I hope that my fellow Orthodox Christians have a beneficial Lent.
The Last Anchorite is a documentary about an Australian Marxist professor who repented and became a monk at Saint Anthony’s Monastery in Egypt. Here is the first part:
The second part:
Marvelous and surprising is man in his search for God.
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!)
Bruce Charlton has recently written a lovely piece that I recommend: “Peak experiences - the Christian difference.” Read it, and enter into the joy of the Lord.
I wish you a blessed feast of the Dormition today!
On the occasion of the feast, I offer Kristor’s heavenly musings on the Orthosphere yesterday: “Creatura : Creator :: Map : Territory.” It is worth your time.
Yesterday, I received two links to fascinating Marian articles that may interest you:
“The oldest hymn to the Theotokos”
The Wikipedia entry on Mary Untier of Knots
I hope that you have a lovely May weekend. May—it’s the best month, and therefore it is wholly suitable to be the month for Regina Cæli.
Christ is risen!
It is a funny thing how many of us expect to pay for the good things that we experience through suffering in the future. We do not consider Fortune a capricious dame but rather a diligent keeper of accounts who ensures that happiness must be balanced by misery. We do not enjoy blessings easily because we suspect that horrible news awaits us just around the corner; the time of reckoning must come.
Perhaps, this attitude is due to our fundamental suspicions about our place in providence, as I noted in “Pessimist,” but I wonder if something more universal is at work. In this world of finitude, men are always in need. As such, they do not give away what treasure or skill they have until they have secured their necessities. Instead, they trade, and most everything has a price—and everyone has to accept limits.
It is easy to interpret our relationship with God within this framework. Natural religion—paganism—does this explicitly, and we heirs of Abraham often harbor some residual pagan opinions of mortal-divine bartering. We pray for blessings, and we speculate about the cost. We might propose deals to God—and then worry about our failing to keep our end. In all this, we assume that God is like man—that he must exact a payment. Yet, we forget that the bartering economy arises from limited resources. The divine economy has no such restraint. As Kristor Lawson often remarks on the Orthosphere, God creates ex nihilo, and God’s free giving of being radically differs from the world of the market. God has no need and requires nothing of us for his own benefit. For God is perfect. In what way could a perfect being benefit?
But, then, what of us and of our relationship with God? What does the perfect God have to do with us besides creating and holding us in existence? Is he simply that timeless clock maker and tinkerer? This question troubles many folks who deal with the dilemma either by depersonalizing God or by reducing God to a creaturely level. A good example of the latter is another Orthospheran, Bruce Charllton, who praises Mormonism for its anthropomorphic understanding of God. For how can we have a relationship with the “beyond being” that has any resemblance to the scriptural images of the relationship between God and man: father and son, king and subject, bridegroom and bride, and so on. What can the Perfect and Unchanging get in return for our devotion?
I believe that those human relationship images indicate an answer—or rather the path to the answer. What binds human beings as human beings more than love? Love is an odd dynamic, whereby the lover gives and benefits in such giving by rendering good to the beloved. What does the lover get besides the happiness of being a lover? Perhaps love in return, and such certainly adds to act of loving as a completion, but true love is not a payment in expectation of a return. The happiness of love is in the act itself. It is, we might say on many levels, a pure act.
God is the lover par excellence. In the divine liturgy, we call the Lord the lover of mankind—φιλάνθρωπος. God cannot be defined, but Christians have always used love as the best way to talk about God. God is love and the archetype of love. In Christianity alone may we maintain that love is essential to God. According to rabbinical Judaism and Mohammedanism, love requires creation; God only loves that which he creates. So, love is a created force, even if God eternally loves that which comes to be in time. Christians, however, believe that the community of the Trinity is one of eternal love—which is essential to God—and that this relationship is the ground of all existence. We do not judge that we anthropomorphize the cosmos when we speak of love among non-human beings. Rather, we believe that human love in its many forms is an imitation of and participation in the fount of reality—God’s inner life of love.
As with so many dilemmas that result from trying to pigeonhole the Almighty into creaturely categories, the problem disappears when we reflect upon God. God is the Lord of both/and and not simply either/or (ha!), and he freely gives being and goodness. God only enters the marketplace of exchange to rectify our creaturely debts; in such manner are we bought with a price—and yet God frees his bondsmen.
Truly, he is risen!
Last month, 60 Minutes did a segment on the Copts. It is short but worth watching:
I am thankful that Western media outlets as well as political leaders are starting to show concern for Egypt’s Christians. Even Prince Charles has raised awareness of their perilous situation. May they survive the troubled times and flourish. You may read more about the Copts on Arimathea with “A Visit with the Copts” and “Copts in Crisis.”
In addition, let us keep in mind the travelers who are heading to Washington to participate in the March for Life tomorrow. It will be the forty-first anniversary of Roe versus Wade. It is supposed to be a cold but sunny day. May their witness bring encouragement to the marchers and a change of heart to the nation.
Dr. William Tighe has a fascinating article on Touchstone—“Calculating Christmas.” Tighe argues that the dating of Christmas on December 25 has nothing to do with the pagan celebrations of the solstice, Saturnalia, or Sol Invictus. Rather, he states that there was a Jewish belief that a prophet died on the day of his conception that Christians inherited. Tighe shows that Christians in the early centuries tried to figure out the solar calendar date for the crucifixion. In the West, March 25 became the favored date, which then determined the feasts of the Annunciation (Jesus’ conception) and of Christmas nine months later. If Tighe is right, then the tendency to attribute December 25 to the Christians’ appropriating a pagan festive season is poor historical scholarship—like a nineteenth century version of the Discovery Channel.
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.
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.