29 March 2013

RB 4, the 'Unexpected' Chapter

My friend, the infamous dissident blogger known as ‘the Ochlophobist’, posted the following comment on Facebook a few weeks ago: ‘I've pretty much decided that chapter 4 of the Rule of St Benedict [see some texts and translations here] is the best and most accessible summation of the Christian life to be found.’ There’s certainly something to this. As Bossuet has written, the Rule itself is ‘...an epitome of Christianity, a learned and mysterious abridgement of all the doctrines of the Gospel, all the institutions of the Fathers, and all the counsels of perfection’. [1] What is true of the Rule as a whole is certainly, in this instance, true of the part. Anyway, the comment made me want to post something on this chapter, preferably to coincide with the Orthodox feast of the great monastic legislator on Wednesday of this last week. The last was not to be, but better late than never, right?

Part of the interest of Chapter IV is that the infallible Adalbert de Vogüé (writing in the year of my birth, 1977) called it ‘without doubt the most unexpected part of the Rule’. Père Adalbert explains:

At first glance it astonishes the reader by its unusual make-up—a list of maxims—and by its lack of connection with the surrounding treatises. Upon further examination the reader is disappointed to find in this succession of little phrases little or no order. Moreover, if it is a program of good works to accomplish with an eye to eternal life, one would expect a different choice. Why is the important side by side with the secondary; ‘To love God and the neighbor’ with’Not to love laughter’; the solemn commandments of the decalogue with ‘Not to be a great eater’ or ‘Not to be sleepy’? A list of seventy-four maxims is either too many or too few. Why not an infinity of others, neither more nor less useful? Finally, this collection of maxims astonishes us by its indecisive coloring, its uncertain relationship with monastic reality. To whom and of what is the author speaking? To seculars who are married and exposed ‘to committing adultery’, or to monks who have made a vow ‘to obey their abbot’? [2]

Last December I finally acquired a lovely old hardcover copy of Dom Justin McCann’s [3] translation of Dom Paul Delatte’s Commentary on the Holy Rule of St Benedict (the commentary recommended to me during a school trip by one of the senior monks at the Benedictine abbey, Our Lady of Clear Creek, in eastern Oklahoma). [4] Although Dom Delatte confesses his uncertainty about what precisely instrumenta bonorum operum means, he doesn’t seem the least bit perplexed by the chapter itself. From his perspective the chapter seems to fit right into the overall structure of the Rule unproblematically:

We remember with what insistence our Holy Father declared in the Prologue that progress in the Christian life is effected by the practice of good works and the constant exercise of all the virtues; he now describes this well-regulated activity. This chapter gives a long list of the principal forms in which it is displayed; immediately after come separate chapters devoted to the fundamental dispositions of the soul, to obedience, recollection, and humility. [5]

For Dom Delatte, the chapter is merely St Benedict’s own foray into the genre of gnomic literature:

A word on the sources of this fourth chapter. Almost the entire series of instruments is to be found in the second part of the first Decretal Epistle of St Clement; but it has long been recognized that this second part is spurious and the work of Isidorus Mercator. There are certainly analogies between St Benedict’s chapter and the beginning of the Teaching of the Apostles (reproduced in the seventh book of the Apostolic Constitutions); both, for example, commence with the statement of the twofold precept of charity; Dom Butler, however, holds that it is impossible to give certain proof of borrowing. One may also compare the passage of the Holy Rule with the forty-nine sentences published by Cardinal Pitra under the title: Doctrina Hosii episcopi (+ AD 397); or with the Monita of Porcarius, Abbot of Lerins (at the end of the fifth century); or again with the Doctrina of a certain Bishop Severinus, who has not been identified yet so far as I know. We find analogous collections of sentences in the pagan philosophers themselves; see, for example, the Sentences attributed to the Seven Sages of Greece, the prose Sentences which precede the Disticha Catonis, and the Sentences of Sextus, a fragment of which St Benedict cites in Chapter VII. All civilizations have left us with specimens of this gnomic literature; the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus belong to this class. We are naturally led to express our morality in mottoes, to embody it in practical axioms; it seems to us to make virtue much easier when we achieve a short, pity, and well-turned phrase, which in its very perfection has a gracious charm. The old monastic rules were generally composed in this short, sententious style. And it is from them, from Holy Scripture, and to some degree from all sources, that our Holy Father seems to have gleaned his seventy-two instruments of good works; it is not yet proved that he has only copied, with greater or lesser modifications, one or several previous collections. [6]

Of course, in Père Adalbert’s view, addressing the unexpectedness of Chapter IV in the context of the RB is not unconnected with this question of whether St Benedict has ‘copied, with greater or lesser modifications, one or several previous collections’. He takes it for granted—and I am not sufficiently acquainted with scholarship on the question to explain on what grounds—that St Benedict’s is later than, and largely a reworking of, the so-called ‘Rule of the Master’ (RM), a text of which Dom Delatte in 1913 makes no mention at all with regard to Chapter IV. Dom McCann, writing around 1950 or 1951, treats the RM briefly in the preface to his translation of the RB, giving his opinion that the latter is the prior work but leaving the question open. [7]

But while Père Adalbert too draws the connections to other parts of the RB that Dom Delatte does, it is first and foremost the relationship of the RB to the RM that enables Père Adalbert to resolve the problem of Chapter IV’s place in the former. Thus:

The literary genre of these maxims seems much less unusual [in context] when we have read in the Master such various sections as the mysterious parable of the spring, the commentary on the Lord’s prayer in the form of a sermon, the picturesque satire on gyrovagues, and the majestic presentation of the doctors. The reader who has become used to changes of scenery discovers this new stage setting without astonishment. [77.]

I would like to do at least one or two more posts on RB4, perhaps before Pascha, continuing to compare the commentaries of Père Adalbert and Dom Delatte and hopefully drawing other connections as well. But for now, I will let this suffice.

[1] I’m not yet sure of the original source of the quote, used famously in the old Catholic Encyclopedia. Sabine Baring Gould gives the following sentence as well: ‘Here prudence and simplicity, humility and courage, severity and gentleness, freedom and dependence, eminently appear’ [here].

[2] Adalbert de Vogüé, The Rule of St Benedict: A Doctrinal & Spiritual Commentary, tr. John Baptist Hasbrouck, OSB (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1983), p. 77.

[3] Himself a translator and editor of a fine bilingual edition of the Rule—Abbot Justin McCann, OSB, tr. & ed., The Rule of Saint Benedict in English & Latin, (Ft Collins, CO: Roman Catholic Books, n.d.).

[4] I can’t remember which monk it was, but he said that Dom Delatte’s commentary was the one that the Clear Creek monks themselves read, in part because as the former abbot of Solesmes, the author was part of the same Benedictine congregation and tradition that Clear Creek belongs to. Paperback reprints were available in the monastery giftshop, and I would have bought one immediately but for the cover price. As it turned out, it was a wise decision—I later found a used hardcover edition of 1959, highly reminiscent of an old Faber publication, for less than the new pb’s at the monastery.

Incidentally, and I know this will stretch the reader’s credulity to the limit, the monk did not know immediately who the infallible Adalbert de Vogüé was! Well, what can one expect of papists?

[5] Dom Paul Delatte, OSB, A Commentary on the Holy Rule of St Benedict, tr. & ed. Dom Justin McCann, OSB (Latrobe, PA: The Archabbey Press, 1959), p. 61.

[6] Ibid., pp. 61-2.

[7] McCann, pp. xix-xxi.

28 March 2013

Poetic Knowledge in Virgil & Whitman

In the passage from Newman that I included in my last post, the great divine, philosopher, and man of letters makes the following comment about ‘scientific’ as opposed to ‘poetic knowledge’:

Its mission is to destroy ignorance, doubt, surmise, suspense, illusions, fears, deceits, according to the ‘Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas’ of the Poet, whose whole passage, by the way, may be taken as drawing out the contrast between the poetical and the scientific. [1]

As I reread this passage last week, the first thing I did was track down the ‘Poet’ whom Newman cites. The line, Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas, as it turns out, is from Book II of Virgil’s Georgics, line 490. In a footnote to the comment about the Poet’s ‘whole passage’, Newman quotes ll. 475, 477, 483-5, 490, and 493. I shall give the ‘whole passage’, including the unquoted lines, according to David Ferry’s translation into English pentameter:

But as for me, oh may the gracious Muses,
Gracious beyond all else, whose holy emblems
I consecrated bear in the procession,
Grant me their favor and reveal to me
The courses of the stars above in the heavens;
Teach me about the sun in its eclipse,
And about the many labors of the moon;
What is it that causes quakings of the earth?
What force is it that suddenly makes the great
Sea rise and swell and break through all restraints
And then subside into itself again?
Why is it that the sun in winter hurries
To plunge itself into the sea and why
Is the winternight so slow to come to an end?
But if the blood around my heart’s too cold
To gain me access to such mighty knowledge,
Then may I find delight in the rural fields
And the little brooks that make their way through valleys,
And in obscurity love the woods and rivers.
I long for such places, oh I long to be
By Spercheus or at Taygeta in Sparta
Where maidens celebrate the rites of Bacchus,
Or to be safe in the cool Haemian glade,
Protected in the shade of those great branches!
That man is blessed who has learned the causes of things,
And therefore under his feet subjugates fear
And the decrees of unrelenting fate
And the noise of Acheron’s insatiable waters.
He too is happy who knows the country gods,
The sister Nymphs, and Pan, and old Sylvanus. [2]

I take it that Newman is suggesting that the poet’s ‘fear’ before ‘such mighty knowledge’ corresponds to the poetic mode, whereas the desire to learn ‘the causes of things’ represents the scientific mode of knowledge. I am less certain what to make of where Newman would say the poet’s affinity for the still natural but tamer, ‘obscurity’ of fields, valleys, woods, and rivers fits into the scientific/poetic dichotomy. Are these more ‘scientific’ because less ‘vast, immeasurable, impenetrable, inscrutable, mysterious’ than the heavens or the ocean? And the country gods’ place in this scheme is still more puzzling to me. But perhaps that is for another post.

In the meantime, I came across another poem, of a much lower order than Virgil’s, which nevertheless constitutes an apt illustration of the distinction between scientific and poetic knowledge. Here is Walt Whitman’s, ‘When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer’, which I only just now discovered was recited on the popular television programme, Breaking Bad:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. [3]

[1] John Henry Newman, Rise & Progress of Universities and Benedictine Essays, Vol. 3 of The Works of Cardinal John Henry Newman, Birmingham Oratory, Millennium Edition (Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame, 2001), pp. 386-7.

[2] David Ferry, tr., The Georgics of Virgil: Bilingual Edition (NY: Farrar, 2006), p. 85.

[3] Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (NY: Barnes & Noble, 1993), p. 228.

25 March 2013

Newman & Bakhtin on Poetic Knowledge & the Human Sciences

I have been thinking again recently of the notion of ‘poetic knowledge’ (see this post), having received an extraordinarily kind and gracious e-mail from James Taylor—who literally wrote the book on poetic knowledge—thanking me for correcting an ‘incorrect citation’ of Maritain in my post on the subject. More specifically, I have been looking more deeply into what John Henry Newman has to say about the poetic mode in the apparently obscure essay, ‘The Mission of St Benedict’. [1] I have already quoted this essay several times on this blog, though I’ve never considered it in itself. Here, and again here, I quote a passage cited by Christopher Dawson on the Benedictines’ role in the preservation of agriculture and civilisation. In this post, having at last purchased a book that includes the essay, I excerpted a passage on the Benedictines’ literary endeavours. Finally, in a post on Tolkien’s elves, leisure, and monaticism (here), I quoted a brief passage wherein Newman emphasises the ‘poetic’ nature of the monastic life.

It is to this last theme that I return now. But whereas I originally took up the essay again for the light it would shed on poetic knowledge per se, as I reread the portion I shall excerpt below, I ended by going in an unexpected direction with it, of which more soon. First, here is Newman’s lengthy explanation of what precisely he means by ‘poetic’:

Poetry, then, I conceive, whatever be its metaphysical essence, or however various may be its kinds, whether it more properly belongs to action or to suffering, nay, whether it is more at home with society or with nature, whether its spirit is seen to best advantage in homer or in Virgil, at any rate, is always the antagonist to science. As science makes progress in any subject-matter, poetry recedes from it. The two cannot stand together; they belong respectively to two modes of viewing things, which are contradictory of each other. Reason investigates, analyzes, numbers, weighs, measures, ascertains, locates, the objects of its contemplation, and thus gains a scientific knowledge of them. Science results in system, which is complex unity; poetry delights in the indefinite and various as contrasted with unity, and in the simple as contrasted with system. The aim of science is to get a hold of things, to grasp them, to handle them, to comprehend them; that is (to use the familiar term), to master them, or to be superior to them. Its success lies in being able to draw a line round them, and to tell where each of them is to be found within that circumference, and how each lies relatively to all the rest. Its mission is to destroy ignorance, doubt, surmise, suspense, illusions, fears, deceits, according to the ‘Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas’ of the Poet, whose whole passage, by the way, may be taken as drawing out the contrast between the poetical and the scientific. [2] But, as to the poetical, very different is the frame of mind which is necessary for its perception. It demands, as its primary condition, that we should not put ourselves above the objects in which it resides, but at their feet; that we should feel them to be above and beyond us, that we should look up to them, and that, instead of fancying that we can comprehend them, we should take for granted that  we are surrounded and comprehended by them ourselves. It implies that we understand them to be vast, immeasurable, impenetrable, inscrutable, mysterious; so that at best we are only forming conjectures about them, not conclusions, for the phenomena which they present admit of many explanations, and we cannot know the true one. Poetry does not address the reason, but the imagination and affections; it leads to admiration, enthusiasm, devotion, love. The vague, the uncertain, the irregular, the sudden, are among its attributes or sources. Hence it is that a child’s mind is so full of poetry, because he knows so little; and an old man of the world so devoid of poetry, because his experience of facts is so wide. Hence it is that nature is commonly more poetical than art, in spite of Lord Byron, because it is less comprehensible and less patient of definitions, history more poetical than philosophy; the savage than the citizen; the knight-errant than the brigadier-general; the winding bridle-path than the straight railroad; the sailing vessel than the steamer; the ruin than the spruce suburban box; the Turkish robe or Spanish doublet than the French dress coat. [3]
As I copied the above passage from Newman’s essay, the reference to science recalled to my mind another common opposition—science and the humanities. This is an issue that, I believe, first came to my attention in college as I excitedly studied the work of Russian philologist and philosopher of language, Mikhail Bakhtin (on whom I have posted here and here). It was particularly emphasised by Tzvetan Todorov’s invaluable study, Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle, the entire second chapter of which is entitled, ‘Epistemology of the Human Sciences’. [4] Todorov introduces the distinction between the two fields of study with a passage from the important essay, written in the 30s, ‘Discourse in the Novel’. I shall give the full passage, including those portions represented by ellipses in Todorov’s text:

Mathematical and natural sciences do not acknowledge discourse as a subject in its own right. In scientific activity one must, of course, deal with another’s discourse—the words of predecessors, the judgments of critics, majority opinion and so forth; one must deal with various forms for transmitting and interpreting another’s word—struggle with an authoritative discourse, overcoming influences, polemics, references, quotations and so forth—but all this remains a mere operational necessity and does not affect the subject matter itself of the sscience, into whose composition the speaker and his discourse do not, of course, enter. The entire methodological apparatus of the mathematical and natural sciences is directed toward mastery over mute objects, brute things, that do not reveal themselves in words, that do not comment on themselves. Acquiring knowledge here is not connected with receiving and interpreting words or signs from the object itself under consideration.
In the humanities—as distinct from the natural and mathematical sciences—there arises the specific task of establishing, transmitting and interpreting the words of others (for example, the problem of sources in the methodology of the historical disciplines). And of course in the philological disciplines, the speaking person and his discourse is the fundamental object of investigation. [5]

Elsewhere, in Bakhtin’s very late notes ‘Toward a Methodology for the Human Sciences’, he is even more explicit about the difference between the objects of the two disciplines:

The exact sciences constitute a monological form of knowledge: the intellect contemplates a thing and expounds upon it. There is only one subject here—cognizing (contemplating) and speaking (expounding). In opposition to the subject there is only a voiceless thing. Any object of knowledge (including man) can be perceived and cognized as a thing. But a subject as such cannot, while remaining a subject, become voiceless, and, consequently, cognition of it can only be dialogic. [6]

I hope this is enough to suggest where I am going. Bakhtin has much to say about this question, and perhaps one day I could do a whole post on the epistemology of the human sciences per se, but today I only want to suggest a connection with Newman’s distinction between between poetic and scientific knowledge. Surely, if one rereads Newman’s description of ‘scientific knowledge’, one sees that what he is talking about is precisely this orientation towards an object, a ‘voiceless thing’.

But what about poetic knowledge? Is there a connection between the poetic mode and this conception of the ‘object’ of the human sciences as being, in fact, a subject? I believe there is. It may be worth quoting once more a few of Newman’s words on the poetic mode:

But, as to the poetical,…[i]t demands, as its primary condition, that we should not put ourselves above the objects in which it resides, but at their feet;…and that, instead of fancying that we can comprehend them, we should take for granted that  we are surrounded and comprehended by them ourselves. It implies that we understand them to be vast, immeasurable, impenetrable, inscrutable, mysterious; so that at best we are only forming conjectures about them, not conclusions, for the phenomena which they present admit of many explanations, and we cannot know the true one. [7]

Is this not precisely the traditional—as opposed to the so-called ‘historical-critical’—approach to the subject in the human sciences? This necessity of not putting ‘ourselves above the objects’ we wish to know, the recognition that they are mysterious and we cannot form conclusions about them: surely this is what Bakhtin recognises when he speaks of ‘that internally unfinalizable something in man’. As he insists in his study of Dostoevsky: ‘In a human being there is always something that only he himself can reveal, in a free act of self-consciousness and discourse, something that does not submit to an externalizing secondhand definition.’ [8]

This is also, of course, the theological understanding of man, that understanding of him that is grounded in the knowledge of God. Compare Bakhtin’s notion of ‘unfinalizability’ with the following passage from St Gregory of Nyssa’s treatise ‘On the Making of Man’:

3. But I find the solution of these difficulties by recourse to the very utterance of God; for He says, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ The image is properly an image so long as it fails in none of those attributes which we perceive in the archetype; but where it falls from its resemblance to the prototype it ceases in that respect to be an image; therefore, since one of the attributes we contemplate in the Divine nature is incomprehensibility of essence, it is clearly necessary that in this point the image should be able to show its imitation of the archetype.
4. For it, while the archetype transcends comprehension, the nature of the image were comprehended, the contrary character of the attributes we behold in them would prove the defect of the image; but since the nature of our mind, which is the likeness of the Creator evades our knowledge, it has an accurate resemblance to the superior nature, figuring by its own unknowableness the incomprehensible nature. [9]

Recall that Newman holds that nature, for instance, is ‘more poetical than art,because it is less comprehensible and less patient of definitions’. Compare Bakhtin’s comment that there is something in man which ‘does not submit to an externalizing secondhand definition’, and St Gregory’s linking of human nature to the ‘incomprehensible nature’ of God. Elder Sophrony of Essex draws these two authors together when he writes, ‘As hypostasis, image of the Hypostatic God, [the human being] is beyond definition’. [10]

There are a number of directions in which this could go. In my mind, Fr Andrew Louth and Alan Jacobs (and possibly Hans-Georg Gadamer) need to be brought in on the implications of the connection between poetic knowledge and the epistemology of the human sciences. But for now I’d like to consider one thing. It strikes me that the notion of man’s unfinalizability and incomprehensibility seems remarkably commensurate with the understanding of man as a megalocosmos as noted in this post. Recall the passage I quoted from Oration 38 by St Gregory the Theologian:

The human being is a kind of second world, great in smallness, placed on the earth, another angel, a composite worshiper, a beholder of the visible creation, an initiate into the intelligible, king of things on earth, subject to what is above, earthly and heavenly, transitory and immortal, visible and intelligible, a mean between greatness and lowliness. [11]

Is it strange that such a being might not be classifiable among reified objects, or that an epistemology which does justice to him must be of the poetic mode? Newman’s words apply beyond any doubt to man as the Fathers see him: ‘vast, immeasurable, impenetrable, inscrutable, mysterious’.

[1] This essay deserves an affordable paperback reprint, as the only edition I have seen in print is in the pricey hardcover third volume of Birmingham Oratory Millennium Edition of Newman’s works.

[2] The line Newman quotes is from Book II of Virgil’s Georgics. I plan to do a follow-up post on this reference. Addendum: See the follow-up post on Virgil here.

[3] John Henry Newman, Rise & Progress of Universities and Benedictine Essays, Vol. 3 of The Works of Cardinal John Henry Newman, Birmingham Oratory, Millennium Edition (Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame, 2001), pp. 386-8.

[4] Tzvetan Todorov, Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle, tr. Wlad Godzich (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1994), pp. 14-28.

[5] Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, tr. Caryl Emerson & Michael Holquist (Austin, TX: U of Texas, 1998), p. 351; qtd. in Todorov, p. 15.

[6] Mikhail Bakhtin, Speech Genres & Other Late Essays, tr. Vern W. McGee, ed. Caryl Emerson & Michael Holquist (Austin, TX: U of Texas, 1994), p. 161.

[7] Newman, p. 387.

[8] Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. & tr. Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1994), p. 58.

[9] From Chapter 11, 'That the nature of mind is invisible', here.

[10] Elder Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, tr. Rosemary Edmonds (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2006), p. 102. Compare also Vladimir Lossky: ‘Finally, we admit that what is most dear to us in someone, what makes him himself, remains indefinable, for there is nothing in nature which properly pertains to the person, which is always unique and incomparable’ (The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, tr. The Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius [Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 1998], p. 121).

[11] St Gregory the Theologian, Festal Orations, tr. Sr Nonna Verna Harrison (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 2008), p. 68.

20 March 2013

Brief Reviews of Books Received

So, I just discovered this essentially complete post written during Christmas break 2012-13 and entirely forgotten within hours of its writing. It is now radically out of date as any kind of recent ‘book update’, but it does document a few titles I received gratis and for which I therefore owe thanks. 

Well, as has become obvious, I am quite incapable of blogging while keeping up with school duties. I had a good run last summer, after I finished revising and editing my now-published C.S. Lewis paper and before school preparation began, but after that the best I could manage was this brief post about my ordination to the diaconate. So, I promised a Facebook friend that I would try to complete at least one post over the Christmas break, and I am now attempting to keep that promise. 

If memory serves me, in the last several months I have received four books of which I need to make mention. First, a kind fellow at Jordanville sent a copy of the new edition (2012) of Fr Lazarus’s translation of The Arena, by St Ignatius (Brianchaninov). [1] I have compared it rather carefully with my old copy of the third printing (1991) of the first edition (which I shall call 1.3), [2] and while the translation is the same and the foreword by (then Archimandrite) Kallistos (Ware) has been retained, [3] the differences are interesting. Most obviously, where 1.3 has a very textured, brown-paper-bag-looking cover with a very simple monochrome image of the Roman colosseum, and is subtitled, ‘An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism’, the 2nd ed. features a slick and glossy full-colour cover with sunbeams peaking through a tower of a church and the subtitle, ‘Guidelines for Spiritual & Monastic Life’. The contrast between the old homespun Jordanville publications and the new computerised look is readily apparent in the printing as well. Whereas the printing in 1.3 is uneven, with the occasional poorly struck letter and with a persistently high lower-case ‘o’, the 2nd ed. is a model of computerised evenness. The result of course is that Jordanville publications look much more professional, but have sadly lost their peculiar charm. C’est la vie

There are of course a number of less superficial differences. The brief summary of St Ignatius’s life on the back cover of 1.3 has been replaced by a description of the book’s contents and a longer bio appended to the text. The footnotes of 1.3 have become endnotes, and there are occasionally new ones. The glossary at the back has been slightly expanded (‘Ekos’, ‘Hesychasm’, and ‘Hesychast’ are the new entries). Although I cannot at the moment identify the translation used in the Scriptural quotations of 1.3, the 2nd ed. appears to use the NKJV for NT and most OT, the OSB for Deutero-canonical books, and David James’s Psalter for Prayer for the Psalms. Perhaps most exciting, however, is the addition of Subject and Scripture Indexes! In my own opinion, these alone make it worthwhile to acquire the new edition. 

Next, as an ordination gift my kind friend, Met. Savas of Pittsburgh, sent a copy of the oddly named, The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality, edited by Brock Bingaman and Bradley Nassif (and also featuring a foreword by Met. Kallistos, I’ve just realised!). [4] No, this is not another translation of the Philokalia, as the title might misleadingly suggest, but a collection of fine scholarly papers on one of my favourite subjects. Highlights include: ‘St Nikodimos & the Philokalia’ by Met. Kallistos, ‘The Making of the Philokalia: A Tale of Monks & Manuscripts’ by Fr John McGuckin, ‘The Influence of the Philokalia in the Orthodox World’ by Fr Andrew Louth, ‘The Luminous Word: Scripture in the Philokalia’ by Douglas Burton-Christie, ‘The Theological World of the Philokalia’ by Rowan Williams, and ‘Hope for the Passible Self: The Use & Transformation of the Human Passions in the Fathers of the Philokalia’ by Paul M. Blowers. It seems that all that is missing is my own paper on ‘The Teaching on the Senses of the Fathers of the Philokalia’! Still, even without that important study, this promises to be an important resource.
That said, I do have one complaint: the introduction. It seems to me that this would have been the place for some overview of the scholarly literature, scarce though it admittedly is, on the Philokalia as a whole, and the attention to the individual authors as it has developed over the last century or so. Instead, while there is a brief paragraph on the attempt of the editors to fill a lacuna in this regard – a lacuna they apparently only discovered a few years ago during Bingaman’s preparation for comprehensive doctoral exams – we have, essentially, a paragraph reassuring readers that the Philokalia is really an ‘ecumenical’ spiritual resource; we have two paragraphs apparently reassuring Protestants that the Philokalia does not teach some sort of ‘works righteousness’; and we have a long section arguing that while the Philokalia if misinterpreted by Orthodox could inspire a kind of Orthodox fundamentalism, it’s still a good thing for the modern reader in ‘a world of massive technological, social, economic, and intellectual forces that are in conflict, and interaction, with each other’ to joyfully rediscover it and uncover the forgotten ‘spiritual treasures of the Christian East’. [5] In other words, it almost sounds as though it is more dangerous for Orthodox Christians to read the Philokalia than for yahoos to read it who have no experience of the whole liturgical, exegetical, ascetical, and spiritual context presupposed by every author from St Anthony to Ss Kallistos and Ignatius. I set aside my irritation only because so many of the contributors really are so terribly top-notch. 

Thirdly, I had been feeling guilty about a continued failure to acquire a copy of a newly published book by my delightful British Cypriot friend, Fr Vassilios Papavassiliou: Journey to the Kingdom: An Insider’s Look at the Liturgy & Beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox Church. [6] But without warning, I discovered in the mail one day a package from Paraclete Press containing an unsolicited review copy of the book. Included was a hand-written note which read: 

Aaron, I have read your blog & think you would be interested in our new release ‘Journey to the Kingdom’ by Fr Papavassiliou. 
If you do mention the book would you be willing to e-mail me a link. 
Sr Madeleine 

Spared the trouble of placing an order against my always harried bank account, I began looking into the book. At its basis a simple yet very profound commentary on the Divine Liturgy, I have been quite impressed so far with what I have read of Fr Vassilios’s book. There is an accessible eloquence to the prose that, I daresay, actually reminds me occasionally of C.S. Lewis. The style, coupled with frequent reference to the Scriptures and the many photographs illustrating the various parts of the Liturgy, make this an ideal introduction to the Liturgy for (particularly Protestant) converts and inquirers. For some Orthodox, there may seem to be rather little reference to the Holy Fathers, though references to them are in fact scattered throughout the text. But I can personally testify that Fr Vassilios knows the Fathers quite well, and the book is certainly patristic in spirit. 

My one little quibble is that I believe Fr Vassilios has overstated the problem of what he calls ‘obstacles to coming to Holy Communion’, by which he means the requirement of Confession, the Prayers of Preparation, and the practice, common among Greeks, of requiring a day or more of fasting before receiving Communion. [7] Although I was always willing to practice the last according to the ‘When in Rome’ principle, and it makes sense as a measure for those who do not regularly attend church or keep the fasts, I can see how it can be a bit excessive as a requirement for faithful who are regular attendants and communicants and who make every effort to keep the canonical fasts. Ditto for the requirement of Confession and, I suppose, the Prayers of Preparation. But where these are established customs, taught by pastors who have at least some degree of pastoral wisdom and condescension, I think it can be unhealthy to rail against them before a lay audience. I know of at least one convert who left a perfectly healthy parish led by a wise priest, simply because he had read Fr Alexander Schmemann saying that clergy shouldn’t insist on Confession before every Communion, and who ended by later leaving the Faith altogether and becoming a ‘Buddhist’. Anyway, as I have said, I do not exactly disagree with Fr Vassilios here, but would at the same time urge the faithful to accept with humility (within reason of course) the ‘rules’ that their pastors and spiritual fathers impose. Otherwise, it seems to me that we are not really Orthodox but Protestants. 

Finally, my kind friend, Stacy Shipman, sent me a book she is helping to promote called Place Your Hope in the Lord: The Poetic Spiritual Life of Father Lazar. [8] I had never heard of Fr Lazar (Adžić) before, but it seems he was the abbot of the Ostrog Monastery in Montenegro (having previously been formed in monasticism at Hilandar on the Holy Mountain, as well as by St Justin (Popovich) at Ćelje) and has been revered in Serbia as a holy elder. Despite an unattractive title font (used for titles throughout the text as well), the volume is in appearance a bit like a St Herman Brotherhood publication and is quite pleasing to the eye. But the text itself is unique. While there are brief accounts of Fr Lazar’s life in Met. Amfilohije’s forward (pp. 17-21) and sermon at Fr Lazar’s funeral (pp. 23-7), as well as on pp. 33-8 of Abbess Jelena’s text, the bulk of the content is not made up of linear biographical narrative at all, but of brief anecdotes and sayings arranged in no discernible order. As Professor Lidija Tomić writes in her foreword (a review that was printed with the original Serbian text): 
The book about Father is not a typical hagiography and does not belong to the canon of hagiographical literature. It has a hagiographic aura because it deals with the life of a man of God, i.e., the biography of his worldly and priestly paths.... 
The variety of topics of the personal and spiritual existence of Father Lazar conditioned a synchronized structure of numerous anecdotes, occasions, and events, which, without chronological gradualness, actualized the author’s notion that, even without an overwhelming narrator’s attitude, with a choice of various fragments she managed to depict Father Lazar in his faith and his experience of Christ, i.e., in different situations and states of worldly and spiritual existence. 
... The book varies from the perspective of narration and confession, the spiritual and religious perspective of human deeds and unlawfulness, to the perspective of God’s mercy, faith, and love. The author chose fragmentary narrative composition to be able to show light from different angles to uncover the layers of Father Lazar’s personality. [9] 

The sayings and anecdotes do indeed appear to be rather marvellous, and while the excerpts above from Tomić’s foreward might suggest a disappointing translation such prosaic problems appear to be confined to the rendering of Tomić. From what a random selection of passages can reveal, the translation of Abbess Jelena’s own text seems to be perfectly good English. 

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

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

[3] It always warmed my heart to see the name of perhaps the foremost representative of ‘world Orthodoxy’ to converts on the title page of a ROCOR publication. Of course, Met. Kallistos has always spoken rather frankly of his close relationship with the Russian Church Abroad as a young convert, and don’t forget that His Eminence has actually recommended Fr Seraphim (Rose) as a ‘good discussion’ of St Ignatius’s teaching on ‘the traditional Orthodox teaching on the twenty “toll-houses”’ (see p. 142, n. 10, to the comment on p. xvi). 

[4] Brock Bingaman & Bradley Nassif, eds., The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality (Oxford: Oxford U, 2012). 

[5] Ibid., p. 5. 

[6] Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou, Journey to the Kingdom: An Insider’s Look at the Liturgy & Beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox Church (Brewster, MA: Paraclete, 2012). 

[7] These requirements seemed to have become a pet peeve of Fr Vassilios while we were studying together in Greece, where there were indeed many examples of excessively zealous clergy and faithful, who could often be quite off-putting in their attitudes and practices. 

[8] Abbess Jelena (Stanišić), Place Your Hope in the Lord: The Poetic Spiritual Life of Father Lazar, tr. Milena Taylor (Memphis, TN: Orthodox Christian Translation Society, 2012). 

[9] Ibid., pp. 13-4.

18 March 2013

Megalocosmos & Moral Philosophy in Donne, Herbert, & St Nicodemus

Over the last few weeks I had the delightful opportunity to see an acquaintance of mine, David K. Anderson, of the University of Oklahoma English department, lecture on John Foxe, John Donne, and George Herbert at our local Anglo-Catholic center—All Souls’ Episcopal Church in Oklahoma City. While I was not unacquainted with the writings of these men, I thought it would be fun to brush up a bit, at least on the latter two. I made sure at the very least to read all of Dame Helen Gardner’s selections from the poetry of each in her anthology for the Penguin Classics, The Metaphysical Poets. But I also read some bits and pieces of Donne’s prose from the anthology Seventeenth-Century Verse & Prose, and of Herbert’s from the Everyman’s Library edition of his Complete English Works.

Naturally, I was not unaware that these men, like all good Anglican clergymen of their day, were quite knowledgeable about the Church Fathers, and so it has never surprised me to discover echoes of patristic doctrine, or even explicit quotations from the Fathers, in their work. But I was surprised that during my recent foray into these English writers, I found something in each of them that reminded me, not first and foremost of the ancient Fathers themselves, but of a couple of passages in the works of an heir of the Fathers who actually postdated Donne and Herbert by about 150 years: St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. Furthermore, these passages from St Nicodemus, though they are found in different works of his, deal with ideas that are very closely related to one another.

First of all, Donne writes in the fourth Meditation from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions

It is too little to call Man a little World; Except God, Man is a diminutive to nothing. Man consists of more pieces, more parts, then the world; then the world doeth, nay then the world is. And if those pieces were extended, and stretched out in Man, as they are in the world, Man would bee the Gyant, and the Worlde the Dwarfe, the World but the Map, and the Man the World....Inlarge this Meditation upon this great world, Man... [1] 

Upon reading the very first sentence of this Meditation, I immediately recalled reading among the ‘Selected Passages from the Writings of the Saint’ in Constantine Cavarnos’s volume on St Nicodemus the following excerpt from the latter’s Handbook of Spiritual Counsel

God first created the invisible world and then the visible world. After everything else He creates man, of an invisible soul and a visible body. Thus He renders him like a cosmos—not a small cosmos within a great one, as the philosopher of Nature Democritos has said, and as other philosophers opine, calling man very pettily only a microcosmos and limiting his dignity and perfection to this visible world; no, God renders man a great cosmos within the small one. Man is a megalocosmos through the multitude of powers he contains, especially intuitive [noeras] and discursive reason [logikes] and the will, [2] which the physical universe does not have. For this is what Gregory the Theologian says: ‘He places man on the earth like a second cosmos, a great cosmos within a small one’ (Discourse on the Nativity and Easter); a cosmos adorning both universes, the visible and the invisible, according to the divine Gregory of Thessaloniki (Discourse on the Presentation of the Theotokos, I); a cosmos which connects the two ends of the world above and the world below, and makes it clear that their Creator is one, according to Nemesios. [3] 

The quotation from St Gregory the Theologian is found in his Oration ‘On the Nativity of Christ’ (38.11)— 

The human being is a kind of second world, great in smallness, placed on the earth, another angel, a composite worshiper, a beholder of the visible creation, an initiate into the intelligible, king of things on earth, subject to what is above, earthly and heavenly, transitory and immortal, visible and intelligible, a mean between greatness and lowliness. [4] 

The allusion to St Gregory ‘of Thessaloniki’, i.e. ‘Palamas’, seems however to be miscited. Compare the line from St Nicodemus with the following, from St Gregory Palamas’s Homily 26, ‘Delivered at Harvest Time’: ‘That is why he [man] was last to be created, belonging to both the visible and invisible worlds and adorning them both.’ [5] At any rate, it is surely beyond obvious that in his fourth Meditation Donne is expressing precisely the same doctrine as these various Greek theologians. 

Turning to George Herbert, I did not detect much on the theme of man as megalocosmos, [6] but I did find some lines in a couple of his lyrics that reminded me of some other words of St Nicodemus. First, consider the first stanza of ‘The Agonie’: 

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staffe to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sinne and Love. [7]

Second, compare the whole argument of ‘Vanitie’: 

THE fleet Astronomer can bore
And thred the spheres with his quick-piercing minde:
He views their stations, walks from doore to doore,
Surveys, as if he had design’d
To make a purchase there: he sees their dances,
And knoweth long before,
Both their full-ey’d aspects, and secret glances.

The nimble Diver with his side
Cuts through the working waves, that he may fetch
His dearely-earned pearl, which God did hide
On purpose from the ventrous wretch;
That he might save his life, and also hers,
Who with excessive pride
Her own destruction and his danger wears.

The subtil Chymick can devest
And strip the creature naked, till he finde
The callow principles within their nest:
There he imparts to them his minde,
Admitted to their bed-chamber, before
They appeare trim and drest
To ordinarie suitours at the doore.

What hath not man sought out and found,
But his deare God? who yet his glorious law
Embosomes in us, mellowing the ground
With showres and frosts, with love & aw;
So that we need not say, Where’s this command?
Poore man! thou searchest round
To finde out death, but missest life at hand. [8] 

Okay, now the connection may not be immediately obvious to anyone else, but before I go on, note that both of these poems argue that sciences and physical researches are paltry and unimportant compared to divine science—the knowledge of God and of the spirit. Now, consider St Nicodemus’s prologue to the Evergetinos

There are those who concern themselves in this or that way with certain other types of philosophy; and of these persons, some spend all of their days studying, say, mathematics or physics, while others concentrate on metaphysics and more general subjects. Yet they entirely neglect moral philosophy, even though it is both the paramount and most necesssary of all types of philosophy. These men study the harmony and order of the heavens, and earth, and all other matters. But because they do not know, as they ought, that the investigation of ourselves is distinctly superior to that of alien matters and, moreover, because they do not know that knowledge on its own—that is, being bereft of practical application—has no substance and does not differ from fantasy, as the holy Maximos notes, precious few of these men address the question of how to bring themselves into harmony with the beauty of moral life, or how to learn true virtues through experience....Surely we must apply ourselves to moral philosophy, or risk being found wanting in relation to our higher aspect. [9] 

The connection of St Nicodemus’s ‘moral philosophy’ with the ‘two vast, spacious things...Sinne and Love’ of Herbert’s ‘Agonie’ is perhaps more clear, vice and virtue being indisputably subjects of moral philosophy. But what of ‘his deare God’? Notice that the explication of the initial question in the rest of that final stanza refers to ‘his glorious law’, ‘love & aw’, God’s ‘command’, and ‘life’. The knowledge of God in this stanza too appears to be once again that knowledge proper to moral philosophy. 

Now what is the connection between this idea of the importance of moral philosophy and the view of man as a megalocosmos? It strikes me that the favourable comparison of man to the cosmos, the recognition that he is greater than it despite being physically smaller, implicit in the quotes from Herbert and the Evergetinos and explicit in the quotes from Donne and the Handbook, is part of the appeal to focus on the knowledge of moral philosophy rather than natural. The object of study is a superior one. The furthest reaches of the galaxy are fascinating and beautiful, but how much more the inner space of the human soul? As Fr Artemy Vladimirov writes in his lovely children’s book, The Path to Confession, ‘Perhaps some of you have already gazed into the depths of your heart? A whole world is hidden there, you know—a world no less interesting and mysterious than the visible world.’ [10] 

I admit I am somewhat embarrassed that these passages from St Nicodemus are the only examples of such ideas that occur to me. I feel certain that I have run across them in other Fathers (and likely enough, other non-patristic works as well). Any suggestions are of course welcome.

[1] Helen C. White, Ruth C. Wallerstein, & Ricardo Quintana, eds., Seventeenth-Century Verse & Prose, Vol. 1: 1600-1660 (NY: Macmillan, 1965), p. 105. 

[2] While the Greek text here actually reads kai malista tes logikes, kai noeras, kai thelematikes (Symbouleutikon Encheiridion [Athens: Panagopoulos, 2001], p. 39), I am inclined to think that Cavarnos has switched the first two terms of the series in his translation. It strikes me as more likely that the ‘intuitive reason’ is to be identified with the ‘noetic’ faculty and the ‘discursive reason’ with the ‘logical’.

[3] Constantine Cavarnos, tr., St Nicodemos the Hagiorite, Vol. 3 of Modern Orthodox Saints (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies, 1994), pp. 115-6. 

[4] St Gregory the Theologian, Festal Orations, tr. Sr Nonna Verna Harrison (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 2008), p. 68. 

[5] St Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, ed. & tr. Christopher Veniamin with the Monastery of St John the Baptist (Waymart, PA: Mount Thabor, 2009), p. 206. 

[6] Though Herbert does allude to man ‘very pettily’ as microcosm in a few lines in ‘Man’: 

He is in little all the sphere. [l. 22]  
...Man is one world, and hath Another to attend him. [ll. 47-8] 

[7] Dame Helen Gardner, The Metaphysical Poets (London: Penguin, 1985), p. 120. 

[8] Ibid., p. 127. 

[9] St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, ‘Prologue’, The Evergetinos: A Complete Text, Vol. 1, ed. & tr. Archbishop Chrysostomos & Hieromonk Patapios, et al. (Etna, CA: CTOS, 2008), pp. xxxii-xxxiii. 

[10] Fr Artemy Vladimirov, The Path to Confession: A Book for Family Reading Presented to Orthodox Children, illustr. G.A. Skotina, tr. Ivan Gerasimov & Nun Nectaria (McLees) (Ash Grove, MO: Unexpected Joy, 2000), p. v.