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John (ca. 675–749) is known as the great compiler and summarizer of the orthodox faith and the last great Greek theologian. Born in Damascus, John gave up an influential position in the Islamic court to devote himself to the Christian faith. Around 716 he entered a monastery outside of Jerusalem and was ordained a priest. When the Byzantine emperor Leo the Isaurian in 726 issued a decree forbidding images (icons), John forcefully resisted. In his Apostolic Discourses he argued for the legitimacy of the veneration of images, which earned him the condemnation of the Iconoclast Council in 754. John also wrote defenses of the orthodox faith against contemporary heresies. In addition, he was a gifted hymn writer (“Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain”) and contributed to the liturgy of the Byzantine churches. His greatest work was the Fount of Wisdom which was a massive compendium of truth from  previous Christian theologians, covering practically every conceivable doctrinal topic. John’s summary of the orthodox faith left a lasting stamp on both the Eastern and Western churches.

O Lord, through Your servant John of Damascus, You proclaimed with power the mysteries of the true faith.  Confirm our faith so that we may confess Jesus to be true God and true man, singing the praise of the risen Lord, and so that by the power the resurrection we also attain the joys of eternal life;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

(From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Reflection:  John of Damascus was instrumental in the iconoclast controversy. He wrote On the Divine Images, as an apology, that is  a defense of the practice of venerating icons.   Our word “iconoclast” as one who challenges cherished beliefs, seems to come from that time.  It is from two Greek words and literally means, “breaker of images”. This was the word’s meaning then.  John was of the opposite position: an iconodule, “one who serves images”.  If you have ever been in an eastern Orthodox Church, especially during the Divine Liturgy, you have seen people venerating icons by bowing to one and then kissing it. This can be disconcerting for Protestants.     It was controversial then and still can be.

The first thing to know about the Orthodox understanding of icons is this:  an icon is written!  Yes, it is painted but it written as a prayer or even as the Word seen which is meet and right and so to do and so:   Second, the word, “icon” is right from the New Testament and is translated as “image”:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Romans 8:28-30

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:48-50

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Colossians 1:14-16

John argued in his treatise that we must remember why icons were written. The Word became flesh, the unseen God became flesh and we have beheld Him, therefore, icons/images are aids to worship the Lord.  Now I do not want to get into the particulars of this controversy but to remember: the confession that Jesus Christ,  the  true icon of the invisible God is itself controverted.  The impassable God becoming true man is contested by both Judaism and Islam.  It is a scandal as is the crucifixion (  1 Corinthians 1:23).  The Word, written and spoken was born of the Virgin Mary to be adored as He has saved us and thereby we might cling to Him in faith for His dear life.  This also teaches as C. S. Lewis wrote that to God matter matters, after all He created matter.  He became flesh to redeem those whom He created and loves.   Further, redemption is not dis-incarnate spirituality, He came to redeem His creation from it’s bondage to sin, decay and death.  He washes us in real water comprehended in His Word, His Name and in bread and wine, His body and blood.  His Word is preached and taught  into our hearts to sanctify us that we are more and more the icon of Christ in the world.  Our hope is in the life of the world to come.

John of Damascus, from the quote in the clip-art  above, knew the image of God was present thoroughly in the Scripture.  This has a better Authority than written icons of men!  I think churches can get far afield dwelling too much on such human customs and forget the garden, as John wrote,  of His written Word, the Bible.

John  wrote hymns to picture in music and lyric the Word made flesh.  In the Lutheran Service Book are two hymns by John of Damascus, both Paschal (Easter) hymns:  “The Day of Resurrection” #478 and “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain” #487. The day of His birth points to the day of His Resurrection:  the Icon of the Invisible God bearing the marks of the Cross for us and our salvation.

1. Come, ye faithful, raise the strain
Of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought His Israel
Into joy from sadness.
‘Tis the spring of souls today:
Christ hath burst His prison
And from three days’ sleep in death
As a sun hath risen.

2. All the winter of our sins,
Long and dark, is flying
From His light, to whom we give
Laud and praise undying.
Neither could the gates of death
Nor the tomb’s dark portal
Nor the watchers nor the seal
Hold Thee as a mortal.

3. But today amidst Thine own
Thou didst stand, bestowing
That Thy peace which evermore
Passeth human knowing.
Come, ye faithful, raise the strain
Of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought His Israel
Into joy from sadness.

(from The Lutheran Hymnal)

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He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion. (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

This commemoration is not recognized by any church body as far as I know.  I think C.S.Lewis should be commemorated on the day of his death which was overshadowed by the death of President Kennedy.  As far as this mortal can tell, I think Lewis and what he did and what he wrote will be long remembered. Why should C. S. Lewis be commemorated? Primarily what he did is he wrote and what he wrote was a defense, an apology for the Christian faith. He did so in both amateur theological writing (which was not amateurish by any means!) and in his fiction bringing his dear readers into other worlds, as in The Chronicles of Narnia

  The Greek word apologia is literally a defense, as in the Book of Concord, Philip Melanchthon wrote The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, a defense of it.  C. S. Lewis’ writings, especially Mere Christianity, were  a defense against the cultured despisers of the faith which are virulent in our day.  Even so as Lewis encouraged in his introduction to a new translation of St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation that people read the old books first, then the new ones because the old books have stood the test of time.  

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet.

The danger of the contemporary diet, especially in theology, C. S. Lewis knew all too well.

Any theory which bases itself on a supposed “historical Jesus” to be dug out of the Gospels and then set up in opposition to Christian teaching is suspect. There have been too many historical Jesuses—a liberal Jesus, a pneumatic Jesus, a Barthian Jesus, a Marxist Jesus. They are the cheap crop of each publisher’s list, like the new Napoleons and new Queen Victorian. It is not to such phantoms that I look for my faith and my salvation. (from his essay, “Why I am not a Pacifist”)

Any Christian worth his salt and saltiness must stand up to the age in which he lives, especially in these days. So much of the New Testament is about the Church’s response to persecution, not to crush the persecutor but that the persecutor be saved:  see Saul of Tarsus.  And as in salt, the truth, the Word, will sting in the mouths and hearts of the cultured despisers.  So it must…and in our hearts as well when we fall away.  The Lord’s Word is life, eternal life.  In his introduction to Athanasius’ book, Lewis pointed out that the Church Father’s defense of the faith, specifically the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, put Athanasius at odds with the world, to the point it was said of him, Athanasius contra mundum, Athanasius against  the world.   He took a stand.  So did Clives Staple Lewis.  He was aware of it himself:

All contemporary write. share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it.

Maybe he wrote “seem most opposed to it” because those who are faithful and true, taking a stand, are the only ones who are really for people in the world, as the Lord is who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. 

Below is C. S. Lewis’ literary timeline, listing most of his writings which will also serve as a brief biography.   C. S. Lewis’ vocation was professor, a teacher, and in his writings he still teaches the Faith delivered to the saints once and for all: see Jude 1:3

Almighty and everlasting God, You would have all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. By Your almighty power and unsearchable wisdom break and hinder all the counsels of those who hate Your Word and who, by corrupt teaching, would destroy it. Enlighten them with the knowledge of Your glory that they may know the riches of Your heavenly grace and, in peace and righteousness, serve You, the only true God; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Addendum:  a Literary Biography

  • 1898 Born On 29 November in Belfast, Ireland.
  • 1905 The family moves to “Little Lea” on the outskirts of Belfast.
  • 1908 His mother, Florence Lewis, dies of cancer On 23 August. In September he is sent to school at Wynyard in Watford, Hertfordshire, England.
  • 1910 He attends Campbell College in Ireland.
  • 1911 Returns to England and attends school at Cherbourg House, Malvern, beginning in January.
  • 1913 Enters Malvern College, a university preparatory school, in September.
  • 1914 Moves to Surrey and is tutored by W. T. Kirkpatrick (“The Great Knock”).
  • 1916 Reads George MacDonald’s Phantastes. This book, he wrote, “baptized” his imagination. MacDonald, he later claimed, was quoted in every book he subsequently published.
  • 1917 Begins his studies at University College, Oxford, in April; commissioned a second lieutenant in the Somerset Light Infantry in September; goes to the front in November.
  • 1918 Wounded in action in April.
  • 1919 Returns to University College; publishes Spirits in Bondage under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton.
  • 1920 Takes a First in Honour Moderations (midway examinations).
  • 1922 Takes a First in Greats (classics and philosophy), and awarded the B. A.
  • 1923 Takes a First in English Language and Literature in the HonourSchool.
  • 1924 Assumes duties as tutor at UniversityCollege.
  • 1925 Elected Fellow in English Language and Literature at MagdalenCollege, Oxford.
  • 1926 Publishes Dymer under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton.
  • 1929 His father, Albert J. Lewis, dies in Belfast; becomes a theist but not a Christian.
  • 1931 Confesses belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and becomes a regular communicant in the Church of England.
  • 1933 Publishes The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism under his own name, dropping the Clive Hamilton pseudonym forever.
  • 1936 Publishes The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition.
  • 1938 Publishes Out of the Silent Planet.
  • 1939 Publishes The Personal Heresy A Controversy, with E. M. W. Tillyard; publishes Rehabilitations and Other Essays.
  • 1940 Publishes The Problem of Pain; begins lectures on Christianity to members of the Royal Air Force.
  • 1941 Begins a series of over twenty talks on the British Broadcasting Corporation radio.
  • 1942 Publishes Broadcast Talks, a small book based on his 1941 and 1942 BBC radio lectures; publishes The Screwtape Letters and A Preface to “Paradise Lost
  • 1943 Publishes Perelandra, The Abolition of Man, and the BBC radio lectures entitled Christian Behaviour
  • 1944 Publishes Beyond Personality from his BBC talks.
  • 1945 Publishes The Great Divorce and That Hideous Strength.
  • 1946 Edits George MacDonald: An Anthology
  • 1947 Publishes Miracles: A Preliminary Study; edits with others Essays Presented to Charles Williams.
  • 1948 Publishes Arthurian Torso.
  • 1949 Publishes Transposition and Other Addresses.
  • 1950 Receives his first letter from Joy Davidman; publishes The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
  • 1951 Publishes Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia
  • 1952 Meets Joy Davidman; publishes Mere Christianity, which includes Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour and Beyond Personality, all in revised form; publishes The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”
  • 1953 Publishes The Silver Chair
  • 1954 Publishes The Horse and His Boy and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama.
  • 1955 Assumes the position of Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Magdalene College, Cambridge. His inaugural address is “De Descriptione Temporumî; publishes Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life and The Magician’s Nephew.
  • 1956 Marries Joy Davidman in a civil ceremony in April; publishes The Last Battle and Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
  • 1957 Marries Joy Davidman in an Anglican ceremony in March.
  • 1958 Publishes Reflections on the Psalms.
  • 1960 Publishes The Four Loves, Studies in Words, and The World’s Last Night and Other Essays. His wife, Joy, dies on 13 July.
  • 1961 Publishes Grief Observed and An Experiment in Criticism.
  • 1962 Publishes They Asked for a Paper.
  • 1963 Dies on 22 November, the same day Aldous Huxley and John F. Kennedy died.
  • 1964 Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer which he 

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This posting is a follow-up to the previous one regarding Lucas Cranach the Elder‘s painting, “The Allegory of Law and Grace“.

There is not one painting with the theme of Law and Grace by Lucas Cranach the Elder, but many paintings and in addition his drawings and woodcuts on the same theme.  This theme was so popular that another German artist, Hans Holbein the Younger painted the same allegory.

Lucas Cranach and his family were friends of the Luthers.  Their friendship in Christ is most likely responsible for the differences between two paintings of the theme Law and Grace by the artist.  Note the differences below.  The first one is the earlier Prague painting, the next one is the later Gotha painting.  What are the differences?  

“Prague”

“Gotha” Type

Let’s first look at the less obvious change.  In the “Prague” painting, on the Law side we see depicted a group of tents in the background illustrating the narrative of the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:8-10  ) which our Lord used to describe His Messianic role, see John 3:13-15 Note that in the second painting the “Gotha” panel it has been moved into the Gospel side.  John Dillenberger in his book, Images and Relics in the time of the Reformation and the Renaissance, notes the high probability, given the friendship between Cranach and Luther that Cranach  made this change of  depiction, because Cranach had bee more fully catechized by Dr. Luther.  But why the change?

 Luther did not distinguish between law and gospel in terms of Old Testament and New Testament, for there was law in the New Testament, and gospel in the Old. The other subjects fell easily into either the Old or New Testament divisions. But law and gospel did not easily fall into one or the other testament, thus requiring a decision. The scene of the serpents that devoured the people, who then were saved by their looking at the elevated serpent, is recorded in the Old Testament; but it is actually the symbol of grace. The church had interpreted the serpent being lifted up as a prefiguration of Christ having been lifted up. Luther, looking at the Cross, could…speak of the “brazen serpent Christ,” thereby showing his radical reading of the Old Testament from a Christological perspective.[1]

A correction on the quote above:  the Church did not interpret the bronze serpent being lifted up as a prefiguration of Christ’s crucifixion, no, Christ did! Again, Luther did not come up with “his radical reading of the Old Testament” from the perspective of the accomplishment of salvation in Jesus Christ  (“christological”) on his own.  St. Augustine centuries earlier said that the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. This unity of Testaments in Jesus Christ is inherent in the texts of both Old and New Testaments,  Dillenberger is right on target, though, that the notion that the OT   equals Law and NT equals Gospel/Grace is incorrect.

Now to the obvious difference in the paintings:  the Man, that is Adam, in the earlier painting is smack dab in the middle.  In the later painting, he is on both sides. Dillenberger in the quote above correctly wrote that the earlier painting suggests a decision by Adam as to which side he wants to be in.  Indeed, Luther may just have corrected his friend!

“…the Gotha panel becomes the norm, perhaps because it was closer to what Luther meant. It provided a picture of the ramifications of law and gospel for each person, rather than a demand that either law or gospel be accepted.[2]

It sure looks like in the earlier panel Adam, that is all of us, needs to make our decision for Christ.  The panel of the Law shows the depth of sin, death and the power of the devil.  Only the spiritual use of the Law, showing us our sin, can we know the depths. First, given the graphic illustration of the Law, it’s a “no brainer” as to a decision!  But even so the Old Adam tenaciously will hold onto the “dearest souvenirs of hell”(C. S. Lewis). And the subtle serpent will not present himself so baldy, but in disguise as “light”. We can not make the move by our decision from the left panel to the right panel:  only the Lord can and has through the preaching and teaching of the Gospel does the Holy Spirit literally transfer us from Law to Grace:

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14/ emphasis my own)

So that, we are not under Law but under grace:

 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6: 13-14)

The Law is necessary in the second panel to show us our sin and point us ever to our Savior lifted up on the Cross, so we do not present our “members” as instruments for unrighteousness, but      “…to God as instruments for righteousness”, because as the Apostle plainly states, “SINCE,  you are not under law but under grace.” (emphasis my own).  Luther posted his 95 Theses on purpose on the eve of All Saints Day, November 1.  The second painting depicts more closely the Scripture and the verses cited.  It is a wonderful reminder not only of God’s grace in Jesus Christ but the power of His overwhelming  Sacrifice which alone, ALONE transfers us  in His rule and reign, saints by grace, not our works, so that by His grace we will produce fruit pleasing in His sight. So note, the tree in the middle is fruitless on the law side, but fruitful unto salvation in Jesus. 

By grace! None dare lay claim to merit;
Our works and conduct have no worth.
God in His love sent our Redeemer,
Christ Jesus, to this sinful earth;
His death did for our sins atone,
And we are saved by grace alone

Blessed Reformation Day and All Saints Day!


[1] Pages 98-100, Images and Relics by John Dillenberger (Oxford University Press, 1999)

[2] Page 100, ibid

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