Arimathea
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Religion
The human animal is the worshipping animal. Toward the divine, we have a need to pray, to sacrifice, to offer up, and to praise. From the spirit dances of primitive animism to the rational contemplation of philosophical paganism, from the ethical code of the rabbis to the theological vision of the scholastics, from the sprinkled blood (the origin of blessing) of temple cults to helping the poor in simple Christian charity, men need to relate the immanent and the transcendent -- they see their particular lives in time and space transfigured and transfused with meaning unbounded by human things. Religion is this aspect of human life where the everyday and worldly intersects with the ultimate and divine. Is this an accident of human evolution, or is it a racial neurosis brought upon us as conscious beings who live in the shadow of our own death? Is it a reflection of the divine order, where creatures naturally orient themselves toward their source? Has God revealed himself to us, as the Christians claim? In this realm, I shall try to delve into such questions as an Orthodox Christian who ever pesters God with "Why?"
Ecumenism
Relations with the heterodox
Tuesday, April 19, A.D. 2016
Perhaps a Providential Papacy

Pope Francis released his papal exhortation Amoris laetitia earlier this month. As expected, he upset many traditional Latins and confused many more. I am not going to comment on the document, which I have not read—the commentaries of others suffice for my purposes. Rather, I would like to share a link to Rorate Caeli’s reaction: “More Catholic than the pope.” I highly recommend that you read the entire post, but here is a lengthy selection:

. . . As explained in the First Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus, the Church firmly holds that “the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.

The Catholic Faith is not something invented anew by each pope according to his own opinions, predilections, understanding, or whims.  The pope is only good as a “yardstick” when he formally teaches in accordance to “the Faith once delivered unto the saints,” as St. Jude the Apostle wrote.

When Pope Liberius assented to the unjust excommunication of St. Athanasius the Great, and signed off on an ambiguous creedal formula that could be accommodated to the Arian or semi-Arian heresies, every faithful Catholic was then “more Catholic than the pope.”

When Pope Honorius I uttered false theological opinions and failed to correct and condemn the Monothelite heretics, every faithful Catholic was then “more Catholic than the pope.”  Indeed, they were so much more Catholic than Honorius that the Church posthumously condemned him as a heretic, a decision that Honorius’ successor St. Leo II approved. “We anathematize the inventors of the new error, that is, Theodore, Sergius, ... and also Honorius, who did not attempt to sanctify this Apostolic Church with the teaching of Apostolic tradition, but by profane treachery permitted its purity to be polluted.”  For most of the Church’s history, priests praying their Office repeated the anathema pronounced against Pope Honorius.

When Pope Stephen VII desecrated the remains of Pope Formosus during the hideously shameful Synodus Horrenda (the “Cadaver Synod”), every Catholic who strove to practice justice and who respected the sanctity of the human body was then “more Catholic than the pope.”

When Pope John XII effectively “turned the Lateran palace into a brothel,” as contemporary historians so colorfully put it, and when Pope Benedict IX gave himself over to unchastity and bloodshed, every faithful Catholic who strove to cultivate the virtues of chastity, purity, mercy, and peace in their personal conduct was then “more Catholic than the pope.”

When Pope John XXII preached in his sermons the error that the faithful departed do not enjoy the Beatific Vision until after Judgment Day at the end of the world, every faithful Catholic was then “more Catholic than the pope”—and the loud and outraged cry of the faithful against him led him to retract his error, and his successor then infallibly defined John XXII’s opinion as heresy.

Papal infallibility doesn’t mean papal impeccability or papal omniscience. The obligations of docility and obedience do not extend so far that one must stand on one’s head and cross one’s eyes in order to see how a scandalous, erroneous papal utterance is in fact true after all. Most of what a pope says is not infallible, and papal authority has never extended to having the right to introduce teachings and laws that contradict or go counter to the Faith.  It’s no dishonor or disrespect or disobedience to the Holy Father to point out and to believe those truths of the Catholic Faith.

Words fail me. Ever since my Jesuit undergrad. days, people have called me a liar and a fool for mentioning Honorius and for making the points laid out so well by Confitebor on Rorate Caeli. These accusers have tended to be the most enthusiastic Latin traditionalists, and their extreme ultramontanism horrified me and confirmed decision to stay away from the Roman Church. In truth, I sympathized with my estranged Christian brethren and excused their commitment to papism since, during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, one could understandably believe that the Bishop of Rome alone kept the Latins from going over their cliff in a crowded clown-mass car. Yet, I knew that it was the previous popes who had veered off course to begin with, and I have always found the Latin insistence on papal infallibility either unintelligible or objectionable (or both). Why would any group of people trust their treasure to such fragile hands? Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man—successor to Peter or not! The apostolic patrimony is too precious to hand over to any man—or generation.

The Latin contention is, most fundamentally, that the buck (of resolving disputes) must stop somewhere. Hence, the pope must exercise a superepiscopal role with some sort of infallibility (to settle those disputes). For the Lord would not leave his ignorant, straying. foolish sheep without a shepherd, or so they believe. For the same reason, the Latins have centuries’ worth of experience in categorizing every conceivable sin and proper penance—the Good Shepherd would want every aspect of ovine husbandry listed and specified! The Romans have a massive global bureaucracy to manage their Christian flock, and they had specialized “think tanks” for ages before any modern secularist considered them. For the Church must have an answer for every thing—a detailed formula for salvation, a comprehensive jurisprudence that deals with every matter of life, positions on this or that issue in the domains of morality, science, politics, anthropology—you name it. The resulting edifice is impressive, and I certainly do not object to progress in knowledge or to Christians’ attempting to redeem the time here on earth to make the world better. I’m a tikkun olam kind of Christian, after all. What I find objectionable, however, is the blurring of apostolic authority on the fundamental doctrines of the faith with the theologoumena and philosophical theorizing of Christians, hierarchs or otherwise. Mission creep has affected the Roman episcopate in such a monumental way! It is no wonder the Protestants rebelled against this ridiculous shackling of the human mind—and their heirs continue to do so in ever more bizarre and demonic ways. The West’s obsessive compulsive need for the resolution of all questions—indeed, even of life in its totality!—has fouled the reputation of authority and tradition and led to (or at least helped to ignite) the Satanic reaction of the modern world.

We live in a fallen world: life is hard, truth is difficult to grasp, and ignorance is the default position for the human mind most of the time. We must work with what we have—and the Lord has amply provided us gifts—but the proper path for man is not obvious. There is no desk (or cathedra) where the buck of human questioning must stop. We are social animals, and it is folly to disregard the wisdom of previous ages and of one’s betters. Nonetheless, each human soul must struggle to conform to truth, goodness, and beauty to the extent possible. The result is messy, but that is how it must be until the eschaton. No counterfeit Gospel can resolve the contradictions of the human heart. The Almighty has left us no demigod to guide our every step; the Golden Age is long past. So, the basic papist argument fails the reality test. Our fallen world is one where we cannot resolve all our questions and disputes with surety. Rather, it is one where the seeking man finds much providential assistance along his way, though he never is absolutely certain of where he is at any given moment while his travels persist. His only consolation, besides the splendor and beauty of the landscape along the path, is that he has enough tools to know that he is generally headed in the right direction.

With that said, I think that Pope Francis might indeed provide the latest occasion for one of those undeserved divine gifts. Perhaps, someone like him is necessary to correct Rome’s ultramontanism—a prerequisite step for a possible future reconciliation between the East and the West. An odd gift, one might think, but providence often appears inscrutable until we examine it in hindsight. Similarly, the turmoil following the Second Vatican Council has been very instructive to the Orthodox. The Latins have been the blue whale in the coal mine of modernity, so to speak. In both cases, the Christian West’s contemporary hemorrhaging might be the painful though necessary trauma that will eventually lead to the restoration of Christian unity. Even the best Physician must sometimes amputate a mutilated or diseased limb to save the body.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, April 19, Anno Domini 2016
OrthodoxyEcumenismProtestantismRoman CatholicismCommentsPermalink
Monday, December 7, A.D. 2015
Kass with Christmas

A rabbinical chap named Yori Yanover expresses his disgust at members of the Tribe who celebrate Christmas: “The Perversion of Jews for Christmas.” The article is from The Jewish Press (I know, I know—as opposed to?).

Thankfully, Yanover’s fully blossomed spite and hatred of Christianity is not widespread, but I suspect that, based on attitudes and actions freely and often expressed by rabbinical communities, the kernel of Yanover’s opinion occurs extensively among Jewish climes. The “War on Christmas” is merely standard contemporary Jewish-Christian relations by another name. I never stop being surprised by the shortsighted inanity of rabbinical Jews. Whither will this behavior lead? What about seriously and strategically pondering IIGFTJ?

By contrast, I recently watched a pleasant, jewlicious Yuletide film, Switchmas (né Ira Finkelstein’s Christmas, then All I Want Is Christmas):

The silly but sweet film reminded me of the America of my youth—before the Yori Yanovers of the world grabbed the megaphone to play out their resentments on the world’s stage. Wasn’t the stand-up circuit enough?

Posted by Joseph on Monday, December 7, Anno Domini 2015
EcumenismRabbinical JudaismCommentsPermalink
Monday, October 5, A.D. 2015
Против George Weigel

I discovered on George Michalopulos’ site (“An Orthodox Response to George Weigel, Neo-Conservatism and Latin Hatred of Russia”) that George Weigel expressed his dismal opinion of Russian Orthodoxy rather bluntly in March 2014 (toward the beginning of the Ukrainian civil war) and that some Orthodox Americans have recently responded to those and subsequent words through the American Orthodox Institute (“Patriarch Kirill and Russian Orthodoxy Deserve Respect Not Insults: An Open Letter to George Weigel”). Although I have found Weigel pleasant in person, I have never been fond of his thinking. I object to him even on Latin grounds for his unacknowledged Americanism (see “Catholic ‘Americanism’”). His low opinion of the Russian Church has more to do with his political views than it does with Roman Catholic religio-tribal considerations. He would just as quickly condemn the renewal of Christendom in Western Europe as he does that of Russia.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, October 5, Anno Domini 2015
OrthodoxyEcumenismRoman CatholicismCommentsPermalink
Thursday, June 18, A.D. 2015
Bonald Surveys Lossky

I hope that you are enjoying the summer, even in these dismal times.

On the Orthosphere, Bonald continues his survey of Christian confessions by summarizing his reading of The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky. A reader posted a lengthy comment, and I responded with the following:

That is a lot. Well, let me add this note for those interested: “St. Maximus on the filioque” (a brief post by Peter Gilbert about Maximus’ letter concerning the controversy). Gilbert’s explanatory notes are helpful, and they show—once again (and for the billionth time)—why patristic texts serve as ambiguous testimony in these disputes. All of this has been hashed and rehashed for centuries. CP researched the issues and decided one way. Others have done the same research and differed in their judgment (myself included). Given the muddied waters, I wonder whether most (all?) of the folks who enter into these treacherous rivers allow other considerations to drive their wayfaring. Take, for instance, the issue of the Bishop of Rome’s authority in the early centuries. As I once blogged,

I have “been there and done that” with endless arguments over papal claims, replete with innumerable patristic references, scriptural commentary, conciliar minutes, and canon law case precedents in cross-diocesan judicial appeals. My basic opinion, sufficient for the present purpose, is that one can build a case for papal supremacy by employing extraordinary circumstances as normative ones. During all the Christological controversies, some bishops played ruthless politics for the sake of the faith while others did so for personal power. A pious bishop in exile often sought assistance wherever he could, and canonically questionable actions were taken and justified by the higher goal of defending the faith from heresy. Rome was usually a haven of sanity during these disputes; early Western Christians were not as a theologically interested, philosophically educated, or politically connected as their Greek brethren in the East. Hence, the Roman Church was blessedly boring while the major theological controversies raged across the Empire. It was often necessary, then, for orthodox hierarchs to seek Rome’s interference in ways that defied common practice. Papal supremacists see their justification therein. The will needs very little evidence to claim the inviolable correctness of its desires . . .

Nonetheless, the normal position of ecumenical Church government was decentralized and conciliar. Such is the Orthodox ideal to this day, though it has taken many forms, with the autocephalous system’s being the current organization. At any rate, the subject has become a moot point. Rome largely abandoned its orthodoxy centuries ago, and whatever primacy the bishop of Rome should have had has become an anachronism. Petrine fundamentalism aside, the Churches’ deference to Rome rested as much on the Roman Christian community’s sobriety and fidelity as on Rome’s status as the old capital, on its being a major center of power, communication, commerce, transportation, and ideas, and on its giving the world countless martyrs, especially Saints Peter and Paul. When Rome forsook its faith, it forfeited its special honor.

The second point that I hold firmly to be true undoubtedly sways the way I read the ancient controversies and their texts. If one particular interpretation behind the Council of Sardica leads to clown masses and the pope’s authority to declare anthropogenic global warming, I know what I am deciding!

CP criticizes the Orthodox for becoming reactive toward Latin theology, and I believe that he is correct. Roman doctrine and the Orthodox rejection of it have strongly influenced Orthodox theological thinking for centuries, and this is both understandable and unhealthy—in the same way that reaction toward “Enlightenment” thought has largely determined the thinking among those who reject it ever since. Moreover, when the Orthodox see the consequences of Latin tendencies, they begin to question even ancient Latin elements that may have led to the Reformation, Trent, and the first and second Vatican councils. That seems reasonable to me.

At some point (and perhaps always), the Greeks and the Latins began to speak past each other when they focused on certain theological and philosophical issues. Many readers here are familiar with the Christological controversies that led to and resulted from Chalcedon and with contemporary attempts by many in and among Rome, the Orthodox, and the Non-Chalcedonians to excuse it all as a big, sad misunderstanding. I wonder whether these softies are right—and whether perhaps the same dynamic is at work with many East-West controversies, like CP’s example of the Palamite issue. For certain, when we approach the inner life of the Trinity—when we begin to conceive of divinity—we are well beyond a safe harbor. Everything that we think—every idea, every mental tool—applies to creation. When we apply such to God, we should be very careful—and humble. CP calls Gregory’s distinction of the divine energies an outrageous innovation—just as the Orthodox might call the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception an outrageous innovation. Both doctrines developed from prior, ancient commitments that played themselves out philosophically within their respective community’s theological-philosophical system.

P.S.) See Gilbert’s delightful recent post, “Don’t Curse Plato.”

Update courtesy of my brother:

Well, it appears that Laudato Si may be less objectionable than the hype led us to believe: “Top Ten Takeaways from ‘Laudato Si’” (Warning for the uninitiated: Jesuit journalism! . . . which reminds me of an old joke that we students used to share—Si cum Jesuitis, non cum Jesu itis!)

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, June 18, Anno Domini 2015
OrthodoxyPatristicsSaintsEcumenismNon-ChalcedonianismRoman CatholicismCommentsPermalink
Thursday, July 17, A.D. 2014
British Bishopettes

As I read the news last night, I discovered that the Protestant Church of England had voted earlier in the week to ordain women as bishops. It does not surprise me. Indeed, one wonders why they waited so long; American Anglicans installed their first gynobishop in A.D. 1989 in Massachusetts. The Anglicans have been ordaining priestesses for generations (and since A.D. 1994 for the Church of England), and I never understood why episcopettes would cause controversy for a sect that ordained priestesses. When you disregard reason and revelation the way that modernist Protestants have, everything is permitted. Why not?

I offer two timely passages on placing women in the Church’s holy orders—one by Anglican C.S. Lewis and the other by Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann. Here is Lewis’ “Priestesses in the Church?”:

“I should like Balls infinitely better,” said Caroline Bingley, “if they were carried on in a different manner ... It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.”

“Much more rational, I dare say,” replied her brother, “but it would not be near so much like a Ball.” We are told that the lady was silenced: yet it could be maintained that Jane Austen has not allowed Bingley to put forward the full strength of his position. He ought to have replied with a distinguo. In one sense, conversation is more rational for conversation may exercise the reason alone, dancing does not. But there is nothing irrational in exercising other powers than our reason. On certain occasions and for certain purposes, the real irrationality is with those who will not do so. The man who would try to break a horse or write a poem or beget a child by pure syllogizing would be an irrational man; though at the same time syllogizing is in itself a more rational activity than the activities demanded by these achievements. It is rational not to reason, or not to limit oneself to reason, in the wrong place; and the more rational a man is, the better he knows this.

These remarks are not intended as a contribution to the criticism of Pride and Prejudice. They came into my head when I heard that the Church of England was being advised to declare women capable of Priests’ Orders. I am, indeed, informed that such a proposal is very unlikely to be seriously considered by the authorities. To take such a revolutionary step at the present moment, to cut ourselves off from the Christian past and to widen the divisions between ourselves and other Churches by establishing an order of priestesses in our midst, would be an almost wanton degree of imprudence. And the Church of England herself would be torn in shreds by the operation. My concern with the proposal is of a more theoretical kind. The question involves something even deeper than a revolution in order.

I have every respect for those who wish women to be priestesses. I think they are sincere and pious and sensible people. Indeed, in a way they are too sensible. That is where my dissent from them resembles Bingley’s dissent from his sister. I am tempted to say that the proposed arrangement would make us much more rational “but not near so much like a Church”.

For at first sight all the rationality (in Caroline Bingley’s sense) is on the side of the innovators. We are short of priests. We have discovered in one profession after another that women can do very well all sorts of things which were once supposed to be in the power of men alone. No one among those who dislike the proposal is maintaining that women are less capable than men of piety, zeal, learning and whatever else seems necessary for the pastoral office. What, then, except prejudice begotten by tradition, forbids us to draw on the huge reserves which could pour into the priesthood if women were here, as in so many other professions, put on the same footing as men? And against this flood of common sense, the opposers (many of them women) can produce at first nothing but an inarticulate distaste, a sense of discomfort which they themselves find it hard to analyse.

That this reaction does not spring from any contempt for women is, I think, plain from history. The Middle Ages carried their reverence for one Woman to a point at which the charge could be plausibly made that the Blessed Virgin became in their eyes almost “a fourth Person of the Trinity”. But never, so far as I know, in all those ages was anything remotely resembling a sacerdotal office attributed to her. All salvation depends on the decision which she made in the words Ecce ancilla; she is united in nine months’ inconceivable intimacy with the eternal Word; she stands at the foot of the cross. But she is absent both from the Last Supper and from the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Such is the record of Scripture. Nor can you daff it aside by saying that local and temporary conditions condemned women to silence and private life. There were female preachers. One man had four daughters who all “prophesied”, i.e. preached. There were prophetesses even in Old Testament times. Prophetesses, not priestesses.

At this point the common sensible reformer is apt to ask why, if women can preach, they cannot do all the rest of a priest’s work. This question deepens the discomfort of my side. We begin to feel that what really divides us from our opponents is a difference between the meaning which they and we give to the word “priest”. The more they speak (and speak truly) about the competence of women in administration, their tact and sympathy as advisers, their national talent for “visiting”, the more we feel that the central thing is being forgotten. To us a priest is primarily a representative, a double representative, who represents us to God and God to us. Our very eyes teach us this in church. Sometimes the priest turns his back on us and faces the East - he speaks to God for us: sometimes he faces us and speaks to us for God. We have no objection to a woman doing the first: the whole difficulty is about the second. But why? Why should a woman not in this sense represent God? Certainly not because she is necessarily, or even probably, less holy or less charitable or stupider than a man. In that sense she may be as “God-like” as a man; and a given women much more so than a given man. The sense in which she cannot represent God will perhaps be plainer if we look at the thing the other way round.

Suppose the reformer stops saying that a good woman may be like God and begins saying that God is like a good woman. Suppose he says that we might just as well pray to “Our Mother which art in heaven” as to “Our Father”. Suppose he suggests that the Incarnation might just as well have taken a female as a male form, and the Second Person of the Trinity be as well called the Daughter as the Son. Suppose, finally, that the mystical marriage were reversed, that the Church were the Bridegroom and Christ the Bride. All this, as it seems to me, is involved in the claim that a woman can represent God as a priest does.

Now it is surely the case that if all these supposals were ever carried into effect we should be embarked on a different religion. Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity. Common sense, disregarding the discomfort, or even the horror, which the idea of turning all our theological language into the feminine gender arouses in most Christians, will ask “Why not? Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?”

But Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses but against Christianity. It is also surely based on a shallow view of imagery. Without drawing upon religion, we know from our poetical experience that image and apprehension cleave closer together than common sense is here prepared to admit; that a child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in Heaven would have a religious life radically different from that of a Christian child. And as image and apprehension are in an organic unity, so, for a Christian, are human body and human soul.

The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life. To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is to say that for the purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant. We are, within that context, treating both as neuters.

As the State grows more like a hive or an ant-hill it needs an increasing number of workers who can be treated as neuters. This may be inevitable for our secular life. But in our Christian life we must return to reality. There we are not homogeneous units, but different and complementary organs of a mystical body. Lady Nunburnholme has claimed that the equality of men and women is a Christian principle. I do not remember the text in scripture nor the Fathers, nor Hooker, nor the Prayer Book which asserts it; but that is not here my point. The point is that unless “equal” means “interchangeable”, equality makes nothing for the priesthood of women. And the kind of equality which implies that the equals are interchangeable (like counters or identical machines) is, among humans, a legal fiction. It may be a useful legal fiction. But in church we turn our back on fictions. One of the ends for which sex was created was to symbolize to us the hidden things of God. One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no authority to take the living and semitive figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures.

This is what common sense will call “mystical”. Exactly. The Church claims to be the bearer of a revelation. If that claim is false then we want not to make priestesses but to abolish priests. If it is true, then we should expect to find in the Church an element which unbelievers will call irrational and which believers will call supra-rational. There ought to be something in it opaque to our reason though not contrary to it - as the facts of sex and sense on the natural level are opaque. And that is the real issue. The Church of England can remain a church only if she retains this opaque element. If we abandon that, if we retain only what can be justified by standards of prudence and convenience at the bar of enlightened common sense, then we exchange revelation for that old wraith Natural Religion.

It is painful, being a man, to have to assert the privilege, or the burden, which Christianity lays upon my own sex. I am crushingly aware how inadequate most of us are, in our actual and historical individualities, to fill the place prepared for us. But it is an old saying in the army that you salute the uniform not the wearer. Only one wearing the masculine uniform can (provisionally, and till the Parousia) represent the Lord to the Church: for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him. We men may often make very bad priests. That is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes; not that the ballroom should henceforward ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter. That would, of course, be eminently sensible, civilized, and enlightened, but, once more, “not near so much like a Ball”.

And this parallel between the Church and the Ball is not so fanciful as some would think. The Church ought to be more like a Ball than it is like a factory or a political party. Or, to speak more strictly, they are at the circumference and the Church at the Centre and the Ball comes in between. The factory and the political party are artificial creations - “a breath can make them as a breath has made”. In them we are not dealing with human beings in their concrete entirety only with “hands” or voters. I am not of course using “artificial” in any derogatory sense. Such artifices are necessary: but because they are our artifices we are free to shuffle, scrap, and experiment as we please. But the Ball exists to stylize something which is natural and which concerns human beings in their entirety-namely, courtship. We cannot shuffle or tamper so much. With the Church, we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us.

And Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s letter “On Women’s Ordination”:

Dear Friend:

When you asked me to outline the Orthodox reaction to the idea of women’s ordination to the priesthood, I thought at first that to do so would not be too difficult. It is not difficult, indeed, simply to state that the Orthodox Church is against women’s priesthood and to enumerate as fully as possible the dogmatical, canonical, and spiritual reasons for that opposition.

On second thought, however, I became convinced that such an answer would be not only useless, but even harmful. Useless, because all such “formal reasons” - scriptural, traditional, canonical - are well known to the advocates of women’s ordination, as is also well known our general ecclesiological stand which, depending on their mood and current priorities, our Western Brothers either hail as Orthodoxy’s “main” ecumenical contribution or dismiss as archaic, narrow-minded, and irrelevant. Harmful, because true formally, this answer would still vitiate the real Orthodox position by reducing it to a theological context and perspective, alien to the Orthodox mind. For the Orthodox Church has never faced this question, it is for us totally extrinsic, a casus irrealis for which we find no basis, no terms of reference in our Tradition, in the very experience of the Church, and for the discussion of which we are therefore simply not prepared.

Such is then my difficulty. I cannot discuss the problem itself because to do so would necessitate the elucidation of our approach - not to women and to priesthood only - but, above all to God in his Triune Life, to Creation, Fall and Redemption, to the Church and the mystery of her life, to the deification of man and the consummation of all things in Christ. Short of all this it would remain incomprehensible, I am sure, why the ordination of women to priesthood is tantamount for us to a radical and irreparable mutilation of the entire faith, the rejection of the whole Scripture, and, needless to say, the end of all “dialogues.” Short of all this my answer will sound like another “conservative” and “traditional” defense of the status quo, of precisely that which many Christians today, having heard it too many times, reject as hypocrisy, lack of openness to God’s will, blindness to the world, etc. Obviously enough those who reject Tradition would not listen once more to an argument ex traditione….

But to what will they listen? Our amazement - and the Orthodox reaction is above all that of amazement - is precisely about the change and, to us, incomprehensible hastiness with which the question of women’s ordination was, first, accepted as an issue, then quickly reduced to the level of a disciplinary “matter” and finally identified as an issue of policy to be dealt with by a vote! In this strange situation all I can do is to try to convey to you this amazement by briefly enumerating its main “components” as I see and understand them.

The first dimension of our amazement can be termed “ecumenical.” The debate on women’s ordination reveals something which we have suspected for a long time but which now is confirmed beyond any doubt: the total truly built-in indifference of the Christian West to anything beyond the sphere of its own problematics, of its own experience. I can only repeat here what I have said before: even the so-called “ecumenical movement,” notwithstanding its claims to the contrary, has always been, and still is, a purely Western phenomenon, based on Western presuppositions and determined by a specifically Western agenda. This is not “pride” or “arrogance.” On the contrary, the Christian West is almost obsessed with a guilt complex and enjoys nothing better than self-criticism and self condemnation. It is rather a total inability to transcend itself, to accept the simple idea that its own experience, problems, thought forms and priorities may not be universal, that they themselves may need to be evaluated and judged in the light of a truly universal, truly “Catholic” experience. Western Christians would almost enthusiastically judge and condemn themselves, but on their own terms, within their own hopelessly “Western” perspective. Thus when they decide—on the basis of their own possibly limited and fragmented, specifically Western, “cultural situation”—that they must “repair” injustices made to women, they plan to do it immediately without even asking what the “others” may think about it, and are sincerely amazed and even saddened by lack, on the part of these “others” of ecumenical spirit, sympathy and comprehension.

Personally, I have often enough criticized the historical limitations of the Orthodox mentality not to have the right to say in all sincerity that to me the debate on women’s ordination seems to be provincial, deeply marked, and even determined by Western self-centeredness and self-sufficiency, by a naive, almost childish, conviction that every “trend” in the Western culture justifies a radical rethinking of the entire Christian tradition. How many such “trends” we have witnessed during the last decades of our troubled century! How many corresponding “theologies”! The difference this time, however, is that one deals in this particular debate not with a passing intellectual and academic “fad” like “death of God,” “secular city,” “celebration of life,” etc.—which, after it has produced a couple of ephemeral best-sellers, simply disappears, but with the threat of an irreversible and irreparable act which, if it becomes reality, will produce a new, and this time, I am convinced, final division among Christians, and will signify, at least for the Orthodox, the end of all dialogues.

It is well known that the advocates of women’s ordination explain the Scriptural and the traditional exclusion of women from ministry by “cultural conditioning.” If Christ did not include women into the Twelve, if the Church for centuries did not include them into priesthood, it is because of “culture” which would have made it impossible and unthinkable then. It is not my purpose to discuss here the theological and exegetical implications of this view as well as its purely historical basis, which incidentally seems to me extremely weak and shaky; what is truly amazing is that while absolutely convinced that they understand past “cultures,” the advocates of women’s ordination seem to be totally unaware of their own cultural “conditioning” of their own surrender to culture.

How else can one explain their readiness to accept what may prove to be a passing phenomenon and what, at any rate, is a phenomenon barely at its beginning (not to speak of the women’s liberation movement, which at present is nothing but search and experimentation) as a sufficient justification for a radical change in the very structure of the Church?

How else, furthermore, are we to explain that this movement is accepted on its own terms, within the perspective of “rights”, “justice,” “equality,” Etc.—all categories whose ability adequately to express the Christian faith and to be applied as such within the Church is, to say the least, questionable?

The sad truth is that the very idea of women’s ordination, as it is presented and discussed today, is the result of too many confusions and reductions. If its root is surrender to “culture”, its pattern of development is shaped by a surrender to “clericalism.” It is indeed almost entirely dominated by the old “clerical” view of the Church and the double “reduction” interest in it. The reduction on the one hand, of the Church to a “power structure,” the reduction on the other hand, of that power structure to clergy. To the alleged “inferiority” of women within the secular power structure, corresponds their “inferiority,” i.e., their exclusion from clergy, within the ecclesiastical power structure. To their “liberation” in the secular society must therefore correspond their “liberation,” i.e., ordination, in the Church.

But the Church simply cannot be reduced to these categories. As long as we try to measure the ineffable mystery of her life by concepts and ideas a priori alien to her very essence, we entirely mutilate her, and her real power, her glory and beauty, and her transcendent truth simply escape us.

That is why in conclusion of this letter I can only confess, without explaining and justifying this confession by my “proofs.” I can confess that the non-ordination of women to priesthood has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with whatever “inferiority” we can invent or imagine. In the essential reality which alone constitutes the content of our faith and shapes the entire life of the Church, in the reality of the Kingdom of God which is perfect communion, perfect knowledge, perfect love, and ultimately the “deification” of man, there is truly “neither male nor female.” More than that, in this reality, of which we are made partakers here and now, we all, men and women, without any distinction, are “Kings and priests,” for it is the essential priesthood of the human nature and vocation that Christ has restored to us.

It is of this priestly life, it is of this ultimate reality, that the Church is both gift and acceptance. And that she may be this, that she may always and everywhere be the gift of the Spirit without any measure or limitations, the Son of God offered himself in a unique sacrifice, and made this unique sacrifice and this unique priesthood the very foundation, indeed the very “form” of the Church.

This priesthood is Christ’s, not ours. None of us, man or woman, has any “right” to it; it is emphatically not one of human vocations, analogous, even if superior, to all others. The priest in the Church is not “another” priest, and the sacrifice he offers is not “another” sacrifice. It is forever and only Christ’s priesthood and Christ’s sacrifice—for, in the words of our Prayers of Offertory, it is “Thou who offerest and Thou who art offered, it is Thou who receivest and Thou who distributest….” And thus the “institutional” priest in the Church has no “ontology” of his own. It exists only to make Christ himself present, to make this unique Priesthood and this unique Sacrifice the source of the Church’s life and the “acquisition” by men of the Holy Spirit. And if the bearer, the icon and the fulfiller of that unique priesthood, is man and not woman, it is because Christ is man and not woman…

Why? This of course is the only important, the only relevant question. The one precisely that no “culture,” no “sociology,” no “history,” and even no “exegesis” can answer. For it can be answered only by theology in the primordial and essential meaning of that word in the Church; as the contemplation and vision of the Truth itself, as communion with the uncreated Divine Light. It is only here, in this purified and restored vision that we might begin to understand why the ineffable mystery of the relationship between God and His Creation, between God and His chosen people, between God and His Church, are “essentially” revealed to us as a nuptial mystery, as fulfillment of a mystical marriage. Why in other terms, Creation itself, the Church herself, man and the world themselves, when contemplated in their ultimate truth and destiny, are revealed to us as Bride, as Woman clothed in sun; why in the very depth of her love and knowledge, of her joy and communion, the Church identifies herself with one Woman, whom she exalts as “more honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim.”

Is it this mystery that has to be “understood” by means of our broken and fallen world, which knows and experiences itself only in its brokenness and fragmentation, its tensions and dichotomies and which, as such, is incapable of the ultimate vision? Or is it this vision and this unique experience that must again become to us the “means” of our understanding of the world, the starting point and the very possibility of a truly Divine victory over all that in this world is but human, historical and cultural?

Contemporary man appears to hate the particularity of life. He cannot abide the limitations of nature and circumstance that render individuals male, female, old, young, Chinese, Icelandic, Christian, Hindu, industrious, lazy, smart, dull, neighbor, foreigner, husband, wife, neighbor’s wife, and so on. He refuses to discriminate—that is, to notice reality—and he wants to flatten everything to bare abstract units, whether atoms in physics or autonomous individual wills or selves in politics. How suitable is contemporary man a child of his nominalist forebears! Nominalism began as form of religious piety that wished to respect the omnipotence of God, but it was inherited and celebrated by men who sought to master nature without any inconvenient moral restrictions by natural law. To them, categories of beings are simply conventions upon which men agree. Yet, epistemology quickly becomes unworkable if everything is radically distinct and unique with no pattern or ordering among beings. How much cleaner (and more convenient) it is to affirm only atoms and their interaction. When one reduces everything to matter, then manipulation comes without guilt—technology is simply an advanced level of building blocks. If one can do it, then one may do it. Why not? Why is one arrangement preferable or “better” than another?

Likewise, if we try to salvage humanity from this nihilistic mess—if we attempt Kant’s heraclean effort to found and to safeguard human dignity in a disenchanted levelled world—then we may approach human affairs by positing individual rational agents instead of the messy and murky world of blood, sweat, and tears (of sexes, families, clans, tribes, nations, and civilizations). Like nominalism, this effort seems well intentioned in the beginning, but the reduction of human beings in their diversity to units of will and calculation has served the manipulators well. Why bother with the parochial concerns of these residents or that tribe? Why indulge regressive superstitious attitudes about modesty, sanctity, or taboo? Efficiency, utility, and “rationality” demand otherwise! Why not require travelers to submit to virtual strip searches? Why not demolish a quarter to build an interstate highway? Why not inject women with abortifacients? Why not modify language according to political fads? Why not treat the entire human race as your very own ant colony? And thus you give the masters of Lewis’ Abolition of Man a carte blanche to do what they choose. It is for the good of the abstract calculating self interested will, after all . . . by which a master of nature means “my will.”

What does this have to do with English episcopettes? I think that leftist movements toward “equality” presuppose the reductionist mentality just mentioned, wherein nature is discounted as unimportant and human beings are treated as depersonalized fungible units. The movement to ordain women neuters the human race as it disregards sex as irrelevant—“gender is a social construct.” Indeed, the same spirit disregards everything as irrelevant when it is convenient to do so. To make people into units of will or appetite or calculation is to render them LEGOS for someone else. How ironic it is that Kant’s intellectual progeny would ultimately fail his fundamental moral law—and to such a Mephistophelean degree!

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, July 17, Anno Domini 2014
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Monday, March 24, A.D. 2014
A Council?

I have not posted anything yet about the news of an upcoming Orthodox council, but I did respond over the weekend to Bonald’s Orthosphere post, “Orthodox Church to hold ecumenical council?” I commented:

Thus spake the Zeitgeist of hype.

Proph ‘s skepticism about the upcoming “ecumenical” council (should it actually happen) is well justified. First council in 1,200 years? The Churches get together all the time (in Orthodoxese—that means once a century or so)—e.g. the Council of Constantinople in AD 1872.  And Bonald’s supplied comment expresses well the folly that festers all too often in Constantinople of late.  The patriarchs there for the last century have been lost shepherds without their flocks.

I suppose that one could call these gatherings local councils rather than ecumenical ones, but it’s not clear what makes a council “ecumenical.”  All the bishops present?  If so, I doubt that any council would be considered ecumenical.  Approved by the majority or great majority of representative bishops?  What about robber councils, as mentioned above?  Received by the faithful—well, which faithful?  The ones who are content with the decisions or the ones who are anathematized?  Called by the bishop of Rome?  Were any of the early universally agreed upon councils initiated by Rome?  Were they not rather convened by the emperor?  Do we need a Roman emperor to have an ecumenical council?  In practice, it seems to be so, but who believes that the Church needs a particular secular authority to govern herself?  Certainly not the Roman Church of late antiquity, which expressly declared as much.  Confirmed by Rome?  This has the position of the Roman Church for a long time, but its history is hazy.  Much (and I would argue most) of the esteem for (and supplication to) the Roman Church in the early centuries came from Rome’s orthodoxy.  The Roman Christian community and its leadership were solid on the faith.  They were more independent from imperial interference, they were less interested in Eastern theological controversies, and they were consistent in maintaining a simple adherence to the apostolic faith.  Ultramontanists interpret Roman honor and invitations for Roman jurisdiction in Eastern disputes as evidence for papal supremacy and infallibility; they hold that the bishop of Rome establishes orthodoxy.  I think that the causal direction is the opposite—Rome’s orthodoxy was the reason for its authority and for the appeals from the East.  And to Eastern eyes, that authority waned as its orthodoxy waned.  So, having seen fourteen more councils occur in the West, especially the last two, the Orthodox quickly dismiss papal confirmation as the key to an ecumenical council.

So, what is the magical formula for determining an ecumenical council?  No one knows.  Such is a powerful argument from the papist apologist’s perspective—those confused and disorganized Greeks . . . they are so lost without the One True Vicar to shepherd the flock.  I, however, am wary of such formulations.  Truth does not depend on procedural measures, and all human institutions have failed and will continue to do so, including the Roman papacy.  There is no substitute for a sincere good will, purified soul (with lots of prayer and fasting), and charitable disposition open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  When the bishops, priests, deacons, and all the people of God attend to the Lord in spirit and in truth, then Christians will find the right path.  Any attempt to abstract and to formulate such is but dowsing rod idolatry.

As for the upcoming council, regardless of its status, who knows?  I certainly don’t trust the wisdom or piety of contemporary bishops much.  We are a faithless and perverse generation, and I do not see good things to follow.  And Bonald is quite wrong when he states “calendar issues that nobody but bishops cares about.”  The “C” word is a fight’n one!

If I, lowly sinner that I am, had to pick an agenda for a council, it would be:

* Address the calendar issue.  It is crazy that the Orthodox Churches follow different calendars.  I am personally ambivalent about the resolution, but I have strong opinions that the Constantinopolitan brewed mess from the 1920’s was terrible and probably illegal.  Such a change must come from a conciliar resolution, and it must involve all the Orthodox.  Mixed calendars, hybrid calendars.  It’s madness!

* Canonical update.  I know, I know, civil defense sirens and all that.  However, they really do need to update the canons—not in the sense of getting groovy in the modern world, but in the sense of applicability.  The canons, after all, are practical and pastoral.

* Common guidelines for relations with the non-Orthodox, including intermarriage and reception issues as well as “ecumenical” activity.  I have to agree with my co-confessors, Proph, in that union with Rome will not be on the table.  However, the bishops could declare that we Orthodox are happy to cooperate with Rome, Protestants, rabbinical Jews, Mohammedans, or whomever in doing God’s work.

* Jurisdictional tidying . . . the recent move by Jerusalem (establishing a diocese in Qatar, which is in Antioch’s territory) proves that pan-Orthodox cooperation is necessary to resolve differences between the Churches . . . not to mention the problems of the “diaspora.”  [I hear those papist chuckles out there!]

* Encouraging a normalization of irregular groups, including various Old Calendarist groups, the Macedonians, and the Ukrainian schismatics.  A welcome mat for the uniates might be nice, too.  And the disaffected Protestants.

As I hinted earlier, we’ll see what actually happens.  They have been kicking this can for generations, and I suspect that it will be delayed . . . until further notice.

Stay tuned.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, March 24, Anno Domini 2014
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Tuesday, December 17, A.D. 2013
Hilarion Addresses the WCC

Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, who leads Russian Church’s Department for External Church Relations, spoke to the World Council of Churches last month. You may read the Metropolitan’s address on the W.C.C. site: “The Voice of the Church Must Be Prophetic.” They are words that the W.C.C. delegates need to hear, though perhaps they could not understand the deviation from the typical Gramscian script. Metropolitan Hilarion reminds me here of Fr. Siarhei Hardun’s speech to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. General Assembly, about which I wrote in “My Kind of Ecumenism.” If Orthodox churchmen continue to testify before the heterodox as they should, the wayward may stop inviting them to their gatherings, despite the organizers’ multiculti values. For now, though, let us rejoice while men speak the truth in love.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, December 17, Anno Domini 2013
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Thursday, April 4, A.D. 2013
Abbazia Greca di San Nilo

I recently discovered the Exarchic Monastery of Santa Maria in Grottaferrata, Italy. Built upon Cicero’s villa, it is a community of Basilian monks outside Rome who worship according to the Byzantine rite. The monastery’s basilica features a Baroque iconostasis designed by Bernini!

I had no idea that such things existed. The abbey’s site has many photographs—and not simply on its photo page. Rome Art Lover offers a fine collection of pictures, as well. But a Baroque iconostasis! How marvellous is our complicated world!

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, April 4, Anno Domini 2013
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Thursday, March 7, A.D. 2013
The Anglican Itch

With the title, I refer not to the expected increase in sexually transmitted diseases among the members of the Anglican communion as a result of their slippery K-Y coated slope of discarded morality. Rather, I offer you “The Anglican Itch” by Cyril Jenkins in Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, wherein Jenkins responds to Anglican counsel against conversion to Orthodoxy. As religious polemics go, the Conciliar Anglican’s post is as genteel and polite as one would expect from Canterbury’s better half. It reminds me why I like the Anglicans—and why my heart aches when I witness their troubles. However, they now have Anglicanorum Coetibus from Rome and the Western rite from us. Their return to Catholicism has never been easier, and yet few swim the Tiber or the Bosphorus (or should we say the Volga nowadays?), as I note in “Joseph Julian Overbeck.” I blame inertia more than pride, and nothing will shock them to move if the apostasy of the last decades has not yet created a stir. Such reminds me of a joke that I heard as a young’un, where two pious Episcopalians are sitting in the pew as a lesbian priestess in African garb blesses an elephant carrying depictions of Hindu deities while her lover does an ad-lib liturgical dance to pagan odes in honor of Gaia sung by a transexual men and boys choir. One of the gentlemen leans over to the other and testily whispers, “If they change one more thing, I’m out of here!” No—no, John Doe remains, ever the long suffering beautiful WASP unwilling to make a fuss.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 7, Anno Domini 2013
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Wednesday, February 6, A.D. 2013
Church as NIH

Bruce Charlton continues his attempt to make “mere Christianity” respectable in an interesting post titled “A scientist’s idea of Truth (in relation to theology).” Therein, Charlton argues that a theological formulation can only be broadly correct and “the best among rival theories.” As such, various sects’ theological differences are disagreements among many inadequate points of view, as none of them have a claim to the “Truth.” I reply:

I do not think that theology constitutes the Church. Rather, theology is the attempt to articulate the truth revealed and experienced in the Church. So, instead of seeing the Church as an inadequate glimpse or expression of truth, we see it as the community of scientists where most of the research is done.

Now, there may be independent scientists who discover important things who are not visibly part of the organization (say, the NIH of the soul, or whatever your British equivalent is). However, the bulk of the work is done by the Church because that is where the (divine) funding is, where the best labs are, where proper training is instilled, and where methodologies are followed.

Charlton responds that such requires a definition of the “church.” Of course! And that is where the “Mere Christianists” throw up their hands. Their unwillingness to deal with ecclesiology reminds me of phenomenologists’ attempt to bracket fundamental philosophical questions in order to deal rationally with certain “agreed upon” areas of human experience. It is true that work may be thus done. However, those bracketed questions are the very point of philosophy. How can one pretend to grapple with the world in the struggle for wisdom when one lazily disregards the most formidable challenges?

Furthermore, “Mere Christianists” appear to be blind to their own Protestant and modernist assumptions. For “Mere Christianity” makes the faith an individual struggle to know and to grow in God rather than a corporate restoration of the world in light of Christ’s resurrection. As if the Christian religion were chiefly a philosophical or poetic exercise! For in “Mere Christianity,” the individual and his salvation are primary. It is the individual who discerns the Holy Spirit, and then disparate individuals come together to pray or to worship, but the real action happens with the individual, whereas the aggregate of individuals is secondary. A few years ago, I criticized Auster’s portrayal of Christianity as an individualistic religion in the comment thread to “Made Whole” at View from the Right (about which I offer further commentary in “Hebrew Catholics”):

I also do not think that Christians come to Jesus Christ as individuals. That is a rather modern, and to be frank, Protestant, manner of describing Christianity. The gospel is not a set of intellectual doctrines but rather the life in Christ, which is a life of being fellow members of one body. Christianity is essentially communal, even for the hermit in the desert.

The Body of Christ is primary, and we as individuals are parts of that greater whole. The turn to the individual is one of the essential transformations that occurs at the beginning of modernity—in religion, in philosophy, in politics, and in daily existence. It is a Satanic move, and the hellish alienation of the modern world is the result, where everyone attempts to arrive at his own solipsistic existence. As with any error, this change has an element of truth. There is a reality to individual life. However, our awesome—in the proper sense—inner lives (which, far from being comprehended by us, are quite mysterious to ourselves) complement rather than constitute “external” reality. The content of our being lies within and without us; we are not the atomic building blocks of the world, not even of the human world. Rather, we have our time to act in the passing drama of history. In providential terms, we have our calling.

As one of my professors used to say, “Christians are like bananas; we come in bunches, not alone.” “Mere Christianity” is like evangelical Protestant Cartesianism, where the primary, disembodied ego seeks to reconstitute the world as a little god playing at creation ex nihilo. This is not the Lord’s gospel, but rather a watered down, perverted imitation of Christianity.

* Old René would surely find it ironically amusing that, in a post critical of him, I compare the Church to the National Institutes of Health.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, February 6, Anno Domini 2013
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