Friday, November 30, 2007

God, Evangelicals & War

The below excerpt is from a very profound article in the Boston Globe which I recommend in its entirety. I definitely am not inclined to some of the liberal sub themes the author is presenting. However this article stands as a stark reminder that one overtly religious segment of our country's population was a major component in rallying support for a war that has proven disastrous on too many levels to itemize. It represents the extreme danger to the body politic that can result from the de facto melding of church and state. Over the last quarter century we have witnessed Protestant Evangelicalism (they used to be called Fundamentalists) become a virtual adjunct of one of the two political parties in our country. Such direct, massive and overt politicization of religion should be a source of grave alarm to any American who fears for our constitutional republic.

EARLY ONE SUNDAY morning in the spring of 2003, in the quiet hours before services would begin at the evangelical church where I worship in Charlottesville, Virginia, I opened files compiled by my research assistant and read the statements drafted by Christians around the world in opposition to the American invasion of Iraq.

The experience was profoundly moving and shaming: From Pentecostals in Brazil to the Christian Councils of Ghana, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East to the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, from Pope John Paul II to the The Waldensian Reformed Church of Italy and the Christian Conference of Asia, the voices of our brothers and sisters in the global ecumenical church spoke in unison.

Why did American evangelicals not pause for a moment in the rush to war to consider the near-unanimous disapproval of the global Christian community? The worldwide Christian opposition seems to me the most neglected story related to the religious debate about Iraq: Despite approval for the president's decision to go to war by 87 percent of white evangelicals in April 2003, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts poll, almost every Christian leader in the world (and almost every nonevangelical leader in the United States) voiced opposition to the war.

Food for thought.

Hat tip to Jake. (Caution: The linked site is very liberal.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

There is a new sheriff in town...

...and his name is Marini, not that Marini, the new one... Guido. And he seems to share his bosses distaste for the rock concert themed events that were the norm under the previous Pontificate. Evidence of which could be seen at the consistory for the newly named Cardinals of the Roman Church who received their traditional red birettas today from the Pope. +Benedict XVI was not wearing anything like the often plain or sometimes simply bizarre vestments foisted on his predecessor by the former Papal MC, Piero Marini (no relation to the new one).

Rather he was seen wearing both a ceremonial miter and stole dating to the reign of +Pius IX. And in a shift from the ubiquitous vanilla sede of the last several decades the Pope was seated on a gilded red throne that is believed to have been last extensively used by +Pius X. This also seems to be in keeping with a number of recent articles indicating the Pope is banishing the frequently banal and sometimes just dreadful music used in Vatican liturgical ceremonies in favor of a return to Gregorian Chant and the music of Mozart and Palestrina. Times are changing, and for once I can opine for the better.

The Right to Keep Arms

The United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has accepted the first case that will directly address the long controversial issues surrounding the Second Amendment (2nd amnd) in living memory. It is expected to decide specifically if a near absolute ban on private ownership and possession of handguns in the District of Columbia violates an individual right to keep and bear arms which is widely claimed to exist in the 2nd amnd of the Constitution. SCOTUS has not ruled even vaguely on the matter since the late 1930's. At issue is whether the wording of the 2nd amnd creates an individual right held by all law abiding Americans or merely a collective right on the part of the states to maintain their own militias.

Revisionist and liberal historians have been bending over backwards for years in an effort to shore up the latter interpretation. However such simply does not square with the actual history surrounding the document and its interpretation by the Founders. I believe that while reasonable people can debate the wisdom of retaining a broad individual right for citizens to be armed in the early 21st century when so much has obviously changed from the late 18th century, one can not reasonably argue that the framers intended anything other than to guarantee an individual right to be armed.

Those who believe that society would benefit from broad restrictions on the private ownership and possession of firearms should press their case more honestly and seek to repeal the 2nd amnd. That would indeed be a debate worth having. However the question of the meaning of the 2nd amnd is simply too weighted by the clear historical record demonstrating the intent of the Founders for the revisionist interpretation to be a legitimate basis for debate . I refer the reader to this excellent editorial from today's Wall Street Journal.*
...The amendment reads: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." If "the right of the people" to keep and bear arms was merely an incident of, or subordinate to, a governmental (i.e., a collective) purpose -- that of ensuring an efficient or "well regulated" militia -- it would be logical to conclude, as does the District of Columbia -- that government can outlaw the individual ownership of guns. But this collective interpretation is incorrect.

To analyze what "the right of the people" means, look elsewhere within the Bill of Rights for guidance. The First Amendment speaks of "the right of the people peaceably to assemble . . ." No one seriously argues that the right to assemble or associate with your fellow citizens is predicated on the number of citizens or the assent of a government. It is an individual right.

The Fourth Amendment says, "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . . " The "people" here does not refer to a collectivity, either.

The rights guaranteed in the Bill of Right are individual. The Third and Fifth Amendments protect individual property owners; the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments protect potential individual criminal defendants from unreasonable searches, involuntary incrimination, appearing in court without an attorney, excessive bail, and cruel and unusual punishments.

The Ninth Amendment protects individual rights not otherwise enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The 10th Amendment states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." Here, "the people" are separate from "the states"; thus, the Second Amendment must be about more than simply a "state" militia when it uses the term "the people."
I strongly recommend the entire editorial which can be read here.

* The WSJ does not generally allow free access to its articles for more than seven days from publication except to subscribers. It should be available through Friday November 30th though.

Hat tip to Brian.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving Thanks


I attended the Thanksgiving service tonight at my mission parish which I unfortunately missed last year. Thus it is the first time I have heard the chanting of the Akithist "Glory to God for All Things" and I was profoundly moved. The author was Protopresbyter Gregory Petrov who composed it while dying in a Soviet concentration camp in 1940. The title comes from the last words of St. John Chrysostom as he was dying in exile.

The Akathist Hymn: "Glory to God for All Things"

Kontakion 1

Everlasting King, Thy will for our salvation is full of power. Thy right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give Thee thanks for all Thy mercies, seen and unseen. For eternal life, for the heavenly joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Thy praise, both now and in the time to come. Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.

Ikos 1

I was born a weak, defenceless child, but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee, who call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life's journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 2

O Lord, how lovely it is to be Thy guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun's golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Thy love. Blessed art thou, mother earth, in thy fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever, in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, the cry rings out: Alleluia!

Ikos 2

Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavour and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Thine earth. It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.

Glory to Thee for the Feast Day of life
Glory to Thee for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to Thee for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to Thee for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to Thee for the joy of dawn's awakening
Glory to Thee for the new life each day brings
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 3

It is the Holy Spirit who makes us find joy in each flower, the exquisite scent, the delicate colour, the beauty of the Most High in the tiniest of things. Glory and honour to the Spirit, the Giver of Life, who covers the fields with their carpet of flowers, crowns the harvest with gold, and gives to us the joy of gazing at it with our eyes. O be joyful and sing to Him: Alleluia!

Ikos 3

How glorious art Thou in the springtime, when every creature awakes to new life and joyfully sings Thy praises with a thousand tongues. Thou art the Source of Life, the Destroyer of Death. By the light of the moon, nightingales sing, and the valleys and hills lie like wedding garments, white as snow. All the earth is Thy promised bride awaiting her spotless husband. If the grass of the field is like this, how gloriously shall we be transfigured in the Second Coming after the Resurrection! How splendid our bodies, how spotless our souls!

Glory to Thee, bringing from the depth of the earth an endless variety of colours, tastes and scents
Glory to Thee for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature
Glory to Thee for the numberless creatures around us
Glory to Thee for the depths of Thy wisdom, the whole world a living sign of it
Glory to Thee; on my knees, I kiss the traces of Thine unseen hand
Glory to Thee, enlightening us with the clearness of eternal life
Glory to Thee for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 4

How filled with sweetness are those whose thoughts dwell on Thee; how life-giving Thy holy Word. To speak with Thee is more soothing than anointing with oil; sweeter than the honeycomb. To pray to Thee lifts the spirit, refreshes the soul. Where Thou art not, there is only emptiness; hearts are smitten with sadness; nature, and life itself, become sorrowful; where Thou art, the soul is filled with abundance, and its song resounds like a torrent of life: Alleluia!

Ikos 4

When the sun is setting, when quietness falls like the peace of eternal sleep, and the silence of the spent day reigns, then in the splendour of its declining rays, filtering through the clouds, I see Thy dwelling-place: fiery and purple, gold and blue, they speak prophet-like of the ineffable beauty of Thy presence, and call to us in their majesty. We turn to the Father.

Glory to Thee at the hushed hour of nightfall
Glory to Thee, covering the earth with peace
Glory to Thee for the last ray of the sun as it sets
Glory to Thee for sleep's repose that restores us
Glory to Thee for Thy goodness even in the time of darkness
When all the world is hidden from our eyes
Glory to Thee for the prayers offered by a trembling soul
Glory to Thee for the pledge of our reawakening
On that glorious last day, that day which has no evening
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 5

The dark storm clouds of life bring no terror to those in whose hearts Thy fire is burning brightly. Outside is the darkness of the whirlwind, the terror and howling of the storm, but in the heart, in the presence of Christ, there is light and peace, silence: Alleluia!

Ikos 5

I see Thine heavens resplendent with stars. How glorious art Thou radiant with light! Eternity watches me by the rays of the distant stars. I am small, insignificant, but the Lord is at my side. Thy right arm guides me wherever I go.

Glory to Thee, ceaselessly watching over me
Glory to Thee for the encounters Thou dost arrange for me
Glory to Thee for the love of parents, for the faithfulness of friends
Glory to Thee for the humbleness of the animals which serve me
Glory to Thee for the unforgettable moments of life
Glory to Thee for the heart's innocent joy
Glory to Thee for the joy of living
Moving and being able to return Thy love
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 6

How great and how close art Thou in the powerful track of the storm! How mighty Thy right arm in the blinding flash of the lightning! How awesome Thy majesty! The voice of the Lord fills the fields, it speaks in the rustling of the trees. The voice of the Lord is in the thunder and the downpour. The voice of the Lord is heard above the waters. Praise be to Thee in the roar of mountains ablaze. Thou dost shake the earth like a garment; Thou dost pile up to the sky the waves of the sea. Praise be to Thee, bringing low the pride of man. Thou dost bring from his heart a cry of Penitence: Alleluia!

Ikos 6

When the lightning flash has lit up the camp dining hall, how feeble seems the light from the lamp. Thus dost Thou, like the lightning, unexpectedly light up my heart with flashes of intense joy. After Thy blinding light, how drab, how colourless, how illusory all else seems. My souls clings to Thee.

Glory to Thee, the highest peak of men's dreaming
Glory to Thee for our unquenchable thirst for communion with God
Glory to Thee, making us dissatisfied with earthly things
Glory to Thee, turning on us Thine healing rays
Glory to Thee, subduing the power of the spirits of darkness
And dooming to death every evil
Glory to Thee for the signs of Thy presence
For the joy of hearing Thy voice and living in Thy love
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 7

In the wondrous blending of sounds it is Thy call we hear; in the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music, in the glory of the works of great composers: Thou leadest us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels. All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards Thee, and to make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia!

Ikos 7

The breath of Thine Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets and scientists. The power of Thy supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Thy laws, who reveal the depths of Thy creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of Thee. How great art Thou in Thy creation! How great art Thou in man!

Glory to Thee, showing Thine unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe
Glory to Thee, for all nature is filled with Thy laws
Glory to Thee for what Thou hast revealed to us in Thy mercy
Glory to Thee for what Thou hast hidden from us in Thy wisdom
Glory to Thee for the inventiveness of the human mind
Glory to Thee for the dignity of man's labour
Glory to Thee for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 8

How near Thou art in the day of sickness. Thou Thyself visitest the sick; Thou Thyself bendest over the sufferer's bed. His heart speaks to Thee. In the throes of sorrow and suffering Thou bringest peace and unexpected consolation. Thou art the comforter. Thou art the love which watches over and heals us. To Thee we sing the song: Alleluia!

Ikos 8

When in childhood I called upon Thee consciously for the first time, Thou didst hear my prayer, and Thou didst fill my heart with the blessing of peace. At that moment I knew Thy goodness and knew how blessed are those who turn to Thee. I started to call upon Thee night and day; and now even now I call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee, satisfying my desires with good things
Glory to Thee, watching over me day and night
Glory to Thee, curing affliction and emptiness with the healing flow of time
Glory to Thee, no loss is irreparable in Thee, Giver of eternal life to all
Glory to Thee, making immortal all that is lofty and good
Glory to Thee, promising us the longed-for meeting with our loved ones who have died
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 9

Why is it that on a Feast Day the whole of nature mysteriously smiles? Why is it that then a heavenly gladness fills our hearts; a gladness far beyond that of earth and the very air in church and in the altar becomes luminous? It is the breath of Thy gracious love. It is the reflection of the glory of Mount Tabor. Then do heaven and earth sing Thy praise: Alleluia!

Ikos 9

When Thou didst call me to serve my brothers and filled my soul with humility, one of Thy deep, piercing rays shone into my heart; it became luminous, full of light like iron glowing in the furnace. I have seen Thy face, face of mystery and of unapproachable glory.

Glory to Thee, transfiguring our lives with deeds of love
Glory to Thee, making wonderfully Sweet the keeping of Thy commandments
Glory to Thee, making Thyself known where man shows mercy on his neighbour
Glory to Thee, sending us failure and misfortune that we may understand the sorrows of others
Glory to Thee, rewarding us so well for the good we do
Glory to Thee, welcoming the impulse of our heart's love
Glory to Thee, raising to the heights of heaven every act of love in earth and sky
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 10

No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but Thou canst restore a conscience turned to ashes. Thou canst restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With Thee, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. Thou art love; Thou art Creator and Redeemer. We praise Thee, singing: Alleluia!

Ikos 10

Remember, my God, the fall of Lucifer full of pride, keep me safe with the power of Thy Grace; save me from falling away from Thee. Save me from doubt. Incline my heart to hear Thy mysterious voice every moment of my life. Incline my heart to call upon Thee, present in everything.

Glory to Thee for every happening
Every condition Thy providence has put me in
Glory to Thee for what Thou speakest to me in my heart
Glory to Thee for what Thou revealest to me, asleep or awake
Glory to Thee for scattering our vain imaginations
Glory to Thee for raising us from the slough of our passions through suffering
Glory to Thee for curing our pride of heart by humiliation
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 11

Across the cold chains of the centuries, I feel the warmth of Thy breath, I feel Thy blood pulsing in my veins. Part of time has already gone, but now Thou art the present. I stand by Thy Cross; I was the cause of it. I cast myself down in the dust before it. Here is the triumph of love, the victory of salvation. Here the centuries themselves cannot remain silent, singing Thy praises: Alleluia!

Ikos 11

Blessed are they that will share in the King's Banquet: but already on earth Thou givest me a foretaste of this blessedness. How many times with Thine own hand hast Thou held out to me Thy Body and Thy Blood, and I, though a miserable sinner, have received this Mystery, and have tasted Thy love, so ineffable, so heavenly.

Glory to Thee for the unquenchable fire of Thy Grace
Glory to Thee, building Thy Church, a haven of peace in a tortured world
Glory to Thee for the life-giving water of Baptism in which we find new birth
Glory to Thee, restoring to the penitent purity white as the lily
Glory to Thee for the cup of salvation and the bread of eternal joy
Glory to Thee for exalting us to the highest heaven
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 12

How often have I seen the reflection of Thy glory in the faces of the dead. How resplendent they were, with beauty and heavenly joy. How ethereal, how translucent their faces. How triumphant over suffering and death, their felicity and peace. Even in the silence they were calling upon Thee. In the hour of my death, enlighten my soul, too, that it may cry out to Thee: Alleluia!

Ikos 12

What sort of praise can I give Thee? I have never heard the song of the Cherubim, a joy reserved for the spirits above. But I know the praises that nature sings to Thee. In winter, I have beheld how silently in the moonlight the whole earth offers Thee prayer, clad in its white mantle of snow, sparkling like diamonds. I have seen how the rising sun rejoices in Thee, how the song of the birds is a chorus of praise to Thee. I have heard the mysterious mutterings of the forests about Thee, and the winds singing Thy praise as they stir the waters. I have understood how the choirs of stars proclaim Thy glory as they move forever in the depths of infinite space. What is my poor worship! All nature obeys Thee, I do not. Yet while I live, I see Thy love, I long to thank Thee, and call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee, giving us light
Glory to Thee, loving us with love so deep, divine and infinite
Glory to Thee, blessing us with light, and with the host of angels and saints
Glory to Thee, Father all-holy, promising us a share in Thy Kingdom
Glory to Thee, Holy Spirit, life-giving Sun of the world to come
Glory to Thee for all things, Holy and most merciful Trinity
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 13

Life-giving and merciful Trinity, receive my thanksgiving for all Thy goodness. Make us worthy of Thy blessings, so that, when we have brought to fruit the talents Thou hast entrusted to us, we may enter into the joy of our Lord, forever exulting in the shout of victory: Alleluia!

(repeat Kontakion 13 and Alleluia three times)

Ikos 1

I was born a weak, defenceless child, but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee, who call upon Thy name.

Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life's journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age

Kontakion 1

Everlasting King, Thy will for our salvation is full of power. Thy right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give Thee thanks for all Thy mercies, seen and unseen. For eternal life, for the heavenly Joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Thy praise, both now and in the time to come. Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Nativity Fast

We are now well into the first full week of the Nativity Fast (Advent). In keeping with my custom during the major fasting periods I will be posting less frequently until after the Feast of the Nativity. For those who are interested in the discussion of the issues I addressed in my three preceding posts please feel free to follow the links and join the conversation over at Cathedra Unitatis or Sacramentum Vitae. I wish all of you a blessed fast and the joy of the season...

Update: I would also add this recent (and long) post by Owen the Ochlopbist to the recommended reading on Catholic Orthodox Ecumenical discussions. As always Owen hits multiple nails on the head. While he might be a bit more frank than I am, I think we are reading from the same script.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ecumenical Councils III

For those not keeping track of the ongoing discussion, Mike Liccione has responded to my previous post over at his blog Sacramentum Vitae. His response was as always, both cordial and thought provoking. There are now over 100 comments between the thread at Cathedra Unitas and Mike’s thread over at SV. Thank you to everyone who has commented. Given the large number of comments many of the counterpoints which I had intended to make in reply to Mike’s post have inevitably already been addressed. Also in a couple of cases Mike appears to be repeating questions and concerns which I raised in my aforementioned post. However I do think it desirable to very briefly amplify some of my previous comments and respond to a few items he raised.

First, I want to correct what may be a misapprehension. My previous post was not intended as a declaration that I think we are on the verge of restoring communion with Rome. Nor was it intended to lay out a blue print for that process to occur. Rather it was an observation that there is some peculiar wording in the joint declaration from the most recent discussions between the various Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church on some of the theological issues dividing us. Specifically I was referring to a phrase which I thought rather inconsistent with the customary understanding of the Latin position vis a vis their take on the councils of the Roman Church post 1054. It appears to be a very slight hedging on their part. A half step if you will back from the usual line that those councils are true ecumenical councils whose declarations are binding upon the Church Universal. I noted there, and wish to reiterate, my skepticism that Rome sees the wording in that light. Mike’s own response has much strengthened that skepticism.

However on the off chance that I am wrong, I opined that this would be a significant move on the part of the Western Church that could open the door to a much more serious discussion. But to be honest I must join many of the Roman Catholic commenters over at SV as also Owen the Ochlophobist in expressing my profound pessimism at the prospect of restoration of communion. But if there is any chance of it happening this is probably how it would start. At present I tend to see the annual meetings between our churches as useful for building personal good will and better understanding. But beyond that I think they are of limited use. Unless the terrain on which we are all dancing shifts there is a limit to what these discussions can accomplish.

To whit in a recent discussion over at SV Mike and I had an interesting and almost amusing exchange. He had been arguing that Orthodoxy need not cease to be, and become Catholic (large ‘C’) in order for communion to be restored. This has been a recurring theme on his part and one that I (and Owen) have generally been skeptical of. Prompting the following…

Mike,
For clarification, does your vision of restored communion between Orthodoxy and Rome include acceptance on the part of the Eastern Churches of the post schism doctrinal definitions of the Western Church?

ICXC
John


GravatarJohn:

I've often answered that question before. But before I resurrect that horse, I have a question for you: would healing the schism between the EOs and the OOs require the latter to accept the Christology of Chalcedon?

Best,
Mike


GravatarMike,
Yes.

ICXC
John


GravatarJohn:

Yes.

Best,
Mike


The premise of my previous post is based on Mike’s above answer becoming a “no.” A true Ecumenical Council aimed at reconciliation must in my opinion, begin from the idea that there has not been a true council whose definitions are binding on The Church since before the schism. (We shall for the moment ignore the question of the dating of the schism which Dr. Tighe has written about extensively.) This is what I meant when I asked if Rome was prepared to take the risk of walking into such a council. It would have to be one, whose outcome was not limited to two possible scenarios, acceptance of the western doctrinal developments or failure. In the current discussion over at SV, I noted that if the lack of a dogmatic anathema from Orthodoxy was the basis for the Western Church’s dreams of a restored communion then it is precisely the fact that Rome has dogmatized certain beliefs which must be reduced to theologumen in order for such a council to even have a chance of ever meeting that constitute the greatest barrier. If the purpose of such a council is for us to simply show up and rubber stamp the West’s dogmas they can save themselves the postage for the invitations.

Even beyond the monumentally improbable agreement of Rome to such a premise there are as I see it a whole series of other challenges to this scenario further adding to my profound skepticism. Mike raised the specter of a number of obstacles mostly relative to our side. Not only do I concede the existence of these obstacles, I actually wrote about many of them in my below post. Any serious attempt at a meeting with the Roman Catholic Church for the avowed purpose of restoring communion will absolutely spark schisms within Orthodoxy and it will lend weight to some that already exist. Being frank there is some occasional frustration in belonging to a church whose ecclesiology makes one despair of a great council being able to agree on a bathroom break without provoking another schism. But I think that if Rome announced it was backing off its dogmatic claims of authority for the Western Church councils it would be almost impossible for the Orthodox not to show up. (Yes, even the Russians.) This of course does not mean that we should expect Rome to show up and denounce the theogumen of their church as heretical before we finish the introductions. That would be just as unreasonable as the reverse scenario which I have already noted would be a nonstarter. But any council must begin with the premise that nothing is carved in stone for either church that has not been dogmatized by the decrees of the first seven councils. This might not only be challenging for the RCC but also for us since many (perhaps most) Orthodox recognize nine ecumenical councils the last two of which are most definitely NOT recognized by Rome.

In fairness I think many Roman Catholics enormously underestimate the deep opposition that would arise in their own church to such a move. Liberal Catholics would do almost anything to sabotage such a council and probably at least some would break off in schism over it. They would know with absolute clarity the danger posed to their ambitions by an Orthodox Catholic rapprochement. Personally I don’t see many orthodox Catholics shedding a lot of tears over that. But then you have to address the subject of the Traditionalists. These will oppose any concession to Orthodoxy beyond a willingness to let us kneel and kiss the Pope’s ring. Those who doubt this should take a look at some of the responses over at Rorate Caeli on the rare occasions I comment there. These people, who are already highly suspicious of Rome’s commitment to all manner of what they define as tradition ranging from the Tridentine Mass to ecumenism will bolt in large numbers if they think Rome is yielding even an inch. They are the Western equivalent to our Old Calendarists.

Yet another challenge posed to such an undertaking was noted by Owen, my favorite Ochlophobist. He points out in an extensive comment at SV that the absence of dogmatic anathemas are moot since many of the Western Church’s dogmatic developments are expressly repudiated in the words of our liturgy. This in itself opens a whole new can of worms. I refer the reader to his comment which should be read in its entirety.

And if all this is not enough, yet another interesting challenge that Mike throws out is the very definition of what is an ecumenical council.

In Orthodox terms, a given council counts as "ecumenical" only if the participating bishops represent the Church as a whole and its decrees are received by the Church as a whole. In that usage, the term "ecumenical" is primarily empirical rather than normative. It tells us what is, or would be, the case, and that is logically distinct from what ought to be the case, which is what Rome's usage ostensibly tells us. Now from Rome's standpoint a given council would count as ecumenical in the normative sense ('ecumenical-N') if, in fact, it counts as ecumenical in the empirical sense ('ecumenical-E'). For a council that would count as ecumenical-E, in both Catholic and Orthodox terms, would entail Rome's assent and ratification, which from Rome's standpoint would suffice to make it ecumenical-N. And even if the Orthodox faithful as a whole did not "receive" the decrees of such a council because of Rome's assent and ratification, such a council would in fact count as ecumenical in Orthodox terms, i.e. as ecumenical-E. By common consent, any council that is ecumenical-E would also be ecumenical-N.

As he notes in Roman Catholic ecclesiology a council is ecumenical if the Pope says it is. Ignoring the remarkable convenience of such a position and the questions this raises about the eighth council (879-880) and Rome’s assent (withdrawn in the eleventh century in favor of the Robber Council) it once again places the Orthodox in the position of being in a meeting for the sole purpose of rubber stamping the decrees of the Latin Church. Again such a proposition is a nonstarter. To borrow Mike’s terminology, in Orthodoxy a council that wishes to be Ecumenical N must also be Ecumenical E. The Latin approach negates the very concept of a council as understood in Orthodoxy.

If however the stars are all in alignment and thousands of saints are praying at once for a miracle, maybe something could actually happen. One very likely outcome of such a hypothetical council (presuming its success) would be a more developed ecclesiology on the part of the Orthodox Church. I have argued for a long time that Orthodoxy has greatly devalued the role of primacy over the last thousand plus years. This has been due to a number of factors including at least on some level a certain knee jerk reaction to the ultramontane decrees emanating from the West. I also think we might see a deeper appreciation for a less rigid ecclesiology on the part of the Roman Church. Exactly what the final form would take is purely speculative and I am content to leave that for others to dream about.

But in the end; this is all just some ruminations based on a weird choice of words stuck almost accidentally it seems, in an otherwise relatively bland document from the latest set of discussions that I tend to think of as the clerical equivalent to congressional junkets. A great excuse to travel and go to some nice cocktail parties. To move beyond that we will need some true miracles on both sides of this gulf.

[Note: This post has been slightly edited for grammar.]

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ecumenical Councils II

Continuing the discussion on the subject of the previous post I just posted this over at CU. In order to preserve a coherent discussion please make any replies there.

I am on record as being more than slightly skeptical about the chances for any form of restoration of communion between East and West. One of the things which I have always seen standing in the way of the reunification are the dogmatic definitions of the Latin Church post 1054 (most especially but certainly not limited to Vatican I). Many Roman Catholics have attempted to assert the possibility of reunion on the basis of the fact that Orthodoxy has never dogmatically anathematized the various doctrinal developments/innovations of the Latin Church.

Mike Liccione is one of the great champions of that line of reasoning. The counter which I always raised was that it boiled down to an acceptance that Rome is in fact THE CHURCH and that we are wrong. That is of course a nonstarter since both East and West independently affirm that they are the One True Church. From an Orthodox perspective therefore it is not possible for the Roman Catholic Church to make true dogmatic definitions.

However Mike is correct on an important point which does lend some small hope. Since Orthodoxy for whatever reasons (I would opine there are many) has not held an oecumenical council since 880 AD, and therefore has not formally condemned the Latin innovations, they could be treated as theologumen. Granted, I think there is far greater unanimity among the Orthodox hierarchs and the lay faithful that many Western doctrines are heretical, than there is support for some of them among the Roman Catholic faithful. But it still boils down to theologumen on our side. But if you remove Rome’s carved in stone claim that those doctrines are infallible truths binding on all of the faithful, then we may move back to square one.

This would not of course end the schism or restore communion. But it would have the effect of saying both sides have strongly held contrary OPINIONS of great import that need to be resolved. On that basis it might be possible to convene a Great Council of The Church to begin the process of sorting things out and resolving them one at time.

By no means is this any guarantee that we would succeed. Florence failed. But I think it is quite probably the only way true and lasting communion could ever be restored. Also I think this would not be something that could be resolved in a year or two. I am thinking decades on the conservative side, but more likely centuries. The mere act of sitting in the same room with the Pope at what might eventually claim to be an ecumenical council would spark schisms within Orthodoxy, and very probably among Roman Catholic traditionalists as also liberal Catholics who would understand the mortal threat to their dreams posed by the prospect of restored communion between Rome and Orthodoxy. And then there is the fact that Ecumenical Councils don’t just happen and get rubber stamped in Orthodoxy. They take years and sometimes centuries to gain acceptance.

Now if you think getting the Orthodox to agree to anything like this is going to be hard then just consider the idea of Rome entertaining, even for a millisecond, the idea that there has not been a true and binding ecumenical council in well over a thousand years. If you like those odds, I have some Enron Stock I would like to sell you at the bargain price of $100.00 per share. Saying that this would be messy and downright ugly would be the understatement of the year. The bottom line is that this is one of the most unlikely ideas ever floated. But I also think it might be the only way that will really work. I do not see communion ever being restored without a Great Council.

Rome claims two very key things. First that all of the Latin dogmas proclaimed post 1054 are correct, and secondly that the Orthodox Churches are true and particular churches that are a part of the One True Church, if imperfectly. In support of this they note (repeatedly) that we have never formally anathematized those doctrines. Assuming for the sake of discussion those two claims are correct then Rome should have nothing to fear from putting it all on the table. Let a true Great Council of The Church be convened and hammer it all out. The worst that happens is it fails and we are back to where we stand today (with a few dozen more schisms on the side). That might indeed be the result. I suspect it is quite likely. The odds against agreement are staggering. But maybe, just maybe, we would see a miracle. I think the possibility of living to see a concelebrated liturgy with all of the Orthodox Patriarchs and the Pope of Rome is worth the risk. But it really comes down to this; how confident is Rome of its position? Are they willing or even able to take such a leap? What say my Roman brothers and sisters, is restored communion worth such a risk?

On Ecumenical Councils

39. Unlike diocesan and regional synods, an ecumenical council is not an “institution” whose frequency can be regulated by canons; it is rather an “event”, a kairos inspired by the Holy Spirit who guides the Church so as to engender within it the institutions which it needs and which respond to its nature. This harmony between the Church and the councils is so profound that, even after the break between East and West which rendered impossible the holding of ecumenical councils in the strict sense of the term, both Churches continued to hold councils whenever serious crises arose. These councils gathered together the bishops of local Churches in communion with the See of Rome or, although understood in a different way, with the See of Constantinople, respectively. In the Roman Catholic Church, some of these councils held in the West were regarded as ecumenical. This situation, which obliged both sides of Christendom to convoke councils proper to each of them, favoured dissentions which contributed to mutual estrangement. The means which will allow the re-establishment of ecumenical consensus must be sought out.

From the final document of the Orthodox-Catholic theological discussions held at Ravenna. I think the above reference to the impossibility of holding true ecumenical councils could be (heavy emphasis) a very significant phrase. It might open a whole bunch of doors which I (and most Orthodox and Roman Catholics) have long presumed shut. Where will this go? No where right away. But let's see what happens in the future. Maybe this was what is sometimes called a trial balloon to gauge reaction. If so it would probably get a warm reception from the East. Then again it is entirely possible that I am reading way too much into this. Thoughts?

A big hat tip to Cathedra Unitas for posting the entire document and Wei Hsien for catching the interesting choice of wording noted above. Please comment over at CU.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Pope's Revolution

Two and a half years after the name "Josephum" came booming down from the balcony of St Peter's, making liberal Catholics weep with rage, Pope Benedict XVI is revealing his programme of reform. And it is breathtakingly ambitious.

The 80-year-old Pontiff is planning a purification of the Roman liturgy in which decades of trendy innovations will be swept away. This recovery of the sacred is intended to draw Catholics closer to the Orthodox and ultimately to heal the 1,000 year Great Schism. But it is also designed to attract vast numbers of conservative Anglicans, who will be offered the protection of the Holy Father if they covert en masse.

The liberal cardinals don't like the sound of it at all.

Read the rest here.

Islamic justice: Get raped and get 200 lashes

Via FOX News:

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia —
A 19-year-old female victim of gang rape who initially was ordered to undergo 90 lashes for "being in the car of an unrelated male at the time of the rape," has been sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail for telling her story to the news media.

The new verdict was handed down by Saudi Arabia's Higher Judicial Council following a retrial, the Arab News reported.

The court last year sentenced the six heavily-armed men who carried out the attack against the Shiite woman to between one and five years for committing the crime.

But the judges had decided to punish the woman further for "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media," a court source told the Arab News.

The new verdict issued on Wednesday also toughened the sentences against the six men to between two and nine years in prison.

Saudi Arabia enforces a strict Islamic doctrine that forbids unrelated men and women from associating with each other, bans women from driving and forces them to cover head-to-toe in public.

The case has angered members of Saudi Arabia's Shiite community. The convicted men are Sunni Muslims, the dominant community in the oil-rich Gulf state.

This is simply barbaric.

Georgia Patriarch a Voice for Calm

Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II

TBILISI, Georgia, Nov. 14 — When Georgia’s short democratic experiment seemed near collapse last week amid a commotion of flying tear gas canisters, rocks and rubber bullets, the nation’s leaders, their opponents, and the Georgian people looked to Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, head of Georgia’s Orthodox Church.

The patriarch addressed the nation on television, calling for an end to the violence and opening the churches as a refuge. And when the violence subsided, he offered his services as mediator between the government and the opposition.

“If there is anything in this country that can be a guarantor of security, it is the patriarch,” Tina Khidasheli, of the opposition Republican Party, said in an interview days after a government-imposed state of emergency shut down independent media and curtailed political rights. “No one else has any authority anymore.”

As leader of a near 2,000-year-old religious tradition, the patriarch has been a unifying force through 30 years of political turmoil, poverty and war, even as one revolution after another, peaceful or otherwise, has toppled the nation’s political leaders.

Read the rest here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The last Armistice Day

I have blogged a couple of times on the rapidly disappearing veterans of the First World War. Now Richard Rubin in a piece for the NY Times reports that we are down to the last American soldier who served in France, Frank Buckles. He opines in his melancholy essay that this is likely to be the last year we celebrate Armistice Day with a living veteran of the Great War. Oddly this seems to have drawn almost no attention in the United States. Overseas the passing of the last veterans of that war has been carefully watched for some years now. France has prepared plans for a full blown state funeral when its last Word War I veteran dies.

One would think we might at least pause briefly and tip our hat to the memory of all those Americans who fought to make the world safe for democracy. That they failed in no way diminishes the noble character or glorious conviction which motivated an entire generation to march off to war, truly believing that if they fought hard enough there would never be another. In the history of our country its quite possible that there has never been a generation as idealistic as that one, nor one as ill used.

May their memory be eternal.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Viva el Rey!

H.M. King Juan Carlos I of Spain

In a moment which warmed my occasionally monarchist heart H.M. King Juan Carlos (Bourbon) of Spain gave a brief but firm rebuke to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez last night in Santiago Chile. The heated exchange occurred at a summit of Spanish and Latin American leaders after Chavez delivered one of his infamous ad hominem attacks, this time directed at former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar a close ally of the United States. He repeatedly described Aznar (who has been out of office for three years) as a fascist, and inferred that he was less human than a snake.

The current Spanish PM Zapatero (himself a socialist) reproved Chavez in his own address for his undiplomatic language in reference to a democratically elected representative of the Spanish people. During Zapatero's remarks the Venezuelan bully repeatedly attempted to interrupt him until King Juan Carlos turned to him and said "Hugo. Why don't you just shut up?" Adding further weight to the sharply worded rebuke from a royal sovereign to another head of state, the King chose to address Chavez using the very informal "por qué no te callas" vs. formal "por qué Ud. no le calla." In Spanish this is rather the equivalent of speaking sharply to a child or servant.


It's good to be the king.

Hugo... Would you like a little Bourbon with that dressing (down)?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

And then there was one...

The Titanic sailing from Southampton
10 April 1912

Barbara West Dainton (96) the second to the last living survivor of the Titanic disaster has reposed. This leaves only one known survivor of the epic catastrophe still among the quick. Ms. Dainton was traveling to America with her family at the time and making the passage on the maiden voyage of the world's largest ocean liner must have been seen as quite a treat for the family. She was too young to recall the accident and always avoided discussing it later in life. However various family sources report that after the ship hit an iceberg her father behaved in exactly the manner expected of an English gentleman of that era. He put his family into a lifeboat and waived goodbye from the deck of the sinking liner. His body was not recovered. More than 1500 people were lost in the ice cold waters of the North Atlantic when the Titanic sank a little over two hours after hitting the berg.

The ship was a marvel of luxury and modern engineering at the time. She was almost 900 feet long and 13 stories from her keel to the top deck. Her three massive propellers could mover her at a very respectable speed of around 22 knots. She boasted such amenities as a French style sidewalk cafe, squash and racquetball courts, an indoor swimming pool and electric elevators. Her 16 watertight compartments that could be closed off from each other by reinforced steel watertight doors were thought to make the ship virtually unsinkable. However the watertight bulkheads did not extent to the top deck. While the ship was said to be able to float with any two or three of her compartments flooded (a worst case scenario in the minds of her builders) the collision opened up her first five compartments to the sea. Tragically the ship carried only enough lifeboats for a little over a thousand people. Even given this terrible discrepancy many of the early boats launched left with room to spare. Of the 2200+ passengers and crew aboard only 705 survived.

Since childhood I have had something of a fascination with the doomed liner. Because her service life was so very short and given the age she was built in there are relatively few pictures of the Titanic around. Many photos of her nearly identical sister ship the Olympic are occasionally mistaken for the Titanic. For those interested I am going post some of the few known pictures of the Titanic below. You may click on any of the photos to see it full sized.

The Titanic dressed in holiday regalia for Good Friday 1912 four days before sailing on her maiden voyage. This is the only known photograph of the ship with all her flags and pennants up.

The starboard boat deck probably taken during the passage from Cherbourg to Queenstown Ireland (modern day Cove)

Titanic's propeller shaft under construction in Belfast N. Ireland

The Titanic's propellers while under construction in Belfast N.Ireland


The Titanic on the stocks while under construction

Titanic fitting out at Harland & Wolfe after her launch. The forward section of her promenade deck would eventually be glassed in (see the picture at the top of the post) to protect passengers during inclement weather. This was one of the few features distinguishing her from Olympic.

The Grand Staircase made famous in the romantic film drama with Leonardo DiCaprio. The elaborate wood carving around the clock was supposed to represent Honor and & Glory crowning Time.

The top of the Grand Staircase under the stained glass dome over the First Class Foyer. The windows look out onto the boat deck.

The First Class Smoking Lounge. Men only of course...

The First Class Lounge

The Palm Court a popular place for afternoon tea

The French style Cafe Parisean

One of only three known photographs of the massive Jacobin style First Class Dining Saloon

This is believed to be the only existing photograph of the Titanic's First Class Dining Room during a meal. Given what appears to be daylight it is likely that it was taken during the lunch served on the 11th of April en route to Queenstown.

First Class dinner menu (almost certainly a reproduction but included to provide some flavor)

The Turkish baths. This is one case where the black & white really does not do the subject justice. The baths were incredibly gaudy and would have fit in well with any Rudolph Valentino movie set.

The gymnasium with its electric rowing and riding machines. There was a large map on the wall that was updated daily with the Titanic's position for passengers keep track of. The odd looking riding machine in the far corner was an electric camel.

Stateroom B-57

Bedroom of stateroom B-58

Stateroom B-59

The bedroom of stateroom B-64

The Second Class lounge

Second Class dinner menu.

The 3rd class (steerage) common room. Compared to most other steamers of the period the 3rd class accommodations in the Olympic class ships were considered quite decent. Of course the standard steerage ticket covered meals but not access to the lifeboats in case the ship sinks. The loss of life among the poor immigrants in steerage was appalling.

The 3rd class dining room.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Paying for Capital Punishment

The New York Times has an interesting story which supports points 2 & 7 in my recent apology against the death penalty. The State of Georgia is beginning to discover that a system of capital punishment that provides for truly competent legal council cannot be run on the cheap. Needless to say they are not happy. While I expect the Supreme Court to affirm lethal injection as a permissible means of execution I also expect the court to continue its slow trend in raising the often abysmal standards for legal council in capital cases.

Some reflections on the occasion of the birthday of Her Majesty the Queen

Queen Elizabeth: A stranger in her own country

By A.N WILSON

Next month, she will become Britain's oldest monarch. But in this provocative essay a historian argues that while her reign has seen more social advances than even Victoria's, it is also the age in which Britain stopped being British

As an historic milestone, it will merit little fanfare.

Yet it is an astonishing truth that in a few weeks' time, Her Majesty the Queen will have outlived even her most illustrious regal forebear, Queen Victoria, making her the oldest monarch in our nation's history.

In fact, it will be on December 22 that Queen Elizabeth II passes the age at which Queen Victoria died on January 22, 1901, aged 81 years, seven months, four weeks and one day.

True, Victoria is still - thus far - our longest-reigning monarch. (She came to the throne younger and reigned for more than 63 years, whereas our Queen has not yet managed 56 years.)

But already, the reign of Elizabeth II has encompassed so much change and has witnessed so many remarkable achievements that it makes her seem almost a time-traveller, spanning not just six decades, but whole centuries.

The Britain of the early Fifties is so utterly different from Britain in 2007 that it is bizarre to think that we have the same head of state as we did when rationing was still in force and Churchill was Prime Minister.

But has this Queen's reign, like that of Victoria, been a time of British success, or of failure?

Will this, the second Elizabethan era, compare favourably with that of her great-great-grandmother?

Read the rest here.
Hat tip to Bill (aka The Godfather)