Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for August 27, 2006

The Epistle of Barnabas, although highly regarded by the early Church, presents some difficulty for the study of the Fathers of the Church. Its authorship, although attributed to “Barnabas,” is actually unknown. Some have automatically assumed that the Barnabas in question is the co-worker of St. Paul (Acts 4:36; 9:27), although very little evidence suggests this is the case. What is known, however, is its antiquity and connection with the Scriptures; most probably the letter was composed around 131 A.D.

Even though the author of this epistle is not certain, it does offer insight into the belief and practice of second-century Christianity. From the beginning of the letter, Christianity is considered something “handed down” from the apostles: “I should take the trouble to communicate to you some portion of what I have myself received” (ch. 1).

Barnabas urges his readers to live in accord with God’s commandments, particularly since the “last days,” were considered to be upon them: “Let us be spiritually-minded: let us be a perfect temple to God. … Let us meditate upon the fear of God, and let us keep His commandments, that we may rejoice in His ordinances. … Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those who are called [of God], we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince, acquiring power over us, should thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord” (ch. 4).

A traditional method of interpreting Scripture is to follow “typology,” that is, seeing those events and people as “types” which prefigure events to come. Such a method is even used by our Lord when He instructs the disciples on the road to Emmaus; the Epistle of Barnabas makes extensive use of this: “The good Lord has foreshown all things to us, that we might know to whom we ought for everything to render thanksgiving and praise” (ch. 7) The letter then describes the Jewish “scapegoat,” and similar sacrifices as prefiguring Christ’s own death.

He continues: “Let us further inquire whether the Lord took any care to foreshadow the water [of baptism] and the cross” (ch. 11). After describing several of the Psalms in reference to the water, we read as a type of the Cross: “Moses then makes a brazen serpent, and places it upon a beam, and by proclamation assembles the people” (ch. 12). The bronze serpent was only one such example of the may prefigurements of the Old Testament.

The second half of the Epistle of Barnabas demonstrates the early Christian understanding of “the two ways”: a way of light and a way of darkness. We will see this distinction again in the Didache and other early Christian writings. Barnabas says: “There are two ways of doctrine and authority, the one of light, and the other of darkness. But there is a great difference between these two ways. For over one are stationed the light-bringing angels of God, but over the other the angels of Satan” (ch. 18).

In its description of the way of light, the early Christians faced temptations that remain even today: “The way of light, then, is as follows. … You shall love Him that created you: you shall glorify Him that redeemed you from death. … You shall not commit fornication: you shall not commit adultery. … You shall not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor again, shall you destroy it after it is born. … You shall not be hasty with your tongue, for the mouth is a snare of death. … You shall remember the day of judgment, night and day. … You shall confess your sins. You shall not go to prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of light.” (ch. 19).

The other way? “The way of darkness is crooked and full of cursing; for it is the way of eternal death with punishment, in which way are the things that destroy the soul: idolatry, … hypocrisy, double-heartedness, adultery, murder, rape, haughtiness, … poisoning, magic, avarice, want of the fear of God” (ch. 20). Also included in this “way of darkness” are those who ignore the needy, oppress the afflicted, and unjustly treat the poor (cf. ch. 20). Human nature remains constant, but God is constantly pouring His grace upon His Church, to enable us to walk in the “way of light.”

He concludes: “May God, who rules over all the world, give to you wisdom, intelligence, understanding, knowledge of his judgments, with patience. … Farewell, you children of love and peace. The Lord of glory and of all grace be with your spirit. Amen” (ch. 21).

Next week, we will meet St. Justin Martyr, Christian philosopher and the first of “the Apologists,” who defended the Faith by rational argument. May God bless you all!