I wish those on the old calendar a blessed feast of the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple—and Advent greetings to everyone.
Proph posted interesting thoughts today on the Orthosphere about conciliarity in the “post-conciliar” (Roman) Church: “Pope Francis and synodality.” His words are worth repeating:
Nearly everyone agrees the period surrounding Vatican II saw great damage done to the Catholic faith, but nearly no one understands why. Much has been said about “ambiguities” in the conciliar texts, their questionable Magisterial status, etc., all of which misses the point: people do not live in a purely abstract, rationalistic sphere of minimalist orthodoxy. Faith rather is lived in a real world of concrete institutions and networks of relations, and if the faith is not fused with that lived reality, then it will not be lived at all. The Council endeavored, in the service of aggiornamento and ecumenism, to destroy the carefully-cultivated synthesis of faith and life that had prevailed for centuries, and this was its primary error: the hubris of thinking that it could dismantle what generations of saints had built over two millennia and replace it with something engineered on the fly in under a decade without expecting disastrous consequences.
I suppose that Proph meant by “everyone” those of us of Orthospheran tendencies. I know many folks who think that the contemporary Roman situation is perfectidoo. Regardless, I think that Proph has aptly analyzed the fault of the council and of its implementation. As Proph and the rest of the Orthosphere crowd surely know, this fault is modern man’s common vice—and the root of that fetid tree frequently (and unfortunately) called rationalism. The ancient Greeks were the real rationalists; the shortsighted masters of nature who follow in Bacon’s footsteps deserve another name—perhaps Caecicelsians. The arrogant attitude of “we know better” along with naive reductionism make modern man the proverbial bull in the china shop of civilization. That Christian bishops would be so foolish as to eat its rotten fruit is what puzzles—and troubles.
Proph’s main complaint in the post concerns Pope Francis’ words about conciliarity. I responded to Proph’s dismay:
From the Orthodox perspective, this looks excellent — we’ve been complaining about ultramontanism for a very long time. However, Rome’s practice of superpapism for so long, coupled with the relatively recent lowering of orthodox and orthopractical standards for hierarchs, has resulted in an episcopacy unfit to rule. So, I agree that devolving decisions to national or regional episcopal conferences in the Roman Church is unwise now (though not absolutely), yet I smirk when I think about the Latin intellectual legacy behind subsidiarity in the political realm. Intelligent governing arrangements — except for “Peter,” whom alone among all rulers the Holy Spirit vouchsafes to guide properly.
Seriously, though, if Rome is to return to the ancient collegial way (not quite alien to the Western patrimony if you go back far enough), it must get its house in order. You would not hand over your car keys to an irresponsible teenager — surely the pope shouldn’t hand over (share) Peter’s keys with unready bishops. How, though, are the Latins to raise up bishops fit to be, uh, bishops? Or better yet — to raise up its flock so that the people themselves keep the bishops in line just as the bishops oversee the people (another form of our grating Eastern symphony)?
You see — there are real unintended consequences to clericalism, such as a spiritually emaciated laity, and it shows when the chain of command breaks (e.g. modernity). Ditto for ultramontanism with regard to the episcopacy. It’s a mess.
I wish Pope Francis the best in his attempts to re-evangelize his lost sheep.
Proph responded amicably and with insight:
I was hoping you’d chime in, Joseph. In principle I have no objection to synodality. The Orthodox model seems to work well, for the Orthodox, who have over 1000 years experience with it, a whole network of customs and safeguards built into it, and (I’m given to understand) procedures in place by which a diocesan synod can oust an unruly bishop; but we can’t engineer an equally functional system in the West on the fly in five minutes. It’s hubris to think we can and idiocy to suggest we ought to try. More importantly, though, the Orthodox have a commonly-held and valued tradition to glue them together even in the absence of a central administrative apparatus or figurehead, and it is precisely that tradition which serves as a visible symbol of unity. The equivalent tradition in the West has been deliberately dismantled and it’s not even clear the bishops all share the same faith anymore.
I am also especially alarmed by what can only be described as neo-ultramontanism among some ordinary Catholics (e.g., the Catholic Answers Forum variety), who already regard every episcopal utterance (even the horrid Scalfari interview) as divinely inspired and every prudential governing decision as being a response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I hate to imagine how that dynamic would play out if, in 20 or 30 years, the bishops conferences of two different nations issue competing doctrinal guidelines.
I do not know if Proph is correct (I hope not but fear so), but the question, again, is why??? I have asked dozens and dozens of faithful, learned, intelligent Latins that question, and I am never satisfied by their responses. How many bishops were at the Second Vatical Council? Two thousand? (Wiki check: “up to 2625,” though I am not sure how many were bishops.) In addition to the bishops at the council, consider the thousands of Roman priests, members of religious orders, and laymen in positions of influence in Roman Catholic institutions and circles at the time who got on board that crazy train. How is it that so many of them would so readily transform, in so little time, their ancestral religion? We’re not talking about the hedonists of the West, or Communists, or atheists, or devotees of Comte, or fans of Freud, or Nietzsche junkies. Rather, it was the faithful flock in the pews and their pastors in the pulpit who swallowed the radical redirection of the council and of its implementation. It doesn’t matter if the episcopacy, clergy, and laity failed to apply the council faithfully. They did what they did. Why? How did it happen? Was everyone already a Roger Mahoney or a Simone Campbell in waiting, though hiding until they realized that, hey, everyone wants to throw off that old fuddy duddy relic of Christendom past and get groovy. Was the council like band camp for heretics, where they realized that they were not alone after all—and then the party started? Or did the demons pull off a marvelous stunt after laying the foundation for two centuries? It’s simply bizarre.
Anyway, I don’t know what the pope should do to make the Roman ark more seaworthy in a time of great flooding—or how to navigate it safely toward Orthofriendly waters. I would hate to have that job. Consider that when you next think ill thoughts of the pontiff. What a task the man has!
Bruce Charlton recently posted Charles Williams’ reflections about the Roman persecution of Christians: “The most tolerant, noble, moral, stoical non-Christians, regard Christianity as an evil.” Williams notes that it was the good emperors who persecuted the Church. I marveled at this fact when I studied Roman history. How odd it was to a young classics student that an admirable philosopher king like Marcus Aurelius would have waged war upon God’s people, or that Diocletian, among Rome’s greatest administrative architects and reformers, ordered possibly the worst persecution of the Church in antiquity. How strange it seemed until I started to have a similar suspicion that the Gospel was spiritual poison. I wandered for years in exile from the faith because I took the pagans’ criticism seriously. From the accusations that triggered De Civitate Dei to Nietzsche’s rejection of Christianity as a degenerate Western Buddhism, these pagan attacks troubled me greatly, and I came to doubt the veracity of the Christian message. For if I found Christian doctrine to be false in some part, then the whole Gospel could not be trusted. Christians appeared to counsel madness in the face of evil, threats, and injustice, and I thereby dismissed Christ’s revelation. I resigned myself to the idea that I only valued the faith insofar as it had maintained Hellenic wisdom through the centuries—often despite itself (e.g. Tertullian and his ilk in every age). After venturing for years in the wasteland, I came home—like the venerable bishop of Hippo—though I was still ill at ease with the tendencies toward error that seem to beset Christians. I have mentioned this frequently (for examples, see “Religion of Last Resort,” “Christianity’s Odd Place in the World,” “Forgiveness Sunday,” “Ethnic Parishes,” “Judge Lest Ye Be Mugged,” and “Forgetting the City of Man”). Yet, I realize that any truth will have its corresponding and concomitant errors. I believe that it is Aristotle who uses the image of archery to illustrate the search for truth. One aims at the mark, which is small, but one may miss the mark in many ways—namely, at every other point. It is easy to err, and it is not surprising that we Christians repeatedly fail in our understanding of God’s way. The path to truth is hard, and we are quite weak for the task.
This coming Sunday, I wish my Orthodox readers a blessed feast of Pentecost.
As I have mentioned before in “What Could We Salvage in the West?,” I find the Roman liturgical color for Pentecost—red—superior to the Russian Church’s color of green. I know that the Spirit renews the world, and green is an appropriate color, but fire red is hot! It differs from the maroon red that we use in the feasts of the Lord, and we need not abandon the significance of that tradition. As my personal attempt at low level parochial syncretism, I always wear bright red to the Pentecostal liturgy.
Several weeks ago, I was not able to attend the divine liturgy at my parish due to work, and the Orthodox generally do not have evening liturgies except for certain special occasions. So, when I have to miss my Sunday obligation, my penance is the Roman mass. I attend mass on Sunday evenings as the next best option. Apparently, that practice upsets both the Orthodox and the Latins, but it is what I do. Anyway, by chance, I happened to be wearing a green shirt when the Roman priest entered in his fiery vestments. I then realized that it was Pentecost in the Roman Church, and I was wearing green. Life is funny, and the Lord has a sense of humor.
The readings for that Sunday were the second chapter of Acts that recounts Pentecost, Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians wherein he writes that no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the gospel of John when Jesus breathes upon his disciples and gives them the Holy Spirit:
Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the LORD.
Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.
And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:
Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
I quoted that same passage in “The Birth of the Church” a few years ago when I challenged the common practice of calling Pentecost the beginning of the Church. Listening to the readings, I had similar thoughts about what the various “givings” of the Holy Spirit mean. The post from a few years ago involved that idea, but I had never before really questioned the differences explicitly. The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets long before Jesus met his disciples on Pascha, and then Jesus breathed the Spirit upon those disciples weeks before Pentecost. What are the specific differences in these givings and receivings?
After I had a few conversations about the topic with friends, our uninformed consensus was that the prophetic and apostolic inspirations before Pentecost were temporary and connected to a particular moment and task to be done. Moreover, the Holy Spirit is active in the creation and sustenance of reality; man has an experience of him just by being. To the extent that the mind perceives truth at all appears to have something to do with the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth as we say in one of our most common prayers,
O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.
I remember reading Dulles’ distinction between revelation from above (in prophesy and scripture) and revelation from below (through nature and reason), and yet all such revelation proceeds from God. The Holy Spirit appears to have a special operational function in that revealing and in our seeing and understanding. It therefore is fitting for the Spirit to prepare the prophets to receive their special revelation, just as it makes sense that Jesus sends the Spirit to the apostles to prepare them to experience and to understand the most significant revelation of all on that first day of the week. In contrast, the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is not limited to a particular moment or mission but is rather a permanent feature of the Christian community to support the body of Christ in the life that God calls us to lead.
The paschal season is coming to an end, and summer is well upon us. It was a late date for Orthodox Pascha this year. M.J. Montes has a page dedicated to the dating of Pascha: The Date of Orthodox Easter 1875 to 2124. He lists the years on which Pascha falls on a certain date, given in both the Julian and Gregorian reckoning. This year, Pascha fell on April 22 (Julian) / May 5 (Gregorian). That is late on average. In the range covered (A.D. 1875 - 2124), Pascha falls on that Julian date annis domini 1907, 1918, 1929, 2002, 2013, 2024, and 2097 and on that Gregorian date annis domini 1907, 1918, 1929, 2002, 2013, 2024, 2097, and 2108. The difference is due to the two systems’ becoming a further day apart from A.D. 2100. Using the Gregorian system, the only later dates for Orthodox Pascha are annis domini:
May 6—1888, 1945, 1956, 2040, and 2108
May 8—1983 and 2078
On the Julian calendar, I believe that April 25 is the last day on which Pascha may fall. However, the Gregorian date will get later as the two calendars’ discrepancy grows.
Mr. Montes has a neat table that shows how often in each century the Orthodox and Roman dates for Pascha coincide and differ (and by how many weeks): “Tables of Differences between the Dates of Orthodox and Western Easter, AD 1583 to AD 3000.” GM Arts also features nifty graphs of the discrepancies: “Easter Sunday Date FAQ.” Evidently, the last year of our Lord in which the Orthodox Churches and the Roman Church will celebrate Pascha on the same date is A.D. 2698. Pascha will fall on April 6 (Julian) / April 24 (Gregorian) that year.
Kristor posted a thoughtful Orthosphere piece last week, “Why Does Jesus Pray?” I recommend the short article and the comments section, to which I contributed. In the article, Kristor makes the point that God knows humanity through the incarnation. I responded:
Though useful preaching material, it doesn’t seem necessary for God to be incarnate — as the messiah — to know what it is like to be a man. God knows me better than I do, though I have no reserved throne of glory. Wouldn’t the Lord God and almighty Father, creator of all things, know what it is like to be a bat?
It’s a tricky question. Obviously, he’s omniscient, right? So how can he be ignorant of what it is like to be anything?
The way I have parsed this is to distinguish between knowing what it is *like* to be a bat, and knowing what it *is* to be a bat. One knows what it is like to be a bat by knowing of experiences that are similar to those of a bat. But one can’t know what it is to be a bat unless one *just is* a bat. And until one knows what it is to just be a bat, one’s inferences about what it is like to be a bat are just that: inferences.
In virtue of the Incarnation, God knows, not just what it is like to be a man, but what it is to be a man. He does this by being a man. And – this bit is quite familiar to you, I know – in virtue of the Incarnation once in history, God is a man from before all time, and eternally; so that in the time of the creation of the first man, God already knows what it is to be a man.
And, obviously, once you know what it is to be a man, you also know what it is like to be a man.
Finally, because God knows eternally what it is to be a man, his omniscience in this regard is preserved. For all we know, God also knows what it is to be a bat; it seems quite certain that he knows what it is to be an angel. God could have committed himself to something like Incarnation in any number of different things, without in the least compromising the special and salvific nature of his Incarnation in Jesus. He is Jesus; but he is nowise limited to the Dominical instantiation.
Perhaps it is my limited imagination, but I find Krishna like multiple incarnations unsettling. I have heard folks postulate sin among alien races and ask whether God would have to become one of them to rescue them. Instead, I lean toward “one and done,” and I explain my thoughts in the next somewhat truncated comment:
I follow my favorite Western father — Bonaventure — in attempting to understand divine knowledge. God knows creation by knowing himself, as he is the source of all. In knowing the divine essence, he knows all that is (and, it seems, all that could be). The Lord is no demiurge who works with pre-existing stuff. There is no input besides God of which God could be ignorant. Still, your words have me thinking . . .
I once had a Platonist Christian professor who taught that creation as a whole was an incarnation of God and that the incarnation of the Logos as Jesus was the most visible and perfect manifestation of that act. This may smell of heresy to some, but it always made sense to me.
God has given man demarcated sacred space (temple) and time (ritual) so that man, in his spiritual blindness, may begin to recognize God’s presence, and then hopefully he will come to see the transcendent divinity that lies beyond and behind all phenomena. It is not that God is absent from mud, or spit, or rocks, but our fallen eyes and minds need trained, and lessons begin with blessings. Of setting things aside. Of offering our first fruits to the Lord. Of separating a chosen people from the rest of mankind. Our carnality needs to start with the concrete and particular before it can comprehend wider vision. And Christ is the first and last pedagogue of mankind. As a person and in his acts, he opens our eyes to the truth. When Christ “transfigured” on Mount Tabor, it was not he who changed but rather than perceptive abilities of Peter, James, and John, who finally caught a glimpse of a higher reality that was always there. I think that something of this is also relevant to the Eucharist. In our most sacred act, we acknowledge the real presence of Christ in bread and wine. When we no longer see through a glass darkly, we may come to see God in all things. Such seems distasteful to those who fear idolatry and immanentism (in other words, religion), but I think that the old pagans, philosophical pantheists, and new agers have a true insight but lack the interpretive apparatus necessary to make sense of it.
The incarnation makes the rise above idolatry possible for us because of the mysteriously unified joining of God and image in the person of the God Man. The rest of creation is an echo, a shadow, an image of this providential unity of creator and creation, and this allows all things to be opportunities for prayer and for communion. For the saint, to be is to be holy. The process of salvation is relearning to see the Lord walking in the garden.
The world is God’s image, and part of that world — man — is an exceptionally clear icon of the divine. How sad it is to contemplate, when we look at actual men! Nonetheless, man is God’s appointed chief and priest. He has neglected his duty spectacularly. Yet, Christ is the New Man, the New Adam, who recapitulates all of creation in his incarnation, and he thus also redeems all of creation through the incarnation, death, and resurrection according to Irenaeus of Lyons. Why should this be? Maximus the Confessor taught that man is God’s cosmic mediator — one of our original and final vocations. In becoming the perfect man, Jesus fulfills man’s true purpose as the creaturely conductor of the Lord’s cosmic symphony.
So, if you are correct that God’s knowledge of being a creature depends on the incarnation (rather than simply knowing his own essence and its effects), then perhaps in becoming man, God knows all of creation “from the inside.” For that is our job, and we succeed at times to a remarkable degree in understanding the rest of creation, even in our wretched state. Observe the relationships that sometimes occur between man and beast, or even man and plant (or thing). Lewis remarked that we bring animals into the intellectual, spiritual sphere by assimilating them into human life, but perhaps that limited activity is but a taste of what human life in the world should really be. The God Man’s cosmic role is not simply as God but as man, and by that, the whole universe is made anew.
Kristor has the last word, ending on a note worthy of Ammonius’ approval:
I would add one thought. When I say (as you have paraphrased me) that God’s knowledge of being a creature depends on the Incarnation, so that, in becoming man, God knows all of creation “from the inside,” that is just another way of saying, as you and St. Bonaventure say, that God knows creation by knowing himself, for in knowing the divine essence, he knows all that is (and, it seems, all that could be). God’s act of being, his act of creation, his act of knowing his own essence, his act of Incarnation, and his act of knowing his creation are a single motion.
I had not considered Kristor’s point beforehand. It is very difficult to abandon entirely “image-thinking” and to re-orient the mind to think beyond the reference points of everyday life. The climb from the cave is arduous and fraught with dangers.
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!
If it were a leap year, tomorrow would be the feast of Saint John Cassian. As it is, we celebrate the good saint’s feast on February 28 (March 13 on the Gregorian calendar). On my patron’s feast day last year, Fr. Stephen De Young published a decent article on John Cassian on Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: “The Curious Case of St. John Cassian.” I recommend it. It is yet another reminder of how the preponderance of Saint Augustine in Western Christian thought—without adequate patristic counterweight—has perverted the West. I do not quite understand how it happened, though. Even without the multitude of voices from the Greek fathers, the West still had Hilary, Ambrose, John Cassian himself, and others, though I suppose that Augustine’s writings were so vast and impressive that they overshadowed the rest. Still, it was not until the Reformation that the balance truly tipped, but why then? Why did Luther, Calvin, and the gang draw their inspiration from Augustine’s extreme anti-Pelagianism? Was it their rejection of scholasticism and the medieval tradition, where the next previous stop in history was Hippo? Did they find a soulmate in the “Doctor of Grace”? Why did a Platonist from late antiquity appeal to the nominalists who transformed post-Renaissance Western Europe? Curious, indeed.
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.
Bruce Charlton posted a typically charltonesque apologia for the Christian life in “An evangelical Q & A - salvation, theosis, families.” It is worth your time.
Yesterday, I mentioned Auster’s post, “The afterlife and Christ,” wherein Auster refers to a View from the Right entry from three years ago—“The Gospels: too embarrassing to be fiction”—that concerns Frank Turek’s argument for trusting the scriptural accounts of Jesus. I remember reading the post, but I do not think that I commented on it before. It is good. Here is an excerpt by Turek:
If men were inventing the resurrection story, it would go more like this:
Jesus came to save the world, and he needed our help. That’s why we were there for him every step of the way. When he was in need, we prayed with him. When he wept, we wept with him (and told him to toughen up!). When he fell, we carried his cross. The gates of Hell could not prevent us from seeing his mission through!
So when that turncoat Judas brought the Romans by (we always suspected Judas), and they began to nail Jesus to the cross, we laughed at them. “He’s God you idiots! The grave will never keep him! You think you’re solving a problem, but you’re really creating a much bigger one!”
While we assured the women that everything would turn out all right, they couldn’t handle the crucifixion. Squeamish and afraid, they ran to their homes screaming and hid behind locked doors.
But we men stood steadfast at the foot of the cross, praying for hours until the very end. When Jesus finally took his last breath and the Roman Centurion confessed that Jesus was God, Peter blasted him, “That’s what we told you before you nailed him up there!” (Through this whole thing, the Romans and the Jews just wouldn’t listen!)
Never doubting that Jesus would rise on the third day, Peter announced to the Centurion, “We’ll bury him and be back on Sunday. Now go tell Pilate to put some of your ‘elite’ Roman guards at the tomb to see if you can prevent him from rising from the dead!” We all laughed and began to dream about Sunday.
That Sunday morning we marched right down to the tomb and tossed those elite Roman guards aside. Then the stone (that took eleven us to roll into place) rolled away by itself. A glowing Jesus emerged from tomb, and said, “I knew you’d come! My mission is accomplished.” He praised Peter for his brave leadership and congratulated us on our great faith. Then we went home and comforted the trembling women.
Turek’s article and Auster and his readers’ comments will surely bring a smile to your face.