02 July 2016

Discoveries Among Benedictine Books



In the last few weeks I’ve made a happy series of discoveries about connections between some of my books. I’ll begin with the series of histories of English monasticism and religious orders by Dom David Knowles, which my dear friend, the old Ochlophobist, sent to me a few weeks ago. I began slowly reading the first of these upon receipt—The Monastic Order in England: A History of Its Development from the Times of St Dunstan to the Fourth Lateran Council, 943-1216 (Cambridge: Cambridge U, 1950)—and there are still three more to go: The Religious Orders in England, Vols. 1-3.

A footnote at the bottom of the first page of The Monastic Order in England made an intriguing reference to a work I had been rather mildly interested in for some years: ‘For a general view of Benedictine history, polity and life Abbot [Cuthbert] Butler’s Benedictine Monachism (1919; 2 ed. 1927) stands in a class by itself.’ [1] Thus it was that during my solitary sojourn on the campus of the University of Oklahoma a few weeks ago, I was excited to discover a copy of the second edition of Abbot Butler’s work in the old stacks of the Bizzell Library. This copy was a later reprint featuring a foreword by Dom David Knowles, and it was this forward that determined me on acquiring the book for myself. Knowles writes of Benedictine Monachism: ‘It was accepted at once as being, what it still remains, the best historical and analytical survey of Benedictine life in the English language, or indeed in any language, even if we may go to others for a fuller historical account or for a more adequate definition of the monastic spiritual ideal.’ [2]

Having received a copy in the mail earlier this week, I have begun reading it for myself. It is in this way that I made two more fun discoveries.

First, I learned from the second footnote of chapter II that Abbot Butler is responsible for the article on monasticism (and, according to a footnote on p. 16, an article on ‘Basilian monks’ as well!) in the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911), which rests on the shelf just a few feet away from me. I have not yet read these articles, but I now intend to.

But second, at the bottom of the very same page where Butler references his own EB 11 article, he also writes:

If it be desired to control what is here set forth by reference to historians of monasticism who stand outside the movement and criticize it from an independent standpoint, no better books in English can be recommended than those of Hannay and Workman, mentioned in the List of Works. [3]

Upon turning to the List of Works, which immediately precedes the beginning of chapter I, I found this:

It will be of interest to name also two writers who view monasticism from outside with a critical though not unfriendly eye; they both write with wide and accurate knowledge of the literature, old and new, and with sympathetic understanding: James O. Hannay (clergyman of the Church of Ireland), The Spirit and Origin of Christian Monasticism (1903); Herbert B. Workman, Principal of the Westminster Training College (Wesleyan), The Evolution of the Monastic Ideal (1913). Both books are frequently referred to in these pages. [4]

Although I had never heard of Hannay’s work, I immediately realised that although I had not recognised his surname, Workman’s Evolution of the Monastic Ideal was familiar to me as a book I had purchased in paperback reprint several years ago for just a few dollars (and which, embarrassingly, I have also not yet read!).

But the final discovery really brought a smile. The forward to my reprint of The Evolution of the Monastic Ideal was written by none other than Dom David Knowles, OSB! [5]


[1] Dom David Knowles, The Monastic Order in England: A History of Its Development from the Times of St Dunstan to the Fourth Lateran Council, 943-1216 (Cambridge: Cambridge U, 1950), p. 3, n. 1.

[2] Dom David Knowles, Foreword, Benedictine Monachism: Studies in Benedictine Life & Rule, by Dom Cuthbert Butler (NY: Barnes & Noble, 1961), no page number.

[3] Dom Cuthbert Butler, Benedictine Monachism: Studies in Benedictine Life & Rule, by Dom Cuthbert Butler (NY: Barnes & Noble, 1961), p. 11.

[4] Ibid., no page number.

[5] Dom David Knowles, Foreword, The Evolution of the Monastic Ideal from the Earliest Times Down to the Coming of the Friars: A Second Chapter in the History of Christian Renunciation, by Herbert B. Workman (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962), 13 pages, unnumbered.

29 June 2016

Imago Dei--The Anthropomorphite Controversy & St Gregory the Great




In large part because of my great devotion to St John Cassian and his writings, I have long taken a keen interest in the 4th- to 5th-century ‘Anthropomorphite-Origenist’ controversy in Egypt, and for the same reason I have for the most part tended to identify heavily with the ‘Origenist’ side of the controversy. St Cassian’s points in Conference 10 in fact seem fairly uncontroversial, and the ‘anthropomorphite’ position seems fairly indefensible from an Orthodox perspective.

This view was beautifully complicated for me by Bishop Alexander’s contribution to the festschrift for Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware)—‘The Vision of God & the Form of Glory: More Reflections on the Anthropomorphite Controversy of AD 399’ (see an earlier contribution by His Grace to the subject here). While I definitely appreciated His Grace’s ‘final word’ attempting to ‘make up a little for the injustices I may have done a Cassian, an Origen, or an Evagrius in the course of making my argument’ [1], I also appreciated in a different sense his main argument that the simplistic ‘Serapion’ of Conference 10 may not be entirely representative of the anthropomorphites themselves or of their position.

Well, today I was finally getting round to reading Tim Vivian’s introduction to his little volume for the SVS Popular Patristic Series—Four Desert Fathers: Pambo, Evagrius, Macarius of Egypt & Macarius of Alexandria. Vivian—in his discussion of Evagrius’s emphasis on imageless prayer and its possible role in the controversy—seems to hold a nuanced understanding of the controversy very similar to that of Bishop Alexander and informed by some of the same sources. Among others, he also refers to an essay by Fr Georges Florovsky that I don’t believe I have yet read myself entitled ‘Theophilus of Alexandria and Apa Aphou of Pemdje’. Vivian quotes Fr Georges’s explanation of the position of one of the ‘anthropomorphites’:


The sting of his argument was directed against the denial of God’s image in man, and there was no word whatever about any ‘human form’ in God. Aphou only contended that man, even in his present condition and in spite of all his misery and destitution, had to be regarded still as being created in the image of God, and must be, for that reason, respected. Aphou was primarily concerned with man’s dignity and honor. Theophilus, on the other hand, was embarrassed by man’s misery and depravity. [2]


I found this connection between the anthropomorphites’ emphasis on the imago Dei in man and the Origenists’ rejection of an imago hominis in God particularly interesting in light of something I had just read this morning in an author rather far removed in time and place from the controversy: St Gregory the Great. In his Homilies on Ezekiel, St Gregory links the human soul and God Himself in the process of mystical ascent, describing a kind of likeness between the two, but specifically rejecting the conception of not only the latter but of the former in terms of images. I shall quote this passage at length:


For we often wish to ponder the invisible nature of Almighty God but by no means avail, and the soul, wearied by the very difficulties, withdraws into herself and makes for herself and from herself the steps of her ascent, so that she first considers herself, if she can, and then examines insofar as she can that nature which is above her. But our mind, if spread out in carnal images, by no means suffices to consider itself or the nature of the soul because it is led by as many thoughts as it is, so to speak, blinded by obstacles. [3]


It is then that St Gregory begins to discuss precisely how God and the soul are connected and why they must both be approached without images. In the next passage the ellipses indicate where I have attempted to shorten the quote without, I hope, obscuring the argument.


9. Then the first step is to compose oneself, the second to see the like of this composure, the third to rise above oneself and by intention submit to the contemplation of the invisible Creator. But one by means composes himself unless he has first learned to curb the apparitions of earthly and heavenly images from his mind’s eye and cast out and tread down whatever of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste occurs to his bodily thought, in order that he may inwardly seek such as is free thereof….Then all things are to be driven away by the hand of discernment from the mind’s eye so that the soul may regard herself as she was created, above the body but below God, so that being quickened by her superior she may quicken the inferior which she administers….And when she performs such different actions through the senses she arranges them not by a diversity, but by that one reason in which she was created. When therefore the soul thinks of herself without bodily images she has already entered the first door. But this door leads on to the other in order that something from the nature of Almighty God may be contemplated. So the soul in the body is the life of the flesh, but God Who quickens all is the life of souls. Then if the quickened life is of such magnitude that it cannot be comprehended, who avails to comprehend with his understanding how great is the majesty of the Life which quickens? But the very consideration and discernment thereof is already to enter to some extent, because from her appraisement the soul gathers what she perceives of the uncircumscribed Spirit which incomprehensibly rules those things which He incomprehensibly created. [4]


Now, this is a very difficult passage, in part because St Gregory seems to be speaking of a lofty mystical experience which most of us have not shared. But I note that even in speaking of what one might call the contemplation of one’s own soul, he teaches that images must be driven out. The necessity of imageless contemplation of God, then, is even greater, for if the creature is incomprehensible, how much more the Creator?

What’s interesting to me about this is that it clearly appears to belong to the Origenists’ tradition (I’d be interested to see research on what St Gregory knew of Origen and Evagrius), and yet it does not—as one might expect from the quoted passage from Fr Georges’s essay—deny the imago Dei in man. Indeed, St Gregory seems to make much indeed of the divine image in the human soul—ascribing to it the very incomprehensibility that for the Origenists required the cultivation of total imagelessness in prayer to its divine Prototype.


[1] Bishop Alexander (Golitzin), ‘The Vision of God & the Form of Glory: More Reflections on the Anthropomorphite Controversy of AD 399’, Abba—The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West: Festschrift for Bishop Kallistos Ware, ed. Fr John Behr, Fr Andrew Louth, & Dimitri Conomos (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 2003), p. 295.

[2] Fr Georges Florovsky, ‘Theophilus of Alexandria and Apa Aphou of Pemdje’, Aspects of Church History, Vol. 4 of Collected Works (Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1975), p. 119; qtd. in Tim Vivian, Introduction, Four Desert Fathers: Pambo, Evagrius, Macarius of Egypt & Macarius of Alexandria (Crestwood, NY: 2004), p. 45.

[3] St Gregory the Great, The Homilies of St Gregory the Great On the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, tr. Theodosia Gray, ed. Presbytera Juliana Cownie (Etna, CA: CTOS, 1990), p. 209.
[4] Ibid., pp. 209-10.

28 May 2016

'Seeing With Tears'--Shaping Students' Affections



This is from an article I wrote for our school newsletter, the Epiphaneia, Spring 2016. I have left the formatting as it appears in the newsletter:


In his award-winning book, Dante the Maker, William Anderson relates Dante’s poetic techniques and achievement to fairly modern psychological theories. In one passage, he writes:


If the dominant hemisphere [of the brain] is concerned with what Michael Polanyi calls “explicit knowledge,” then the other hemisphere enfolds what he has pointed out as our much greater reserve of information, our “tacit knowledge.”…The voices, music, and mental visions of the Purgatorio [the second cantica of the Divine Comedy] are examples of the working of this non-dominant hemisphere, revealing how its function, rightly understood and used, seems to lead inward to the repose of contemplation.


It is a complex idea, and the potential ramifications are no doubt endless. But to my mind there is a direct connection between the “voices, music, and mental visions” of the Purgatorio—along with all of its other essentially educational techniques, running the gamut from didactic speech to the reliefs carved by the hand of God into the side of the mountain—and our desire to practice “shaping students’ affections for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.” For if students’ affections are to be shaped, and it must be admitted this is a daring proposition, then it will surely be less by explicit than by tacit knowledge. Indeed, I can’t help but think such a shaping will take place through something very like the Liturgy.

This is the basic intuition behind Reformed philosopher James K.A. Smith’s notion of liturgies “as pedagogies of (ultimate desire).” Of course, neither is it entirely unknown to the Protestant tradition before him. The great English reformer, Richard Hooker, famously observed:


Now men are edified, when either their understanding is taught somewhat whereof in such actions it behoveth all men to consider, or when their hearts are moved with any affection suitable thereunto….Because therefore unto this purpose not only speech but sundry sensible means besides have always been thought necessary, and especially those means which being object to the eye, the liveliest and most apprehensive sense of all other, have in that respect seemed the fittest to make a deep and a strong impression….


All of this is, of course, a commonplace among the Fathers. St. Gregory of Nyssa speaks of the “harmonious life” that “singing [the Psalms] seems to me to offer through symbols,” and St. John Damascene writes movingly of the effect upon him of liturgical art: “I have often seen images of this tender scene [the Sacrifice of Isaac] in pictures and I have not been able to pass from seeing it without tears, so skillfully does the artist bring this story to my sight.”

These men are obviously speaking primarily of the great tradition of the Church’s worship and liturgical arts. But the question remains, what does this shaping of the affections look like in the classroom?

I suggest it begins in two places: the material (or curriculum) and the teacher. The material, naturally, must be the best. We read the greatest, the most beautiful, the most true and morally good, but also in some cases simply the most important works of all time. They work in myriad ways upon students’ affections—through their language, their images, their stories, and often just in the spirit (or Spirit!) behind them, for “Christ plays in ten thousand places.” If this does not teach love of that which deserves it, I fear little else can.

In regard to the teacher, that giant of education, John Henry Cardinal Newman, has written: ‘The general principles of any study you may learn by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already.” Any teacher must be aware of his or her frequent failure to live up to this responsibility, but I daresay we can accomplish much here, in direct proportion, I believe, to our own love of the material itself. If the students sense how much we ourselves stand in adoration before the truths and beauties that we teach, then I think they must at least sense too the call of these upon their own hearts.