Tuesday, December 1st, 2009 at 11:05 am
The occasion of the Manhattan declaration has been one in which a number of evangelicals, the very active Frank Turk at Evangel, has decided that the primary reason he will not sign is that it was done in concert with Roman Catholics, and apparently even worse than that, with the Eastern Orthodox. His point of view, and in fact his very reason for not signing has a number of prominent bloggers and those who self-label as Evangelicals who share his point of view. He writes:
I’ve said it elsewhere, so it should be no surprise when I say it here that I am sure there are Catholics who are saved, and likewise for the occasional Eastern Orthodox you may run into who exercises an Evangelical (large “E” intended) understanding of Jesus and the consequences of Him; but to throw out the wide blanket and just call all of these groups “Christian” in an overly-broad sociological sense, and to call all of them “believers” in the sense required to make the rest of the reasoning in this document is much.
This, to my ears, sounds very Pharisaic. Here we have Mr Turk standing in judgement of the whole of Catholicism and Orthodoxy and finding them wanting … except those few who secretly are “Evangelical.” Well, fortunately (apparently) for me, Mr Turk is not my judge, for I have a Judge already. It seems to me the Gospel has a few things to say about those trying to put themselves in the place of that Judge. Read the rest of this entry
Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 at 11:23 pm
If one were to attempt to continue the conversation about the Church in late modernity started by Matthew Lee Anderson here, there are a few avenues one might pursue. In the comments, there are suggestions of following threads from CS Lewis Abolition of Man. One might also suggest Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge, or Huxley’s Brave New World. In the following, the endeavor is made to both step off that beaten track and to ask a question.
As an outsider looking in at the modern protestant (non-liturgical) evangelical church, one thing which strikes me which is synch with the secular enlightenment culture which Mr Anderson highlights is a personalization of the notion of the sacred and a loss of an exterior idea of Holiness. One of the aspects of the enlightenment which is entwined with the Protestant separation is the de-emphasis of the liturgical expression in favor of or over and above the interior spiritual experience.
From Biblical narratives there is no small emphasis of Holiness. “Take off your sandals for the ground on which you stand is Holy” is repeated in Exodus and Joshua. Other examples abound of how being in a Holy place or the presence of God … one changes one’s mode of presentation and practice. A place is Holy not because of Moses (or Joshua’s) interior spiritual experience, but because of a thing outside of either, that is the presence of God was being there, at that place and time.
At Emmaus the disciples knew Jesus when he broke the bread, and the Church through the ages took that to mean that in the Eucharist God is present in the sharing of bread and wine. One of the common features of liturgical churches like the Catholic, the Anglican, and the Orthodox is that their worship experience expresses and reflects a sense of a sense of Holiness which is not primarily to attain an interior spiritual effect akin but more in line with the taking off of one’s sandals for one is in the presence of the Holy. The Eucharist is a singular Holy event taking place in each Sunday liturgy, and their various liturgical celebrations express this in different ways.
So, as an outsider to the community noted above, (the non-liturgical protestant ones), I have a question. Where is Holiness to be found in your parish? How is it treated? How is it expressed? What does the term Holy mean for your church?
Wednesday, November 4th, 2009 at 9:28 pm
Mark Horne offers some arguments why “he can never be a Roman Catholic.” I’m not a Roman Catholic … but it seems like a number of these reasons are not valid criticisms. I’m going to concentrate on one (and mention one more). Mr Horne offers:
Necromancy is almost as huge a sin and praying to the departed saints is necromancy. See #1 above. People raised thinking bigamy is Christian may be true Christians, but people who know better are living in sin and without hope of eternal life unless they repent of such behavior.
Praying to Saints by Catholics is not because Catholics believe that “some other intercessory agency between themselves and God” is required. Examine their liturgy and the prayers they pray. They pray to directly to Father, Son, and Spirit. So they are not asking Saints (or Mary) to pray for them because they think it is required. Something else is going on here, they do it because they think it is efficacious. My understanding of the way prayer to Saints is seen not as a required intermediary but as being equivalent to your asking a friend, acquaintance, or even some Christian you don’t really know, to pray for you. That is it. Just in the same way that Protestants (and every Christian) thinks that the prayers of others on our behalf is beneficial, likewise Catholics (the East and the original Reformers for that matter) think that the dead can pray for us … after all they are not dead but are with God. You are asking that this Saint, asleep in the Lord whom you believe is “now” outside of time participating in God’s presence (no longer seeing through a glass darkly), to pray for you. How is that akin to bigamy and living a life of sin?
There are two pieces to this that I think give the American evangelical cause to pause. The first is that the notion that a saint from a country far away and centuries removed will be aware of my request that he (or she) pray for me and that furthermore that he (or she) might do so. The second is that in our American notions of egalitarianism and equality Americans find the notion that we are not equal in the eyes of the Lord, a difficult one to master. To the latter, when the disciples were having a debate about who would be seated at Jesus right hand when he came into his glory, Jesus rebuke was not that “nobody would be sitting there” as we are equal in the afterlife, but that they were not the ones to be seated there.
Yet that isn’t really the question.
The real question is why is asking for the intercession by a deceased hero of the Church not adiaphora? And this has a counter question for the East and the Roman Catholic, why is not asking that the Saints intercede for us also not adiaphora?
A final remark Mr Horne objects:
Nowhere are Christians required to do a genealogical study to see if they are members of the true Church.
I for one, have no clue what is he talking about here. Any guesses?
Wednesday, October 21st, 2009 at 9:45 pm
John Mark Reynolds in a comment to my (first!) post at Evangel offered:
A child would view Favre well . . . but a real man would see him better. He would glory in his manly exploits as an image of excellence and be provoked to go and do likewise in his own chosen profession.
This is in short hoping a hope (or a recognition) that Favre (or pick your favorite athlete) and his exploits might do good in us by inspiring the Greek virtue arete in us. However that leads to the question … can one find support for the type of excellence of the sort Mr Favre would inspire … as being good (or Good) in Scripture (or enlarge that to church tradition for the non-sola-scriptura crowd). I think the answer is … no … but I might like to be convinced otherwise. Read the rest of this entry
Sunday, September 27th, 2009 at 6:46 pm
Well, some time ago, I offered that in discussions with American protestants about celibacy, monasticism, and asceticism might be best approached if they first start Scripture. It is my contention that the early fathers also started with Scripture (and some of the earlier ones of course also had face to face conversations with Apostles which we lack). The point of view I’m trying to confront here is that married life “in the world” is normative and that Jesus via the gospels, Paul and the other New Testament writers, Peter, James, etc, teach present this as the highest or first calling for the Christian life. I’m going to confront this, not by the writings of the Fathers, or by reference to the fact that not seeing asceticism as normative is a very modern (Protestant) idea but instead I’ll attempt to refer just to Scripture. So, for now … I’ll give that a shot and to start, I’ll just look at the life of Jesus and the Gospels.
Now in the Gospels, there are a number of narrative threads running through the start to the climax of Jesus’ life. One of the primary ones is a anti-temple narrative. However, there is also one supporting the ascetic life. So here are some essential narrative and/or elements to Jesus life and example that support asceticism.
- After being Baptised by John at the Jordan what does Jesus do? He goes into the desert, into a time of solitude for 40 days … facing down the devil and temptations.
- When the rich man who was fulfilling all the commandments asked what more he might do, the reply “sell all you have and follow me” was given.
- In Matthew 18 and 19 Jesus repeatedly offers that those who do not become as children will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
- When the disciples had been sent out, they failed to confront and cast out some demons. Jesus remarked, “this sort of demon can only be cast out through prayer and fasting.”
- Mary and Martha receive Jesus. Mary sits at Jesus feet and ignores home and hospitality. Martha is put out, but Jesus replies, “Mary has chosen the good portion.”
Demons for the early church in a large part meant those forces and temptations to sin. This is something all of us face. How then are we taught to confront sin? Jesus’ first response is fasting, prayer. What did he do? Fast and pray and retreat to the desert, to solitude. When a wealthy man is asked what to do, sell all you have and follow me (where? to a life of fasting and prayer?). John himself was an Essene. A desert ascetic feeding on locusts and honey teaching a life of repentance. That this man would be the one to validate and announce Jesus ministry, does this not validate and highlight John’s lifestyle to a degree. Finally, with Mary and Martha the two sisters might be seen as representing the life of the world vs and the life of prayer. Jesus does not rebuke Martha for her choice but he also says that Mary’s choice “is the good portion.” Finally, what is like a child? Humility and not being concerned with the cares of the world … might be the answer. How might an adult do this?
For the early church (and for that matter the church as a whole until the Protestant movement came about) found asceticism to be one of the primary messages from Scripture.
Monday, September 14th, 2009 at 8:34 am
This summer, as regular readers of this blog likely know, I took a spirituality class this summer. The reading was extensive and there were no papers or written work to submit during the class. As a final effort however, we have been asked to produce a short paper (which is below the fold) listing some short quotes from the readings that had personal relevance along with short remarks about that included quote. And so we begin. Read the rest of this entry
Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 at 8:49 am
David at (as?) the Thirsty Theologian writes on sex (while married) and the Puritans. I had written an mid-length reply to our short conversation on that, which got lost. Or so I thought … as my reply did in fact show up (as I check later as I write this). To clarify what is being discussed here.
- David’s post is about how the Puritans have been misread by history (as is so common in history) the “conventional wisdom” regarding the Puritan attitude toward sex has it backwards. That is, that Puritans enthusiastically encouraged and celebrated sex within marriage. I think this is right and is right. That is to say, I think that it is correct that the historical reading has it wrong and that celebration of sex within marriage is the right attitude. I would only temper that with what Fr. Isaiah taught this summer, that as marriage continues into old age the (Orthodox) expectation is that the seeking of dispassion by the married couple will lead ultimately to celibacy within marriage.
- David starts (as well) pointing out Augustine, who he feels is highly regarded (?) within the Reformed community, felt that celibacy was a higher calling … and that this was wrong. David feels that Sola Scriptura is the only criteria by which normative Christian behaviour is to be measured.
David in his last exchange writes:
Since you claim to agree with the patristic tradition because it agrees with scripture, then you’re not really going counter to my statement dismissing tradition “if scripture says something else,” are you? We just disagree about what scripture says. So, if the fathers could really argue the superiority of celibacy from scripture, you should be able to do the same.
And on this I wish to write a little more. The full argument for the superiority of the monastic life and celibacy in particular from Scripture is derivative, for indeed the New Testament itself (obviously) does not lay out anything like the monastic example or teachings like St. John Cassian, St. Basil the Great, or St. John Climacus. So how did this conclusion come about. For this I think the key point is not to specifically single out celibacy or any other particular other monastic practice but the general practice of apatheia (dispassion) within the ascetic life (to which we are all called but the monastics single out as their primary focus in life). The writers noted just previously all assumed the necessity of apatheia. Apatheia in Christian writings and teaching is found as early as in Clement (AD 30-100) Stromata. At Clement’s time gnosticism and stoic influences were readily apparent, but by the time of those noted above that had long since gone through the wringer and the non-Christian influence weeded out. Take for example the later writer, Evagrius, and look at his work Praktikos. The Protestant claim is that this writing does not follow Scripture, yet scan the opening pages of the Praktikos, you will not find references to Scripture a rare thing. He uses Scripture to support and explain why dispassion is necessary and how to come by it. Once you have accepted dispassion as necessary to the Christian life … celibacy as a higher calling and exceptional way of life is unavoidable. Look at any of the early Christian writers. These writings form and explain Christian tradition and, lo, they are in fact heavily if not “solely” dependent on Scripture for inspiration.
Monday, August 31st, 2009 at 8:46 am
In the discussion which followed last night’s post on the New Monastics, I offered relay the advice St. John Climacus had in the first step of the Ladder for the laity:
Some people living carelessly in the world put a question to me: “How can we who are married and living amid public cares aspire to the monastic life?”
I answered, “Do whatever good you may. Speak evil of no one. Rob no one. Despise no one and carry not hate. Do not separate yourself from church assemblies. Show compassion to the needy. Do not be a scandal to anyone. Stay away from the bed of another, and be satisfied with what your own wives can provide you. If you do all of this, you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven.”
In class, Fr. Elijah offered that general Orthodox belief that for everyone, not just the unmarried, celibacy is ultimately where we end up. For the married couple, celibacy and the celibate calling arises as one gets older.
Tuesday, August 25th, 2009 at 11:19 pm
Yesterday, a new (and hopefully returning) commenter, Michele remarked on an older post in which I was reading some theologically inspired economic ideas which originated with one Chad Myers. I disagreed strongly with these ideas. Michele offers:
I wanted to mention New Monasticism: http://www.newmonasticism.org/It is my understanding that Chad Myers is read by many people involved in this. Whatever Chad Myers is pushing for, it seems to have had a good outcome. These new monastics are out there taking the commandments of Christ to help the poor and share with each other. They are a fine group of people. There are a lot of singles in these groups as well. They may marry later, but I’m really impressed with what they are doing. Many people spend their 20’s trying to find spouses and building their careers. This is on the back burner for many of these people.
Before I begin my short remarks on this, I want to make clear that the web site above does not give very much detail (that I could find) of the actual details of how the new monasticism movement described above conforms. It may be that the assumptions that go into the remarks I make below are entirely wrong-footed and based on incorrect assumptions. Yet, Michele sought my comments and my opinion … so here goes. (below the fold) Read the rest of this entry
Monday, May 18th, 2009 at 9:16 am
I’ve begun reading John Behr’s (so far) two volume series (three are reported as planned) subtitled Formation of Christian Theology. The first volume, in soft cover from SVS Press, is entitled The Way to Nicaea. This books covers aspects of the formation of Christian theology, focusing on the development of the answer to Jesus query to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Volume 2 is split into two books and covers in some detail the controversies surrounding the two councils which developed the Nicene creed.
The first chapter of this book begins with a look at how the Scriptural canon for the Christian church developed and was set. There were a lot of alternative canonical choices at the end of the second century when the canon was set. But the result, to summarize Behr, was that two key criteria were used to select what books and epistles were included in the New Testament canon. They are that the books chosen were “according the the Scriptures” and that the cross (the passion) was central. The phrase “according the the Scriptures” meant specifically that the acts and narrative account in the selected book connected these actions with the accounts and prophecies of the Old Testament. This meant that books like the Gospel of Thomas and other gnostic works were excluded. Behr defends his interpretation of this development of canon by examining the methods and arguments used by St. Irenaeus in discussing various heresies of his day at the close of the 2nd century.
David Schraub blogging at the Debate Link, dislikes the term “Judeo-Christian”. This term admittedly can be misused. The above historical notes demonstrate how this term is at the same time correct and how the traditions diverged. For certainly in the context of investigating first and second century theological currents and ideas that term is relevant. Throughout the first century the majority of Christians were Jews who felt that Jesus was in fact the awaited Messianic figure, the fulfillment of Scriptural promise. At the same time, there is here a key difference which will form the basis possibly for the contention that this term does not make sense. Christians over the centuries following embarked on a program to reinterpret the Jewish Scriptural canon through the “lens of the cross”, i.e., via the life and passion of Jesus. That is they re-examined and reinterpreted, often as “type”, events and prophecies of Scripture to be interpreted specifically in the context of Jesus message, and his crucifixion and resurrection. Christian theology at the end of the second century defined itself and its theological methods in the light of Jewish writing. At the same time however, it was beginning to highlight the differences by beginning a program of returning to and examining that same canon in a radically different way (although it might be noted that “different” way was himself a 1st century Jew).
Wednesday, April 15th, 2009 at 11:21 pm
Tonight’s service continued the Matins in the evening theme. The service ended with the Sacrament of Unction, a anointing with oil for the remission of sins and healing of body (following the epistle of James). Tonight I thought I’d offer some remarks on the canon, which accompanies matins (or the Vigil service which varies with different tradition) in ordinary times.
The Nine “Canticles” of the early church were taken from Scripture directly. These Canticles were originally read as part of services but through the years additional prayers (the canons) were written as meditations on the Canticles. More and more canons were written and some assigned to “ordinary” times in the year and others to accompany feasts and fasts that follow in the church liturgical cycle. Eventually the canons often replaced the canticles for brevity (although I’m guessing monastic practice does both). What are the nine canticles:
- Canticle One: The Song of Moses. Exodus 15:1-18. This would be read verse by verse with a refrain. In this case for example, refrain is taken from the first verse “for He has triumphed gloriously” (the whole verse reads “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea”.
- Canticle Two: The Song of Moses. Deuteronomy 32:1-42. This is quite long and I’ve come to understand canticle (and therefore canon two) are read only on Tuesdays in Great Lent as it is a lamentation.
- Canticle Three: The Song of Hannah 1 Samuel (or 1 Reigns in the Septuagint): 1-10.
- Canticle Four: The Song of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3:2-19)
- Canticle Five: The Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 26:8-21)
- Canticle Six: The Song of Jonah (Jonah 2:1-9) The Canons written about the next three invariably connect these events as types of the Resurrection.
- Canticle Seven: The Prayer of the Three Holy Children(Daniel 3:26-56)
- Canticle Eight: The Song of the Three Holy Children (Daniel 3:57-88)
- Canticle Nine: The Song of the Theotokos (In the West this is the Magnificat) and the Song of Zacharias (the Benedictus) Luke 1:46-55 and 68-79 respectively.
The canons themselves I find a treasure. They contain caches and pieces of wonderful liturgical theological and biblical poetry. And good example of that was the canons read last night weaving the harlot and her repentance, my sinful state, and Judas’ scheming blended all together artfully.
Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 at 11:25 pm
As an introduction for those of Western traditions or are unfamiliar with the Eastern Christian traditions, during our Holy Week this week I thought it might be useful to summarize what we do at our Church during this week and some of my thoughts and impressions during the week.
Tonight we celebrated the last of the three Bridegroom Matins services. Wiki informs us in the post on Holy Week (and the East) that tonight in Greece a significant (majority?) of the sex trade industry workers attend this service. Why? Well, while the service has other things which it touches on two major themes play back and forth throughout the service. The first of these keys on the event from Luke 7 with the Pharisee and the harlot, the second is Judas starting to unfold his particular role in the Passion narrative (and in a later parallel devotion in which Mary sister of Lazarus anointing Jesus feet with expensive perfume).
One of the striking things is the repetition and insistence of two points. The harlot’s sins where egregious (and she was repentant and was forgiven) but mine are worse … and while she has begged forgiveness … why have I not done the same. Specifically in one of the refrains sung, “Though I have transgressed more than the harlot, O Good One, I have not offered You a flood of tears ….” Toward the end, we sang a poignant and beautiful hymn which I will relay here (at least the text). Cassia is apparently the name appointed to the harlot (by the whom or what tradition I do not know).
The Hymn of Cassia
The woman had fallen into many sins, O Lord,
yet when she perceived your divinity,
she joined the ranks of the myrrh-bearing women.
In tears she brought You myrrh before Your burial.
She cried: “Woe is Me!
For I live in the night of licentiousness,
shrouded in the dark and moonless love of sin.
But accept the fountain of my tears,
as you gathered the waters o the sea into clouds,
Bow down Your ear to the sighing of my heart,
as You bowed the heavens in your ineffable condescension.
Once Eve heard your footstep in paradise in the cool of the day,
and in fear she ran and hid herself.
But now I will tenderly embrace those pure feet
and wipe them with the hair of my head.
Who can measure the multitude of my sins,
or the depth of Your judgments, O Savior of my soul?
Do not despise Your servant in your immeasurable mercy.”
It should be noted in the Matins services and in scattered throughout Orthodox liturgical prayer, canon, and hymnody great praise and honor is granted to those women called the Myrrh bearing Women who first came to the tomb and discovered it to be empty and met the angel therein. This harlot, this prostitute is granted the same honor and praise for far before his passion she too bore myrrh and tears as a precursor to those other women as well.
The Gospel reading was far shorter tonight, only John 12:17-50.
Monday, April 13th, 2009 at 11:07 pm
As an introduction for those of Western traditions or are unfamiliar with the Eastern Christian traditions, during our Holy Week this week I thought it might be useful to summarize what we do at our Church during this week and some of my thoughts and impressions during the week.
Tonight is the second of three “Bridegroom Matins” services, held in anticipation not in the morning but in the previous evening. Matins is normally a morning service but during Holy week in anticipation this is moved forward to the prior evening. Jewish tradition held that the day begins at sundown. Liturgical tradition follows that, but as noted above “in anticipation” moves the Matins service at time at which in more ordinary times Vespers services would be held.
Read the rest of this entry
Sunday, April 12th, 2009 at 10:49 pm
A blessed Easter to those who celebrate that festival today. The following link is a performance (in Old Slavonic) of a well loved Paschal (Easter) song The Angel Cried. It is sung in many if not most Slavic Orthodox churches during the season between Pascha and Pentecost. I love singing it (and look forward to it on our Easter/Pascha starting next week), and I hope you too enjoy listening to it. In SATB arrangement it even has a decent tenor line, which is alas all to often not the norm.
The Angel Cried
The angel cried to the Lady Full of Grace:
Rejoice, rejoice, O Pure Virgin! Again I say: Rejoice!
Your Son is risen from his three days in the tomb!
With Himself — He has raised all the dead!
Rejoice, rejoice, O ye people!
Shine Shine! Shine O New Jerusalem!
The glory of the Lord has shone on you!
Exult now, exult and be glad, O Zion!
Be radiant, O Pure Theotokos,
in the Resurrection, the Resurrection of your Son!
Christ is Risen!
For those unfamiliar with Orthodoxy, the term Theotokos is commonly used for Mary. It means literally “birth giver of God”, in the late antiquity there were controversies whether the term “Christotokos” (birth giver to the anointed one) vs Theotokos should be used. We use that term frequently and in doing so affirm that the term Theotokos is correct.
Monday, March 9th, 2009 at 11:08 pm
Confession is a sacramental rite which is, to my admittedly somewhat incomplete knowledge, waning amongst the Roman Catholic communities (especially in the US) and very rare to non-existent in the Protestant communities. For myself, as a somewhat recent convert to Orthodoxy (a community which has not left confession behind), I have had had just a little exposure to confession. I have found the experience, actually, surprisingly salutary. Father Andrew, the priest of my parish, shared some interesting thoughts on confession which I would like to attempt to share.
A common notion about confession is that is a juridical one. In the juridical view, we confess to Christ with the priest as our advocate and adviser of the sins of which we are aware. After (and perhaps by) our confession and repentance we are then forgiven those sins. The juridical formula is clear. We admit our guilt and sin, we repent and are perhaps assigned penance, and are forgiven and our slate wiped clean.
This is not the Orthodox understanding of confession. When I am in a relationship with someone I love, sharing of our thoughts, our desires and so on is part of growing close to that person. Of those thoughts and desires and actions regarding the beloved which were contrary to that relationship which are accompanied by repentance and sorrow are especially important toward growing ever closer. Confession to the beloved of those actions and thoughts are especially painful and difficult. Often the difficulties, especially with a loving and forgiving lover, lie not with the other but with the facing of those part of one’s self. But the experience is enormously helpful in growing ever closer to your beloved. Confession then is exactly this sort of sharing. It is sacramental because it involves our relationship with God. Its purpose is to help us in our striving toward Theosis, toward communion with the Creator. It can be hard, in fact should be difficult. Because, honesty about our failings hurts. Facing our sinful nature and in particular our memories of our past sins is needful for this is one of the large obstacles holding us back from growing closer to God. Confession of these sins helps us move beyond these memories and helps us to confront those parts of ourselves.
The weakness of the juridical view of confession is that it is less effective in aiding us in repentance and to move to a place in our relationship with God in which we are less likely to commit those same sins yet again. A communal sacramental view of confession is stronger. It places the motivation in a different place as well. It is not a penal/juridical action. It is an action which is intended, like so very many other parts of this season of Great Lent, to bring us closer to God. That is a motivation which seems at the very least, much more positive in outlook and ultimately if stronger a better one to help us tame our passions and to stoke the fire of the Spirit of God within us.