Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Rome Orthodoxy and the Tridentine Question

There is an excellent essay over at Vivificat on the subject of the effect that the imminent Tridentine indult might have on relations with Orthodoxy. The general thrust of the essay is probably not much. In the short term I tend to agree for most of the reasons stated in Theo’s essay. Rome has a lot of problems that go way beyond a botched liturgical reform post-Vatican II. Those need to be addressed first. But in fairness there are encouraging signs that many of these issues are being looked at. Thus I am not quite as pessimistic as Theo seems to be.

The new management in the Vatican is showing clear signs of a willingness to put teeth behind rhetoric in church teachings and discipline. The expected indult is just another example that Pope +Benedict XVI is shaking things up after forty plus years of anything goes. +John Paul II (Magnus) did a lot during his more than 25 years on the throne of Peter. But he had short comings. One was that while he was generally orthodox in his preaching, he was a soft touch in church discipline. This problem was compounded by the fact that the last five years of his pontificate were ones of greatly reduced leadership due to his poor health. But JP II is gone now for more than a year and there is a new sheriff in town.

+Benedict XVI having waited the customary one year from the death of his sainted predecessor is now starting to put his stamp on the church he leads. He is shaking up the Vatican Curia and reasserting church discipline in a wide range of areas. The Tridentine indult is just a foretaste of what I think is to come. In his former persona as Cardinal Ratzinger he repeatedly voiced grave concerns about the direction that the liturgical reform had taken in the years after the council. Now we see efforts underway to reintroduce Latin into the reformed Mass, affirming a right to offer Mass ad orientem as well as ad populi, prohibiting lay people from the purification of the sacred vessels and so on. Unlike +John Paul II Benedict does not have the political baggage of Polish nationality as a hindrance to establishing a rapport with the Russian Orthodox Church. Also Benedict is respected as a first rate theologian who understands the Eastern Churches better than any pope in many centuries. In short he is seriously respected in Orthodox theological circles. This alone puts the Rome/Orthodox dialogue on an entirely different plane.

But yes, Theo is right. Rome still has more problems than you can shake a stick at. Discipline is horrible and if the new pope wants to change that, it needs to be remembered as a very liberal friend of mine keeps pointing out, that Benedict is in his late 70s. This is not likely to be a long pontificate. And no matter how much discipline is reformed the very serious theological issues which divide Orthodoxy and Rome are not going to get swept under the carpet just because the Pope has issued a letter banning homosexuals from the clergy etc. In this sense I suspect that the real test will come not with this pope but the next one and his answer to a question. How far is Rome willing to go in adjusting its understanding of the decrees of Vatican I? The wording of those decrees is so crystal clear that we Orthodox have a hard time seeing how you can get around them. But the Roman Church has done some pretty impressive theological contortions before in the name of doctrinal development. A couple excellent examples are the current effort to repudiate limbo, and the gradual backing off of the crystal clear language used by Boniface VIII in Unam Sanctum about the fate of those outside the church. Boniface VIII today would be called a Feenyist and labeled a heretic. So who knows. I remain skeptical but not completely without hope.

Still, I do look forward to hearing again the glorious strains of Mozart and Gregorian Chant in the Roman Catholic Church while the last guitar is smashed over the head of the last Extraordinary Lay Eucharistic Minister. Am I asking for too much?

Welcome Home!

Fr. John Fenton recently of Zion Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Detroit MI, has announced his resignation and plans to enter the Orthodox Church with his family. It is reported that he hopes to be ordained and establish a Western Rite parish in Detroit under the Antiochian Archdiocese. Prayers are solicited for his and his family’s well being, both spiritual and material in this challenging time of transition. May God grant them many years!

Hat tip to Ben over at Western Orthodoxy Blog

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Rape of Europe

We interupt our normal Sunday off from bogging to bring you the following article by Paul Belien. It is a must read for anyone who is concerned about the state of the world today and its likely state tomorrow.
The German author Henryk M. Broder recently told the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant (12 October) that young Europeans who love freedom, better emigrate. Europe as we know it will no longer exist 20 years from now. Whilst sitting on a terrace in Berlin, Broder pointed to the other customers and the passers-by and said melancholically: “We are watching the world of yesterday.”

Europe is turning Muslim. As Broder is sixty years old he is not going to emigrate himself. “I am too old,” he said. However, he urged young people to get out and “move to Australia or New Zealand. That is the only option they have if they want to avoid the plagues that will turn the old continent uninhabitable.”
Read the rest here.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Odds and ends...

From the other side of the fence...
Fr. Jake (yes that Fr. Jake) has taken to quoting St. Ignatius lately for support against conservative Anglicans who are defecting en masse from The Episcopal Church (TEC). With more parishes and even entire dioceses requesting alternative episcopal and primatial oversight schism has become a reality for TEC. No one is happy with dissent and the liberals now running TEC have been going out of their way to demonize the conservative dissent. (In fairness there has been some pretty nasty venom coming from conservatives as well.) Although St. Ignatius did condemn schism, somehow I don't think he would have supported communion with TEC. You can read Fr. Jake's post here and my reply to it here. There is a little more give and take farther down in the comments area.

Sarum Mass online...
Shawn Tribe over at The New Liturgical Movement has posted some pictures of a Sarum Rite Mass celebrated a few years back. The vestments alone are worth the look.

See the article here.

Fire & Tragedy

A massive wild fire is still raging largely unchecked in southern California. Thus far it has consumed about 38 sq miles. That’s more than what would normally be destroyed by a large nuclear bomb. Yesterday five firemen were caught away from safety in a freak wind shift while battling to save a home. Three died on the spot and a fourth succumbed later to his injuries. The fifth remains in extremely critical condition with burns over 95% of his body. Prayers are requested for all those affected by this terrible disaster especially the families of the firemen killed and inured in the line of duty. The dead and injured fireman are...

Deceased: May their Memory be Eternal!

Mark Loutzenhiser, engine captain, 44, of Idyllwild. A certified emergency management technician, Loutzenhiser had been a firefighter for 21 years and had also worked as a crewman for the Vista Grand Hot Shots firefighting team and as a volunteer for the Riverside County Fire Department. He had studied fire science at Mt. San Jacinto College. The longtime resident of Idyllwild, Calif., was involved in numerous local programs, including youth sports.

Jess McLean, fire engine operator, 27, of Beaumont. A seven-year veteran, McLean was an outdoors enthusiast who liked to camp and ride his motorcycle to work, according to a neighbor. He studied fire science at Crafton Hills College and had also been a member of the Vista Grande Hot Shots.

Jason McKay, assistant fire engine operator, 27, of Phelan. McKay had been with the U.S. Forest Service for five years and had also worked as a volunteer firefighter in Adelanto. A certified emergency medical technician, he had an associate degree in fire science.

Daniel Hoover-Najera, firefighter, 20, of San Jacinto. Hoover-Najera was in his second season of firefighting. He graduated from San Jacinto High School in 2004.

Injured: May God the physician of souls and bodies grant him healing from all injuries and pain.

Pablo Cerda, firefighter, 23, of Fountain Valley. Listed in critical condition Friday. Cerda was in his second year of fighting fires for the Forest Service. He graduated from Los Amigos High School in Santa Ana in 2001 and had attended the Riverside Community College Fire Academy.

This is really bad... even for San Francisco.

OK. If the title did not serve as adequate warning then let me be blunt. The linked article below is NOT for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence now use Most Holy Redeemer Parish Hall (beneath the church) for their monthly Revival Bingo.

Here's the listing for the next event. (scroll down to graphic)

Here's an article describing the fun, including prizes of porn dvd's and sex toys.

Here's the Sisters' own description with graphics.

And here's some info on "Peaches Christ", guest host for the "Bare Chest Bingo" event on November 2nd. (Read her/his bio, s/he is a direct descendant of Christ)
The original post contains links to web sites which I refuse to post on A/O. All I can say is that the Roman Catholic Church has sunk very low indeed to allow this sort of thing on church ground. It is simply appalling. Does anyone have B16’s private number? It’s definitely time to drop the dime on this craziness.

The original post with links can be found here.

Warning: The sites linked in the original post are graphic.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Nicaragua says NO to abortion

According to an article published in the NY Times Nicaragua’s national legislature has voted to ban all abortions without exception in the country (currently there is an exception for grave health risks to the mother). The bill is awaiting the signature of the president. Also, there is discussion of increasing penalties for illegal abortions from around 6 years to 10-30 years in prison, which is more commensurate with premeditated murder. The presidential election is very near in that country and former leftist and communist sympathizer Daniel Ortega is a prominent candidate. However he has come out strongly in favor of the no exceptions ban on abortion which position he credits to his conversion to Roman Catholicism.

Read the story here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What do we mean by the word ORTHODOX?

by St John Maximovich

SHORTLY AFTER THE DOCTRINE of Christ began to be propagated among the Gentiles, the followers of Christ in Antioch began to be called Christians (Acts XI:26). The word "Christian" indicated that those who bore this name belonged to Christ-belonged in the sense of devotion to Christ and his Doctrine. From Antioch the name of Christian was spread everywhere.

The followers of Christ gladly called themselves by the name of their beloved Teacher and Lord; and the enemies of Christ called His followers Christians by carrying over to them the ill-will and hatred which they breathed against Christ.

However, quite soon there appeared people who, while calling themselves Christians, were not of Christ in spirit. Of them Christ had spoken earlier: Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven (St. Matt. VII:5). Christ prophesied also that many would pass themselves off for Christ Himself: Many shall come in my name, sayings I am Christ (Matt. XXIV:5). The Apostles in their epistles indicated that false bearers of the name of Christ had appeared already in their time: as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists (I John II:19).

They indicated that those who stepped away from the doctrine of Christ should not be considered their own: They went out from us but were not of us (I John II:19)" Warning against quarrels and disagreements in minor matters (I Cor. I:10-14), at the same time the Apostles strictly commanded their disciples to shun those who do not bring the true doctrine (II John I:10). The Lord, through the Revelation given to the Apostle John the Theologian, sternly accused those who, calling themselves faithful, did not act in accordance with their name; for in such a case it would be false for them.

Of what use was it of old to call oneself a Jew, an Old Testament follower of the true faith, if one was not such in actuality? Such the Holy Scripture calls the synagogue of Satan (Apocalypse II:9).

In the same way a Christian in the strict sense is he only who confesses the true doctrine of Christ and lives in accordance with it. The designation of a Christian consists in glorifying the Heavenly Father by one's life. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (St. Matt. V:16). But true glorification of God is possible only if one rightly believes and expresses his right belief in words and deeds. Therefore true Christianity and it alone may be named "right-glorifying" (Ortho-doxy). By the word "Orthodoxy" we confess our firm conviction that it is precisely our Faith that is the true doctrine of Christ. When we call anyone or anything Orthodox, we by this very fact indicate his or its non-counterfeit and uncorrupted Christianity, rejecting at the same time that which falsely appropriates the name of Christ.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

When Children Die

A number of good articles have come to my attention on the subject of what happens when young children die. This is an agonizing event for those left behind and it can be made much more so by uncertainty regarding the fate of the child’s soul. In recent weeks there has been a great deal of discussion over the prospect that the Roman Catholic Church may be preparing to condemn a pious myth that has been so long and widely held that it has gained something close to the status of doctrine in the minds of some in the Roman Church. That myth is that the souls of un-baptized children are denied the beatific vision of paradise by virtue of their ancestral sin. This is largely a product of the teachings of Blessed Augustine which have never gained much currency in Orthodoxy. According to this belief the souls of those children not baptized but too young to have been capable of committing any conscious sin were barred by the stain of original sin from heaven and instead went to place commonly called Limbo (Limbus Infantium).

It is not my intention to join this discussion since it has already been addressed by various Catholic writers at great length and I have nothing to add to it. Al Kimel over at Pontifications has posted three (essay 1, essay 2, essay 3) articles on this issue in which he has made it clear he is shedding few tears at the passing of this belief. The subject is also being discussed by Michael Liccione over at Sacramentum Vitae which is hosting the discussion from Pontifications. For a defense of Limbo one may read this article over at Seattle Catholic (a very conservative web site) and this essay by Prof. Robert Miller at First Things.

The two other articles which I would commend to the interested reader are from an Orthodox perspective. The first is by Fr. John Breck which can be found on the website of the OCA. It is a short essay approaching the issue from an Orthodox theological perspective. The second is an article by Fr. Stephen Freeman just posted on his new blog. I have no recollection of ever reading anything by Fr. Stephen which I did not like, and this is no exception. It is I think sufficient for me to say that I am not a fan of Limbo (which is very un-Orthodox). On a more personal note, I can still remember driving through the Catholic cemetery where my grand parents are buried and seeing the area set aside for the graves of un-baptized infants. It was a most tragic place and I always felt great pain for the families whose children were denied even burial in consecrated ground.


While walking down the street one day a US senator is tragically hit by a truck and dies. His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance.

"Welcome to heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we're not sure what to do with you."

"No problem, just let me in," says the man.

"Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we'll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."

"Really, I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," says the senator.

"I'm sorry, but we have our rules."

And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him.

Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the people. They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne.

Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly guy who has a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are having such a good time that before he realizes it, it ! is time to go.

Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises...

The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopens on heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him.

"Now it's time to visit heaven."

So, 24 hours pass with the senator joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.

"Well, then, you've spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity."

The senator reflects for a minute, then he answers: "Well, I would never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell."

So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. Now the doors of the elevator open and he's in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage.

He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more trash falls from above.

The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder. "I don't understand," stammers the senator. "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?"

The devil looks at him, smiles and says, "Yesterday we were campaigning...... Today you voted."

Hat tip to Woody.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Why I Am Not Voting

Tuesday Nov 7 2006 is an important date for most Americans. If I am not occupied with work or some other distraction, I plan to hit the video store, pop some pop corn and curl up on the davenport for a quiet evening of movies. Most others will be voting and watching the results of the national elections being held that day. I may check in just to see what’s going on, but I don’t plan to linger as I might have on previous election nights. That’s because I am not voting this year.

Some people will react with horror or condemnation to this announcement. We have after all been raised to believe that voting is our patriotic duty. To which I respond … Bull! I have often said that there are excellent reasons for not voting. In this particular election I am not sufficiently familiar with the issues in the local elections to cast an informed vote. And as for the national elections, my absence from the voting booth is I believe the most effective and moral means of protest I have over the mess our country is in.

Since 1984 I have never failed to vote in an election. As an 18 yr old I cast my first vote for Ronald Reagan and have been voting since then every two years like clockwork. So why not this year? Because I can not in conscience vote for the candidates of either of the two main political parties.

I should pause to note here that I have never voted for a Democrat for national political office. I am philosophically opposed to much of what the Democrats stand for (though I have voted across party lines in local elections). But the deal breaker between me and the Democrats is abortion. As long as that party remains wedded to the “right” to kill children (born or not is irrelevant to me), I will never under any circumstances vote for a Democrat for national political office. But, the reader may point out, surely there are pro-life Democrats. Yes there are. But they are an extreme minority in a party that institutionally supports abortion rights. A pro-life Democrat will support a majority that puts anti-life Democrats in committee chairmanships and other positions of power in Washington. Pro-life Democrats are at best, a small tolerated minority within their party. They have no possibility of influencing their party’s position on this issue. Until the Democrats divorce themselves from the abortion rights positions it has taken in the past I am morally prohibited from voting for any of their people for national political office.

OK so why not vote for the Republicans? They are certainly pro-life as a party. This is true. But the Republican Party has become corrupt. Don’t get me wrong. I am not some naïve idealist who thinks politicians should be squeaky clean. I am quite realistic in my view of Washington. This is not a city populated with saints. A certain amount of corruption in public office has always existed and I am prepared to tolerate it in the sense that the guilty should be punished , but I don’t usually hold an entire party responsible for the misbehavior of some of its members. However, the Republicans have become drunk on power and have forgotten what they were sent to Washington to do.

For years I raked Democrats over the coals about their irresponsible stewardship in Washington when they were in the majority. Reckless spending, high deficits and a ballooning national debt, plundering the public treasury to buy votes with so called public works projects, an ever expanding government that wants to tell everyone how to live their lives and a wanton disregard for the constitutional limits on the powers of the government. Republicans would do it right when we gain the majority. Well we got the majority in 1994. And at first things did improve. But there is an old axiom that power corrupts… And that corruption has now reached deep into the soul of the Republican majority in Congress.

Every item I listed above about the Democrats is now an accusation that could be fairly made against the current majority party. We have a debt that is going through the roof. Part of that is in fairness the result of 9/11 and the subsequent brief recession. But statistical studies have shown that most of it is the product of steep tax cuts which disproportionately favor about 1% of the population. I am no fan of taxes. But I do not regard them as intrinsically evil as some in the Republican Party seem to. Taxes are a necessary evil. They are the dues of citizenship. And they should never have been cut so drastically while a significant national debt remained. That they were cut so deeply and that the benefits went mainly to the wealthiest elements of our population was immoral as well as fiscally reckless. That the president called for the abolition of the estate tax (already amended so it applies only to the very wealthiest) in the middle of a war shocked my conscience.

Efforts to control Federal spending have been a joke for the last six years and one that has gotten worse each year. The highway bill passed last year was an abomination. Pork? After that bill got passed I was ready to require all members of Congress to be Jews. We have an administration and a Congressional majority obsessed with passing a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage but can not find the time or money to address a wide open border with a million illegal immigrants entering our country annually! Hello? Is anyone home? Do these people understand the concept of priorities? And why is Donald Rumsfeld still employed at the War Department? Republicans used to believe in accountability. Iraq has been an unmitigated disaster. I say this as someone who bought the whole bill of goods back in 03. I supported the war. But it was botched and the post war planning was so breathtakingly incompetent that with Rumsfeld still in office, accountability is no longer a term I associate with this administration.

Then there is the issue of constitutional restraints on power. I am sorry but I have read the Constitution carefully and can find no mention of “signing statements” anywhere. From whence does the President claim the power to ignore the laws of the land? If he signs a bill it is law, period end of discussion until or unless the courts overturn it. If the president doesn’t like the bill his ONLY constitutional recourse is to veto it. But President Clinton used signing statements too, reply the president’s apologists. So what? Bill Clinton is not someone I look to as an example of the sort of conduct I expect from my president. If we Republicans have been reduced to citing Bill Clinton’s actions as a defense for something that is blatantly illegal then we are in deep trouble (which we are).

But on an even more serious note is the de facto suspension of key parts of the Bill of Rights by this administration. Since 9/11 the executive branch has claimed the authority to spy on citizens of the United States without warrants, and to arrest and detain persons INCLUDING UNITED STATES CITIZENS, indefinitely without warrants and without access to legal council. Don’t believe me? Do a Google search on the name Joseph Padilla. This man is an American citizen. He was arrested on American soil and was held without formal charges or access to a lawyer for a prolonged period of time. His case is still winding its way through the courts, with the Feds STILL claiming they are not bound by the courts where enemy combatants are concerned. The problem is that they claim the president has sole discretion to identify enemy combatants. This is effectively a suspension of the writ of Habeus Corpus. Only Congress can do that. The total disregard for the rule of law by this administration (and the current majority in Congress) should alarm anyone who believes we are a constitutional republic, with limited powers vested in the government.

Some will claim that the Republicans are surely the lesser of evils. I should therefore support them with whatever reservations I have. I don’t agree. In some situations I am prepared to vote for the lesser of evils. Indeed I did that to a certain extent in the last general election. But not this year. This has gone on for too long. Nor am I absolutely convinced (abortion aside) that the Republicans are indeed the lesser of evils. Support for corrupt and decadent public officials needs to stop at some point. Yes it’s likely that if more people think like me the Democrats will win, and the Republicans will loose. I think that’s likely anyway but the point is still valid. Blame me if you will. The bottom line is the Republicans deserve to loose. Maybe a few years in the minority will give them a much needed lesson in humility and a fresh opportunity to get back in touch with what they are supposed to be about. Given a choice between two parties that both believe in big government, big debt, telling people how to live their lives, no respect for restraints on governmental power, no accountability for incompetence, and no respect for the rule of law, I choose to support neither.

Does anyone have any good suggestions for movies to rent on election night?

Byzantium's Last Refuge

Welcome to the Monastic Republic of Holy Mount Athos. Please set your calendar back a thousand years.

Clocks here run on Byzantine time, which starts at sunset. Dates are calculated according to the Julian calendar of the Roman Empire, which varies by 13 days from the modern Gregorian calendar you're used to. Some settlements are supplied solely by mule teams, and the flags of Byzantium still fly.

Radio? Television? Newspapers? Paved roads? If they didn't exist in the year 972, you probably won't find them here.

And if you're a woman, you'd better make other plans. Females have been strictly forbidden here for a thousand years. Not even female animals are permitted.

Mount Athos is an Eastern Orthodox monastic republic and a surviving administrative unit of the Byzantine Empire -- a fully functioning mini-state with roads, settlements and a capital city, all operating under a charter granted by the Byzantine Emperor at Constantinople in 972.

Read the rest here.

Hat tip to Fr. John Whiteford (ROCOR)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Cur Deus Homo?

The Motive of the Incarnation

-Archpriest G. Florovsky

"I am the Alpha and the Omega." (Rev. 1:8)


The Christian message was from the very beginning the message of Salvation, and accordingly our Lord was depicted primarily as the Savior, Who has redeemed His people from bondage of sin and corruption. The very fact of the Incarnation was usually interpreted in early Christian theology in the perspective of Redemption. Erroneous conceptions of the Person of Christ with which the early Church had to wrestle were criticized and refuted precisely when they tended to undermine the reality of human Redemption. It was generally assumed that the very meaning of Salvation was that the intimate union between God and man had been restored, and it was inferred that the Redeemed had to belong Himself to both sides, i.e. to be at once both Divine and human, for otherwise the broken communion between God and man would not have been re-established. This was the main line of reasoning of St. Athanasius in his struggle with the Arians, of St. Gregory of Nazianzus in his refutation of Apollinarianism, and of other writers of the IVth and Vth centuries. "That is saved which is united with God," says St. Gregory of Nazianzus.1 The redeeming aspect and impact of the Incarnation were emphatically stressed by the Fathers. The purpose and the effect of the Incarnation were defined precisely as the Redemption of man and his restoration to those original conditions which were destroyed by the fall and sin. The sin of the world was abrogated and taken away by the Incarnate One, and He only, being both Divine and human, could have done it. On the other hand, it would be unfair to claim that the Fathers regarded this redeeming purpose as the only reason for the Incarnation, so that the Incarnation would not have taken place at all, had not man sinned. In this form the question was never asked by the Fathers. The question about the ultimate motive of the Incarnation was never formally discussed in the Patristic Age. The problem of the relation between the mystery of the Incarnation and the original purpose of Creation was not touched upon by the Fathers; they never elaborated this point systematically. "It may perhaps be truly said that the thought of an Incarnation independent of the Fall harmonizes with the general tenor of Greek theology. Some patristic phrases seem to imply that the thought was distinctly realized here and there, and perhaps discussed."2 These ‘patristic phrases’ were not collected and examined. In fact, the same Fathers could be quoted in favor of opposite opinions. It is not enough to accumulate quotations, taking them out of their context and ignoring the purpose, very often polemical, for which particular writings were composed. Many of these ‘patristic phrases’ were just ‘occasional’ statements, and they can be used only with utter care and caution. Their proper meaning can be ascertained only when they are read in the context, Le. in the perspective of the thought of each particular writer.


Rupert of Deutz (d. 1135) seems to be the first among the medieval theologians who formally raised the question of the motive of the Incarnation, and his contention was that the Incarnation belonged to the original design of Creation and was therefore independent of the Fall. Incarnation was, in his interpretation, the consummation of the original creative purpose of God, an aim in itself, and not merely a redemptive remedy for human failure.3 Honorius of Autun (d. 1152) was of the same conviction.4 The great doctors of the XHIth century, such as Alexander of Hales and Albert Magnus, admitted the idea of an Incarnation independent of the Fall as a most convenient solution of the problem.5 Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) elaborated the whole conception with great care and logical consistency. For him the Incarnation apart from the Fall was not merely a most convenient assumption, but rather an indispensable doctrinal presupposition. The Incarnation of the Son of God was for him the very reason of the whole Creation. Otherwise, he thought, this supreme action of God would have been something merely accidental or ‘occasional’. "Again, if the Fall were the cause of the predestination of Christ, it would follow that God’s greatest work was only occasional, for the glory of all will not be so intense as that of Christ, and it seems unreasonable to think that God would have foregone such a work because of Adam’s good deed, if he had not sinned." The whole question for Duns Scotus was precisely that of the order of Divine ‘predestination’ or purpose, i.e. of the order of thoughts in the Divine counsel of Creation. Christ, the Incarnate, was the first object of the creative will of God, and it was for Christ’s sake that anything else had been created at all. "The Incarnation of Christ was not foreseen occasionally, but was viewed as an immediate end by God from eternity; thus, in speaking about things which are predestined, Christ in human nature was predestined before others, since He is nearer to an end." This order of ‘purposes’ or ‘previsions’ was, of course, just a logical one. The main emphasis of Duns Scotus was on the unconditional and primordial character of the Divine decree of the Incarnation, seen in the total perspective of Creation.6 Aquinas (1224-1274) also discussed the problem at considerable length. He saw the whole weight of the arguments in favor of the opinion that, even apart from the Fall, "nevertheless, God would have become incarnate," and he quoted the phrase of St. Augustine: "in the Incarnation of Christ, other things must be considered besides absolution from sin." (De Trinitate, XIII. 17). But Aquinas could not find, either in Scripture or in the Patristic writings, any definite witness to this Incarnation independent of the Fall, and therefore was inclined to believe that the Son of God would not have been incarnate if the first man did not sin: "Although God could have become incarnate without the existence of sin, it is nevertheless more appropriate to say that, if man had not sinned, God would not have become incarnate, since in Sacred Scripture the reason for the Incarnation is everywhere given as the sin of the first man." The unfathomable mystery of the Divine will can be comprehended by man only in so far as it is plainly attested in Holy Scripture, "only to the extent that [these things] are transmitted in Sacred Scripture," or, as Aquinas says in another place, "only in so far as we are informed by the authority of the saints, through whom God has revealed His will." Christ alone knows the right answer to this question: "The truth of the matter only He can know, Who was born and Who was offerred up, because He so willed."7 Bonaventura (1221-1274) suggested the same caution. Comparing the two opinions — one in favor of an Incarnation apart from the Fall and the other dependent on it, he concluded: "Both [opinions] excite the soul to devotion by different considerations: the first, however, more consonant with the judgment of reason; yet it appears that the second is more agreeable to the piety of faith." One should rely rather on the direct testimony of the Scriptures than on the arguments of human logic.8 On the whole, Duns Scotus was followed by the majority of theologians of the Franciscan order, and also by not a few outside it, as, for instance, by Dionysius Carthusianus, by Gabriel Biel, by John Wessel, and, in the time of the Council of Trent, by Giacomo Nachianti, Bishop of Chiozza (Jacobus Naclantus), and also by some of the early Reformers, for instance, by Andreas Osiander.9 This opinion was strongly opposed by others, and not only by the strict Thomists, and the whole problem was much discussed both by Roman Catholic and by Protestant theologians in the XVIIth century.10 Among the Roman Catholic champions of the absolute decree of the Incarnation one should mention especially Fran£ois de Sales and Malebranche. Malebranche strongly insisted on the meta-phycical necessity of the Incarnation, quite apart from the Fall, for otherwise, he contended, there would have been no adequate reason or purpose for the act of Creation itself.11 The controversy is still going on among Roman Catholic theologians, sometimes with excessive heat and vigor, and the question is not settled.12 Among the Anglicans, in the last century, Bishop Wescott strongly pleaded for the ‘absolute motive’, in his admirable essay on "The Gospel of Creation."13 The late Father Sergii Bulgakov was strongly in favor of the opinion that the Incarnation should be regarded as an absolute decree of God, prior to the catastrophe of the Fall.14


In the course of this age-long discussion a constant appeal has been made to the testimony of the Fathers. Strangely enough, the most important item has been overlooked in this anthology of quotations. Since the question of the motive of the Incarnation was never formally raised in the Patristic age, most of the texts used in the later discussions could not provide any direct guidance.15 St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662) seems to be the only Father who was directly concerned with the problem, although not in the same setting as the later theologians in the West. He stated plainly that the Incarnation should be regarded as an absolute and primary purpose of God in the act of Creation. The nature of the Incarnation, of this union of the Divine majesty with human frailty, is indeed an unfathomable mystery, but we can at least grasp the reason and the purpose of this supreme mystery, its logos and skopos. And this original reason, or the ultimate purpose, was, in the opinion of St. Maximus, precisely the Incarnation itself and then our own incorporation into the Body of the Incarnate One. The phrasing of St. Maximus is straight and clear. The 60th questio ad Thalassium, is a commentary on I Peter, 1:19-20: "[Christ was] like a blameless and spotless lamb, who was foreordained from the foundation of the world." Now the question is: St. Maximus first briefly summarizes the true teaching about the Person of Christ, and then proceeds: "This is the blessed end, on account of which everything was created. This is the Divine purpose, which was thought of before the beginning of Creation, and which we call an intended fulfillment. All creation exists on account of this fulfillment and yet the fulfillment itself exists because of nothing that was created. Since God had this end in full view, he produced the natures of things. This is truly the fulfillment of Providence and of planning. Through this there is a recapitulation to God of those created by Him. This is the mystery circumscribing all ages, the awesome plan of God, super-infinite and infinitely pre-existing the ages. The Messenger, who is in essence Himself the Word of God, became man on account of this fulfillment. And it may be said that it was He Himself Who restored the manifest innermost depths of the goodness handed down by the Father; and He revealed the fulfillment in Himself, by which creation has won the beginning of true existence. For on account of Christ, that is to say the mystery concerning Christ, all time and that which is in time have found the beginning and the end of their existence in Christ. For before time there was secretly purposed a union of the ages, of the determined and the Indeterminate, of the measurable and the Immeasurable, of the finite and Infinity, of the creation and the Creator, of motion and rest — a union which was made manifest in Christ during these last times." (M., P.G., XC, 621, A-B.) One has to distinguish most carefully between the eternal being of the Logos, in the bosom of the Holy Trinity, and the ‘economy’ of His Incarnation. ‘Prevision’ is related precisely to the Incarnation: "Therefore Christ was foreknown, not as He was according to His own nature, but as he later appeared incarnate for our sake in accordance with the final economy." (M., P.G., XC, 624D). The ‘absolute predestination’ of Christ is alluded to with full clarity.16 This conviction was in full agreement with the general tenor of the theological system of St. Maximus, and he returns to the problem on many occasions, both in his answers to Thalassius and in his Ambigua. For instance, in connection with Ephesians 1:9, St. Maximus says: "[By this Incarnation and by our age] he has shown us for what purpose we were made and the greatest good will be of God towards us before the ages." (M., P.G., 1097C). By his very constitution man anticipates in himself "the great mystery of the Divine purpose," the ultimate consummation of all things in God. The whole history of Divine Providence is for St. Maximus divided into two great periods: the first culminates in the Incarnation of the Logos and is the story of Divine condescension ("through the Incarnation"); the second is the story of human ascension into the glory of deification, an extension, as it were, of the Incarnation to the whole creation. "Therefore we may divide time into two parts according to its design, and we may distinguish both the ages pertaining to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine, and the ages concerning the deification of the human by grace… and to say it concisely: both those ages which concern the descent of God to men, and those which have begun the ascent of men to God… Or, to say it even better, the beginning, the middle, and the end of all the ages, those which have gone by, those of the present time, and those which are yet to come, is our Lord Jesus Christ." (M., P.G., XC, 320, B-C). The ultimate consummation is linked in the vision of St. Maximus with the primordial creative will and purpose of God, and therefore his whole conception is strictly ‘theocentric’, and at the same time ‘Christocentric’. In no sense, however, does this obscure the sad reality of sin, of the utter misery of sinful existence. The great stress is always laid by St. Maximus on the conversion and cleansing of the human will, on the struggle with passions and with evil. But he views the tragedy of the Fall and the apostasy of the created in the wider perspective of the original plan of Creation.17


What is the actual weight of the witness of St. Maximus ? Was it more than his ‘private opinion,’ and what is the authority of such Opinions’? It is perfectly clear that to the question of the first or ultimate ‘motive’ of the Incarnation no more than a ‘hypothetical’ (or ‘convenient’) answer can be given. But many doctrinal statements are precisely such hypothetical statements or ‘theologoumena’.18 And it seems that the ‘hypothesis’ of an Incarnation apart from the Fall is at least permissible in the system of Orthodox theology and fits well enough into the mainstream of Patristic teaching. An adequate answer to the question of the ‘motive’ of the Incarnaion can be given only in the context of the general doctrine of Creation.

Notes and References

l. Epist. 101, ad Cledoniutn (M., P.G., 37, col. 118).

2. Bishop B. F. Westcott, "The Gospel of Creation," in The Epistles of St. John, The Greek Text with notes and essays, Third Edition. (Macmillan, 1892), p. 288.

8. Rupertus Tuitensis, De Gloria et honore Filii hominis super Matthaeum, lib. 13, (M., P.L., 148, col. 1628): "Here it is first proper to ask whether or not the Son of God, Whom this discourse concerns, would have become man, even if sin, on account of which all die, had not intervened. There is no doubt that He would not have become mortal and assumed a mortal body if sin had not occurred and caused man to become mortal; only an infidel could be ignorant as to this. The question is: would this have occurred, and would it somehow have been necessary for mankind that God become man, the Head and King of all, as He now is? What will be the answer?" Rupert then quotes from St. Augustine about the eternal predestination of the saints (De Civitate Dei, 14. 23.) and continues: "Since, with regard to the saints and all the elect there is no doubt but that they will all be found, up to the number appointed in God's plan, about which He says in blessing, before sin, 'Increase and multiply,' and it is absurd to think that sin was necessary in order to obtain that number, what must be thought about the very Head and King of all the elect, angels and men, but that He had indeed no necessary cause for becoming man, but that His love's 'delights were to be with the children of men.' [Proverbs 8:31]" Cf. also De Glorificatione Trinitatis, lib. 3. 20 (M., P.L., 169, col. 72): "Therefore, we say quite probably, not so much that man [was made] to make up the number of the angels [i.e., for those who had fallen], but that both angels and men were made because of one man, Jesus Christ, so that, as He Himself was begotten God from God, and was to be found a man, He would have a family prepared on both sides. .. From the beginning, before God made anything, it was in His plan that the Word {Logos} of God, God the Word [Logos], would be made flesh, and dwell among men with great love and the deepest humility, which are His true delights." (Allusion again to Proverbs 8:31.)

4. Honorius of Autun, Libellus octo quaestionum de angelis et homine, cap. 2 (Μ., P.L., 172, col. 72): "And therefore the first man's sin was not the cause of Christ's Incarnation; rather, it was the cause of death and damnation. The cause of Christ's Incarnation was the predestination of human deification. It was indeed predestined by God from all eternity that man would be deified, for the Lord said, 'Father, Thou hast loved them* before the creation of the world,' [cf. John 17:24] those, that is, who are deified through Me... It was necessary, therefore, for Him to become incarnate, so that man could be deified, and thus it does not follow that sin was the cause of His Incarnation, but it follows all the more logically that sin could not alter God's plan for deifying man; since in fact both the authority of Sacred Scripture and clear reason declare that God would have assumed man even had man never sinned. [*S. Script., Jn. 17:24, reads 'me' for 'them'."]

5. Alexander Halensis, Summa tkeologica, ed. ad. Claras Aquas, dist. 3, qu. 3, m. 3; Albertus Magnus, In 3, 1. Sententiarum, dist. 20, art. 4, ed. Borgnet, t. 28, 361: "On this question it must be said that the solution is uncertain, but insofar as I can express an opinion, I believe that the Son of God would have been made man, even if sin had never been."

6. Duns Scotus, Opus Oxoniense, 3, dist. 19, ed. Wadding, t. 7, p. 415. Cf. Reportata Parisiensia, lib. 3, dist. 7, qu. 4, schol. 2, ed. Wadding, t. 11. 1, p. 451. "I say, nevertheless, that the Fall is not the cause of Christ's predestination. Indeed, even if one angel had not fallen, or one man, Christ would still have been predestined thus—even if others had not been created, but only Christ. This I demonstrate thus: anyone who wills methodically first wills an end, and then more immediately, those things which are more immediate to the end. But God wills most methodically; therefore, He wills thus: first He wills Himself, and everything intrinsic to Himself; more directly, so far as concerns things extrinsic, is the soul of Christ. Therefore, in relation to whatever merit and before whatever dement was foreseen, He foresees that Christ must be united to Him in a substantial union... The disposition and predestination is first complete concerning the elect, and then something is done concerning the reprobate, as a secondary act, lest anyone rejoice as if the loss of another was a reward for himself; therefore, before the foreseen Fall, and before any demerit, the whole process concerning Christ was foreseen... Therefore, I say thus: first, God loves Himself; second, He loves Himself by others, and this love of His is pure; third, He wills that He be loved by another, one who can love Him to the highest degree (in speaking about the love of someone extrinsic); fourth, He foresees the union of that nature which ought to love Him to the highest degree, although none had fallen [i.e., even if no one had fallen] ... and, therefore, in the fifth instance, He sees a coming mediator who will suffer and redeem His people; He would not have come as a mediator, to suffer and to redeem, unless someone had first sinned, unless the glory of the flesh had become swelled with pride, unless something needed to be redeemed; otherwise, He would have immediately been the whole Christ glorified." The same reasoning is in the Opus Oxoniensey dist. 7, qu. 3, scholium 3, Wadding 202. See P. Raymond, "Duns Scot," in Dictionnaire de la Theologie Catholique, t.4, col. 1890-1891, and his article, "Le Motif de l'lncarnation: Duns Scot et l'ficole scotiste," in Etudes Franciscaines (1912); also R. ieeberg, Die Tbeologie des Johannes Duns Scotus (Leipzig, 1900), s. 250.

7. Summa theol, 3a, qu. 1, art. 3; in 3 Sentent., dist. 1, qu. 1, art. 3.

8. Bonaventura, in 3 Sentent., dist. 1, qu. 2, ed. Lugduni (1668), pp. 10-12.

9. Cf. A. Michele, "Incarnation," in Dictionnaire de la Theologie Catholique, t. 7, col. 1495 ss. John Wessel, De causis Incarnationis, lib. 2, c. 7, quoted by G. Ullman, Die Reformatoren vor der Reformation, Bd. 2 (Gotha, 1866), s. 398 ff. On Naclantus see Westcott, op. cit., p. 312 ff. Andreas Osiander, An Filius Dei fuit incarnatus, si peccatum non inter-vents set in mundum? Item de imagine Dei quid sit? Ex cert is et evidentibus S. Scripturae testimoniis et non ex philosophicis et humanae rationis cogitationibus derompta explicatio (Monte Regia Prussiae, 1550); see I. A. Dorner, Entivicklun gsgeschichte der Lehre von der Person Christi, 2 Aufl. (1853), Bd. 2, s. 438 ff. and 584; Otto Ritschl, Dogmengeschichte des Protestantismus, Bd. 2 (Leipzig, 1912), s. 462. Osiander was vigorously criticized by Calvin, Institutio, lib. 2, cap. 12, 4-7, ed. Tholuck, 1, s. 304-309.

10. See for instance the long discussion in "Dogmata Theologica" of L. Thomassin (1619-1695) in tomus 3, De Incamatione Verbi Dei, 2, cap 5 to 11, ed. nova (Parisiis, 1866), pp. 189-249. Thomassin dismisses the Scotist theory as just a "hallucination," contradicted openly by the evidence of Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers. He gives a long list of Patristic passages, mainly from St. Augustine. Bellarmin (1542-1621) dismisses this idea in one phrase: "For if Adam had remained in that innocence wherein he had been created, doubtless the Son of God would not have suffered; He probably would not even have assumed human flesh, as even Calvin himself teaches"; De Christo, lib. 5, cap. 10, editio prima Romana (Romae, 1832), t. 1, p. 432. Petavius (1583-1652) was little interested in the controversy: "This question is widely and very contentiously disputed in the schools, but, being removed from the controversy, we will explain it in a few words." There is no evidence for this conception in Tradition, and Petavius gives some few quotations to the opposite effect. "Opus de Theologicis Dogmatibus," tomus 4, De Incamatione, lib. 2, cap. 17, 7-12, ed. (Venetiis, 1757), pp. 95-96. On the Protestant side see a brief discussion in John Gerhard, Loci Theologici, Locus Quartus, "De Persona et Officio Christi," cap. 7, with valuable references to the earlier literature and an interesting set of Patristic quotations; ed. Sd. Preuss (Berolini, 1863), t. 1, pp. 513-514, and a longer one in J. A. Quenstedt, Theologia Didactico—Polemica, sive $y sterna Theologicum (Wittebergae, 1961), Pars 3 & 4, Pars 3, Cap. 3, Membrum 1, Sectio 1, Quaestio 1, pp. 108-116. On the other hand, Suarez (1548-1617) advocated a recon-ciliatory view in which both conflicting opinions could be kept together. See his comments on Summa, 3a, Disput. 4, sectio 12, and the whole Disp. 5a, Opera Omnia, ed. Berton (Parisiis, I860), pp. 186-266.

11. Frangois de Sales, Traite de Vamour de Dieu, Iivre 2, ch. 4 and 5, in Oeuvres, edition complete, t. 4 (Annecy, 1894), pp. 99ss. and 102ss. Malebranche, Entretiens sur la Metaphysique et sur la Religion, Edition critique par Armand Cuvillier (Paris, 1948), tome 2, Entretien 9, 6, p. 14: "Oui assurement l'lncarnation du Verbe est le premier et le principal des desseins de Dieu; c'est ce qui justifie sa conduite"; Traite de la Nature et de la Grace (Rotterdam, 1712), Discours 1, 1, p. 2. Seconde Eclaircissement, p. 3O2ss.; Reflexions sur la Promotion Physique (Paris, 1715), p. 300: "II suit evidemment, ce me semble, de ce que je viens de dire, que le premier et le principal dessein de Dieu dans la creation, est 1'Incarnation du Verbe: puisque Jesus Christ est le premier en toutes choses. . . et qu'ainsi, quand 1'homme n'aurait point peche, le Verbe se serait incarne"; cf. p. 211 and passim. See for further information: J. Vidgrain, Le Christianisme dans la philosophie de Maleranche (Paris, 1923), pp. 99ss. and 112ss; H. Gouhier, La Philosophie de Malebranche et son Experience Religieuse (Paris, 1926), p. 22ss.; J. Maydieu, "La Creation du Monde et 1'Incarnation du Verbe dans la Philosophie de Malebranche," in Bulletin de Litterature Ecclesiastique (Toulouse, 1935). It is of interest to mention that Leibniz also regarded the Incarnation as an absolute purpose in creation; see quotations from his unpublished papers in J. Baruzi, Leibniz et I Organization religieuse de la Terre (Paris, 1907), pp. 273-274.

12. The Scotist point of view has been presented by a Franciscan, Father Chrysostome, in his two books: Christus Alpha et Omega, seu de Christi universali regno (Lille, 1910, published without the name of the author) and Le Motif de 1'Incarnation et les principaux thomistes contemporains (Tours, 1921). The latter was a reply to the critics in which he assembled an impressive array of Patristic texts. The Thomist point of view was taken by Father E. Hogon, Le Mystere de Vlncarnation (Paris, 1913), p. 63ss., and Father Paul Galtier, S. J. De Incarnatione et Redemptione (Parisiis, 1926); see also Father Hilair de Paris, Cur Deus Homo? Dissertario de motivo Incarnationis (Lyons, 1867) [includes an analysis of Patristic texts from the Thomist point of view]. Cf. also the introduction in the book of Dr. Aloysius Spindler, Cur Verbum, caro factum? Das Motiv der Menschiverdung und das Verhaltnis der Erlosung zur Menschwerdung in den christologischen Glaubenskdmpfen des vierten und funten christlichen Jahrhunderts (Paderborn, 1938) ['Torschungen zur christlichen Literatur— und Dogmengeschichte," hsgg. von A. Ehrhard und Dr. J. P. Kirsch, Bd. 18, 2 Heft].

13. See note 1 above.

14. Fr. Sergii Bulgakov, Agnets Bozhii (Paris, 1933), p. 191 ff. (in Russian). French translation, Du Verbe Incarne (Paris, 1943).

15. Dr. Spindler was the only student of the problem using the proper historical method in handling the texts.

16. Cf. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Liturgie Cosmique: Maxime le Confesseur (Paris, Aubier, 1947), pp. 204-205; Father Balthasar quotes Qu. ad Talass. 60 and adds that St. Maximus would have taken the Scotist side in the scholastic controversy, yet with an important qualification: "Maxime de reste est totalement etranger au postulat de ce debat scholastique qui imagine la possibilite d'un autre ordre du monde sans pecho et totalement irreel. Pour lui la 'volonte preexistante' de Dieu est identique au monde des 'idees' et des 'possibles': l'ordre des essences et l'ordre des faits coincident en ce point supreme" (in the German edition, Kosmische Liturgie, s. 267-268). See also Dom Polycarp Sherwood, O.S.B., "The Earlier Ambigua of Saint Maximus the Confessor" in Studia Anselmiana (Romae, 1955), fasc. 36, ch. 4, pp. 155ff.

17. The best exposition of the theology of St. Maximus is by S. L. Epifanovich, St. Maximus the Confessor and Byzantine Theology (Kiev, 1915; in Russian); cf. also the chapter on St. Maximus in my book, The Byzantine Fathers (Paris, 1933), pp. 200-227 (in Russian). In addition to the book of Father von Balthasar, quoted above, one may consult with profit the "Introduction" of Dom Polycarp Sherwood to his translation of The Four Centuries on Charity of St. Maximus, Ancient Christian Writers, No. 21 (London and Westminster, Md., 1955). See also Lars Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor (Lund, 1965).

18. See the definition of "theologoumena" by Bolotov, Thesen iiber das "Filioque," first published without the name of the author ("von einem russischen Theologen") in Revue Internationale de Thiologie, No. 24 (Oct.-Dec, 1898), p. 682: "Man kann fragen, was ich unter Theologou-menon verstehe? Seinem Wesen nach ist es auch eine theologische Meinung, aber eine theologische Meinung derer, welche fiir einen jeden 'Katholiken' mehr bedeuten als gewohnliche Theologen; es sind die theologische Meinungen der hi. Vater der einen ungeteilten Kirche; es sind die Meinungen der Manner, unter denen auch die mit Recht hoi didaskaloi tes oikoumenes genannten sich befinden." No "theologoumenon" can claim more than "probability," and no "theologoumenon" should be accepted if it has been clearly disavowed by an authoritative or "dogmatic" pronouncement of the Church.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Visual Look at Orthodoxy

You Tube has an excellent video that gives one a small sampling of the visuals of the Orthodox Church. I recommend it.

Hat tip to Fr.. John.

Florence & the Filioque

Al Kimel has posted an article over at Pontifications on the Council of Florence and the Filioque. I am sure this will pop up for discussion on Sacramentum Vitae (Micheal Liccione’s blog is now hosting discussions from Pontifications). Two words of caution. First the article is not short. But the really good ones never are. And secondly if you want to check out the certain to follow debate take an aspirin before doing so. It’s bound to get deep.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Roman Storm over Rod Dreher

The Roman Catholic part of the internet is throwing something of a fit over the conversion of one of their own to Orthodoxy. I had not planned on commenting on the conversion of Rod Dreher, the conservative columnist and blogger for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a personal matter between him and God. And secondly because commenting on it would inevitably require at least a brief discussion of what by his own admission was a significant factor in his move. Specifically the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. And there is just no way to talk about that without writing some blunt and possibly hurtful things.

However after reading an incredibly obnoxious article from the Catholic web site The Cafeteria is Closed I have decided a few comments need to be put out.. Gerald Augustinus posted a withering blast at Dreher which I almost stopped reading after I finished the first sentence. The offending sentence was…

Roman Sacristan tells me that Rod Dreher, a right-wing writer (Dallas Morning News, National Review) who used to be Catholic (convert) has jumped ship and joined an Orthodox church (personal take: for me it'd be absurd to join, say, the Russian Orthodox church without being Russian).”

That told me right off the bat that I was not dealing with an intellectual giant and I had better take my heart burn medicine. Most of what followed was a venomous attack on Dreher and his motives, which I am not going to go into detail on since it’s been hashed out all over the Catholic blogosphere. However, near the end of his screed Mr. Augustinus extends his venom to the Orthodox Church with the following…

“He joined a societally irrelevant, small church. No wonder they all agree. Small size, smaller problems. It's similar to running off to the SSPX - hey, it's 50 of us and we're all USDA Prime orthodox, baby! In the end, the logical consequence would be to start a "church of one". No one else around, no one to disagree with! It's a lot more courageous to stay with a huge Church.”

To which I posted the following (admittedly less than Irenic) response at the bottom of seventy some odd mainly viscous attacks on Dreher’s character and faith.

“(personal take: for me it'd be absurd to join, say, the Russian Orthodox church without being Russian).” And…

“He joined a societally irrelevant, small church. No wonder they all agree. Small size, smaller problems. It's similar to running off to the SSPX - hey, it's 50 of us and we're all USDA Prime orthodox, baby! In the end, the logical consequence would be to start a "church of one". No one else around, no one to disagree with! It's a lot more courageous to stay with a huge Church.”

I don’t even know where to begin with such breathtaking declarations of intellectual bankruptcy. As an Orthodox Christian I can only excuse these inane statements on the basis of a term used by +Pius XII… “invincible ignorance.” I guess it’s a good thing that your views of our irrelevant church (of 250+ million people) are not held by your last several popes. These sorts of snarky comments are what I normally expect from our radical Old Calendarists in reference to the Roman Church. And I will add that some of the comments in here are so shocking that I wonder at how the authors have the effrontery to call themselves Christians. I will stop here out of charity.

What angers me more than the ignorant and insulting comments about the Orthodox Church, is the almost total disregard for the fact that the leaders and clergy of HIS church (and mine at one time) deeply wounded a man to the depths of his soul. While there is a passing acknowledgment of this it clearly carries no weight with the author. As a former Roman Catholic who left for reasons that had nothing at all to do with the scandals in the Latin Church, I can say that evil does not reside in just one church. We have our own problems in Orthodoxy. Although nothing even remotely as serious as this monumental abuse of trust and authority on the part of many (maybe even a majority) of the American Catholic bishops.

But Rod was directly involved in the investigation into this snake pit. There is an expression common in Orthodoxy that it might have been well if Rod had heard before he dove into this dark world. “The floor of Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” At the risk of sounding polemic against my former church (which I still admire in many ways), I sincerely hope there is an especially warm room reserved for many of the Roman Catholic Bishops who allowed this evil to go on unchecked and even facilitated it. If I were one of them I would be making arrangements to be buried in an asbestos cassock.

Lives were destroyed. At least a few of the kids committed suicide! And the full weight and power of the Roman Catholic hierarchy was brought to bear in an effort to suppress any knowledge of this and to keep their dirty little secret well covered up. It is unimaginable that anyone coming into contact with this evil could not be left spiritually scarred for life. That Rod was eventually left empty and revolted by his own church is not surprising. That he stayed as long as he did having come face to face with these monsters running his church is.

That Gerald and the vast majority of the others who posted their own damning judgments below his article seem so casual in the acknowledgment of the horror perpetrated by the hierarchs of their own church is stunning. They seem utterly unconcerned with the spiritual harm done not only to Rod Dreher but to all of the thousands of victims (many of whom have lost their faith entirely). This strikes me as simply callous.

Catholics have every right to criticize someone who departs from what they believe to be The Church. But Rod Dreher now believes that he has found The Church elsewhere. One may criticize his judgment. Thats fair and it can be done in ways that are not offensive. (See the linked articles below.) But I think it’s outside of bounds to attack his character or his integrity unless you have walked in his shoes and waded waste deep through the filth that has infested the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States for God only knows how long. How many of his critics have interviewed the kids who were raped while going to confession? Do any of them have a window into his soul? I think they would do well to recall the words…

"He who busies himself with the sins of others, or judges his brother on suspicion, has not yet even begun to repent or to examine himself so as to discover his own sins... " St. Maximos the Confessor (3rd century on Love #55)

For a much more temperate and intelligent discussion of this issue from the Catholic perspective I would refer the reader to the excellent articles posted by Al Kimel over at Pontificatrions and Michael Liccione over on Sacramentum Vitae.

St. Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers (part 3)

Archpriest George Florovsky

St. Gregory Palamas and Theosis.

All these preliminary considerations are highly relevant for our immediate purpose. What is the theological legacy of St. Gregory Palamas? St. Gregory was not a speculative theologian. He was a monk and a bishop. He was not concerned about abstract problems of philosophy, although he was well trained in this field too. He was concerned solely with problems of Christian existence. As a theologian, he was simply an interpreter of the spiritual experience of the Church. Almost all his writings, except probably his homilies, were occasional writings. He was wrestling with the problems of his own time. And it was a critical time, an age of controversy and anxiety. Indeed, it was also an age of spiritual renewal.

St. Gregory was suspected of subversive innovations by his enemies in his own time. This charge is still maintained against him in the West. In fact, however, St. Gregory was deeply rooted in tradition. It is not difficult to trace most of his views and motives back to the Cappadocian Fathers and to St. Maximus the Confessor, who was, by the way, one of the most popular masters of Byzantine thought and devotion. Indeed, St. Gregory was also intimately acquainted with the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius. He was rooted in the tradition. Yet, in no sense was his theology just a "theology of repetition." It was a creative extension of ancient tradition. Its starting point was Life in Christ.

Of all themes of St. Gregory's theology let us single out but one, the crucial one, and the most controversial. What is the basic character of Christian existence? The ultimate aim and purpose of human life was defined in the Patristic tradition as θεωσις [theosis, divinization]. The term is rather offensive for the modern ear. It cannot be adequately rendered in any modern language, nor even in Latin. Even in Greek it is rather heavy and pretentious. Indeed, it is a daring word. The meaning of the word is, however, simple and lucid. It was one of the crucial terms in the Patristic vocabulary. It would suffice to quote at this point but St. Athanasius. Γεγονεν γαρ ανθρωπος, ιν ημας εν εαυτω θεοποιηση. [He became man in order to divinize us in Himself. (Ad Adelphium 4)]. Αυτος γαρ ενηνθρωπησεν, ινα ημεις θεοποιηθωμεν. [He became man in order that we might be divinized (De Incarnatione 54)]. St. Athanasius actually resumes here the favourite idea of St. Irenaeus: qui propter immensam dilectionem suam factus est quod sumus nos, uti nos perficeret esse quod est ipse. [Who, through his immense love became what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself (Adv. Haeres. V, Praefatio)]. It was the common conviction of the Greek Fathers. One can quote at length St. Gregory of Nazianzus. St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Maximus, and indeed St. Symeon the New Theologian. Man ever remains what he is, that is — creature. But he is promised and granted, in Christ Jesus, the Word become man, an intimate sharing in what is Divine: Life Everlasting and incorruptible. The main characteristic of theosis is, according to the Fathers, precisely "immortality" or "incorruption." For God alone "has immortality" — ο μονος εχων αθανασιαν (I Tim. 6:16). But man now is admitted into an intimate "communion" with God, through Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. And this is much more than just a "moral" communion, and much more than just a human perfection. Only the word theosis can render adequately the uniqueness of the promise and offer. The term theosis is indeed quite embarrassing, if we would think in "ontological" categories. Indeed, man simply cannot "become" god. But the Fathers were thinking in "personal" terms, and the mystery of personal communion was involved at this point. Theosis meant a personal encounter. It is that intimate intercourse of man with God, in which the whole of human existence is, as it were, permeated by the Divine Presence. [5]

Yet, the problem remains: How can even this intercourse be compatible with the Divine Transcendance? And this is the crucial point. Does man really encounter God, in this present life on earth? Does man encounter God, truly and verily, in his present life of prayer? Or, is there no more than an actio in distans? The common claim of the Eastern Fathers was that in his devotional ascent man actually encounters God and beholds His eternal Glory. Now, how is it possible, if God "abides in the light unapproachable"? The paradox was especially sharp in the Eastern theology, which has been always committed to the belief that God was absolutely "incomprehensible" — ακαταληπτος — and unknowable in His nature or essence. This conviction was powerfully expressed by the Cappadocian Fathers, especially in their struggle against Eunomius, and also by St. John Chrysostom, in his magnificent discourses Περι Ακαταληπτου. Thus, if God is absolutely "unapproachable" in His essence, and accordingly His essence simply cannot be "communicated," how can theosis be possible at all? "One insults God who seeks to apprehend His essential being," says Chrysostom. Already in St. Athanasius we find a clear distinction between God's very "essence" and His powers and bounty: Και εν πασι μεν εστι κατά την εαυτου αγαθοτητα, εξω δε των παντων παλιν εστι κατά την ιδιαν φυσιν. [He is in everything by his love, but outside of everything by his own nature (De Decretis II)]. The same conception was carefully elaborated by the Cappadocians. The "essence of God" is absolutely inaccessible to man, says St. Basil (Adv. Eunomium 1:14). We know God only in His actions, and by His actions: "Ημεις δε εκ μεν των ενεργειων γνωριζειν λεγομεν τον Θεον ημων, τη δε ουσια προσεγγιζειν ουχ υπισχνουμεθα αι μεν γαρ ενεργειαι αυτου προς ημας καταβαινουσιν, η δε ουσια αυτου μενει απροσιτος." [We say that we know our God from his energies (activities), but we do not profess to approach his essence — for his energies descend to us, but his essence remains inaccessible[Ημεις δε εκ μεν των ενεργειων (Epist. 234, ad Amphilochium)]. Yet, it is a true knowledge, not just a conjecture or deduction: αι ενεργειαι αυτου προς ημας καταβαινουσιν. In the phrase of St. John of Damascus, these actions or "energies" of God are the true revelation of God Himself: η θεια ελλαμψις και ενεργεια (De Fide Orth. 1: 14). It is a real presence, and not merely a certain praesentia operativa, sicut agens adest ei in quod agit [as the actor is present in the thing in which he acts]. This mysterious mode of Divine Presence, in spite of the absolute transcendence of the Divine Essence, passes all understanding. But it is no less certain for that reason.

St. Gregory Palamas stands in an ancient tradition at this point. In His "energies" the Unapproachable God mysteriously approaches man. And this Divine move effects encounter: προοδος εις τα εξω, in the phrase of St. Maximus (Scholia in De Div. Nom., 1: 5).

St. Gregory begins with the distinction between "grace" and "essence": η θεια και θεοποιος ελλαμψις και χαρις ουκ ουσια, αλλ’ ενεργεια εστι Θεου [the Divine and Divinizing illumination and grace is not the essence, but the energy of God; Capita Phys., Theol., etc., 68-9]. This basic distinction was formally accepted and elaborated at the Great Councils in Constantinople, 1341 and 1351. Those who would deny this distinction were anathematized and excommunicated. The anathematisms of the council of 1351 were included in the rite for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, in the Triodion. Orthodox theologians are bound by this decision. The essence of God is absolutely αμεθεκτη [incommunicable]. The source and the power of human theosis is not the Divine essence, but the "Grace of God": θεοποιος ενεργεια, ης τα μετεχοντα θεουνται, θεια τις εστι χαρις, αλλ’ ουχ η φυσις του Θεου [the divinizing energy, by participation of which one is divinized, is a divine grace, but in no way the essence of God; ibid. 92-3]. Charis [χαρις] is not identical with the ousia [ουσια]. It is θεια και ακτιστος χαρις και ενεργεια [Divine and uncreated Grace and Energy; ibid., 69]. This distinction, however, does not imply or effect division or separation. Nor is it just an "accident," ουτε συμβεβηκοτος (ibid., 127). Energies "proceed" from God and manifest His own Being. The term προιεναι [proienai, proceed] simply suggests διακρισιν [distinction], but not a division: ει και διενηνοχε της φυσεως, ου διασπαται η του Πνευματος χαρις [the grace of the Spirit is different from the Substance, and yet not separated from; Theophan, p. 940].

Actually the whole teaching of St. Gregory presupposes the action of the Personal God. God moves toward man and embraces him by His own "grace" and action, without leaving that φος απροσιτον [light unapproachable], in which He eternally abides. The ultimate purpose of St. Gregory's theological teaching was to defend the reality of Christian experience. Salvation is more than forgiveness. It is a genuine renewal of man. And this renewal is effected not by the discharge, or release, of certain natural energies implied in man's own creaturely being, but by the "energies" of God Himself, who thereby encounters and encompasses man, and admits him into communion with Himself. In fact, the teaching of St. Gregory affects the whole system of theology, the whole body of Christian doctrine. It starts with the clear distinction between "nature" and "will" of God. This distinction was also characteristic of the Eastern tradition, at least since St. Athanasius. It may be asked at this point: Is this distinction compatible with the "simplicity" of God? Should we not rather regard all these distinctions as merely logical conjectures, necessary for us, but ultimately without any ontological significance? As a matter of fact, St. Gregory Palamas was attacked by his opponents precisely from that point of view. God's Being is simple, and in Him even all attributes coincide. Already St. Augustine diverged at this point from the Eastern tradition. Under Augustinian presuppositions the teaching of St. Gregory is unacceptable and absurd. St. Gregory himself anticipated the width of implications of his basic distinction. If one does not accept it, he argued, then it would be impossible to discern clearly between the "generation" of the Son and "creation" of the world, both being the acts of essence, and this would lead to utter confusion in the Trinitarian doctrine. St. Gregory was quite formal at that point.

If according to the delirious opponents and those who agree with them, the Divine energy in no way differs from the Divine essence, then the act of creating, which belongs to the will, will in no way differ from generation (γενναν) and procession (εκπορευειν), which belong to the essence. If to create is no different from generation and procession, then the creatures will in no way differ from the Begotten (γεννηματος) and the Projected (προβληματος). If such is the case according to them, then both the Son of God and the Holy Spirit will be no different from creatures, and the creatures will all be both the begotten (γεννηματα) and the projected (προβληματα) of God the Father, and creation will be deified and God will be arrayed with the creatures. For this reason the venerable Cyril, showing the difference between God's essence and energy, says that to generate belongs to the Divine nature, whereas to create belongs to His Divine energy. This he shows clearly saying, "nature and energy are not the same." If the Divine essence in no way differs from the Divine energy, then to beget (γενναν) and to project (εκπορευειν) will in no way differ from creating (ποιειν). God the Father creates by the Son and in the Holy Spirit. Thus He also begets and projects by the Son and in the Holy Spirit, according to the opinion of the opponents and those who agree with them. (Capita 96 and 97.)

St. Gregory quotes St. Cyril of Alexandria. But St. Cyril at this point was simply repeating St. Athanasius. St. Athanasius, in his refutation of Arianism, formally stressed the ultimate difference between ουσια [ousia, essence] or φυσις [physis, substance], on the one hand, and the βουλησις [boulesis, will], on the other. God exists, and then He also acts. There is a certain "necessity" in the Divine Being, indeed not a necessity of compulsion, and no fatum, but a necessity of being itself. God simply is what He is. But God's will is eminently free. He in no sense is necessitated to do what He does. Thus γεννησις [gennesis, generation] is always κατά φυσιν [kata physin, according to essence], but creation is a βουλησεος εργον [bouleseos ergon, energy of the will] (Contra Arianos III. 64-6). These two dimensions, that of being and that of acting, are different, and must be clearly distinguished. Of course, this distinction in no way compromises the "Divine simplicity." Yet, it is a real distinction, and not just a logical device. St. Gregory was fully aware of the crucial importance of this distinction. At this point he was a true successor of the great Athanasius and of the Cappadocian hierarchs.

It has been recently suggested that the theology of St. Gregory, should be described in modern terms as an "existentialist theology." Indeed, it differed radically from modern conceptions which are currently denoted by this label. Yet, in any case, St. Gregory was definitely opposed to all kinds of "essentialist theologies" which fail to account for God's freedom, for the dynamism of God's will, for the reality of Divine action. St. Gregory would trace this trend back to Origen. It was the predicament of the Greek impersonalist metaphysics. If there is any room for Christian metaphysics at all, it must be a metaphysics of persons. The starting point of St. Gregory's theology was the history of salvation: on the larger scale, the Biblical story, which consisted of Divine acts, culminating in the Incarnation of the Word and His glorification through the Cross and Resurrection; on the smaller scale, the story of the Christian man, striving after perfection, and ascending step by step, till he encounters God in the vision of His glory. It was usual to describe the theology of St. Irenaeus as a "theology of facts." With no lesser justification we may describe also the theology of St. Gregory Palamas as a "theology of facts."

In our own time, we are coming more and more to the conviction that "theology of facts" is the only sound Orthodox theology. It is Biblical. It is Patristic. It is in complete conformity with the mind of the Church.

In this connection we may regard St. Gregory Palamas as our guide and teacher, in our endeavour to theologize from the heart of the Church.


1. It has been recently suggested that Gnostics were actually the first to invoke formally the authority of an "Apostolic Tradition" and that it was their usage which moved St. Irenaeus to elaborate his own conception of Tradition. D. B. Reynders, "Paradosis: Le proges de l'idee de tradition jusqu'a Saint Irenee," in Recherches de Theologie ancienne et medievale, V (1933), Louvain, 155-191. In any case, Gnostics used to refer to "tradition."

2. Paul Maas, ed.. Fruhbyzantinische Kirchenpoesie, I (Bonn, 1910), p. 24.

3. Louis Bouyer, "Le renouveau des etudes patristiques," in La Vie Intellectuelle, XV (Fevrier 1947), 18.

4. Mabillon, Bernardi Opera, Praefatio generalis, n. 23 (Migne, P. L., CLXXXII, c. 26).

5. Cf. M. Lot-Borodine, "La doctrine de la deification dans I'Eglise grecque jusqu'au XI siecle," in Revue de l'histoire des religions, tome CV, Nr I (Janvier-Fevrier 1932), 5-43; tome CVI, Nr 2/3 (Septembre-Decembre 1932), 525-74; tome CVII, Nr I (Janvier-Fevrier 1933), 8-55.

St. Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers (part 2)

The Meaning of the “Age” of the Fathers.

Now, we have reached the crucial point. The name of "Church Fathers" is usually restricted to the teachers of the Ancient Church. And it is currently assumed that their authority depends upon their "antiquity," upon their comparative nearness to the "Primitive Church," to the initial "Age" of the Church. Already St. Jerome had to contest this idea. Indeed, there was no decrease of "authority," and no decrease in the immediacy of spiritual competence and knowledge, in the course of Christian history. In fact, however, this idea of "decrease" has strongly affected our modern theological thinking. In fact, it is too often assumed, consciously or unconsciously, that the Early Church was, as it were, closer to the spring of truth. As an admission of our own failure and inadequacy, as an act of humble self-criticism, such an assumption is sound and helpful. But it is dangerous to make of it the starting point or basis of our "theology of Church history," or even of our theology of the Church. Indeed, the Age of the Apostles should retain its unique position. Yet, it was just a beginning. It is widely assumed that the "Age of the Fathers" has also ended, and accordingly it is regarded just as an ancient formation, "antiquated" in a sense and "archaic." The limit of the "Patristic Age" is variously defined. It is usual to regard St. John of Damascus as the "last Father" in the East, and St. Gregory the Dialogos or Isidore of Seville as "the last" in the West. This periodization has been justly contested in recent times. Should not, for instance, St. Theodore of Studium, at least, be included among "the Fathers"? Mabillon has suggested that Bernard of Clairvaux, the Doctor mellifluous, was "the last of the Fathers, and surely not unequal to the earlier ones." [4] Actually, it is more than a question of periodization. From the Western point of view "the Age of the Fathers" has been succeeded, and indeed superseded, by "the Age of the Schoolmen," which was an essential step forward. Since the rise of Scholasticism "Patristic theology" has been antiquated, has become actually a "past age," a kind of archaic prelude. This point of view, legitimate for the West, has been, most unfortunately, accepted also by many in the East, blindly and uncritically. Accordingly, one has to face the alternative. Either one has to regret the "backwardness" of the East which never developed any "Scholasticism" of its own. Or one should retire into the "Ancient Age," in a more or less archeological manner, and practice what has been wittily described recently as a "theology of repetition." The latter, in fact, is just a peculiar form of imitative "scholasticism."

Now, it is not seldom suggested that, probably, "the Age of the Fathers" has ended much earlier than St. John of Damascus. Very often one does not proceed further than the Age of Justinian, or even already the Council of Chalcedon. Was not Leontius of Byzantium already "the first of the Scholastics"? Psychologically, this attitude is quite comprehensible, although it cannot be theologically justified. Indeed, the Fathers of the Fourth century are much more impressive, and their unique greatness cannot be denied. Yet, the Church remained fully alive also after Nicea and Chalcedon. The current overemphasis on the "first five centuries" dangerously distorts theological vision, and prevents the right understanding of the Chalcedonian dogma itself. The decree of the Sixth Ecumenical Council is often regarded as a kind of an "appendix" to Chalcedon, interesting only for theological specialists, and the great figure of St. Maximus the Confessor is almost completely ignored. Accordingly, the theological significance of the Seventh Ecumenical Council is dangerously obscured, and one is left to wonder, why the Feast of Orthodoxy should be related to the commemoration of the Church's victory over the Iconoclasts. Was it not just a "ritualistic controversy"? We often forget that the famous formula of the Consensus quinquesaecularis [agreement of five centuries], that is, actually, up to Chalcedon, was a Protestant formula, and reflected a peculiar Protestant "theology of history." It was a restrictive formula, as much as it seemed to be too inclusive to those who wanted to be secluded in the Apostolic Age. The point is, however, that the current Eastern formula of "the Seven Ecumenical Councils" is hardly much better, if it tends, as it usually does, to restrict or to limit the Church's spiritual authority to the first eight centuries, as if "the Golden Age" of Christianity has already passed and we are now, probably, already in an Iron Age, much lower on the scale of spiritual vigour and authority. Our theological thinking has been dangerously affected by the pattern of decay, adopted for the interpretation of Christian history in the West since the Reformation. The fullness of the Church was then interpreted in a static manner, and the attitude to Antiquity has been accordingly distorted and misconstrued. After all, it does not make much difference, whether we restrict the normative authority of the Church to one century, or to five, or to eight. There should he no restriction at all. Consequently, there is no room for any "theology of repetition." The Church is still fully authoritative as she has been in the ages past, since the Spirit of Truth quickens her now no less effectively as in the ancient times.

The Legacy of Byzantine Theology.

One of the immediate results of our careless periodization is that we simply ignore the legacy of Byzantine theology. We are prepared, now more than only a few decades ago, to admit the perennial authority of "the Fathers," especially since the revival of Patristic studies in the West. But we still tend to limit the scope of admission, and obviously "Byzantine theologians" are not readily counted among the "Fathers." We are inclined to discriminate rather rigidly between "Patristics" — in a more or less narrow sense — and "Byzantinism." We are still inclined to regard "Byzantinism" as an inferior sequel to the Patristic Age. We have still doubts about its normative relevance for theological thinking. Now, Byzantine theology was much more than just a "repetition" of Patristic theology, nor was that which was new in it of an inferior quality in comparison with "Christian Antiquity." Indeed, Byzantine theology was an organic continuation of the Patristic Age. Was there any break? Has the ethos of the Eastern Orthodox Church been ever changed, at a certain historic point or date, which, however, has never been unanimously identified, so that the "later" development was of lesser authority and importance, if of any? This admission seems to be silently implied in the restrictive commitment to the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Then, St. Symeon the New Theologian and St. Gregory Palamas are simply left out, and the great Hesychast Councils of the fourteenth century are ignored and forgotten. What is their position and authority in the Church?

Now, in fact, St. Symeon and St. Gregory are still authoritative masters and inspirers of all those who, in the Orthodox Church, are striving after perfection, and are living the life of prayer and contemplation, whether in the surviving monastic communities, or in the solitude of the desert, and even in the world. These faithful people are not aware of any alleged "break" between "Patristics" and "Byzantinism." The Philokalia, this great encyclopaedia of Eastern piety, which includes writings of many centuries, is, in our own days, increasingly becoming the manual of guidance and instruction for all those who are eager to practice Orthodoxy in our contemporary situation. The authority of its compiler, St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mount, has been recently recognized and enhanced by his formal canonization in the Church. In this sense, we are bound to say, "the Age of the Fathers" still continues in "the Worshipping Church." Should it not continue also in our theological pursuit and study, research and instruction? Should we not recover "the mind of the Fathers" also in our theological thinking and teaching? To recover it, indeed, not as an archaic manner or pose, and not just as a venerable relic, but as an existential attitude, as a spiritual orientation. Only in this way can our theology be reintegrated into the fullness of our Christian existence. It is not enough to keep a "Byzantine Liturgy," as we do, to restore Byzantine iconography and Byzantine music, as we are still reluctant to do consistently, and to practice certain Byzantine modes of devotion. One has to go to the very roots of this traditional "piety," and to recover the "Patristic mind". Otherwise we may be in danger of being inwardly split — as many in our midst actually are — between the "traditional" forms of "piety" and a very untraditional habit of theological thinking. It is a real danger. As "worshippers" we are still in "the tradition of the Fathers." Should we not stand, conscientiously and avowedly, in the same tradition also as "theologians," as witnesses and teachers of Orthodoxy? Can we retain our integrity in any other way? (Cont)

-G. Florovksy

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Quote of the Day

"Should have at least tried the SSPX before going over to schism."

- Freeper Fast Ed97 commenting on the recent conversion of conservative online blogger and former Roman Catholic Rod Dreher to Orthodoxy.

Friday, October 13, 2006

St. Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers (part 1)

Following the Fathers...

"Following THE HOLY FATHERS"... It was usual in the Ancient Church to introduce doctrinal statements by phrases like this. The Decree of Chalcedon opens precisely with these very words. The Seventh Ecumenical Council introduces its decision concerning the Holy Icons in a more elaborate way: "Following the Divinely inspired teaching of the Holy Fathers and the Tradition of the Catholic Church." The didaskalia of the Fathers is the formal and normative term of reference.

Now, this was much more than just an "appeal to antiquity." Indeed, the Church always stresses the permanence of her faith through the ages, from the very beginning. This identity, since the Apostolic times, is the most conspicuous sign and token of right faith — always the same. Yet, "antiquity" by itself is not an adequate proof of the true faith. Moreover, the Christian message was obviously a striking "novelty" for the "ancient world," and, indeed, a call to radical "renovation." The "Old" has passed away, and everything has been "made New." On the other hand, heresies could also appeal to the past and invoke the authority of certain "traditions." In fact, heresies were often lingering in the past. [1] Archaic formulas can often be dangerously misleading. Vincent of Lerins himself was fully aware of this danger. It would suffice to quote this pathetic passage of his: "And now, what an amazing reversal of the situation! the authors of the same opinion are adjudged to be catholics, but the followers — heretics; the masters are absolved, the disciples are condemned; the writers of the books will be children of the Kingdom, their followers will go to Gehenna" (Commonitorium, cap. 6). Vincent had in mind, of course, St. Cyprian and the Donatists. St. Cyprian himself faced the same situation. "Antiquity" as such may happen to be just an inveterate prejudice: nam antiquitas sine veritate vetustas erroris est (Epist. 74). It is to say — "old customs" as such do not guarantee the truth. "Truth" is not just a "habit."

The true tradition is only the tradition of truth, traditio veritatis. This tradition, according of St. Irenaeus, is grounded in, and secured by, that charisma veritatis certum [secure charisma of truth], which has been "deposited" in the Church from the very beginning and has been preserved by the uninterrupted succession of episcopal ministry. "Tradition" in the Church is not a continuity of human memory, or a permanence of rites and habits. It is a living tradition — depositum juvenescens, in the phrase of St. Irenaeus. Accordingly, it cannot be counted inter mortuas regulas [among dead rules]. Ultimately, tradition is a continuity of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, a continuity of Divine guidance and illumination. The Church is not bound by the "letter." Rather, she is constantly moved forth by the "Spirit." The same Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, which "spake through the Prophets," which guided the Apostles, is still continuously guiding the Church into the fuller comprehension and understanding of the Divine truth, from glory to glory.

"Following the Holy Fathers"… This is not a reference to some abstract tradition, in formulas and propositions. It is primarily an appeal to holy witnesses. Indeed, we appeal to the Apostles, and not just to an abstract "Apostolicity." In the similar manner do we refer to the Fathers. The witness of the Fathers belongs, intrinsically and integrally, to the very structure of Orthodox belief. The Church is equally committed to the kerygma of the Apostles and to the dogma of the Fathers. We may quote at this point an admirable ancient hymn (probably, from the pen of St. Romanus the Melode). "Preserving the kerygma of the Apostles and the dogmas of the Fathers, the Church has sealed the one faith and wearing the tunic of truth she shapes rightly the brocade of heavenly theology and praises the great mystery of piety." [2]

The Mind of the Fathers.

The Church is "Apostolic" indeed. But the Church is also "Patristic." She is intrinsically "the Church of the Fathers." These two "notes" cannot be separated. Only by being "Patristic" is the Church truly "Apostolic." The witness of the Fathers is much more than simply a historic feature, a voice from the past. Let us quote another hymn — from the office of the Three Hierarchs. "By the word of knowledge you have composed the dogmas which the fishermen have established first in simple words, in knowledge by the power of the Spirit, for thus our simple piety had to acquire composition." There are, as it were, two basic stages in the proclamation of the Christian faith. "Our simple faith had to acquire composition." There was an inner urge, an inner logic, an internal necessity, in this transition from kerygma to dogma. Indeed, the teaching of the Fathers, and the dogma of the Church, are still the same "simple message" which has been once delivered and deposited, once for ever, by the Apostles. But now it is, as it were, properly and fully articulated. The Apostolic preaching is kept alive in the Church, not only merely preserved. In this sense, the teaching of the Fathers is a permanent category of Christian existence, a constant and ultimate measure and criterion of right faith. Fathers are not only witnesses of the old faith, testes antiquitatis. They are rather witnesses of the true faith, testes veritatis. "The mind of the Fathers" is an intrinsic term of reference in Orthodox theology, no less than the word of Holy Scripture, and indeed never separated from it. As it has been well said, "the Catholic Church of all ages is not merely a daughter of the Church of the Fathers — she is and remains the Church of the Fathers." [3]

The Existential Character of Patristic Theology.

The main distinctive mark of Patristic theology was its "existential" character, if we may use this current neologism. The Fathers theologized, as St. Gregory of Nazianzus put it, "in the manner of the Apostles, not in that of Aristotle" — αλιευτικως, ουκ αριστοτελικως (Hom. 23. 12). Their theology was still a "message," a kerygma. Their theology was still "kerygmatic theology," even if it was often logically arranged and supplied with intellectual arguments. The ultimate reference was still to the vision of faith, to spiritual knowledge and experience. Apart from life in Christ theology carries no conviction and, if separated from the life of faith, theology may degenerate into empty dialectics, a vain polylogia, without any spiritual consequence. Patristic theology was existentially rooted in the decisive commitment of faith. It was not a self-explanatory "discipline" which could be presented argumentatively, that is aristotelikos, without any prior spiritual engagement. In the age of theological strife and incessant debates, the great Cappadocian Fathers formally protested against the use of dialectics, of "Aristotelian syllogisms," and endeavoured to refer theology back to the vision of faith. Patristic theology could be only "preached" or "proclaimed" — preached from the pulpit, proclaimed also in the words of prayer and in the sacred rites, and indeed manifested in the total structure of Christian life. Theology of this kind can never be separated from the life of prayer and from the exercise of virtue. "The climax of purity is the beginning of theology," as St. John the Klimakos puts it: τελοσ δε αγνειας υποθεσις θεολογιας (Scala Paradisi, grade 30).

On the other hand, theology of this type is always, as it were, "propaideutic," since its ultimate aim and purpose is to ascertain and to acknowledge the Mystery of the Living God, and indeed to bear witness to it, in word and deed. "Theology" is not an end in itself. It is always but a way. Theology, and even the "dogmas," present no more than an "intellectual contour" of the revealed truth, and a "noetic" testimony to it. Only in the act of faith is this "contour" filled with content. Christological formulas are fully meaningful only for those who have encountered the Living Christ, and have received and acknowledged Him as God and Saviour, and are dwelling by faith in Him, in His body, the Church. In this sense, theology is never a self-explanatory discipline. It is constantly appealing to the vision of faith. "What we have seen and have heard we announce to you." Apart from this "announcement" theological formulas are empty and of no consequence. For the same reason these formulas can never be taken "abstractly," that is, out of total context of belief. It is misleading to single out particular statements of the Fathers and to detach them from the total perspective in which they have been actually uttered, just as it is misleading to manipulate with detached quotations from the Scripture. It is a dangerous habit "to quote" the Fathers, that is, their isolated sayings and phrases, outside of that concrete setting in which only they have their full and proper meaning and are truly alive. "To follow" the Fathers does not mean just "to quote" them. "To follow" the Fathers means to acquire their "mind," their phronema. (Cont)

-Archpriest George Florovsky