Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Cornerstone, Part IV. Theological Interpretations of the Cornerstone

The Stone which the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone.
By the LORD this has been done and it is wonderful in our eyes.

- Psalms 118:22-23

Part IV. Theological Interpretations of the Cornerstone

The understanding of Judeo-Christian theologians when it comes to the meaning of the Biblical word 'cornerstone' has remained fairly consistent for nearly the past two thousand years. In short, not only is Rabbi Joshua ben Joseph (Jesus), the Nazarene, seen as being above it all, He is also considered to be the very foundation upon which the religion of Christianity is based. In other words, Joshua the Messiah (Christ) is both far below (the Eye Below the Pyramid) as well as way above (the Eye Above the Pyramid) mere mortals such as man. Indeed, He stands guard eternally protecting His Judeo-Christian flock from the very top of the mountain to the absolute bottom of the valley. Rabbi Joshua is, quite literally, the ruler the all. Here are two basic Biblical commentaries pertaining to the cornerstone.

Psalms 118:22-23 may refer to David's preferment; but principally to Christ. 1. His humiliation; he is the Stone which the builders refused: they would go on in their building without him. This proved the ruin of those who thus made light of him. Rejecters of Christ are rejected of God. 2. His exaltation; he is the chief Cornerstone in the foundation. He is the chief Top-stone, in whom the building is completed, who must, in all things, have the pre-eminence. Christ's name is Wonderful; and the redemption he wrought out is the most amazing of all God's wondrous works

- Matthew Henry's Commentary

Architectural term used twice in the New Testament ( Eph 2:20 ; 1 Peter 2:6 ) to speak of the exalted Jesus as the chief foundation stone of the church, the cornerstone on which all the building depends. The New Testament draws on two Old Testament passages about the coming Messiah ( Isa 28:16 ; Zech 10:4 ). In Isaiah 28:16 the prophet speaks God's words directly to the rulers in Jerusalem who boasted that they were immune to the scourges of life because they were secure in themselves. God said their security was false because he would lay a stone in Zion, a precious cornerstone, which really was secure and it was not those present rulers. Zechariah expands this promise by saying that the cornerstone will come from the tribe of Judah (10:4). Paul builds on this concept in Ephesians 2:20 by saying that Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone, the apostles and prophets are foundation stones, and the whole building (the church) is a holy temple in the Lord. Peter's use of the idea is more complex, stringing three prophetic verses together ( Psalm 118:22 ; Isa 8:4 ; 28:16 ). The stone laid in Zion ( Isa 28:16 ) is precious to the believer, but as the stone placed at the "head of the corner" (eis kephalen gonias), that is, exalted ( Psalm 118:22 ), he is a stone of offense and stumbling ( Isa 8:4 ) to those who refuse to believe. The metaphor seems obvious: the cornerstone is either a source of blessing or judgment, depending on a person's attitude toward it. Some modern interpreters, beginning with J. Jeremias in 1925, take a different tack, separating the two stones and making the cornerstone one thing and the stone at the "head of the corner" another, that is, a capstone or keystone. It is hard to visualize one stumbling over a capstone, but metaphors can be stretched. In any case, the point is that the very foundation of the church is Jesus Christ. This was prophesied by the prophets of old and fulfilled through the incarnation. Those who believe are blessed and those who stumble over that rock chosen by God are condemned.

- Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

In addition to various Biblical commentaries, several Church authorities, including both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, have commented quite extensively upon the Biblical and metaphorical use of the term 'cornerstone'. Here is just a sampling of some of their writings:

(Jesus Christ) Himself then is the foundation, and corner stone: rising from the bottom: if indeed from the bottom: for the base of this foundation is the highest exaltation of the building: and as the support of bodily fabrics rests upon the ground, that of spiritual structures reposes on high. Were we building up ourselves upon the earth, we should lay our foundation on the lowest level: but since our edifice is a heavenly one, to Heaven our Foundation has gone before us: so that our Saviour, the corner stone, the Apostles, and mighty Prophets, the hills that bear the fabric of the city, constitute a sort of living structure.

- Exposition on Psalm 87, by St. Augustine

O Prophet, who said, "You are fair in beauty above the children of men;" you are contradicted; another Prophet comes out against you, and says, " You speak falsely. We have seen Him. What is this that you say, 'You are fair in beauty above the children of men? We have seen Him, and He had no grace nor beauty.'" Are then these two Prophets at disagreement in the Cornerstone of peace? Both spoke of Christ, both spoke of the Cornerstone. In the corner the walls unite. If they do not unite, it is not a building, but a ruin. No, the Prophets agree, let us not leave them in strife. Yea, rather let us understand their peace; for they know not how to strive.

- Sermon 45 on the New Testament, St. Augustine

To the one who has faith, Jesus Christ is the chosen, precious 'foundation stone', but to the one who does not have faith, He is a stone of stumbling.

- Dictionary of Biblical Imagery

For Christ alone is the "Corner Stone" (Ephesians 2:20) on which man and society can find stability and salvation.

- Bible Commentary

On this Corner Stone the Church is built, and hence against her the adversary can never prevail: "The gates of hell shall not prevail" (Saint Matthew 16:18), nor can they ever weaken her! Nay, rather, internal and external struggles tend to augment the force and multiply the laurels of her glorious victories...On the other hand, any other building which has not been founded solidly on the teaching of Christ rests on shifting sands and is destined to perish miserably.

- Summi Pontificatus, 1939

As (St.) Augustine says in a sermon on the Epiphany, "the shepherds were Israelites, the Magi were Gentiles. The former were nigh to Him, the latter far from Him. Both hastened to Him together as to the cornerstone." There was also another point of contrast: for the Magi were wise and powerful; the shepherds simple and lowly. He was also made known to the righteous as Simeon and Anna; and to sinners, as the Magi....Yet did this Corner-Stone draw both to Itself; inasmuch as He came 'to choose the foolish things that He might confound the wise,' and 'not to call the just, but sinners,'" so that "the proud might not boast, nor the weak despair.

- Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas, Question 36. The manifestation of the newly born Christ

Even family life itself, which is the cornerstone of all society and government, necessarily feels and experiences the salutary power of the Church, which redounds to the right ordering and preservation of every State and kingdom. For you know, venerable brethren, that the foundation of this society rests first of all in the indissoluble union of man and wife according to the necessity of natural law...You know also that the doctrines of socialism strive almost completely to dissolve this union; since, that stability which is imparted to it by religious wedlock being lost, it follows that the power of the father over his own children, and the duties of the children toward their parents, must be greatly weakened.

- Quod Apostolici Muneris, 1878

The stone... Another emblem of Christ, the rock, foundation, and corner stone of his Church.

- Challoner

May the LORD God bless you in the name of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

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