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Commentary on Clement of Rome: Chapter 20

From Makrinos Monastery in Megara, Greece; Source

I feel there is so much to discuss with this chapter.  There is a poetic ring to it, recapitulating all creation as commanded and taken care of by God.  The character of this chapter is creation, sustenance, and re-creation and re-sustenance of humanity through Christ.  The parallel is striking.  St. Clement of Rome seems to have the Psalms in mind:

The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Ps 19)

The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples see His glory.” (Ps 97)

“Praise Him, you heavens of heavens, And you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, For He commanded and they were created. He also established them forever and ever. He made a decree which shall not pass away. Praise the Lord from the earth, You great sea creatures and all the depths” (Ps. 148)

I would quote whole psalms and I encourage the reading of the full psalms of each, but I think these stand out for the discussion of this chapter, for the sake of brevity.  Furthermore, from the earliest of Jewish tradition, the Lord Himself said to Moses: “as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Numbers 14), as He was guiding the children of Israel through His glory of cloud and fire, the Shekinah glory.

Furthermore, one cannot help but think of other areas of the Scriptures St. Clement thought of:

The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majestyThe Lord is clothed, He has girded Himself with strength. Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved. Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting.” (Ps. 93)

All this culminated in St. Paul’s teaching to the Hebrews: “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” (Hebrews 8:1)

As well as his message to the Romans:

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

There is a reason behind quoting all these verses.  We can safely assume that the complexity of understanding the divine nature in the Scriptures is not as advanced as today’s theological teachings.  For as the knowledge of the cosmos increases, God becomes that much “bigger”, even though the essence of the teachings do not change.  Therefore, when we consider the heavens as revealing the glory of God, clouds being “the dust of His feet” (Nahum 1:3), one cannot help but be amazed at the beauty of the thought of the ancient Jews, and later on the Church fathers.  This is not a moment to see if they are scientifically accurate, as that would be rude, arrogant, and completely missing the point.  So it is worth reading most of this whole chapter like you would read the Psalms and the Prophets, a fulfillment of praising the glory and majesty of the Lord:

The heavens, revolving under His government, are subject to Him in peace. Day and night run the course appointed by Him, in no wise hindering each other. The sun and moon, with the companies of the stars, roll on in harmony according to His command, within their prescribed limits, and without any deviation. The fruitful earth, according to His will, brings forth food in abundance, at the proper seasons, for man and beast and all the living beings upon it, never hesitating, nor changing any of the ordinances which He has fixed. The unsearchable places of abysses, and the indescribable arrangements of the lower world, are restrained by the same laws. The vast unmeasurable sea, gathered together by His working into various basins, never passes beyond the bounds placed around it, but does as He has commanded. For He said, “Thus far shalt thou come, and thy waves shall be broken within thee.” (Job 38:11) The ocean, impassable to man, and the worlds beyond it, are regulated by the same enactments of the Lord. The seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, peacefully give place to one another. The winds in their several quarters fulfill, at the proper time, their service without hindrance. The ever-flowing fountains, formed both for enjoyment and health, furnish without fail their breasts for the life of men. The very smallest of living beings meet together in peace and concord.

I have always thought, if one were to think of the cosmos scientifically known as it is today, what would someone like St. Clement say, or St. Basil the Great in his Hexamaeron say, or St. John Chrysostom in exegeting Genesis say?  Once you are “in the zone” so to speak of just proclaiming the glory and majesty of God in a prayerful way, what would one say today?

The universe, expanding under His government, are subject to Him in peace.  Revolutions of spherical bodies and the movements stars, intra and intergalactic, run the course appointed by Him, in no way hindering each other.  Our moon, the planets, all revolving around our local star, the sun, with the companies of other stars, revolving in harmony according to His command, within their prescribed limits, and without any deviation from the laws of science which He sets.  The fruitful nebulae, according to His will, brings forth more planets and stars in abundance, at the proper time, for all man to observe in awe and wonder, at what happened light years away in the past, with a certain predictability as we see the possible timeline of our own galaxy and solar system’s making.  The unsearchable places of the abysses of outer space, and the indescribable arrangements of the galaxies, are restrained by the same laws.  The vast unmeasurable web of space-time, gathered together by His working into various collections, ever expanding exponentially boundlessly as He has commanded, though never boundless as He is by nature.  For He said, “This far you may come, but no farther, and here your proud waves must stop!”  The farthest reaches of the universe, impassable to be seen by our greatest telescopes, and perhaps other universes beyond it, are regulated by the same enactments of the Lord.  Black holes, white holes, big bangs, branes, time, space, force, energy, all harmoniously give place to one another.  The star dust in their several travels fulfill, at the proper time and place, their formation into what we are now.  The ever-flowing stream of star dust, radiation, and light, formed both for our understanding and our appreciation, furnish without fail their ever-flowing stream of formations for the knowledge of man.  Even the very smallest of our make-up, the atoms, the subatomic, and possibly the “strings”, meet together in peace and accordance.

Perhaps, this may not be the best way of putting it, but certainly, it is worth praising God for.  Perhaps Carl Sagan or Neil Degrasse Tyson would read this, and gawk at how scientifically illiterate I am in writing this, and how my praise is misguided, that I am ignoring all the other parts of the cosmos and the earth that cannot be “by design”.  I am not a “creationist” or an “intelligent designist” in the same way as some Christian groups who see the world created as it is literally described in the Scriptures.  At the same time, I agree with Carl Sagan when he says, “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”  I have not read his book “Cosmos”, but I recognize that it had influenced so many others with this same feeling and awe.  Atheists can take from this “feeling” and extract from it an “atheist spirituality”.

Carl Sagan, Source

Neil Degrasse Tyson wrote something that I think is quite spiritual indeed that he repeats in many interviews he has done: “Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”

Source

I stand therefore with Theodosius Dobzhansky who says “I am an evolutionist and a creationist.”  I think this is where you will see that my views of the issue of evolution in Christian circles come to an agreement with those who find it a waste of time debating against science because I am confident that God’s divinity is never compromised by what science finds or teaches.  The New Atheists sometimes seem “New Agist” in their praise and “spirituality” (and there are plenty of other things I can disagree with atheists about), but the “tingling in the spine” we get as we look at the cosmos that Sagan describes, to me, that tingling is the Image of God in me wanting to praise the “invisible attributes” of God, His very own divinity and power, which is His glory and majesty.  And if God wills, as I continue to make commentaries on later Church fathers who might talk about the earth and the cosmos in a way that is scientifically incorrect, I look beyond this and say that the Church fathers spoke truth, divine truth, even in their inaccuracies.  The Holy Spirit stirred them up, gave them that “tingling in the spine” to praise God with what they scientifically have known in their time.  Therefore, this chapter from St. Clement as other chapters from the Bible deserve praise and quoting.  And in all this, this leads to the final purpose in all this praise and worship in what we comprehend from the universe (ending with his “Amen” showing us his “prayerful zone”):

All these the great Creator and Lord of all has appointed to exist in peace and harmony; while He does good to all, but most abundantly to us who have fled for refuge to His compassions through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory and majesty for ever and ever. Amen.

Indeed, we received the most abundance out of all things.  We are given the capacity to comprehend and to praise and to record what we observe and praise.  What other living creature can do this?  We are not merely “of the earth”, but we are indeed “gods” over the earth.  The ancient Jewish writers who wrote that we are created “in the image and likeness of God” were able to perceive the glory and majesty we have over all other creatures, and reveal to us the truth that we are indeed created “theomorphically”.  We are expanding our knowledge beyond this sphere we call earth, showing that our power, like the universe, is expanding exponentially, and seemingly boundless like God, although we still can define our bounds, so that “our proud waves must stop” so as not to reach a level of sinful pride as if we are equal to God Himself.  We know we can be boundless in our knowledge, but we also have to know our place as limited creatures.  As creatures, we do not have any power in ourselves to be seated “at the right hand of majesty”, but we are in need of refuge within the compassion of God “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  St. Clement did not stop there, but the same language where glory and majesty which is due to YHWH Himself, is due also to Jesus Christ our Lord, who alone is the power of the Father, seated at the right hand of divinity, because He is fully and equally divine as the Father.  Amen, indeed St. Clement!  Amen, indeed!

Source

Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one in Godhead and essence, both now and forever, and to the ages of all ages.  Amen!

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