Death is serious…

[This is the third interaction with Ben Myers’ new book The Apostle’s Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Click here to see more posts about this book.]

I am reading Ben Myers’s new book chapter by chapter, slowly and joyfully. In this brief book, a new believer will meet figures like Julian of Norwich, Karl Barth, and Athanasius. Yet these towering and often complicated thinkers are met as someone would meet a friend of a friend at a diner. We get a name and something witty or important they said. Just enough to make you say, as you sit down at your own table with your friend, “I’d like to get to know them more.”

The presence of important figures from church history is pertinent in Myers’s chapter on the Creed’s claim that Jesus “descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead.” In this chapter, Myers helps the reader get a sense of early Christians’ views of the dead, especially martyrs, by describing some of their practices. From teaching new believers in graveyards to singing during funerals, Myers suggests, Christian views and practices related to death would have offended pagan sensibilities. The practices revealed the Christian conviction that “death has been subsumed by life” (p. 79).

Myers’s use of dead theologians is pertinent because each time he quotes a dead person he resists Death’s attempt to silence the life of the faithful. So, among the many one-liners worthy of quoting (“Death is serious; but not as serious as life”), Myers includes several words of wisdom from various saints. Here are a few:

Julian of Norwich: “For Jesus is all who shall be saved and all who shall be saved are Jesus…For he went into hell, and when he was there he raised up out of the deep deepness the great root of those who were truly knit to him in high heaven.”

John Chrysostom: “The tombs of the saints were, in the words of John Chrysostom, ‘tombs with life, tombs that give voice.'”

And, my personal favorite:

Athanasius: “If you see children playing with a lion, don’t you know that the lion must either be dead or completely powerless? In the same way…when you see Christ’s believers playing with death and despising it, there can be no doubt that death has been destroyed by Christ and that its corruption has been dissolved and brought to an end.”

As an endorsement, James K. A. Smith writes, “This is the catechism we need for a secular age, overcoming the forgetting we parade as enlightenment.” I couldn’t agree more. If catechumantes–to borrow a word from our tradition!–are introduced to Christian thinking through this book, they will be introduced to the deep well of Christian history. And that is a well from which they can drink for the rest of their lives.


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