticated anthropology, one that can help us in our technological age.  Indeed, one that can counter (with God’s help) deep state monarch programming.

Now, on to McGuckin: “The heart is the inner place where the creature stood before God” (Path 865).  Heart isn’t quite the same thing as nous.

  • It is a biblical cipher for the whole spiritual personality.
  • It is sometimes expressed by the word wisdom (Prov. 19.8).
  • It is a synonym for the innermost self (Rom. 7.22).

McGuckin notes the effect of this practice, “Charging and reorienting the human  consciousness, focusing it, as it were, like a lens on the singleness of the idea of the presence of God” (871).  The ancients knew that our minds wander during prayer.  This trained us to begin the struggle of prayer.

The Bible

Very helpful section.  No matter where you fall on the tradition/scripture debate,  I am reminded of a comment from RC Sproul, “We hold to an infallible text in a fallible canon.”  How can that be possible.  McGuckin, probably not intending to carry on Sproul’s idea, points to an analogue in a “bounded infinity.”  We operate on the assumption that our universe is finite.  It is, yet it is constantly expanding.  

Christians and Magic

  • St Paul defined every magician as a son of the Devil (Acts 13:8-12)
  • All Greco-Roman rites were demonic (and thus the tie-in with daimonic, human contact with invisible world of spirits (1010)).
  • Athanasius best represented the Christian approach to cthonic forces and magic.  We have to understand how widespread this fear was in the ancient world (and pretty much everywhere that isn’t comfortable America). “At the sign of the cross all magic ceases, all witchcraft is rendered void, all idols are abandoned and denied, all superstitious longings cease, and everyone raises their eyes to heaven” (De Incarnatione 31).

Conclusion

Somewhat intermediate-advanced text, but clearly the best treatment of pre-schism church history

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Book Review, Church History and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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