Monday, July 9, 2012

Reading Marcius: Introducing an Ancient Christian Author

“I read Macarius and sang,” so wrote John Wesley in 1736 upon his discovery of the Ancient Church author whose writings have been transmitted under the name of Macarius. The major themes of those texts of Macarius available to Wesley nicely dovetailed with the Methodist leader’s interests, for in them Macarius especially set forth the biblical dimensions and theological implications of the salvific work of the Holy Spirit and explored the experience of the believer, who, though indwelt by the Spirit, nevertheless battles indwelling sin.

While there is much that is unclear about Macarius, he appears to have been especially active between the 380s and the first decade of the fifth century. He had strong ties to Syrian Christianity, although his mother tongue was most likely Greek. He would thus have been very comfortable with the theological ambience of Greek Christian life and piety. His ministry seems to have been situated on the frontier of the Roman Empire in upper Syria and in southern Asia Minor, where he was the spiritual mentor of a number of monastic communities. There are also indications that he was known to and even friends with two of the great Cappadocian Fathers, Basil of Caesarea (c.330–79) and Gregory of Nyssa (c.335–c.395). In fact, Gregory of Nyssa so admired Macarius that he incorporated holus-bolus significant portions of one of Macarius’ works into one of his own theological treatises!

Macarius’ deeply realistic approach to the human condition, his emphasis on the vital necessity of the Holy Spirit to effect eternal transformation, and his desire to take seriously human responsibility reveal him to be a thinker worthy of attention in our day that is also marked by a fascination with spirituality and a passionate interest in what it means to be truly human. In the two articles that follow, we shall explore what this Ancient Christian author can teach us about the nature of being human and what it means to be filled with the Spirit.

Michael Haykin, PhD
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

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