NOVEMBER 8, 2004- HOMILY: TITUS 1:1-9; Luke 17:1-6
THE BISHOP MUST HOLD FAST TO THE AUTHENTIC MESSAGE SO HE WILL BE ABLE TO ENCOURAGE MEN TO FOLLOW SOUND DOCTRINE. Already in the earliest days of the Church the apostles were concerned to preach and maintain the teachings of Jesus in all their purity. They understood that the Lord himself was a unique revelation and that salvation depended on having a correct acceptance of his person, his teaching and the meaning of the major events of his life. And so already before the Gospels were written and promulgated measures were taken to assure the preservation of the truths about the Savior and the message he entrusted to his disciples. St. Paul refers to these beliefs here as ‘sound teaching’. While he uses the same expression in his first letter to Timothy, there he also calls it ‘the deposit’ (paratheke) and urges that disciple to guard it. If Paul insisted on the need to preserve and spread the traditions that constitute faith in Christ, it was necessary because there was a false knowledge already circulating. He speaks of it as a ‘falsely named gnosis’ (1Tim6:20). History was to demonstrate how grievously the Church was to suffer for some centuries due to divisions and conflicts with this subtle and false gnosis.
True knowledge of Christ was the source of life’s meaning for Paul; more, for him the loving and penetrating knowledge of the risen Lord Jesus was life itself for him. “I have considered all things as so much loss for the sake of the surpassing knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all else and I count it as garbage just so that I might gain Christ… know him and the power of his resurrection.”(Phil.3:8, 10) ”I no longer live, Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20).” Paul then is only applying to the pastoral ministry the governing truth of his life when he requires Timothy and Titus to make it their serious concern to hold on to the truth they received from him, for by it they live, without it they perish. Titus is to assure that those whom he appoints as overseers (that is the literal meaning of ‘episcopos’) in the Church must possess sound doctrine and know how to teach it. Unless a person believes Jesus is truly God, lived and died as a man, rose in the body and lives now in union with the Father, then Christ is not the Savior for that individual. This is the saving faith that is, living and life-giving.
The Church proved faithful to Paul’s pastoral urgings concerning the need to guard the deposit, to keep faith sound. Rather than allow herself to be led astray by the subtle reasonings of those many intelligent but erroneous preachers who denied Christ is true God and fully man, those who held the place of the apostles resisted, labored and suffered to “keep the deposit’ integral and unchanged in its basic essentials.
Ultimately, the tradition handed on does not consist of dogmas. Dogma is essential but as a guardian and a pointer to the living reality of the Holy Spirit who keeps the knowledge of Christ alive and personal, filling it with the vital, person of the risen Lord Jesus. For it is his very self, his own person that our Savior has given over to the custody of the Church. The creed and teachings of the Church are expressions of the life in the Spirit of Christ, entrusted to those whom he chooses to carry on his work of redemption. In the Eucharist, he continues to hand over this deposit to each of us that he might be for us what he was for Paul, our life, our hope and our strength.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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