04 September 2012

Promises to Keep

Many apologies, dear readers, for the lack of posts over the last few weeks. I’m afraid I was quite busy—first, getting ready for and beginning the school year, and second, with my sister’s wedding and my own ordination to the diaconate (as of Sunday, 3 September/21 August). 

The latter event, of course, has loomed heavily in my mind, both before and after. Over 13 years ago, as an over-eager, clergy-wannabe, newbie convert of two or three years, I read the following words of Metropolitan Hierotheos and trembled, ‘Since the task of the deacon is to purify others of passions, he should himself, prior to ordination, have reached a stage of purification so that he is himself a living exponent of the practical philosophy.’ [1] That effectively cured me of any sense of urgency about ordination. When the final push came, it was very nearly decided without my input. As I remember it, Metropolitan Hilarion, Bishop Peter, my spiritual father, Fr Anthony, and my wife, Brighid, rather conspired against me, as it were, and now here we are. But I alone am responsible now. Met. Hierotheos’s major premise, of course, comes from St Dionysius the Areopagite, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy 5.6, 508A-B, [2] and it is a text of which I remain acutely aware as I go about the duties ahead of me. I can only ask that all forgive me for my complete failure to live up to the standards of the Gospel, and my presumption in accepting this position. I am perfectly serious about that. 

In other and more interesting news, I’ve been meaning for some weeks now to fulfill a charge. Holy Trinity Publications in Jordanville kindly sent me a review copy of the new edition of The Arena by St Ignatius (Brianchaninov), [3] which I have been comparing with my copy of the third printing (1991) of the original edition—a veritable antique of a book. [4] Hopefully, I shall manage a post on this in the next couple of days, and at the same time, pay homage to a friend for whom I am exceedingly worried. 

Finally, as a sort of pre-ordination gift from God, I suppose, my friend Lee Webb, theological librarian at my alma mater, informed me last week that he had something for me at the OCU library. I swung by on Friday after school, and in a state of shock was handed a box full of all 16 volumes of the 1914 edition of Baring-Gould’s Lives of the Saints. Apparently, they were to be simply discarded by the library, and my new best friend Lee immediately thought of yours truly. This, added to the recent gift by a subdeacon of my parish of a second-hand copy of Fr Zakaria Machitadze’s Lives of the Georgian Saints, [5] has nearly convinced me that it is the will of Providence that I go back to blogging about Saints. We shall see... 

[1] Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos, Orthodox Psychotherapy: The science of the Fathers, tr. Esther Williams (Levadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1994), p. 74. 

[2] Pages 237-8 of Luibheid’s translation. 

[3] St Ignatius (Brianchaninov), The Arena: Guidelines for Spiritual & Monastic Life, 2nd ed., tr. Archimandrite Lazarus (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity, 2012). 

[4] St Ignatius (Brianchaninov), The Arena: An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, tr. Archimandrite Lazarus (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity, 1991). 

[5] Archpriest Zakaria Machitadze, Lives of the Georgian Saints, tr. David & Lauren Elizabeth Ninoshvili, ed. Lado Mirianashvili & the St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2006).

12 August 2012

Voloshin's 'Holy Russia'

I am no longer quite the Russophile that I once was, but I still think a bit about Mother Russia every once in a while. I believe it was while I was turning over in my mind the words ‘all Rus’ from the commemoration of Patriarch Kiril in the liturgy this morning that I thought of one of my favourite poems from my Russophile days. In his wonderful anthology, The Heritage of Russian Verse, Sir Dimitri Obolensky included two pieces by a minor poet named Maximilian Voloshin (1877-1932). The second is entitled ‘Святая Русь’, or ‘Holy Russia’. Here is Obolensky’s ‘plain prose translation’ arranged into lines roughly reflecting the Russian verses, with a few interesting words from the Russian in brackets: 

Was it not for you that Suzdal' and Moscow
gathered the land apanage by apanage,
collected gold in a tightly packed bag,
stored up a dowry in their coffers,
and reared you as a bride
in a narrow [расписном], frescoed tower-room [терему]? 
Was it not for you that the Carpenter-Tsar [Плотник-Царь]
built by the sources of rivers a spacious house,
with windows looking out on to the five seas of the earth?
With your beauty and warlike strength
were you not the most desirable of brides
for the sons of foreign princes? 
But from childhood you had a liking
for wooden hermitages [скитов] deep in the forests,
for trackless lands of nomads in the steppes,
for free open spaces, for ascetics’ chains,
for pretenders, felons, and unfrocked monks,
for the whistling of Nightingale the Robber [Соловьиный посвист], and for prisons. [1] 
You did not want to belong to the Tsar,
and this is the way things turned out:
the enemy whispered: ‘Scatter and squander,
give away your treasure to the rich,
your power to slaves, your strength to your enemies,
to villeins your honour, to traitors your keys.’ 
You lent your ear to the evil counsel,
you gave yourself to the robber and to the felon,
you set fire to your suburbs and crops,
you laid waste your ancient dwelling-place,
and you went out humiliated and a beggar,
and the slave of the meanest slave. 
Shall I dare cast a stone at you?
Shall I condemn your wild and passionate flame?
Shall I not bow down [поклонюсь] before you with my face in the mud,
blessing the trace of your bare foot,
you homeless, wanton, drunken
Russia—fool in Christ [во Христе юродивая Русь]! [2] 

I never bothered to learn anything about Voloshin beyond Obolensky’s brief note that he was ‘a Symbolist...chiefly remarkable for his poems inspired by the Revolution which he hated and feared, but accepted as part of Russia’s spiritual destiny.’ [3] However, for the sake of this post I decided to consult Evelyn Bristol’s chapter on the years 1895-1925 for The Cambridge History of Russian Literature. Here is what I found: 

The minor poet Maximilian Voloshin (real name: Kirienko-Voloshin, 1877-1932) grew up in the Crimea and was later expelled from Moscow University for political activity. After spending several months in Siberia he went to Paris to continue his education, and there fell under the influence of José-Maria de Heredia for his own work. After travelling extensively in Mediterranean countries, he published a collection of poetry in Russia in 1910. Though his poems are often responses to such particular geographical locations as Paris, the Mediterranean, or the Crimea, they are characteristically intimate reflections on broad cultural themes, incorporating frequent allusions to myths, history, and biblical events. he could create memorable scens of the bleak coastal heights of the Crimea, and he knew the value of small but telling details. His overall philosophy was pessimistic from the start, however. 
After experiencing the First World War, the revolution of 1917 and the ensuing civil war, Voloshin wrote anti-militaristic works of which the most popular was Deaf-Mute Demons (Demony glukhonemye, 1919), which dealt with the violence and atrocities then afflicting contemporary Russia. He moved permanently to the Crimea, to Koktebel, where his house became a refuge for friends of all political and literary stripes and his poetry was infused with Christian mysticism and a new sense of mission. After 1923, however, he could no longer publish. [4] 

[1] Obolensky has a footnote on ‘Nightingale the Robber’ which reads, ‘A fantastic creature of Russian heroic poetry, half bird, half man.’ 

[2] Sir Dimitri Obolensky, ed., The Heritage of Russian Verse (Bloomington, IN: Indiana U, 1976), pp. 257-8. 

[3] Ibid., p. xxii. 

[4] Evelyn Bristol, ‘Turn of a century: modernism, 1895-1925’, The Cambridge History of Russian Literature, rev. ed., ed. Charles A. Moser (Cambridge: Cambridge U, 1995), p. 425. 

04 August 2012

CiRCE Report, Part I

I’ve decided rather than posting my CiRCE report all at once, to instead make it a two-parter. So here is Part 1, dealing with the various speakers heard on Thursday, 19 July. 

As I mentioned before, the conference theme was ‘A Contemplation of Creation’. Nine of us set out from OKC, including my wife and me and my terrific boss, Nathan Carr. We arrived Wednesday evening in time to stop by and say hello to Joshua Sturgill and Erin Doom, who were setting up the Eighth Day Books table, before heading to the welcoming reception. There, after reconnecting with Matt Bianco, Buck Holler, and Andrew Kern himself, I finally met the delightful Darren and Kimberly Jahn. Kimberly had recently (?) begun reading Logismoi and had already ingratiated herself by sending me a free copy of David Hicks’s Norms & Nobility. My wife and I decided to crash their dinner plans and get to know them a bit for the rest of the evening. 

Thursday morning began with an opening talk by Andrew Kern called ‘A Contemplation of Creation, Part I’. After an oligatory but meditative look at Genesis 1, Andrew quoted from Dorothy Sayers’s Mind of the Maker: ‘As soon as the mind of the maker has been made manifest in a work, a way of communication is established between other minds and his. That is to say, it is possible for a reader, by reading a book, to discover something about the mind of the writer.’ [1] This established the prevailing theme of the talk—the role of analogy in our understanding of God and creation. I don’t recall whether Andrew quoted it or not, but Wisdom 13:5 is a good statement of the thesis that makes use of the very term he emphasises—‘For by the greatness and beauty of the creatures analogously [ἀναλόγως] the Maker of them is seen.’ According to Andrew, our ‘habit of mind’ vis-a-vis creation should be primarily one of analogy rather than one of analysis.  

Next there was another plenary session, with John Mason Hodges talking about ‘Music & Metaphor: Towards a Sacramental View of Creation’. Hodges opened by emphasising that the Scriptural metaphors used for Christ—the vine, the bread, etc.—use things made by Him in order to describe Him. In other words, Christ is not ‘like’ a vine, the vine is ‘like’ Christ. He then segued into the topic of music by pointing out that metaphors function by bringing two things together in harmony—the sign and the signified. The bulk of the talk however consisted of an analysis of three movements from Holst’s The Planets—Jupiter, Mars, and Venus—and of the Louis Armstrong/Ella Fitzgerald duet, ‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off’. Hodges highlighted the metaphorical meanings in the music of Holst’s suite, and of the lyrics (primarily) of the Gershwin composition (focusing in particular on the lines ‘But oh, if we call the whole thing off / Then we must part / and oh, if we ever part, then that might break my heart’). 

At the first breakout session, I chose to attend a talk by Edward Chandler on ‘Language & Creation: Man, the Image of God’. Chandler began by discussing the imago Dei, arguing that approaches to the subject could be grouped into three categories: the material (entailing an anthropomorphic theology); the psychic/noetic, i.e., the idea that the soul or mind is the image, and is merely housed in a container (Chandler thought that this seemed to be the tendency of St Augustine as well as what he called ‘my beloved Cappadocians’!); and finally, the composite, a psychosomatic emphasis, which he identified with Aquinas (but I associated primarily with St Gregory Palamas and the Philocalic tradition generally). Chandler’s point was that language as a God-given ability was bound up with the imago in part because it is itself a psychosomatic unity (immaterial thought or meaning + material sign), but also because human language is analogous to God, who uses language to create in Genesis. Chandler connected this with liberal studies by pointing out that the inevitable offspring of language is literature, and that we learn classical languages in order to read literatures. In this way, language enables us to know ourselves as human beings. For Chandler, this meant that Latin instruction, for instance, should move as quickly as possible into the reading of texts, and not focus on grammar per se

Lunch on Thursday was spent in the charming company of Dr John Patrick of Augustine College in Ottawa, an abridgement of whose essay, ‘The Myth of Moral Neutrality’, I had just read in Doxa, the newsletter of St Michael’s Skete. Unfortunately, Dr Patrick’s deep well of fascinating stories made me quite late to the next breakout—Earl Nelson’s earnest talk on ‘Contemplating Babel: The Spiritual Dimensions of Learning Latin & Languages’. Nelson discussed the story of Babel as an account of the splitting up, not only of languages, but of cultures and thought-worlds. He sees it as a locus of estrangement on two levels—between different cultures (usually a synchronic estrangement), and between a present culture and its own past (more like a diachronic estrangement). Nelson saw language learning as the process of a becoming part of another culture and overcoming the divisions of Babel. He was quite firm about the importance of gaining fluency in reading the classical languages, and not being content merely to produce translations, whether mental or written. 

Thursday came to an end with a 3-man panel consisting of Martin Cothran, David Hicks, and Gregory Wolfe (of Image Journal) discussing Christian views of creation while in the roles of St Athanasius the Great, St Basil the Great, and St Augustine, respectively. In the spirit of the KU Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, on which this feature of CiRCE conferences is based, I did not take notes. Instead I simply sat and listened, and when Andrew Kern refilled the participants’ wine glasses, managed to procure a swig for myself. It started very slowly and awkwardly (though not without humour), but ended up being an interesting discussion. I was thrilled to hear Hicks (St Basil) tell Cothran (St Athanasius) that his favourite book by him was the Vita Antonii (as I mentioned here). Wolfe repeatedly mentioned ‘hanging out’ with a bunch of no-goodniks who theologically denigrated creation (the Manichaeans), and emphasised that his Confessions highlighted the allegory of Genesis in part to overturn Manichaean ideas. Unfortunately, Hicks seemed to get a bit confused about St Basil’s dates, but I doubt any non-Patristics folks noticed. 

Because the CiRCE prize-giving banquet was scheduled for Friday eve, the PH staff elected to have our traditional dinner out together on Thursday evening. I ate a sickening number of ribs at Ramsi’s Cafe in Louisville, browsed a bookshop, and had a brief conversation with Joshua Sturgill (of Eighth Day), Stacy Shipman (itinerant Orthodox student/teacher), and Nyleen Lacy (of the brand-new Orthodox classical school, Christ the Savior Academy in Wichita) before returning to the hotel to find part of its roof had been ripped off by a tornado. Thanks to God, no one seems to have been injured. 

[1] Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979), p. 49.

03 August 2012

Liturgical Consummation, Part III: St John Damascene

This will be the final installment in my ‘Liturgical Consummation’ series of posts consisting of excised material from a forthcoming paper called ‘Likeness & Approach: M.M. Bakhtin, C.S. Lewis, & the Liturgical Consummation of Literary Genre’ (first post here, second here). The more time goes by since I wrote these, the less I like them, but here you go anyway. 

c) St John Damascene 

The Paschal Canon (Anastaseos emera) of St John Damascene (c. 655-c. 750) [1]—still sung at the Easter Vigil in all churches of the Byzantine rite [2]—is a supreme example of the paradoxical possibilities of Christian liturgical poetry. Egon Wellesz notes that this hymn is traditionally referred to as ‘The Golden Canon’ or ‘The Queen of Canons’, [3] and the great Modern Greek writer and painter, Photios Kontoglou calls it ‘immortal’. [4] The canon form, like the Ambrosian stanzas used by St Venantius, constitutes a divergence from the ancient genres stemming from the acceptance among Christian poets of the loss of the classical long- / short-vowel distinction in the ancient meters. Already with the kontakion, the generic predecessor of the canon, ‘A new system of versification had developed based on the principle that all the stanzas had to have the same number of syllables as the Hirmus [the eirmos, or model-strophe of the form] on which they were modeled and that the stress accents had to have the same place in all the stanzas as in the verses of the Hirmus.’ [5] It was a new prosody based on the changing sound-patterns of the living language—which had become ‘qualitatively a different thing for the consciousness that creates in it’ [6]—yet still requiring great skill to compose. [7] A canon consisted of eight or nine ‘odes,’ each made up of six to nine stanzas (or troparia), but later only two, based on the same eirmos. [8] 

Here are the first stanza of the ‘First Ode’ (the eirmos of that ode) and the third stanza of the ‘Third Ode’ (really the second of the odes, since there is no ‘Second Ode’ on Pascha) of St John’s Paschal canon: 

This is the day of Resurrection
let us be radiant, O peoples [laoi]:
Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha;
for from death to life
and from earth to heaven
Christ God
hath passed us,
as we sing the victory hymn. 
Yesterday I was buried with Thee, O Christ,
I arise with Thee today in Thy Resurrection.
I was crucified with Thee yesterday—
glorify me with Thyself, O Savior,
in Thy Kingdom. [9] 

The Subject of the first of these stanzas is appropriately Heroic, and the faithful rightly sing to Him a victory hymn. Note the contrasts, however, between death and life, earth and heaven: the poet is acknowledging the lowliness inherent in nearness to God by approach by describing human beings as being ‘passed’ [10] by Christ from the lowliness of death and earth to a share in the God-like categories of life and heaven. The poet addresses ‘peoples,’ the term laos, which St John uses in the plural. This apostrophe represents the intermingling of different cultures and classes in the assembly of the Church, St Ephrem’s ‘Church of the Nations’. [11] But while the laos certainly constitutes the ‘visible community’ that performs the ‘mysterious work (ergon)’ of the liturgy, [12] in a further dimension of the polyphony of the hymn, the apostrophe also calls upon the Church Triumphant, which is invisible, as it seeks ‘assistance for projects related to the vocation of the liturgical journey’. [13] More importantly, the second-person plural verb ‘let us be radiant’ (lamprynthomen) identifies the poet with the people, once again, in a chorus: Bakhtin almost seems to be speaking of this canon when he writes, ‘This expression of value [here, of the desire for life, for heaven] becomes strong and powerful (not naturally and physically, but axiologically strong and powerful, axiologically victorious and conquering) only in the chorus of others.’ [14] 

The second stanza quoted here recognizes the paradox by which it is in crucifixion and burial with Christ—by following the cruciform way of approach—that one draws near to God and puts on His divine qualities. Our nearness, the intermingling of the Highest and the lowest, is signified by the prefix syn- attached to each of the Greek verbs in the stanza and represented in English by the preposition ‘with’. But this sharing is only made possible by the Incarnation, the prior condescension of God Himself. [15] A reference to this hymn in the work of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Greek writer, Alexandros Papadiamandis, should make a fitting coda to these observations: 

[Upon hearing the] allegro, the first hirmos, that is to say, of the canon of the day [Easter] . . . [little Toto] leapt for joy, and her little face lit up. Her eyes, her mouth, her cheeks, all became more beautiful and smiled an ineffable smile of joy. It moved me. It seems that those inspired songs of our holy Church truly have an ineffable fragrance and beauty, witnessed to from the mouths of babes and sucklings. [16] 

In the doxological mode of liturgical poetry, the poet is able to celebrate the humble and the lowly, that which is near to God by approach—‘For,’ as a Byzantine hymn for the Nativity asks, ‘what is meaner than a cave, what is humbler than swaddling clothes?’ [17] But through paradox these poets lose none of the solemnity, the ‘specific delightfulness’ of ritual, which is nearness by likeness—‘Yet therein shone forth the wealth of Thy divinity: glory to Thee, O Lord.’ [18] It is in this way—holding in tension the categories of nearness to God by likeness and approach—that liturgical poetry represents a ‘consummation’ of literature. 

[1] These dates are based on Fr Andrew Louth, St John Damascene: Tradition & Originality in Byzantine Theology (Oxford: Oxford U, 2002), p. 5. 

[2] It was also turned into a rather unimpressive English hymn by the great John Mason Neale: Hymn 132 in Hymns Ancient & Modern, standard ed. (London: William Clowes, 1916), p. 133. It is easy to see why even the ‘hymns ancient’ are not exempted from Lewis’s criticism of the book in Reflections on the Psalms, p. 94. 

[3] Egon Wellesz, A History of Byzantine Music & Hymnography, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford U, 1961), p. 206. 

[4] Constantine Cavarnos, Byzantine Sacred Art (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies), p. 145. 

[5] Wellesz, p. 181. 

[6] Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, tr. Caryl Emerson & Michael Holquist (Austin: U of Texas, 1998), p. 12. 

[7] Wellesz, pp. 181-2. 

[8] Wellesz, p. 198. 

[9] My translation. For the full Greek text with translation, see Wellesz, pp. 207-14. 

[10] This is a reference to the Hebrew meaning of ‘Pascha’ inspired by the Oration 45.10 of St Gregory of Nazianzus. For the passage in St Gregory see St Gregory the Theologian, On God & Christ: The Five Theological Orations & The Letter to Cledonius, tr. Frederick Williams & Lionel Wickham (Crestwood, NY: SVS, ), p. 170; for an analysis of St John’s use of the orations of St Gregory in this hymn see Louth, p. 260. 

[11] Sebastian Brock, The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of St Ephrem, rev. ed. (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1992), p. 119. 

[12] Catherine Pickstock, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), p. 159. 

[13] Pickstock, p. 193. 

[14] Mikhail Bakhtin, Art & Answerability, eds. Michael Holquist & Vadim Liapunov, tr. Vadim Liapunov (Austin: U of Texas, 1995), p. 169. 

[15] Louth, p. 262. 

[16] Qtd. in Anestis Keselopoulos, Greece’s Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis (Thessaloniki: Protecting Veil, 2011), pp. 173-4. 

[17] The Festal Menaion, tr. Mother Mary & Archimandrite Kallistos (Ware) (South Canaan, PA: STS, 1998), p. 272. 

[18] Ibid., p. 272.

01 August 2012

'Quickly to Saint Elias'

Today, 20 July on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of the Prophet Elijah the Tishbite (believed to have lived in the 9th century BC). I did a full post on St Elijah way back in 2009 when I was still a relatively new blogger. This will not be a full post in the old Logismoi style, but merely a couple of things I thought of posting related to the Prophet. 

First of all, it has long been noted that St Elijah has been taken as a type of the Christian monk. William Harmless has, for instance, pointed out the Elijah typology in St Athanasius’s famous Vita Antonii (which David Hicks at the CiRCE conference called his favourite book by St Athanasius): 

The most significant biblical type for Antony is Elijah. Athanasius says that Antony ‘used to tell himself that from the career of the prophet Elijah, as from a mirror, the ascetic must always acquire knowledge of his own life’ (VA 7). [1] Like Elijah, Antony is called a ‘man of God’ (VA 70; cf. 1 Kgs 17:18; 2 Kgs 1:9-13). Like Elijah, he dwells in the desert and is described as ‘seated in his mountain’ (VA 59, 60, 66, 84, 93; cf. 2 Kgs 1:9). Like Elijah, he win [sic] duels against those who worship false gods and foretells the death of a military commander who comes out to the desert to seize him (VA 86; cf. 1 Kgs 18, 2 Kgs 1). In 2 Kings, Elijah hands down his cloak to his disciple Elisha; in the Life, Antony has two Elishas, so to speak, handing down one sheepskin and his cloak to Athanasius and the other sheepskin to Serapion (VA 91; cf. 2 Kgs 2:13 ff.). In the preface, Athanasius says that he learned all that he could of Antony from a longtime disciple who had ‘poured water over his hands’, an allusion to 2 Kgs 3:11, in which Elisha is described as pouring water into the hands of Elijah. This Elisha-like informant was, presumably, Serapion (VA praef.). [2] 

Somewhat along the lines of the comment Harmless cites from VA 7, St Macarius the Great seems to find a deeper significance to the connection between the Prophet Elijah and the monastic life than the external desert life per se. In Homily 6.2, St Macarius writes: 

It is not becoming a servant of God to live in a state of disturbance, but rather in all tranquility and wisdom as the Prophet said, ‘Unto whom shall I look but unto him that is meek and quiet and that trembles at my words?’ (Is 66:2). And in the times of Moses and Elijah we find that in the visions granted them, even though there was a great display of trumpets and powers before the majesty of the Lord, still, amidst all of these things, the coming of the Lord was discerned and he appeared in peace and tranquillity and quietness. For it says: ‘Lo, a still, silent voice and the Lord was in it’ (1 Kgs 19:12). This proves that the Lord’s rest is in peace and tranquillity. For whatever foundation a person lays and whatever beginning he makes, he will continue in that until the end. [3] 

So the experience of the Prophet Elijah on Mt Horeb is taken as a model of the contemplative (theoretic) life—indeed, of hesychia itself. 

It is interesting to note that in the West, the model of the Prophet Elijah eventually became connected especially with an order that—while it later became part of the movement of mendicant friars, along with Franciscans and Dominicans—was originally a collection of hermits living in the Holy Land on Mt Carmel itself during the Crusades. As Thomas Merton observes: 

The Carmelites were originally hermits. And of course their life was the traditional hermit life known to the East from the earliest centuries of the Church. They lived as the desert fathers had lived eight hundred years earlier....They were in fact simple laymen, living as solitaries in a loosely connected group, in caves and huts on the side of Mt Carmel. Their manner of life was not yet institutionalized, and even when [c. 1209-1214] they first asked for a Rule, from the hands of the [Latin] Patriarch of Jerusalem [Albert of Jerusalem], that Rule was, as we shall see, deliberately kept simple and uncomplicated....In the words of the Rule itself, [the purpose of the Carmelite life] was: ‘Let each one remain in his cell or near it, meditating day and night on the Law of the Lord, and vigilant in prayer, unless he is legitimately occupied in something else.’ [4] 

And on the connection with the Prophet Elijah, ‘the symbolic adoption by the Carmelites of the prophet Elias as their “Founder”’: 

It is quite true that the hermits living on the slopes of Mt Carmel, near the ‘spring of Elias’, where the prophet himself had prayed and dwelt alone, and where the ‘sons of the prophets’ had had a ‘school’, [5] could themselves claim to be descendants of the ancient prophets. It is quiet true that Elias, in a broad sense, was the ‘founder’ of this way of life since he had in fact been the inspiration of those countless generations that had lived there in the places hallowed by his memory and stamped with his indelible character. [6] 

Finally, Merton notes that the Carmelites too found a deep typology in the Prophet of what appears to an Orthodox reader as an almost hesychastic contemplative experience of their own: 

The author of that moving ancient text on the spirit of Carmelite prayer and contemplation, the Institution of the first Fathers, interprets the retirement of Elias in typical medieval style. To hide in the torrent of Carith (2 Kgs 17:3) is to embrace the ascetical life, which leads to the perfection of charity by one’s own efforts, aided by the grace of God. To drink of the torrent is to passively receive the secret light of contemplation from God and to be inwardly transformed by His wisdom: ‘...to taste, in a certain manner, in our heart, and to experience in our spirit the power of the divine presence and the sweetness of the glory from on high, not only after death but even in this mortal life. That is what is really meant by drinking from the torrent of the joy of God...’ [7] 

One wonders if these Latin pilgrims had perhaps learned something from Orthodox monks that may have been living in the area. 

Finally, to bring the consideration of St Elijah down to the level of the ordinary life of traditional Christian laymen, in her fascinating book, Cosmos, Life & Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village, Juliet du Boulay writes: 

...there is a hint, in a poem to the Prophet Elias (Elijah) quoted later, that mountain tops are regarded as openings to the heavenly world. This prophet customarily has his churches on the tops of hills and mountains, so the invocation of Elias is the invocation of one who, as the inhabitant of the mountain peaks, lives at the point where earth meets heaven. [8] 

Eventually, du Boulay makes good on her promise to quote the poem, sung by young girls who perform a traditional folk ritual in traditional Greek villages on 1 May: 

Quickly, quickly,
Quickly to Saint Elias;
And Saint Elias to the sky
So that God will send rain
For the wheat, for the barley,
For all the grains of God.
Holes, holes for the wine,
Channels, channels for the water.
The farmer with his mattock
To stop the water running out. [9] 

In du Boulay’s words: 

The song takes the form of a call to the village to appeal to the Prophet Elias, previously noted as having his churches on mountain tops in reflection of his vision of God on Mt Horeb, so that he will intercede ‘for all the grains of God’, and its structure is parallel with a similar prayer made every week in the Divine Liturgy during the Litany of Peace: ‘For temperate weather, for abundance of the fruits of the earth, and for peaceful seasons, let us pray to the Lord.’ The structure in both is of an intercession made directly to a holy figure, and what is prayed for, translated as temperate weather (εὐκρασία ἀέρων), means precisely a good mixture or a good balance of the atmosphere, whose consequence is fruitfulness. Thus the symbolic language, which could be ambiguous on its own, is in the song and the mime that accompanies it made into a pattern of words and actions which is continuous with the pattern of prayer offered in church. [10] 

Although I’ve never witnessed this little ritual, I did have the good fortune once to attend a Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Prophet Elijah at one of these little hilltop churches du Boulay mentions. My chief memories are of a woolly Pontian priest whose Greek dialect I couldn’t understand at all, and of the lingering breakfast in the cool shade just outside of the church. 

[1] This remarkable comment is found on p. 37 of Robert Gregg’s translation—St Athanasius the Great, The Life of Antony & The Letter to Marcellinus, tr. Robert C. Gregg (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1980), p. 37. 

[2] William Harmless, Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism (Oxford: Oxford U, 2004), p. 70. I've added the citations from VA and from Scripture to the text, whereas Harmless had them in endnotes. 

[3] St Macarius the Great, Pseudo-Macarius: The Fifty Spiritual Homilies & The Great Letter, tr. George A. Maloney (NY: Paulist, 1992), p. 76. 

[4] Thomas Merton, ‘The Primitive Carmelite Ideal’, Disputed Questions (NY: The New American Library, 1965), p. 168. 

[5] Merton notes here: ‘Schola not only in the sense of a place where one learns, but in the more original and etymological sense of a place of leisure, quiet and retirement, where one can think deeply’ (ibid., p. 169, n. 2). 

[6] Ibid., p. 169. 

[7] Ibid., p. 172. 

[8] Juliet du Boulay, Cosmos, Life, & Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Village (Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, 2009), pp. 33-4. 

[9] Ibid., p. 88. 

[10] Ibid., p. 89.

30 July 2012

Imitating the Bees—Logismoi & Comparisons

No, I have not forgotten my promise to write a report on the CiRCE Conference we went to in Louisville two weeks ago. In fact, I have already made a beginning, but have yet to complete it. In the meantime, besides all of the summertime activities that have conspired against me, our air conditioner went out during church on Saturday, and this with a week before us of temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and rising. [1] We spent a hot and sleepless night at home, and then after lunch on Sunday, I came home to get some things before we headed over to my parents’ house to spend the night. There was a funeral this morning, and we only just returned home this afternoon. All that is to say, that I certainly plan on finishing up that post sometime this week! 

In the meantime, I have a couple of things to share on a theme that is important to the raison d’être of this blog. In a 1999 critique of Met. Kallistos’s popular book, The Orthodox Way, a critique which by now should be familiar to most Orthodox on the more traditionalist side of things, Hieromonk Patapios of the Old Calendarist monastery of St Gregory Palamas in Etna, CA, writes: 

Furthermore, when Bishop Kallistos cites the Talmud to the effect that the glory of God is man, and then goes on to quote the famous statement of St Irenaeus of Lyons that ‘the glory of God is a living man’, can he be sure that, despite their external similarity, the same intention lies behind both of these remarks (one clearly Christocentric and the other obviously not), or that they really mean the same thing? If he cannot be sure, then what is the relevance of the quotation from the Talmud? [2] 

Now, the reason I took note of this statement when rereading Hieromonk Patapios’s article the other day is that much of what I do at Logismoi might well fall under the same critique. It’s true that I don’t typically compare the Fathers with non-Christian writings, but my recent posts drawing on Roman Catholic authors like James Taylor (here and here for instance) might be seen by some Orthodox as a species of the same thing. Indeed, I do not wholly deny the charge. It may well be that the statements I have taken from Roman Catholic or Protestant authors in order to compare them with comments by the Fathers or other Orthodox authors do not ‘mean the same thing’ as the latter. Actually, I am rather certain that the distinctive Orthodox doctrine of the uncreated energies of God could be found to pose a fundamental obstacle to attempts to reconcile many theological statements across the East-West divide. My aim in making such comparisons is not to insist that these authors are saying exactly the same thing or that ‘the same intention lies behind’ their remarks’, but, first of all, simply to point out connections that naturally occur to me (as I frequently say, ‘This reminded me of something else...’), and second, to pose the question of whether there mightn’t be something in common between them. I typically avoid making any real claim that there is, if only because I sometimes fear that it might just look that way because I want it to. 

By an interesting coincidence, I was reminded of this recently not only by Hieromonk Patapios’s shrewd rhetorical questions, but also by some statements of one of these Roman Catholic authors themselves. In The Death of Christian Culture, John Senior writes: 

The best of us are prone to sophistry when an obvious truth contradicts a strong desire. Recent ecumenical commissions from various churches have tried to create approaches to unity by reconstructing their articles of faith so as to make room for contradictory articles of faith held by others. [3] 

Having quoted a troubling example (which I hope to share on Logismoi soon), Senior concludes, ‘The only rational way for Protestants and Catholics [and Orthodox, of course] to get along together is to practice the difficult virtue of tolerance—not to falsify their claims by ambiguities.’ [4] 

I must admit that for various reasons I do in fact have ‘a strong desire’ to find points in whatever I read that can be reconciled with or that at least bear a modicum of similarity to Orthodox belief. But I do not want my irenicism in this respect to be mistaken for a facile kind of ecumenism. I believe, with Fr Georges Florovsky, that the Orthodox Church ‘is in very truth the Church, i.e. the true Church and the only true Church.’ 

I believe this for many reasons: by personal conviction and by the inner testimony of the Spirit which breathes in the sacraments of the Church and by all that I could learn from Scripture and from the universal tradition of the Church. I am therefore compelled to regard all other Christian churches as deficient, and in many cases I can identify these deficiencies accurately enough. Therefore, for me, Christian reunion is simply universal conversion to Orthodoxy. I have no confessional loyalty; my loyalty belongs solely to the Una Sancta
I know well that my claim will be disavowed by many Christians. It will seem an arrogant and futile claim. I know well that many things I belive with full and uttermost conviction are disbelieved by others. Now, I do not see any reason whatsoever to doubt them or disbelieve them myself....This does not mean that everything in the past or present state of the Orthodox Church is to be equated with the truth of God. Many things are obviously changeable; indeed, many things need improvement. The true Church is not yet the perfect Church. 
The Church of Christ has to grow and be built up in history. Yet the whole and the full truth has been already given and entrusted to the Church. Revision and re-statement are always possible, and sometimes imperative. The whole past history of the Ecumenical Councils is evidence of this fact. The holy Fathers of the Church were engaged in this task. Yet on the whole, the ‘deposit’ was faithfully kept and the testimony of faith was gained in accuracy and precision. Above all, the sacramental structure of the Body has been kept integral and intact. Here again, I know that this conviction of mine may be rejected as an illusion. For me, it is a matter of evidence. If this is obstinacy, it is the obstinacy of evidence. I can only see what I actually do see. I cannot help it. But in no way am I going to ‘un-church’ anyone. The judgment has been given to the Son. No one is entitled to anticipate his judgment. Yet the Church has her own authority in history. It is first the authority to teach and to faithfully keep the word of truth. There is a certain rule of faith and order that is to be regarded as normal. What is beyond is just abnormal. But the abnormal should be cured, and not simply condemned.... [5] 

I have quoted Fr Georges at length because I want my position to be as clear as possible, and it is identical with his. I want all that I write here to be read in light of these convictions. I shall continue to make comparisons, to find the best that I can in non-Orthodox and even non-Christian culture. But I want this project to be as it was always intended to be—a carrying out of St Basil’s injunction to imitate the bee in carrying away pollen from various flowers, not an attempt to iron out differences across creeds and cultures.  

[1] Of course, some of my most consistent reading material of the last year—John Senior and his student James Taylor—has argued persuasively that climate control is inimical to the ‘poetic mode of knowledge’. Indeed, it is a position I had come to, though without the aid of that expression, on my own some time ago. The trouble, however, is twofold. First, our modern buildings are built to be climate-controlled, so if the AC breaks, there is no way to naturally cool it and it becomes unfit for human habitation. (My own house would seem to be exempt from this, having been built before AC. But it was long ago sealed up and insulated by the landlords. Even the windows are painted shut.) Second, I do in fact currently have a pregnant wife to consider. I make up for these things myself by leaving the AC off in the car when I’m driving without her and simply rolling down the windows—which has to be done by hand in our car! 

[2] Hieromonk Patapios, ‘Critical Comments on Bishop Kallistos’ The Orthodox Way’, Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XVI, 3 & 4 (1999), p. 35. 

[3] John Senior, The Death of Christian Culture (Norfolk, VA: IHS, 2008), p. 16. 

[4] Ibid., p. 17. 

[5] Protopresbyter Georges Florovsky, ‘The True Church’, tr. Linda Morris, Ecumenism I: A Doctrinal Approach, Vol. 13 in The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, ed. Richard S. Haugh (Vaduz: Büchervertriebsanstalt, 1989), pp. 134-5.

26 July 2012

'Before it's light / the birds waken'—Wendell Berry & The Northern Thebaid

Fresh from hearing Wendell Berry speak at the CiRCE conference in Louisville last week, I was reading one of his poems on the porch yesterday—‘The Handing Down’, which centers around an aging man, his memories of the past and his thoughts of the future. At one point, in section seven, Berry writes: 

He has dreamed of a town 
fit for the abiding of souls 
and bodies that might live forever. 

He has seen it as in a far-off 
white and gold evening 
of summer, the black flight 

of swifts turning above it 
in the air. There’s a clarity 
in which he has not become clear, 

his body dragging a shadow, 
half hidden in it. [1] 

These lines remind me of two accounts of visions from the Lives of the Northern Russian monastic Saints: The Northern Thebaid. Both of these Saints spent a considerable amount of time living a semi-eremitic life in the forests before attracting disciples and founding monasteries that later grew into enormous institutions—really, small cities in the wilderness around which secular cities later developed. Following the order of Berry’s images, I’ll begin with St Cyril of White Lake (Belozersky): 

...Once, when he was singing the Akathist before the Icon of the Theotokos and had reached the eighth kontakion: ‘Seeing the strange Nativity, let us become strangers to the world and transport our minds to heaven’—suddenly he heard a voice: ‘Cyril, go forth from here to White Lake (Belo-ozero); there I have prepared a place for you where you can be saved.’ Together with this voice there shone a great light from the northern side; the Saint opened the window of his cell and saw as if by a finger the place shown to him where now the monastery stands. His heart was filled with joy from the voice and the vision, and all night he remained in prayer; but this night was for him already as most bright day. [2] 

The old man’s vision of a town ‘fit for the abiding of souls / and bodies that might live forever’, which he sees ‘as in a far-off / white and gold evening / of summer’, recalls for me St Cyril’s vision of light indicating a future monastery. The connection works, whether it is the heavenly city itself that the man sees, since the monastery is a type of that city, or another earthly city that, like the monastery, as also only a type. But it was actually ‘the black flight / of swifts turning above it / in the air’ that first reminded me of The Northern Thebaid. In the Life of St Sergius of Radonezh, we read: 

It happened late one night that the Saint was keeping vigil, performing the usual rule and praying for the brotherhood, when he heard a voice calling, ‘Sergius.’ He was astonished, and, after praying, he opened the window of his cell and beheld a marvellous vision. An extraordinary radiance shone in the heavens; the night sky was illumined by its brilliance, exceeding the light of day. A second time the voice called, ‘Sergius! You pray for your children; God has heard your prayer. Behold what a great number of monks has come together in the Name of the Holy Trinity, in your fold, and under your guidance.’ 

The Saint looked and beheld a multitude of beautiful birds flying not only to the monastery, but all around the monastery; and again he heard the voice, saying, ‘As many birds as you see, by so many will your flock of disciples increase; and after your time they will not grow less if they will desire to follow in your footsteps.’...[3] 

In Berry’s poem, there is no clear or necessary connection between the vision of the town and the ‘swifts turning above it / in the air’. They may just be an incidental detail, a touch of nature added to an otherwise otherworldly experience. But for the Saint, the birds clearly signify something. Indeed, the voice he hears tells him outright that there is an analogy between the ‘multitude of beautiful birds’ and the ‘flock of disciples’ that will multiply and fill his monastery. It is an instance of Nature herself turned prophet. 

But is there any reason to believe that Berry’s birds in this stanza may be connected with the town? Are they, like St Sergius’s birds, a symbolic image of souls? Perhaps. Just a little bit earlier in the poem, in section five, Berry writes: 

Before it’s light 
the birds waken, and begin 
singing in the dark trees 

around the house, among the leaves 
over the dampened roofs 
of the still town 

and in the country thickets 
for miles. Their voices 
reach to the end of the dark. [4] 

Now, I think there can be no doubt that these are literal birds. But they may also be fortelling the birds of section seven, indicating, it may be, their function. For this passage, which is essentially about an early morning vigil, reminds me of another poem, but one which continues the connection we see in The Northern Thebaid. In his ‘After the Night Office—Gethsemani Abbey’, Thomas Merton writes: 

Praises and canticles anticipate 
Each day the singing bells that wake the sun, 
But now our psalmody is done. 
Our hasting souls outstrip the day: 
Now, before dawn, they have their noon. [5] 

So the Trappist monks of Kentucky, like the birds, are arising to sing before dawn. Of course, they are inside the abbey church, not outside in the trees. But in the final stanza the poet evokes briefly the image of the land around their monastery, via its buildings: 

But now the lances of the morning 
Fire all their gold against the steeple and the water-tower. [6] 

In Allen Tate’s words, ‘Vision, giving us clear visual objects, through physical sight, moving steadily upward towards its anagogical transfiguration, is the first matrix of the vast analogical structure.’ [7] So perhaps Berry’s birds singing before the dawn suggest something of what the inhabitants of this town ‘fit for the abiding of souls / and bodies that might live forever’ must be up to. For what better preparation can we find for eternal life than doxology? And what else does the pilgrim discover as it rises ‘towards its anagogical transfiguration’ than the throngs of souls and the cœlestial choir singing the praises of the Most High? 

[1] Wendell Berry, Collected Poems, 1957-1982 (NY: North Point-Farrar, 2001), p. 43. 

[2] Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) & Hieromonk Herman (Podmoshensky), eds. & tr., The Northern Thebaid: Monastic Saints of the Russian North (Forestville, CA: Fr Seraphim Rose Foundation-St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1995), p. 55. 

[3] Ibid., p. 31. 

[4] Berry, p. 41. 

[5] Thomas Merton, Selected Poems of Thomas Merton, enlarged ed. (NY: New Directions, 1967), p. 48. 

[6] Ibid., p. 49. 

[7] Allen Tate, ‘The Symbolic Imagination’, The Southern Critics: An Anthology, ed. Glenn C. Arbery (Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2010), p. 291.

22 July 2012

Habent sua fata libelli: Preliminary Post-CiRCE Post

In my last post, I promised a full report on the CiRCE Institute conference in Louisville last week. I fully intend to keep that promise, but as it’s going to take some work, and as I’m still recovering from the experience (including a physical injury!), I intend to fulfill a simpler task with this post and postpone the report for a couple of days.

The title of the post is a Latin phrase meaning—for those barbarians unlearned in the mother tongue of the West—‘Books have their fates’. It is taken from the 2nd-c. grammarian, Terentianus Maurus (see a brief account on this great but short-lived blog of Latin quotes). I use it to indicate the theme of this post—the fate of three books borne all the way to Louisville from Wichita, KS, by intrepid Eighth Day Books employee, Joshua Sturgill. After the gruelling trip from the gentle Midwest to the geographically vanguard state of the Confederacy, these three books were fated to return to the rolling plains, only this time a bit farther South, to the Red Earth of Oklahoma and the Taylor home, with its sprawling library. 

One book set out from Wichita already in full knowledge of its fate. I texted Joshua at least a week before the conference to request that he bring along a copy of the recently published English translation of St Nicodemos the Hagiorite’s Χρηστήθεια των Χριστιανών. I have dabbled in the original Greek of it, having brought home from Thessaloniki a fine copy of Rigopoulos’s edition, but I was eager to acquire the first English version, translated by Hieromonk Patapios with Monk Chrysostomos and Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, and featuring an introduction by the Archbishop, and published by the late Constantine Cavarnos’s Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. [1] 

Part of my interest in the English edition was due precisely to its inclusion of an introduction by this hierarch, an Old Calendarist and loyal son of the Fathers but nevertheless a perspicacious scholar whose writing is consistently marked by a balanced and moderate application of the traditions of the Church to modern life. This was much needed in the present case. The Greek moral theologian and philosopher, Chrestos Yannaras, has written, ‘Nikodemos’s legalistic pastoral theology tends inevitably to moralism, transforming the Church’s Gospel into a codified deontology governing conduct. His Chrestoetheia of Christians (Venice, 1803), in particular, is typical of European eighteenth-century pietism.’ [2] 

As I have argued previously (here for instance), such judgements are grossly overstated, and indeed, sad caricatures of a golden volume that Cavarnos has more justly and reverently called ‘one of Nicodemos’ most original and most edifying books’. [3] My interest in Archbishop Chrysostomos’s introduction was due in part to a desire to see St Nicodemus defended once again, but in part to a desire to see what are admittedly some pretty strict moral guidelines made a bit more palatable to modern Anglophone readers. These things I believe His Eminence accomplishes rather laudably if far too briefly. The subject deserves a full post in its own right some day, but for now, a brief quote must suffice: 

Once more, the focus of St Nicodemos’ teaching on personal morality and comportment must be seen within the the Hesychastic tradition. If many of the constraints on human behavior undertaken by the Hesychasts are similar to those that one may find in pietistic morality, our attention should not be drawn to these similarities in a superficial or simplistic sense. The goals and context of pietism are not those of the Hesychast....And finally, we must understand that the Saint’s emphasis on setting a high standard of behavior towards which every Christian must ideally strive is not just a matter of pietistic posturing. It is an important element in the Hesychastic life, wherein a mark set very high serves, from a motivational perspective, to direct an aspirant’s efforts and actions to the apogee and summum bonum of spiritual development, the achievement of which is not always as important as the intention and assiduity put forth in pursuing it. [4] 

I have begun with this discussion of the eruthrochomaic fate of this new translation of St Nicodemus largely to establish my Eastern street cred, for the other two volumes whose destiny yesterday led them to casa Taylor are decidedly more occidental. The first was a tiny but expensive little hardcover edition of John Henry Newman’s Rise & Progress of Universities and Benedictine Essays. As interested as I certainly am in Newman’s pedagogical theories, I actually bought this volume more for the two short ‘Benedictine essays’ than for the study of universities. Despite their being available online, having seen multiple references to them in James Taylor’s Poetic Knowledge I felt that I ultimately needed my own hard copy of these fascinating pieces (from which I have already quoted here). Here is a sample: 

While manual labour, applied to these artistic purposes, ministered to devotion, on the other hand, when applied to the transcription and multiplication of books, it was a method of instruction, and that peculiarly Benedictine, as being of a literary, not a scientific nature. Systematic theology had but a limited place in ecclesiastical study prior to the eleventh and twelfth centuries; Scripture and the Fathers were the received means of education, and these constituted the very text on which the pens of the monks were employed. And thus they would be becoming familiar with that kind of knowledge which was proper to their vocation, at the same time that they were engaged in what was unequivocally a manual labour; and, in providing for the religious necessities of posterity, they were directly serving their own edification. And this again had been the prace of the monks from the first, and is included in the unity of their profession. [5] 

Finally, trying quickly to choose a small and inexpensive book that wouldn’t be too ‘historical’, I settled on Josef Pieper’s Tradition: Concept & Claim. [6] Pieper’s much lauded Leisure: The Basis of Culture, which I discovered much too late in life, was one of the highlights of last summer, and I could not resist a book by the same author on the subject of tradition. The purchase seemed especially fitting, since the translator is CiRCE conference fixture and eccentric geocentrist E. Christian Kopff, author of The Devil Knows Latin. I have already read Kopff’s ‘Translator’s Preface’, which promises to give, in ‘most cases’, ‘idiomatic and clear English explanations of Pieper’s meaning’. [7] I have just begun Kopff’s alluring ‘Translator’s Introduction: Reflections on Tradition & the Philosophical Act in Josef Pieper’, where he discusses, among others, Hans-Georg Gadamer and the latter’s vindication of tradition in Truth & Method. [8] I will surely finish reading the translation itself sometime before school starts. But for now, here is the epigraph: ‘“The only reason we are still alive is our inconsistency in not having actually silenced all tradition”—Gerhard Krüger, Geschichte und Tradition.’ [9] 

[1] It is interesting to note, however, that despite the IBMGS publishing credit and unmistakeable title page, the jacket seems much more reminiscent of the English translation of the Evergetinos—completed by some of the same cast of characters, but published by the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies—than anything else in the IBMGS catalogue. One wonders if perhaps the CTOS has somewhat coopted the IBMGS in the wake of Cavarnos’s repose! 

[2] Chrestos Yannaras, Orthodoxy & the West: Hellenic Self-identity in the Modern Age, tr. Peter Chamberas & Norman Russell (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox, 2006), p. 136. 

[3] Constantine Cavarnos, St Nicodemos the Hagiorite, Vol. 3 of Modern Orthodox Saints (Belmont, MA: IBMGS, 1994), p. 45. 

[4] Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, ‘Introduction: The Person & Writings of St Nicodemos the Hagiorite & a Critical Assessment of His Essay on Christian Morality’, Christian Morality, by St Nicodemos the Hagiorite, tr. & ed. Hieromonk Patapios with Monk Chrysostomos & Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna (Belmont, MA: IBMGS, 2012), pp. l-li. 

[5] John Henry Newman, Rise & Progress of Universities and Benedictine Essays, ed. Mary Katherine Tillman, Vol. 3 of The Works of Cardinal John Henry Newman, Birmingham Oratory Millennium Edition, ed. James Tolhurst, DD (Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame, 2001), pp. 416-7. 

[6] Josef Pieper, Tradition: Concept & Claim, tr. E. Christian Kopff (South Bend, IN: St Augustine’s, 2010). 

[7] E. Christian Kopff, ‘Translator’s Preface’, Pieper, p. xiv. 

[8] Kopff also discusses John Rawls, ‘who suggested a way to escape from the traditions and historical forms of actual societies’ (‘Translator’s Introduction’, Pieper, p. xxi). Ironically, I met Rawls’s niece, a confirmed traditionalist who is aghast at her uncle’s ideas, at the CiRCE conference! 

[9] Pieper, p. ix.

17 July 2012

'Gaze Serenely upon the Things of this Earth'—CiRCE Conference & Eco

We’ll be leaving at five in the morning tomorrow for Louisville, KY, and the CiRCE Institute’s annual conference on classical education, on the theme ‘A Contemplation of Creation’. Last year’s conference, on the theme ‘What Is Man?’, was a real treat, my wife and I having been sent by a generous Providence Hall parent, Chris Dickerson, as a sort of scouting expedition for our school. Not only did I get to chat a bit more with CiRCE founder Andrew Kern, whom I had met previously when we both spoke at the Climacus Conference in Louisville, but I also had lunch with the charming Armenian Orthodox moral theologian, Vigen Guroian. 

This year Providence Hall will be returning in force. I hope to reconnect with prior acquaintances, meet a few new ones (not the least of whom will be the generous Logismoi reader, Kimberly Jahn), and, of course, buy a few books from good old Joshua Sturgill at the Eighth Day table. We may also stalk speaker Wendell Berry a bit. I hope to make a full report sometime next week. In the meantime, I shall leave you with an interesting quote to ponder from Umberto Eco’s excellent Art & Beauty in the Middle Ages, tr. Hugh Bredin (New Haven, CT: Yale, 1986): 

The view that the Middle Ages were puritanical, in the sense of rejecting the sensuous world, ignores the documentation of the period and shows a basic misunderstanding of the medieval mentality. This mentality is well illustrated in the attitude which the mystics and ascetics adopted towards beauty. Ascetics, in all ages, are not unaware of the seductiveness of worldly pleasures; if anything, they feel it more keenly than most. The drama of the ascetic discipline lies precisely in a tension between the call of earthbound pleasure and a striving after the supernatural. But when the discipline proves victorious, and brings the peace which accompanies control of the senses, then it becomes possible to gaze serenely upon the things of this earth, and to see their value, something that the hectic struggle of asceticism had hitherto prevented. Medieval asceticism and mysticism provide us with many examples of these two psychological states, and also with some extremely interesting documentation concerning the aesthetic sensibility of the time. (pp. 5-6)

16 July 2012

'He Put No Difference Between Us'—Ss Peter & Paul in Radner & St Maximus

Last Thursday, 29 June on the Church’s calendar, we celebrated the memory of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. I had thought about doing an old-school Logismoi post for the Apostles, but unfortunately things were much too busy for the full treatment and I let it pass. A perusal of a borrowed book the other day, however, convinced me that I should at least do a post connecting back to their feastday, even if it wasn’t one of my traditional Saints’ posts. 

I have more than once, I am sure, mentioned my enthusiasm for John O’Keefe’s and R.R. Reno’s Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible. Well, my tremendous esteem for the merits of the authors’ arguments and conclusions led me to reread with careful attention the preface to the volume, wherein they acknowledge the various influences and intellectual debts that contributed to the book. One passage that caught my attention was this: ‘The work of Ephrem Radner defies epitome, but the fabric of his many publications is woven with figural patterns of biblical interpretation. He is a rare contemporary practitioner of an ancient art.’ [1] 

I don’t quite remember how it happened, but somehow or another I shortly afterward discovered the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, edited by Reno, which ‘advances upon the assumption that the Nicene tradition, in all its diversity and controversy, provides the proper basis for the interpretation of the Bible as Christian Scripture’, and could be seen in some ways as a commentary attempting to carry out what O’Keefe and Reno present in Sanctified Vision. [2] I recalled having seen the series at our local evangelical megastore (which I was distressed to find no longer carries it, although the Christian romance section has certainly expanded), but I had never carefully examined it to discover its approach. Fortunately, my boss, the headmaster of our school, has what I take to be the entire series to date in his office, and I was surprised and excited to discover that the volume on Leviticus—surely a unique text for demonstrating the rich exegetical possibilities of the ‘Nicene tradition’—was written by that ‘rare contemporary practitioner of an ancient art’, Ephraim Radner. 

I realise I’m taking the long route to get back to Ss Peter and Paul. What does Ephraim Radner’s commentary on Leviticus have to do with the two chiefs of the Apostles? It so happens that interpreting Leviticus as Christian Scripture provides a direct connection: St Peter’s vision in Acts 10:9-16, which presupposes the distinction between clean and unclean animals in Leviticus 11: 

For I am the Lord who brought you up [ἀναγαγὼν ὑμᾶς] out of the land of Egypt to be your God; and ye shall be holy, for I the Lord am holy. This is the law concerning beasts and birds and every living creature [πάσης ψυχῆς] moving in the water, and every living creature creeping on the earth; to distinguish between the unclean and the clean [διαστεῖλαι ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν ἀκαθάρτων καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν καθαρῶν]; and between those that bring forth alive, such as should be eaten, and those that bring forth alive, such as should not be eaten. (Lev. 11:45-7, LXX) 

Compare then, the vision of the Apostle Peter in Acts: 

On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: and he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: where in were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.’ And the voice spake unto him again the second time, ‘What God hath cleansed that call not thou common.’ This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven. (Authorised Version) 

Clearly, St Peter is professing his fidelity to the distinction outlined in Leviticus 11. Just as clearly, the same God who gave to the Israelites the category of ‘unclean’ in Leviticus, is telling St Peter that He Himself has ‘cleansed’ all things. The exhortation to ‘be holy’ is not negated, however, and indeed, St Peter himself quotes it in I Peter 1:16, but it is no longer tied to the observance of dietary laws. 

In his commentary on this chapter of Leviticus, Radner draws on the mediaeval Benedictine writer, Rupert of Deutz (c. 1075-1129), whom Jean Leclercq notes as an exemplar of the use of ‘Old Testament texts...for expressing the loftiest realities of the New Testament,’ in whom ‘we sense the shadow of the whole archaic Eastern [patristic] background’. [3] I shall quote Radner at length: 

For Rupert of Deutz (Patrologia latina 167.796-801), the pentecostal focus in Lev. 10 [he connects the fire that devours the sons of the Prophet Aaron in Lev. 10:2 with the tongues of fire of Pentecost] explicates the framework of Lev. 11 in terms of the mission to the Gentiles entrusted the church by God. That is, the outline of distinction that Aaron (and Moses) provide the people—in terms of animal life, food, and even the touching of carcasses—properly embraces the distinctions of the peoples and their place within the providential calling of God. From the perspective of the New Testament, this coordination of elements is almost natural. It is, after all, Peter himself, in the course of his calling by God to turn to the Gentiles with the church’s first deliberate Christian evangelistic effort in their direction, who is presented with a threefold divine vision treating specifically the question of clean and unclean foods (Acts 10:9-16)....Rather than seeing Peter’s vision as a simple nullification of the Levitical laws of distinction, Rupert of Deutz understands these laws as the reflection of this single providential goal, by which the whole of the world will be brought into right relationship with God, gathered into the heavenly sheet. The vision sets in motion Peter’s visit to the Gentile centurion Cornelius in Caesarea, who is baptized despite his fundamental nonadherence to the breadth of the Levitical laws. Hence the Levitical laws pertain to—they advance toward and present—this goal of Gentile baptism, both in terms of reference and object; they do not contradict it. [4] 

Thus, the taking up of the animals without distinction into the four-cornered sheet is a symbolic revelation of the taking up of the peoples of the earth without distinction into the Church, where ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galations 3:28). In the words of St Irenaeus of Lyons, ‘For the God who had distinguished through the law the pure food from the impure, that same God had cleansed the nations through the blood of his Son, and that is the God whom Cornelius worshiped.’ [5] 

I have not been reading Radner’s commentary through, and so it was a look at the index for Greek Fathers, particularly for St Maximus the Confessor, that led me to the chapter on Leviticus 11. Unfortunately, the great 7th-c. Father is only cited once by Radner—when the latter writes: 

The allegorical reading—both Jewish and Christian—by which the sacrificial animals of Leviticus refer to those beastly, irrational, or wild (Maximus the Confessor [in Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware 1979-95: 2.273]) aspects of the self that require subjugation is in fact congruent with and perhaps even founded upon the presuppositions of this reality of distinction and offering. [6] 

A look at the text from the Philokalia which Radner cites is interesting. It is a Maximian anthology known as ‘Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, & Virtue & Vice’. The part in question is numbered as the ‘Fifth Century’ of such texts in the English Philokalia, whereas it is the ‘Seventh Century’ in the Greek. The greater part of this century, including all of the chapters I will excerpt below, is taken from the treatise To Thalassios: On Various Questions relating to Holy Scripture. It is there that St Maximus dwells at length on what he calls ‘the spiritual contemplation [ἡ πνευματικὴ θεωρία] of...the written law’. [7] The simple statement—in chapter 50—of the allegorical reading of the animals as passions to which Radner is referring is believed to be the work of a 10th-c. scholiast. [8] St Maximus’s own comments in chapter 51, which the scholiast is presumably explaining, takes for granted the ‘passion’ reading: 

By spiritual sacrifices is meant not only the putting to death of the passions, slaughtered by ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Eph. 6:17), and the deliberate emptying out of all life in the flesh, as if it were blood; the term also signifies the offering up of the moral state we have gained through the practice of the virtues, together with all our natural powers, which we dedicate and offer [προσαγωγὴν ἀφιερουμένων] to God as whole burnt sacrifices, to be consumed by the fire of grace in the Spirit, so that they are filled with divine power. [9] 

The ‘fire of grace in the Spirit’, an obvious allusion to Pentecost, is only the second tie into Rupert’s connection of Leviticus with Pentecost. In chapter 49, the Confessor writes: 

The mystery of Pentecost is the direct union with providence of those things that are in its care. It is the union of nature with its principle, the Logos, under the guidance of providence; and in this union there is not the slightest trace of time or generation. Again, the Logos is our trumpet (cf. Lev. 23:24), summoning us with divine and hidden knowledge. He is our propitiation (cf. Lev. 25:9), since He expiates our offences in His own person by becoming like us, and divinizes our sinful nature by the gift of grace through the Spirit. He is our booth or tabernacle (cf. Lev. 23:42), since He is the realization of that immutability with which our inner being, conformed to God, is concentrated on the divine, and also the securing bond of our transformation into an immortal state. [10] 

Indeed, it is a shame that Radner does not make more use of St Maximus in his commentary. The Confessor comments specifically on St Peter’s vision itself in Questions & Doubts 116, where he responds to the question of what is signified by the sheet and the beasts that were on it: 

Since, according to the vision by the prophet Ezekiel, ‘their work was like a wheel within a wheel’, and through these a perceptible as well as an intelligible world are depicted as existing within one another—for the intelligible world is in the perceptible world by types, and the perceptible world is in the intelligible world by its logos—therefore, all of the perceptible world was shown to the Apostle. For the letting down by its four corners’ signifies the world composed of four elements, existing as clean in the intelligible world according to the logos that exists inherently in these things. And he heard, ‘rise up, kill, and eat,’ that is, ‘by (your) nous raise yourself up from that which is according sense, and “kill and eat”, which means by the distinction of reason divides sense perception, [11] and taking up these things spiritually make them your own.’ 

Or, it also signifies the church that is supported by the four foundations of the gospels or, again, by the four cardinal virtues. And the beasts and reptiles depict the different human customs which, from the Gentiles, are going to (change over to) the faith in Christ. And the ‘kill and eat’ shows ‘first, by the word of teaching, “kill” the evil in them and then “eat”, making their salvation your own just as the Lord also made it food for himself.’ [12] 

Of course, this post has been mostly taken up with St Peter, and for reasons of length I do not intend to devote equal space here to St Paul. But I will point out that St Peter’s experience of the vision, and his subsequent baptism of Cornelius, ‘Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ’ (Gal. 2:16), connect him directly with the great Apostle of the Gentiles. ‘And’, in the words of Didymus the Blind, ‘through the figure shown by the linen cloth and through the granting of the grace of the Holy Spirit in like manner to the nations according to faith [cf. Acts 10:44-8], he [St Peter] made the case that in Christ there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile.’ [13] 

St Paul of course makes himself a compliment to St Peter, ‘For He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles’ (Gal. 2:8). But the baptism of Cornelius makes clear that the division in their duties is not a strict one, and St Peter at the Council of Jerusalem says to the apostles and elders: 

‘Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as He did unto us; and put no difference between us and them [διέκρινε μεταξὺ ἡμῶν τε καὶ αὐτῶν], purifying their hearts by faith.’ (Acts 15:7-9) 

Once again, we see here that the erasure of difference between Jew and Gentile is signified by the erasure of difference between clean and unclean animals (the words of Acts 15:9 and Lev. 11:47 are not the same, but the phrases nevertheless echo one another). But if the separation of Jew and Gentile is abolished within the Church, how much more so that between these two holy Apostles? St Paul tells us ‘when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face’ (Gal. 2:11), but in the words of St John Chrysostom, ‘there was here a deep though hidden understanding between Paul and Peter’: 

Paul does not now say this to condemn Peter, but in the same spirit as when he said those who are ‘reputed to be something’ [in other words, St Paul does not in 2:9 deny that St Peter really is a ‘pillar’], he now says this too....And so Paul rebukes and Peter voluntarily gives way. It is like the master who when upbraided keeps silent, so that his disciples might more easily change their ways. [14] 

Thus, the witness of the Church to the spiritual unity of these two Apostles, testified to by their co-commemoration and the liturgical texts which praise them as ‘separated in body, united in the Spirit’, [15] is also expressed in the exegetical consensus of the Fathers. 

 [1] John J. O’Keefe & R.R. Reno, Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2005), p. x. 

[2] R.R. Reno, ‘Series Preface’, Leviticus, by Ephraim Radner, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos-Baker, 2008), p. 11. 

[3] Jean Leclercq, OSB, The Love of Learning & the Desire for God: A Study in Monastic Culture, tr. Catharine Misrahi (NY: Fordham, 1961), pp. 102-16. 

[4] Radner, p. 107. 

[5] Francis Martin, ed., with Evan Smith, Acts, NT Vol. V in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006), p. 128. 

[6] Ibid., p. 110. 

[7] The Philokalia: The Complete Text, Vol. 2, tr. G.E.H. Palmer, et al. (London: Faber, 1990), p. 267. 

[8] See ibid., p. 395. 

[9] Ibid., p. 273. 

[10] Ibid., pp. 272-3. 

[11] I’m not sure I understand the grammar of Prassas’s translation at this point. 

[12] St Maximus the Confessor, Questions & Doubts, tr. Despina D. Prassas (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois U, 2010), p. 103. 

[13] Martin, p. 125. 

[14] Mark J. Edwards, ed., Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, NT Vol. VIII in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1999), p. 26. 

[15] First sticheron at Lord I have cried, Tone 2, by St Andrew of Crete, from Great Vespers for the Feast; from the translation of Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash), here.