(This is Neil) Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers. Also, please be very generous with your donations.
The new Pray Tell blog has made available a very interesting article [PDF] about the Byzantine Liturgy and eschatology by the Very Reverend David M. Petras of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of SS Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh. The Archpriest makes five points that I think deserve discussion:
1. The Western reaction to Byzantine Liturgy is commonly either that it is more mysterious, a “total immersion in a timeless world,” or that it is “irrelevant” in its pietism or ritual. The reason for both the positive and negative reactions is that the Byzantine Liturgy is more eschatological.
2. Although the liturgical texts are eschatological – in the Anaphora of St Basil the Great, Eastern Christians will pray, “we also remember … His glorious and fearsome second coming,” the Byzaintine Liturgy is also eschatological in its ritual actions, icons, incense, and chant. One example is that the Liturgy is celebrated facing the East: “As the lightning from the east flashes to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matt 24:27). (This is important because Eastern liturgies have not always been celebrated in the vernacular: in the United States, the Byzantine liturgy was only celebrated in English in the late 1940s and early 1950s – and at least one American cardinal then worried about the possibility of “contamination.”)
3. The “eschatological thrust” of the Byzantine Liturgy is toward the “definitive establishment of the Kingdom of God.” Thus it is “present-future.” Here, Petras quotes Karl Rahner, “For that future presents itself as salvation now, precisely if it is accepted as God’s action, incalculable in its when and how, because determined by God alone.”
4. While the Byzantine Liturgy is eschatological, it is not “otherworldly” and unconcerned with the reality of suffering. The words of the faithful in the Cherubicon, “Let us … now set aside all earthly cares” refers to the anxieties [merimnan] in the parable of the sower and the seed that “choke” the Word, which is then unable to produce fruit (Luke 8:14). Nevertheless, the “dominion” of the Lord – “Let us receive the King of all, invisibly escorted by angelic hosts” – is different than the rule of earthly princes because it is not coercive.
5. We can see the “eschatological thrust” in a commentator such as Maximus the Confessor, who interprets the Liturgy as “pointing to the future kingdom.” Thus, for example, the kiss of peace “prefigures and portrays the concord, unanimity, and identity of views which we shall all have among ourselves … at the time of the revelation of ineffable blessings to come,” and the Hymn of Victory (Sanctus) “represents the union and the equality of honor to be manifested in the future with the incorporeal and intelligent powers.” The “eschatological dimension,” however, is minimized later in the Byzantine world as the Liturgy becomes more “backward looking,” interpreted mainly as paralleling events in the life of Christ.
A little while back, I described an article by the Jesuit liturgist Michael McGuckian that argued that Western Catholic Liturgy was distinctive in its focus on Eucharistic presence and devotion to the Sacrament. On the other hand, the West, McGuckian claimed, has not cultivated a sense of “heavenly liturgy.” (See also the comments that followed my post.)
Do Roman Catholic liturgies have the same “eschatological dimension” as their Byzantine counterparts? If not, is that a very serious problem?
13 January 2010
(This is Neil) Please keep the people of Haiti in your prayers. Also, please be very generous with your donations.
23 December 2009
(This is Neil) I would like to wish a blessed Christmas to our readers. Let me post one more thing in 2009. I would like to direct your attention to three lectures just delivered by the Anglican priest Nicholas Sagovsky, a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, who is also Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey. They are on Dante, and can serve as a good brief theological introduction to the Divine Comedy. I’ll mention only a few of the points in them.
Canon Sagovsky begins his first lecture [PDF] by noting that Dante believes that our human life is a journey, or, better, a pilgrimage. There certainly is a “right way” and Dante has lost this right, or straight, way (“la diritta via era smarrita”). The psalmist had prayed, “Teach me thy way, O Lord; and lead me on a level path (“in semitam rectam” [LXX Ps 27:11]). Dante had gone astray, “pursuing the false images of good” in preference to a spiritual relationship with Beatrice. There are many false images that lure all of us: before a nearby hill, Dante’s path is blocked by no less than a leopard, representing worldly pleasure, the lion of violence, and a wolf that represents avarice. We must all follow God’s will, because:
Free and upright (dritto) and sound is Thy will
And error were it not to do its bidding.
There is hope yet for us. Isaiah had prophesied that “the crooked shall be made straight” (40:3).
And Dante has a guide – Vergil, who he will call “maestro” and “duce.” It is Vergil, Sagovsky says, “who leads Dante through the darkness towards the light, though he is not himself permitted to experience the fullness of that light.” The first step is the “shock therapy” of hell – not to satiate Dante’s voyeurism about the world to come, but to help him see “this life re-imagined in the light of eternity.” What is Dante supposed to learn from his trip through hell, which Sagovsky likens to a trip to parts of Madame Tussauds or the London Dungeon? Dante is meant to see that it is a very terrible thing not to have hope. Christ had harrowed hell – Vergil speaks of a “Mighty One” who came “With sign of victory incoronate,” drawing forth Adam, Abel, Noah, Moses, Rachel, and “others many, and he made them blessed.” Those who are now left behind lack the human quality of hope.
In the second lecture [PDF], Sagovsky discusses the climbing of Mount Purgatory. Hell has shocked Dante but left him unchanged; this mountain is the place of his reformation. Dante has begun his ascent. This theme of “ascent” is venerable in Christianity. Moses ascended Mount Sinai. He had to first purify himself and the climb was difficult. Then, he encountered God directly, and, only then, he could bring revelation back to his wayward people. But first there had to be purification. Gregory of Nyssa wrote, in his Life of Moses:
The person who would approach the contemplation of Being must be pure in all things so as to be pure in soul and body, washed stainless of every spot … in order that he might appear pure to the One who sees what is hidden, and that visible respectability might correspond to the inward condition of the soul.
Initially, this person who wishes to ascend is weighed down by earthly things, but “Once it is released from its earthly attachment, [the soul] becomes light and swift for its movement upward, soaring from below up to the heights.” Or, as Vergil tells Dante, “And, aye, the more one climbs, the less it hurts.”
Dante also learned from Augustine that a “flame of love” draws us forward on our journey to purify ourselves before we can see God. We read, in an early canto, in the voice of those violently killed (“sinners even to the latest hour”):
Then did a light from heaven admonish us,
So that, both penitent and pardoning, forth
From life we issued reconciled to God,
Who with desire to see Him stirs our hearts.
Purgatory is a place of prayer and song, because it is the place where human beings, including Dante himself, are being purified for glory. Thus, when Dante encounters the proud, they are carrying huge burdens to humble themselves. They are not cursing under the weight, but reciting a version of the Lord’s Prayer. They pray not for themselves, but for others on earth:
“This last petition verily, dear Lord,
Nor for ourselves is made, who need it not,
But for their sake who have remained behind us.”
As Sagovsky reminds us, this is because the petitioners are already being delivered from evil. The weeping in purgatory is not the tearful despair of hell. There is sorrow for sin, but also wonder in its sure disappearance:
And lo! A sound of weeping and a song:
“Labia mea, Domine,” – in fashion
Such that delight and sorrow it brought forth.
In his third lecture [PDF], Canon Sagovsky notes that Dante’s heavens – there are heavens – come from Ptolemaic cosmology, in which there is a series of spheres above the earth. Thus, Dante must journey through these spheres to the motionless Empyrean, the dwelling place of God. But Dante also has read St Paul, who wrote about being “caught up into Paradise” where he “heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat” (2 Cor 12:4), and so he does not describe heaven in detail, only suggests what it might be.
Dante, Sagovsky says, once more recalls for us the the description of mystical ascent in Gregory of Nyssa – now, that we pass “from glory into glory.” In his Life of Moses, Gregory “describes how Moses was ‘lifted up’ to share in the glory of God, but this sharing only created the desire for greater transformation.” This is epektasis: Gregory tells us that Moses, in his ascent, “still thirsts for that with which he constantly filled himself to capacity, and he asks to attain as if he had never partaken …” As Rowan Williams has written:
If the Christian life is a journey into God, it is a journey into infinity – not an abstract ‘absoluteness’ but an infinity of what Gregory simply calls ‘goodness’, an infinite resource of mercy, help and delight. And because of its limitless nature, this journey is always marked by desire, by hope and longing, never coming to possess or control its object.
This well describes the heavenly part of Dante’s journey. Canon Sagovsky also reminds us of Augustine’s claim that we are attracted by God’s love for us, and the more we respond to this love, “the more we feel its attraction.” In our ascent, our love is redirected towards what endlessly satisfies. We are liberated from the bondage of sin – those “false images” – to love more and more, endlessly. Augustine’s “Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee” become’s Dante’s “Our hearts are wayward till they find the way to thee.” And so Dante goes on.
The end of the Paradiso has Dante speechless, but ultimately transformed into the love that has led him onwards, that has finally made his crooked path straight:
Here vigor failed the lofty fantasy:
But now was turning my desire and will,
Even as a wheel that equally is moved,
The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.
And, so, may it be for us …
15 December 2009
(This is Neil) Should we recognize sanctity in the different churches and ecclesial communities? It is difficult to imagine a negative answer being theologically intelligible – would we constantly have to adopt an arbitrary suspicion towards “what appears to be holiness”? In any case, such an answer would also be inconsistent with Roman Catholic practice. The Ecumenical Commission of the Central Committee of the Great Jubilee Year 2000, in its letter to national committees in 1998, noted:
In many places Christians have acknowledged in their midst martyrs and exemplary confessors of faith, hope and charity – both men and women. Some of these, such as Francis of Assisi, Roublev, Johann Sebastian Bach, Monsignor Romero, Elizabeth Seton, the martyr Anuarite of Zaire, and Martin Luther King, have been for various reasons recognized beyond confessional boundaries. Ecumenical groups could look at the example of some of these witnesses with a view to identifying how the work of the Holy Spirit can be distinguished in them and what their role might be in the promotion of full communion.
Already, in preparation for the Jubilee, Pope John Paul II echoed his predecessor Paul VI in claiming that “The witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants.” He would also refer to the Russian Orthodox “Saint Serafim of Sarov” as an exemplar of mystical prayer in Crossing the Threshold of Hope. More recently, after the death of Brother Roger of Taizé, Pope Benedict XVI said, “Brother Schutz is in the hands of eternal goodness, of eternal love, and has arrived at eternal joy,” making it clear that he saw him as a saint.
(None of this, of course, is meant to overlook difficulties. The Ecumenical Commission’s letter acknowledges that there are some figures who seem to be symbols of “division” or “rupture,” and counsels that “an examination of these figures could be undertaken in a particular place in order to arrive at a reconciliation of memories” – a “new perspective” that would truly open a “new chapter” on these figures, but still be accountable to history.)
Thus, it is rather unfortunate that most Catholic knows very little about Eastern Orthodox saints. And, since this post is originating from the United States, I can say that it is very unfortunate that most American Catholics probably can’t even name a single Eastern Orthodox saint from North America. Thus, this post will ask a simple question: What can we learn from the Eastern Orthodox saints of North America? I’ll try to provide an answer by looking at a very interesting recent article [sub. required] by Amy Slagle in Spiritus that suggests that these saints might serve as models of cultural engagement.
Professor Slagle tells us that Orthodoxy confronted ethnic and religious diversity in North America. One might expect that the Orthodox saints would model a safe withdrawal into a fortress of unchanging “doctrinal verity, ritual ancientness, and patriarchal authority.” But this is not the case. This is, in part, because of their missionary impulse to share their treasure and bring others to fulfillment.
When the first missionaries arrived in Alaska in the late 18th century, and, in a second wave, in the 1820s, as Metropolitan Theodosius recently recalled, they “did not equate the preaching of the Gospel with the eradication of a particular culture” but “sought to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that would transform, rather than destroy, a particular culture.” For example, St Innocent Veniaminov created the Aleut alphabet in collaboration with native teachers, maintaining “cultural diversity,” and preventing “Christ and the Gospel from being associated solely with Western European culture and civilization.”
St Innocent, Slagle tells us, even saw “an experiential overlap between Orthodox and Native Alaskan religious forms.” He met with a shaman who claimed to heal through heavenly visitors. Innocent told him to continue meeting with what he described as “Good Angels” and even sought to visit these “angels.” Bishop Kallistos Ware has noted that, when the monastery of Valaam issued a volume in 1894 commemorating the centenary of the mission to Alaska (which had originated from the monastery), they referred to St Innocent’s ethnography and said that he recognized the “spark of divine truth” in Alaskan traditional religion. The monks refer here to St Justin Martyr, who claimed that the divine logos had scattered seeds of the truth, logoi spermatikoi, in all humanity, and it is the role of the church to take up the scattered seeds and nurture them.
Professor Slagle also tells us that St Tikhon, the Russian Orthodox archbishop of North America from 1898 to 1907, did not favor withdrawal into separate ethnicities. He did suggest that the different immigrant group form ethnic dioceses, but this was to be in preparation for an autocephalous American Orthodox Church. Thus, he consecrated the Syrian priest Raphael Hawaweeny to serve as a bishop to the Syrian Orthodox immigrants. And he supported the development of an English-language “Western Rite” liturgy based on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Raphael Hawaweeny is also commemorated as a saint, in part for recognizing the Russian Tikhon as archbishop. An akathist dedicated to him reads, “Knowing that in Christ, all are one whether Arab, Greek, or Russian, thou didst rejoice in God.” It later says, “As a self-proclaimed Syro-Arab by birth, Greek by education, American by residence, Russian at heart, Slav in soul, thou didst minister to all, teaching the Orthodox in the New World to proclaim with one voice, ‘Alleluia.’”
What, then, can we learn from the Eastern Orthodox saints of North America? Professor Slagle tells us that they show an Orthodoxy that is not a “museum-piece Christianity” but a religion “endowed with a strong sense of missionary engagement with and compassionate sensitive towards differences amongst people both outside and within its ecclesial boundaries.” They show an Christianity that does not disdain cultural and ethnic differences.
Obviously, they have quite a bit to teach all Christians.
10 November 2009
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(This is Neil) Today is the feast day of St Leo the Great, pope. Thus, it would seem to be a good idea to consider some of his writings. Here, I would like to do so very briefly with the aid of an article in last year’s International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church by Douglas Powell. (The article is actually the edited version of one of Reverend Powell’s unpublished papers. He died in 1994.) It has to do with a rather important question: How did Leo speak of the authority of the papacy?
To answer this question, Powell looks at the term haeres Petri (“heir of Peter”), which occurs a few times in Leo’s 96 sermons. What could this term mean? It seems like a legal term, but it occurs in Leo’s anniversary sermons, not, as one would expect, in the letters that deal with juridical matters. Furthermore, Leo speaks of himself as indignus haeres (“so unworthy an heir”), which would mean that – legally speaking – he wouldn’t inherit. But, obviously, Leo feels that he has inherited. Lastly, in a legal context, an heir inherits after the original possessor becomes defunct. But Leo does not believe that St Peter, who he says perseveres “in the strength of the Rock which he has received,” is defunct.
So, then, what is going on here? We must conclude that the term is devotional, not juridical, and has to do with Leo’s devotion to Peter – particularly the “solid” faith of Peter in the church’s one foundation, Jesus Christ. Leo, for instance, reflects on Peter in Sermon III:
[Christ] has not Himself abandoned the guardianship of His beloved flock. And from His overruling and eternal protection we have received the support of the Apostles’ aid also, which assuredly does not cease from its operation: and the strength of the foundation, on which the whole superstructure of the Church is reared, is not weakened by the weight of the temple that rests upon it. For the solidity of that faith which was praised in the chief of the Apostles is perpetual: and as that remains which Peter believed in Christ, so that remains which Christ instituted in Peter.
Thus, for Leo, Peter is distinguished by the “solidity” and “stability” (firmitas, stabilitas, soliditas) of his faith. In Sermon IV, we read that Christ “prays especially for Peter’s faith for the state of the rest will be more secure if the mind of their princeps be not overthrown.” And “the assistance of divine grace is so ordained that the stability (firmitas) which through Christ is given to Peter should through Peter be transmitted to the other apostles.”
Being an “heir of Peter,” then, means being the heir of the one who received the charismatic gift of having the “primacy of faith” (Lk 22:32) to “strengthen [his] brothers.” The difficult questions of faith in the fifth century had to do with the Incarnation. The “plenitude” of faith in the Incarnation was contained in Peter’s declaration, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Leo – as Peter’s heir – had authority to resolve these pressing questions.
But this authority was based on the recognition that the Church of Rome, from Peter onwards, had always kept the faith, and, in Powell’s words, “had thereby preserved that fundamentum without which the Church would collapse and fall apart. This was the basis of its auctoritas.” Powell notes that this idea of the “primacy of faith” was so important later – in the late medieval period – that it was held that a Pope who lapsed into heresy simply could not be considered “heir of Peter.”
So, what might this practically mean for us? When we think and speak about the papacy, particularly with our Protestant and Orthodox brothers and sisters, perhaps we should not begin by discussing legal and jurisdictional questions. For Leo, any primacy in honor or rank comes from a primacy of faith. Perhaps, then, we should begin by asking how the primacy of the Bishop of Rome might serve to strengthen the faith in all the local churches through its own firmitas, soliditas, stabilitas.
How might such a primacy be described? Here, I think, we can look at the end of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission’s 1999 Agreed Statement, The Gift of Authority:
Such a universal primate will exercise leadership in the world and also in both communions, addressing them in a prophetic way. He will promote the common good in ways that are not constrained by sectional interests, and offer a continuing and distinctive teaching ministry, particularly in addressing difficult theological and moral issues. A universal primacy of this style will welcome and protect theological enquiry and other forms of the search for truth, so that their results may enrich and strengthen both human wisdom and the Church’s faith. Such a universal primacy might gather the churches in various ways for consultation and discussion.
What do you think?
6 November 2009
(This is Neil) A few days ago, while marking the signing of the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999, the Pope said, “This anniversary… is an occasion to recall the truth about man’s justification, testified together, to come together in ecumenical celebrations and to reflect further on this and other topics that are the object of the ecumenical dialogue.” Well, then, let’s do just that. (This post can be read together with my short post about the unlikely possibility of a supposed “fundamental difference” between Catholics and Lutherans.)
In this post, I’d like to discuss a helpful article, written by Vitalis Mshanga, that asks whether the Lutheran teaching that the justified person is simultaneously righteous and a sinner (simul iustus et peccator) should be church dividing. The article, in the current Australian E-Journal of Theology, can be found here [PDF].
Luther claimed that the theological origin of the claim that the believer is both righteous and a sinner was Augustine. For Augustine, the root of all sins is found in concupiscence, which he says is “perversity and lack of order, that is, turning away from the Creator who is more excellent, and a turning to creatures which are inferior to him.” Through baptism, we are cleansed from original sin, but concupiscence remains, not being in itself a sin. For Luther, sin does remain after baptism, even if its power and much of its substance are taken away – it is a “ruled sin.” This difference about baptism and sin, as we will see, will prove to be significant.
The point of the simul, for Luther, is that we are still in need of daily forgiveness. We are righteous, but still the old Adam. Luther compares the situation of the justified to a man who is sick, but has been promised a cure from his doctor, and is living as though he will soon be recovered. “He is sick in fact but he is well because of the sure promise of the doctor, whom he trusts and who has reckoned him as already cured, because he is sure that he will cure him.” Here Mshanga points us to Ted Dorman’s claim that the early Luther saw saving faith as looking backward to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins, but also looking forward to a more complete future healing – “the forward look of banking one’s hope on God’s promises of ultimate deliverance from the presence of sin (full health!), as well as the penalty of sin.” Thus, we live “in fact,” but also “in hope.” We are now only partly righteous, “in heaven” with Christ, and partly still in the flesh.
But we can make sense of the simul another way. Mshanga also introduces a distinction between “substance ontology” and “relational ontology.” “Substance ontology” sees the identity of a being in terms of its own properties. As you might expect, “relational ontology” sees the identity of a being in terms of its relationship with one or more other beings. In terms of “substance ontology” – that is, in terms of just himself or herself, the believer is a sinner. But, when defined in terms of his or her relationship to Christ, the believer is “righteous.” Thus, as Luther says, the believer is righteous “through the forgiveness of sins, that is, though the judgment of God who accepts him as righteous for Christ’s sake,” but he is a sinner “in himself, that is, as he now exists as a human being.” Thus, we are now both totally righteous and totally sinners.
So, we can see that, even if we ultimately feel that we can’t fully embrace Luther’s teaching, we can grasp it. It is intelligible.
What has happened in ecumenical discussions? Both Catholics and Lutherans have agreed that justification is God’s work and is not a legal fiction: God forgives sins and make us righteous. But remember the difference between Augustine and Luther. Catholics want to say that in baptism, all sin, all the effects of sin, and all guilt are cleansed from us. Only concupiscence remains, and because of this we must ask for forgiveness. Catholics do not want to call concupiscence sin – the Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification: “This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin ….” For Catholics, one does not have to consent to concupiscence; concupiscence is merely “incentive” to sin. But Lutherans want to call it sin, even if it is a peccatum regnatum, or a weak sin that can be “ruled over” (see here.)
The Joint Declaration did not come to a consensus about whether concupiscence is sin or merely an inclination to sin, although it was agreed that:
[The justified] are continuously exposed to the power of sin still pressing its attacks (cf. Rom 6:12-14) and are not exempt from a lifelong struggle against the contradiction to God within the selfish desires of the old Adam (cf. Gal 5:16; Rom 7:7-10). The justified also must ask God daily for forgiveness as in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:12; 1 Jn 1:9), are ever again called to conversion and penance, and are ever again granted forgiveness.
So, regarding the simul itself, are we at an impasse?
Not necessarily. First, we can ask whether the Lutheran and Catholic conceptions are really so far apart. Theodor Schneider and Gunther Wenz have asked, “[H]ow great is the difference between a conception in which the concupiscence present in the baptized is really sin, but does not separate one from Christ, so long as one does not let sin rule, and a conception in which concupiscence, because it does not separate the baptized from Christ, is only a tendency to sin and only becomes sin, i.e., only separates from Christ, when one consents to it?” If the views are relatively close, should Catholic and Lutherans regard one another as meriting condemnation based on their differences on the simul?
Well, it should be noted here that the official “Response of the Catholic Church” to the Joint Declaration claimed that the two conceptions were far apart – that the formula “at the same time righteous and sinner” was “not acceptable” because it “does not in fact seem compatible with the renewal and sanctification of the interior of man of which the council of Trent speaks.” Thus, the official “Response” claimed that it was very hard to see how the doctrine of simul iustus et peccator was “not touched by the anathemas of the Tridentine decree on original sin and justification.” (See the “Official Response” here [PDF].)
Given that any perceived similarity between the Lutheran and Catholic conception has not impressed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, are we at an impasse?
Again, not necessarily. The Catholic Church does teach a certain simul. In Lumen Gentium, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council maintained that the Church “containing sinners in its own bosom, is at one and the same time (simul) holy and always in need of purification and it pursues unceasingly penance and renewal.” In Unitatis Redintegratio, the Council fathers said, “this people of God, though still in its members liable to sin, is ever growing in Christ during its pilgrimage on earth, and is guided by God’s gentle wisdom, according to His hidden designs, until it shall happily arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem.” Thus, as Mshanga writes, it is presented as a clear fact that “after baptism, believers continue to sin.” The church is a church of sinners to the point where Pope John Paul II could even speak of “the Church, living, holy, and sinful” at a prayer vigil.
Thus, Catholic and Lutherans agree that the justified are forgiven, renewed, and sanctified; that there is a propensity to sin in the justified; and the justified must struggle with this propensity through life. Lutherans claim that human beings are always sinful. Catholics claim that human beings (save for Mary) are potential sinners, although this potential has apparently always been actualized. Thus, in reality, Lutherans and Catholics agree that all believers are sinners.
The question, then, is whether disagreement about concupiscence should be regarded as a stumbling block to church unity? Or can this disagreement be seen as a mere matter of theological opinion? (I don’t see that it has to be church-dividing.)
What do you think?
27 October 2009
(This is Neil) With regard to Todd’s post, Trautman’s Vocab, below, I thought that some of our readers would be interested in this excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ posthumously published Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer (1964). Lewis is discussing the process in the Church of England that ultimately led to the publication of the Alternative Service Book (ASB) in 1980 (a Liturgical Commission had been appointed in 1955):
For whom are we to cater in revising the language? A country parson I know asked his sexton what he understood by indifferently in the phrase “truly and indifferently administer justice.” The man replied, “It means making no difference between one chap and another.” “And what would it mean if it said impartially?” asked the parson. “Don’t know. Never heard of it,” said the sexton. Here, you see, we have a change intended to make things easier. But it does so neither for the educated, who understand indifferently already, nor for the wholly uneducated, who don’t understand impartially. It helps only some middle area of the congregation which may not even be a majority. Let us hope the revisers will prepare for their work by a prolonged empirical study of popular speech as it actually is, not as we (a priori) assume it to be. How many scholars know (what I discovered by accident) that when uneducated people say impersonal they sometimes mean incorporeal?
What of expressions which are archaic but not unintelligible? (“Be ye lift up.”) I find that people re-act to archaism most diversely. It antagonizes some; makes what is said unreal. To others, not necessarily more learned, it is highly numinous and a real aid to devotion. We can’t please both.
I know there must be change. But is this the right moment? Two signs of the right moment occur to me. One would be a unity among us which enabled the Church – not some momentarily triumphant party – to speak through the new work with a united voice. The other would be the manifest presence, somewhere in the Church, of the specifically literary talent needed for composing a good prayer. Prose needs to be not only very good but very good in a very special way, if it is to stand up to reiterated reading aloud. [Thomas] Cranmer may have his defects as a theologian; as a stylist, he can play all the moderns, and many of his predecessors, off the field. I don’t see either sign at the moment.
Based on this excerpt, we can, I think, ask four questions:
1. Regarding the vocabulary in new liturgical translations, has anyone actually conducted relevant empirical studies of popular speech? (Or are we just speculating?)
2. Can we say anything more than Lewis about “archaic” expressions? Is there an argument for “liturgical English – a “sacral” and “strongly stylized, more or less artificial language” (see here) – beyond the claim that some people (but inevitably some) will find it numinous and an aid to devotion?
3. Can the church presently speak with a “united voice” regarding liturgical translation?
4. Have we made use of any “literary talent” in translation?
24 August 2009
(This is Neil) Todd has already drawn your attention to a homily given at the 9th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC). I’d like to direct you to a pastoral reflection [PDF] delivered there by Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, SDB of Guwahati, in northeast India. (Archbishop Menamparampil, incidentally, wrote this year’s meditations for the via crucis on Good Friday in Rome.) Let me first explain why I find the reflection interesting.
We can surely tell that our theology is inadequate if we place the modes of Christ’s presence in the liturgy in competition to one another. Christ is present – among other modes of presence – in the word (himself speaking when the scriptures are read), in the gathered assembly, in the person of the priest, and “most of all” in the Eucharistic species (see Sacrosanctum Concilium 7; Todd’s commentary is here). If we see these modes as rivals, what has happened? Perhaps, in our despair, we see the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist as not a transformation of this sad world, but a displacement of it through annihilation and recreation. Thus, any connection of the Eucharistic presence to a presence of Christ in “ordinary” human activity – a prayer or a meal – appears to be a diminishment. Or, on the other hand, perhaps we see the Eucharistic presence as merely the sign of the bonds of the community, and we imagine that a renewed emphasis on the substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist belittles those bonds.
I think that Archbishop Menamparampil’s reflection is interesting because it relates two of the modes of Christ’s presence in liturgical celebration –the word and the Eucharist. Obviously, the Archbishop notes that Christ really is present in both the word and Eucharist. But the Archbishop also provides seven other ways to relate these two modes of presence:
2. Both the Eucharist and the word are sources of life. Thus, in St John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever” (Jn 6:51). This is also true of the word: Jesus says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn 6:63).
3. The presences of Christ in word and Eucharist both call us to intimacy with him. Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6:56). Regarding the word, Jesus likewise says, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:22-23). (My emphases.)
4. Both modes of presence call us to unity. In Acts, we read that the early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42, Archbishop’s emphases.) And, so they lived in unity, even holding all things in common. Both word and sacrament also provide the “spiritual stamina” necessary for ecumenical and interreligious efforts.
5. The presences of Christ in word and Sacrament call us to fruitfulness. If we listen to the word, we will act in defense of the poor and marginalized, “always making a preferential option for the more humiliated and less privileged.” Archbishop Menamparampil also quotes the Catechism about the Eucharist, “To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren” (1397).
6. The presences of Christ in word and Sacrament call us to be communicative. Here, Archbishop Menamparampil reminds us of the Emmaus account. Jesus interprets the scriptures, the disciples recognize him in the breaking of the bread and remember that their hearts had been burning within them when Jesus had talked to them, and they return to Jerusalem to communicate what they had heard and seen (Lk 24:13-53).
The Archbishop here offers some very interesting comments on how to communicate the Gospel:
In the Asian context I have often referred to “whispering the Gospel to the soul of Asia”. Whispering, not because we are apologetic about the message we carry, but because in Asia the most sacred words are whispered; the most precious secrets are whispered; the most intimate sharing is through a whisper. However, in order that the whisper may be effective, we have to come close to the ‘soul’ of a community, enter into an intimate relationship with its inner identity, catch something of its inner vibrancy and rhythm. That is where we so often fail. However, some missionary geniuses have negotiated their way through the inner world of a community, touching its core values and ways of self-expression, and have found acceptable utterance in an amazing manner, leading entire societies closer to the Gospel. The expression ‘whispering’ does not intend to deny the duty of “announcing from the housetops” where such a strategy is possible and relevant. But in every case, one should know, what, where, and how. What is important is that the message goes across.
I have also often spoken about ‘non-threatening’ ways of evangelization, meaning that we should never go against the selfhood of a community. While Jesus at times had strong words for his own intimate friends and members of his own community (‘woe to you’, ‘get behind me satan’) to emphasize a point, dealing with other communities he seems to be gently trying to come on their wavelength and drawing them to reflection, e.g. with the Samaritan woman, Syro-Phoenician woman, Roman officer. We find Paul too consistently trying to build bridges across to the people of Greco-Roman world, emerging courageously, but always with a great sense of responsibility from the Hebrew world.
7. Encountering Christ in word and sacrament, the Archbishop says, produces people of genuine depth.
By ‘persons of depth’ we do not mean merely persons of intellectual acumen, but those who are deep in their spiritual perceptions, human relations, and commitment to values and to the common good. This sort of depth comes from true God-experience and is characterized by authenticity, sincerity, deeds matching words, capacity to endure for common causes, gentle joy and religious seriousness.
8. The presences of Christ in word and sacrament, insofar as they produce depth, can help Asian Catholics avoid the temptations of fundamentalism, nationalisms, and other ideologies. How is this? With regard to the word, Archbishop Menamparampil says that “Deep persons discern a design even in a chaotic situation” and quotes from one of his meditations for the via crucis this past Good Friday:
Below the surface of cataclysmic calamities, wars, revolutions and conflicts of every kind, there is a quiet presence, there is purposeful divine action. God stays hidden in the world, in society, in the universe…and reveals his plans through the ‘word’, showing how he draws good out of evil both from the little events in our personal lives and the great happenings of human history. His ‘word’ makes known the ‘rich and glorious’ plan of God, which says that he frees us from our sins and that Christ is in you.
Comments are always welcome. How can we relate the presences of Christ in word and Eucharist?
18 August 2009
(This is Neil) I tend to read the reviews in Modern Theology electronically, a year late. In the July 2008 issue, the Lutheran ecumenist Michael Root reviews a book by the Dominican theologian Charles Morerod. Fr Morerod apparently wishes to argue that there is a “fundamental difference” (Grunddifferenz) between Catholic and Lutherans on justification, based on Luther’s adherence to a mistaken “philosophical theory of causality.” Basically, for Morerod, Luther sees divine and human action as mutually exclusive. Professor Root finds this unconvincing.
Along the way, Root makes some important points, not just concerning ecumenical theology (or Morerod’s book), but theology in general:
1. First, as Root writes:
Any adequate presentation of the saving work of God’s grace as understood within the Augustianian tradition requires some sense of God moving the self without violating the integrity of the self’s own action. Only thus can the faith (or hope or love) of the justified be both their own actions and also gifts of grace. [The Anglican priest and theologian] Austin Farrer, who thought about these issues as deeply as anyone in the last hundred years, used the term “double agency” to describe this relation. Divine and human agency coincide, with decisive priority belonging to the divine agent. If some such notion is not presupposed, then one is forced into unacceptable alternatives: either divine agency removes all human participation in salvation or human agency makes a contribution to salvation independent of grace. What is needed is some sense of God and creatures operating on different levels of being, so that their agencies do not compete in a zero-sum game.
So we can say that any theology, whether Protestant or Catholic, that proceeds to ignore or reject “double agency” will end up making problematic assertions.
2. Luther, Root says, considers justification to be pure gift. But he does not otherwise reject “double agency.” Even in his Bondage of the Will, Luther writes, “[God] does not work in us without us, because it is for this he has created and preserved us, that he might work in us and we might cooperate with him, whether outside his Kingdom through his general omnipotence, or inside his Kingdom by the special virtue of his Spirit” (my emphasis).
3. Consequently, Luther does believe that the sacraments communicate saving grace (when received by faith).
4. Luther’s main concern is not some “philosophy of causality.” He is concerned to say that the only righteousness that avails before God’s judgment is the righteousness of Christ. This means that his main concern is not philosophical at all, but soteriological.
Root has written elsewhere that the specific issue has to do with whether good works can merit eternal life:
Aquinas and the Council of Trent affirm merit as an eschatological concept: eschatologically there will be a true fittingness between eternal life as the end of the movement of grace and the human creature as moved by a grace that does not violate its intrinsic nature as agent. The Reformers, however, feared merit as a practical-ethical concept, as a concept that would underwrite a quid pro quo approach to the Christian life.
We might here suggest, with Root, that Lutheran theology is written from a perspective sometimes found in Catholic saints, one of self-forgetfulness. Thus Thérèse of Lisieux:
After earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself (see the Catechism 2011).
I’d like to ask: Should all Catholic theology be written from this perspective? What might that mean? What would be lost?
5. Regarding ecumenical methodology, Root reminds us that we must distinguish between a relativistic denial of truth claims and a degree of relativism towards the particular language in which those truth claims are affirmed. This is an important distinction.
6. Also regarding ecumenical methodology, Root worries that the assertion of “fundamental differences” between Christian traditions often means that the “fine grain of particular disputes is lost.” This is very another important point, I think.
17 August 2009
(This is Neil) For some time, I’ve wanted to continue discussing the sacrament of confirmation. See here, one of the not uncommon posts where the comments are better than the original post. In this post, we’ll look more at the history of confirmation to draw some theological conclusions. I will be indebted throughout to Gabriele Winkler’s “Confirmation or Chrismation? A Study in Comparative Liturgy,” which appeared in Worship in 1984 and was reprinted here.
First, Professor Winkler examines three liturgical books from early eighth century Gaul. The Missale Gallicanum Vetus was written in northeastern France. It doesn’t speak of a postbaptismal rite performed by the bishop nor does it prescribe a laying on of hands. Instead, after the baptism, the presbyter recites a formula for an anointing, followed by a footwashing. The formula is recited to God, “qui te regeneravit ex acqua et spiritu sancto.” Similarly, the Missale Gothicum, from Autun or Alsace, also contains a formula for a postbaptismal anointing, followed by a footwashing.
In addition, the Bobbio Missal, probably written in the northwest Alps, prescribes a prebaptismal anointing. The text (in translation) reads, “After this you shall breathe into his mouth three times and say: N., receive the Holy Spirit, mayest thou guard him in thy heart.” This text connects the anointing with the pouring of oil over David’s head and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
We can say that all three missals are influenced by the Syrian tradition, drawing on John 3:5 and the theme of being “born of water and Spirit.” For instance, all three missals have a prebaptismal blessing of the font that refers to John 3:5. The specific emphases on the Holy Spirit and being “born again” are important to remember.
Here, says Winkler, we also see the “archaic shape of initiation rites where either the bishop or the presbyter could confer baptism, including the postbaptismal anointing.” We can confirm this “archaic shape” by looking at evidence from Spain. Early Spanish documents show one postbaptismal anointing. The first Council of Toledo (397?) declared that a presbyter could, if the bishop were absent, perform the anointing with oil that had earlier received episcopal blessing. Only at the beginning of the 7th century, do we see presbyters being forbidden from performing the anointing. And this shows the increasing influence of Rome.
Outside of Rome, then, there were communities that practiced one postbaptismal anointing. As in the contemporary East, the presbyter could perform the anointing.
But these missals do not use the terms confirmare and confirmatio. Those terms first appear in the juridical language of the local synods of south Gaul. It is important to note the obvious difference between liturgical and juridical language.
The most important Gallic council for our purposes is the Council of Orange (441), whose second canon uses the term confirmatio. Of course, in Rome there was a double anointing with a distinct laying on of hands. But Winkler says that, here, “confirmation” might simply refer to the postbaptismal anointing that we later see in the Gallic missals. Specifically, in this second canon, the Council of Orange might have been speaking of bishops anointing those who hadn’t been anointed when they were baptized, because the baptismal minister lacked chrism that had received an episcopal blessing. The Council seems concerned not to duplicate the anointing, speaking of “one blessing” (una benedictio) “so that a repeated chrismation not be considered necessary.” Perhaps, Winkler says, rural ministers thought that two anointings were better than one.
During the fifth century in Gaul, confirmation became restricted to the bishop. Two canons of the Council of Riez (439) declared that an illegally consecrated bishop still had power to “confirm neophytes” (confirmare neophytes). Between 449 and 461, the Council of Arles said that a bishop, as opposed to an abbot, confirmed neophytes. “Confirmation” seems to still have meant the postbaptismal anointing. Nevertheless, this postbaptismal anointing was being separated from baptism or duplicated when the bishop finally got to a rural area.
The point is that we see a growing focus on the validity of the rites of initiation and the character of the minister of initiation. Winkler will say that “Considerations about the outpouring of the Spirit contributed in no way to the growing usage of such terminology.” Juridical reflection on confirmation became separated from theological reflection on the meaning of the rite, and, we might say, developed a life of its own.
But what of “confirmation” as the laying on of hands? There is a fifth century homily from Gaul that has been credited, at different times, to Eusebius of Emesa and Faustus of Riez. (Who knows?) It speaks of a separate laying on of hands and employs the term “confirmare.” It later was conveniently credited to Pope Melchiades, and, now fortified with papal authority, was incorporated in the False Decretals, the Decretum of Gratian, and, finally, the Sentences of Peter Lombard. This homily separates confirmation and baptism. It associates the Holy Spirit with confirmation and Christ with baptism. Furthermore, the pneumatic character of confirmation is meant to strengthen the recipient for battle (confirmamur ad pugnam). (Already in baptism we are “born anew” and “washed.) Winkler finds this description wanting – the events in Acts 2 cannot be reduced to strengthening.
No doubt the disciples were “strengthened” but this was the consequence of much deeper currents, of an infinitely more forceful event! At the core of this event stood the transformation of the disciples into apostles – a transformation expressed with the imagery of divine fire with its power, on the one hand, to burn to ashes that which cannot withstand the divine presence, and, on the other hand, to effect total illumination. The disciples are now apostles sent as their master was sent. Just as the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at the Jordan marked the beginning of the “public” life of Jesus as the Christ, so did the outpouring of the Spirit on the disciples effect a profound change in their lives. With the force of the Spirit they now went forth to proclaim the mighty works of God.
But now the “apostle” has become the “strengthened” soldier. The military images had previously been associated with the prebaptismal anointing – with the expulsion of evil, not the outpouring of the Spirit. Again, Winkler notes that “strengthening is the outcome, not the essence, of a much deeper and infinitely more consequential event – the bestowal of those mysterious currents of life which have their source in the inner divine stream of life.” None of the Gallican missals bothers to speak of “strengthening.”
Perhaps, then, in the West, some of our theological problems with confirmation have early roots. They are:
But Gabriele Winkler ends by suggesting that the church might be getting back to the earlier history of confirmation, due to receptivity to the tradition of the East. Pope Paul VI’s apostolic constitution, Divinae consortium naturae (1971) [PDF], noted that the sacrament of confirmation is “conferred through the anointing with chrism on the forehead” – “the laying of hand on the elect … is not of the essence of the sacramental rite” – and that the effect of the sacrament is to be “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
What should be done?
14 August 2009
(This is Neil) Brother Alois, prior of the Taizé community, has been writing reflections for the greater Christian feasts for the Catholic daily newspaper La Croix. He has written one for August 15th, the Assumption or Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, entitled “Nothing is Impossible for God.” In the reflection, we can pick out three themes.
The first should be characteristic of all Mariology. Mary “prefigures the church,” she is an “example of faith.” As the Anglican-Roman Catholic agreed statement, Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, tells us, Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, stands before us as an exemplar of faithful obedience, and her ‘Be it to me according to your word’ is the grace-filled response each of us is called to make to God, both personally and communally, as the Church, the body of Christ” (my emphasis.)
The other themes are characteristic of the writing of Brother Alois and the spirituality of Taizé. There is an emphasis on faith as trust in God that realizes in communion with Him. When writing about the Transfiguration, Brother Alois noted about Jesus, “Was it not this radical surrender to trust that caused the light of God in Jesus to shine in the sight of the apostles?” The mystery of this communion is received in silence, in the very depths of our hearts. But friendship with God does not result in lonely individualism. For Lent, Brother Alois said, “We are invited to a conversion: not to turn towards ourselves in introspection or individual perfectionism, but to seek communion with God and also communion with others.” Thus, for this feast, Brother Alois writes about Mary’s trust, which results in her carrying a mystery within her. And he will say that, at Cana, Mary “invited others to enter into that same trust.” (The emphases in this paragraph are mine.)
Here, then, is an excerpt from Brother Alois:
The Gospel calls Mary “full of grace”. From all time she was loved by God and prepared for what God wanted from her. None of her neighbors could guess the mystery that Mary of Nazareth was carrying within her. Do not the greatest mysteries take place in deep silence? In the course of history, sometimes just a few people have been enough to change the course of events. Mary’s trust and courage were enough to let God enter into humanity.
God desired a free yes from this young girl. She declared: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” And then her faith was put to the test, harshly. The improvised birth of Jesus, the distance that the child of twelve years took from his parents, the answer through which Jesus abruptly made them understand that now there were deeper ties than blood, all this did not lead her to stop trusting.
At Cana she invited others to enter into that same trust: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:1-12). She spoke her yes again when everything was incomprehensible, even absurd. When Jesus died on a cross, she was there. And then Jesus entrusted his mother to the disciple John (John 19:25-27).
This yes of an entire lifetime is what God desires from each of us. It is as if he said to us: “I need you so that the Gospel may reach all people. Do not fear your limits or suffering. I will never leave you.”
The icon of Mary, the Mother of God, offering us her son, shows that, as the first one to trust in the gospel, she guides us to Jesus. The icon reproduced here is found in the church at Taizé. It was blessed in 1962 by Metropolitan Nikodim of the Russian Orthodox Church, who came to visit us.
The Virgin Mary prefigures the Church. In the communion of saints we are linked to her intimately, as to a mother. Countless believers have found consolation and courage in turning to her, in the confidence that she is alive with God. So many destitute people find in her soothing for their wounds, a healing of the heart.
The feast of August 15th, which came from the East, probably from Jerusalem, celebrates the fulfillment of Mary’s pilgrimage. She is now with Christ. He took to himself the one whom the Holy Spirit had prepared to give him life on earth. The Virgin Mary’s faith has become sight. Mary certifies that the work of reconciliation accomplished by Christ has found fulfillment.
Mary will always be an example of faith. Today, when a definitive yes in marriage or celibacy is easily called into question, it is especially important for those who have pronounced it to keep it alive and nourish it, inspired by Mary.
13 August 2009
(This is Neil) In the Western church, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is on this Saturday, August 15. The East will celebrate the Dormition of Our Most Holy Lady, Theotokos, and Ever-Virgin Mary. So, this is a post about Mary, although not wholly about the Assumption or Dormition. It is based on a very interesting article [PDF] by the Redemptorist theologian Anthony J. Kelly in the current issue of Australian E-Journal of Theology.
Fr Kelly begins by clarifying what we mean when we speak of the “mysteries” of the faith. A “mystery” is not one concept among others that we can eventually figure out and place in a preexisting category. A “mystery” demands a “special kind of receptivity” – it gives itself to us in such a way as to reconstitute “the basic horizon of life and existence itself.” It is what Jean-Luc Marion calls a “saturated phenomenon”: “There is an ‘excess’ of the divine self-giving that overflows and disrupts the mundane routines of human experience and rational control.”
Thus, we speak of “mystery.” Fr Kelly says that we encounter Mary as caught up in the “saturated phenomenon” of Christ – her presence is always “back-lit” by the “light from light.” She does not represent our own longings for some sort of more merciful deity or an eternal feminine, but comes to us as an excessive gift, standing as servant and witness at the very “point where human existence has been made open to the imaginable future of ‘God all in all’ (1 Cor 15:28).”
We can make more sense of this by speaking of encountering Mary in aesthetic terms. This is because – and here Fr Kelly references George Steiner – beauty, as, for instance, enacted in Marian art, “reorients our existence by inspiring sensitivities to what has previously been hidden or overlooked” (my emphasis). Steiner describes the “provocation” of the Annunciation as depicted by Fra Angelico – “A mastering intrusion has shifted the light” precisely where Mary sits, crossing her hands. Mary, says Kelly, is beautiful here because of this shift of light, as her “‘body’ or ‘flesh’ is saturated with a special sense of immediacy and unobjectifiable intimacy with her Son, a field communication with God, in mutual indwelling and self-disclosure.”
Once more, when we contemplate Mary, we do not see a mirror that reflects our own desires, but “more a window through which the light of an arresting otherness breaks through,” calling us to our own Amen.
Fr Kelly uses this phenomenological language to deepen some the expressions in the Anglican-Roman Catholic Agreed Statement, Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ (MGHC). There, Mary is described as the “pattern of grace and hope” who stands before us as the “exemplar of faithful obedience.” “It is as figure of the Church, her arms uplifted in prayer and praise, her hands open in receptivity and availability to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that we are one with Mary as she magnifies the Lord,” the ARCIC document tells us. Fr Kelly’s approach, he says, allows him to follow this language to “greater attentiveness to the experiential roots of faith at the level of mind, heart, feeling, imagination and responsibility.”
In the next section of his article, Fr Kelly speaks of the confession of Mary as Theotokos. This confession was meant to secure the belief in Christ as one person, true God and true man. (Nestorius had wanted to call Mary Christokos, as merely the mother of Christ’s humanity, not his divinity.) Thus, the confession was not an attempt to somehow divinize Mary into a recovered goddess, strangely suspended between divinity and humanity. Rather, in its emphasis that Christ was consubstantial with both God and us, the title serves as a declaration of Mary’s essential humanity. But this humanity is now seen as capable of bearing the divine person of Christ. (Nestorius had allowed “it is one thing to say that God who is the Word of the Father was conjoined to him who was born from Mary … but quite another that the Deity needed a birth involving months [of pregnancy].”)
Mary, then, is an “exemplar” of how humanity can be receptive and available to the “outpouring of the Holy Spirit” (MGHC). God’s light can shine through a human being, rendering that person iconic. Through reflecting on Mary, we see this light – the excess of God giving himself – in seven different “mysteries”:
First, we see through Mary that God is the Father who loved all things into being – see Aquinas, “[T]he love of God is ever creating and inpouring the goodness of things” – with a love that really is “more original than any original sin.” Mary shows us this Fatherhood in her receptivity to his love. She is the creature par excellence who consents to participating in the generative love of the Father in becoming the Mother of God. She witnesses in the Magnificat to this Father who still shows “strength with his arm.” “Thus, Mary figures in the drama of the divine self-giving love intent on bringing life to the world.” And, since the Fatherhood of God is disclosed through Mary’s motherhood, Mary effectively “subverts the religious imagination that would see the ultimate origin in rigidly masculine terms.”
Second, we see through Mary that Christ is the Son – that God is with us. We see this in Mary’s connection with Jesus’ mission. She tells the servers at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). On the cross, Jesus will tell Mary, “Woman, behold your son” (Jn 19:26). According to John’s Gospel, then, Mary is witness to the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and connects Jesus’ crucifixion to the future life of the church.
Third, we see through Mary that God’s love is always bound up with the Cross. Mary sings of the God who disperses “the arrogant of heart and mind” (Lk 1:51), and eventually suffers the piercing of her soul (Lk 2:35), presumably at the foot of the Cross. “By standing before the stark truth of the Cross, she stands against the loveless lie that drives a world of self-enclosure and the exclusion of the powerless.”
Fourth – and this speaks to the Solemnity of the Assumption – we see through Mary that the resurrection of Christ is a divinely transformative event.
In terms of Paul’s indirect description of risen existence (1 Cor 15:42-58), Mary is no longer subject to the rule of death, nor to the dishonor inevitably in the realm of worldly glory, nor to the weakness that worldly power consigns it. Her transformed existence is no longer enclosed in the spiritless materialism of a world undisturbed by the creative imagination of God’s Spirit. In her union with her Son, “the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25), she exemplifies faith in its radical, defiant and universal hope: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Cor 15:19).
MGHC notes of Mary, “Belief in her assumption was grounded in the promise of the resurrection of the dead and the recognition of Mary’s dignity as Theotókos and ‘Ever Virgin’, coupled with the conviction that she who had borne Life should be associated to her Son’s victory over death, and with the glorification of his Body, the Church.”
(See my post here about the Assumption/Dormition of Mary and the terrors of death.)
Also, through the Resurrection, we can say that Mary still lives and acts as an intercessor.
Fifth, through Mary we see that the Spirit is a liberating life-force. Gabriel tells Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The Spirit brings forth what is new since “for God nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:35, 37). We gather that “All efforts to reduce God’s ‘impossible ways’ to the humanly familiar are in vain.”
Sixth, as previously mentioned, Mary is at the foundation of the church, the Cross. Kelly claims that Mary also embodies the holiness of the church, which exists as the gift of God despite all scandals.
Finally, through Mary, we see that God will bring creation to its fulfillment. This can primarily be seen in Saturday’s feast. After all, Mary’s assumption is the “realization of her full-bodied possession of eternal life” through Christ – a realization that we too hope for. The assumption also has significance for all of creation, for “the Spirit has formed in her the particularly beauty of creation in the sight of God.” (MGHC suggests that an “eschatological perspective” can help Anglicans and Roman Catholics find further common ground on Mariology.)
Thus, as Fr Kelly shows, Mary’s presence to the church is “saturated” – it isn’t something that we learn to control and manage, and it doesn’t merely evoke a familiar feeling. Mary helps us become unexpectedly receptive to the God to whom she always gestures.
What do you think?
5 August 2009
(This is Neil) Tomorrow, August 6, is the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord in both the West and the East. The Orthodox priest John Breck has written a reflection for the feast as his latest “Life in Christ” column. Fr Breck’s column should make it clear that we do not understand the Transfiguration if we think it merely some sort of “proof” of Christ’s divinity. As Eastern Christians will sing in one of the hymns for the feast, “Today all mortal nature shines with the divine Transfiguration/And cries with exultation” (my emphasis).
I’ve posted on theosis before here, but it is a subject that certainly requires more sustained reflection. Very briefly, we can say that when we speak of ontological communion with God, we do not mean:
1. That we are united with the essence of God. We are united with the “uncreated light” (or “energy”) that radiates from God’s essence.
2. That our human nature is replaced. Our nature partakes of the divine nature without being consumed or destroyed. (As another Orthodox priest writes, “By our very nature, we can surpass even as we possess our nature …”)
3. That theosis is a human accomplishment. We are only united with God because God’s Word assumed our human nature.
4. That theosis can be reduced to a method, formula, or doctrine. It surpasses our intellectual capacities.
Here, then, is an excerpt from Fr Breck for the feast of the Transfiguration:
St Gregory Palamas similarly stresses the intimate link between the Transfiguration of Christ and our own transformation into his divine glory. “In his incomparable love for men, the Son of God did not merely unite his divine Hypostasis to our nature…but, O incomparable and magnificent miracle! He unites himself also to human hypostases, joining himself to each of the faithful by communion in his holy Body. For he becomes one body with us (Eph 3:6), making us a temple of the whole Godhead (Col 2:9). How then would he not illuminate those who share worthily in the divine radiance of his Body within us, shining upon their soul as he once shone on the bodies of the apostles on Tabor? For as this Body, the source of the light of grace, was at that time not yet united to our body, it shone exteriorly on those who came near it worthily, transmitting light to the soul through the eyes of sense. But today, since it is united to us and dwells with us, it illumines the soul interiorly” (Triads I.3.38).
Fr John Meyendorff gives a poignant commentary on this passage. “Since the Incarnation, our bodies have become ‘temples of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us’ (1 Cor 6:19); it is there, within our own bodies, that we must seek the Spirit, within our bodies sanctified by the sacraments and engrafted by the eucharist into the Body of Christ. God is now to be found within; He is no longer exterior to us. Therefore, we must find the light of Mount Tabor within ourselves. The apostles had only an exterior vision, for Christ had not yet died and risen from the dead, but today we are, all of us, in living reality members of His Body, the Church.”
3 August 2009
(This is Neil) I’m constantly (and inescapably) behind in my posting and I should admit that I’ve been planning a post on theology and science for some time. The following is indebted to a very useful article by Robert John Russell, a physicist and theologian, which appeared in Dialog in 2007. Russell identifies “five key topics on the frontier of theology and science today.” I trust that we can take it to be an overview of the field of theology and science.
The first “key topic” has to do with physical cosmology and creation theology. The Christian doctrine that God created the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo) “represents an amalgam of philosophical and theological claims,” Russell tells us. God is the primary cause of a universe that is rational, since it was created through Christ, the divine logos. The universe is also good, purposeful, and will be transformed into a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). Some theologians, most prominently Wolfhart Pannenberg, have claimed that this doctrine of creation ex nihilo is actually supported by the Big Bang model’s positing of an absolute beginning to the universe. Other scholars, such as John Polkinghorne, have claimed that cosmology is irrelevant to theology.
Russell suggests that we look for middle ground, or “consonance.” The concept of contingency, he says, can serve as a “philosophical connection or substratum” that underlies both creation theology, which represents the universe as absolutely dependent upon God, and Big Bang cosmology, which certainly describes the universe and the laws of nature as contingent. Cosmology and theology, then, are not bound together in an absolute way, but indirectly. Given the historical relativity of scientific theories, looking for anything more than this middle ground would be unwise.
Russell notes that, in the 1980s, scientists drawing on quantum mechanics began to posit an inflationary Big Bang model that suggested that our universe might have emerged out of an initial universe or even a “superspace” of universes. There is no “initial singularity,” and Russell says that we need no longer discuss the theological significance of an “absolute beginning event” (t=0). The inflationary model can also explain the fine-tuning of our universe, now merely one of many regions in a very large universe. But, here, Russell imagines that theological discussion can still take place. For, even if God created a “superspace” universe before our universe, biological life, including life capable of responding to God’s revelation, can still be conceived as the “result of God’s creating the universe” in a very particular way.
The second “key topic” is the relationship between evolution and creation theology. Russell writes, “Evolution is a form of divine creative action in the natural world, adding creation continua to creation ex nihilo.” It is important that the theologian asserts the importance of “God’s continuous creative activity,” because arguments that God created “back at the beginning” fail if there is no initial singularity.
The third “key topic” is “non-interventionist objectivity divine action,” or NIODA. This is an alternative to two common, albeit unfortunate, theological views. One, a more conservative view, suggests that God upholds the world in existence and occasionally suspends or violates natural laws in performing miracles. The other, the more liberal view, suggests that God’s action is “just a linguistic redescription of what nature does entirely through its own God-given processes and secondary causes.” NIODA, Russell says, is an attempt to find “ontological indeterminism”: “that there are some events, in some domains, levels, or kinds of processes in nature which lack a sufficient efficient natural cause.” One could claim that God objectively acts here. We need not rely on either interventionism or subjectivism.
Warning us again about the dangers of looking for more than “consonance” between scientific theories and theological doctrine, Russell points to indeterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics as theologically significant. Since the physics of quantum mechanics determines the making and breaking of hydrogen bonds in the DNA macromolecule – which in turn determines genetic mutations, we can possibly conceive of God acting through genetic processes without momentarily suspending natural laws.
The fourth “key topic” is suffering in nature, or, more precisely, “our response to the challenge that natural evil poses to the goodness and power of God as life’s continuous creation.” Russell doesn’t want to adopt any view that sets God’s freedom against human freedom, as though these two types of freedom were competitive over a “fixed pie.” Instead of suggesting that God withdraws his power and presence from nature for the sake of creaturely freedom in a sort of kenosis, Russell suggests that we follow a theologia crucis “in which God in Christ identifies with, takes up and heals the suffering of the evolutionary history of life.” Instead of thinking about theodicy in terms of creation, we should “relocate” it to the question of redemption.
The fifth “key topic” has to do with the future of the universe. All of the Big Bang models suggest that the universe will either expand and cool before reaching an absolute zero temperature or collapse into an inferno. Eventually, then, the universe will become completely inhospitable to life. How do we reconcile such a future with the promise of a “new heaven and a new earth”? Russell writes that we do not have to argue that the Big Bang models are somehow incorrect. We can suggest that Jesus’ Resurrection was something new and a foretaste (a “proleptic instance,” to use Wolfhart Pannenberg’s term) of the eschatological future, when God will act once more to transform nature into new forms of regularity. This will not be a second act of creation ex nihilo, but a transformation out of the old, ex vetera. Russell writes that, in this view, “Easter was the first instantiation of what will one day be the new laws of nature.”
Robert John Russell’s article is arguing for “creative mutual interaction” between science and theology. This might sound like wishful thinking, but he briefly describes a couple of projects. He seems to suggest that theology can inspire or encourage certain research programs, ranging from support for indeterminism in quantum mechanics to making the theological assumptions of the benign nature of potential extraterrestrial life explicit to developing a “new philosophy of time in which the past is multiply connected to the eschatological future.”
What do you think? (Not being an expert of any sort on this subject, I would be grateful for your comments.)
20 July 2009
(This is Neil) In this week’s “Credo” column in the (London) Times, the Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar, Geoffrey Rowell, discusses humility. As Christians, we are called to imitate Christ. But this does not mean that we want to have one of Christ’s possessions or his prestige, or that we actually desire to become another Christ. We are called to imitate Christ’s humility – his self-emptying. This does not mean a romantic destruction of the self, but rather an opening, through imitating Christ, to the imitation of “the pure generosity of his Father who ‘makes his sun shine and his rain fall on the just as on the unjust’” (see René Girard here). Our common life is meant to foster this paradoxical imitatio Christi.
One way, then, that we can begin to tell if our common life is useful is to ask if it is making us more humble, more generous to all of our neighbors. Do we really listen to others?
Here is part of what Bishop Rowell has to say:
… The rule that Pachomius gave was one which sought for what we might call today a life-work or life-style balance, seeking a middle way between conformity and excess. He told his brethren: “If you cannot get along alone, join another who is living according to the Gospel of Christ, and you will make progress with him. Either listen, or submit to one who listens.”
Some two centuries after Pachomius St Benedict, whom the Church commemorated last Saturday, composed a rule of life for his monks. It is one of the shaping documents of the Western Church, and a guide not only for monks but for all who seek to live the Christian life. Benedict called it “a school for the Lord’s service”. The abbot, the father of the monastery, has a key role. He must have a wise discernment, for he has to serve a variety of temperaments, “coaxing, reproving and encouraging them as appropriate”. The abbot, although he has authority, is not an autocrat, he has to consult. Listening is important, and not just to the older and more senior for, Benedict tells us, “the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger”. “The love of Christ must come before all else. You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit. Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.” Benedict’s brothers are told that they are never to lose hope in God’s mercy. When guests arrive at the monastery they are to be welcomed as Christ himself.
If there is a duty of obedience to the abbot this obedience is also to be shown in relation to each other: “It is by the way of obedience that we go to God.” At the heart of the common life is the learning of humility, and that is sustained by the praise and worship of the community, which is expressed in the psalms and praise of the divine office and in prayer that is “short and pure”. The rule of common life is an imitation of Christ. So Benedict concludes with words summing up his rule, telling his monastic brethren that they are to “prefer nothing whatever to Christ”…
17 July 2009
(This is Neil) The April issue of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly has an interesting article by Emil A. Wcela, the retired auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre in New York, with the promising title “What is Catholic about a Catholic Translation of the Bible?” The question, we will see, is both very easy to answer and presently unanswerable.
It is easy to answer if we look at canon law and read, “Books of the sacred scriptures cannot be published unless the Apostolic See or the conference of bishops has approved them” (825.1). The Canon Law Society of America has added a qualification, “In practice, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has reserved to itself the approval of vernacular translations of the scriptures if they are to be used in the liturgy, e.g. as part of the Lectionary.” (Canon 838.2 notes, “It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books and review their translations in vernacular languages, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.”) So, a Catholic translation is a translation with official Catholic approval.
But surely our question is not merely a matter of authority. There must also be some sort of rational argumentation that can clarify “what is Catholic about a Catholic translation of the Bible.” This is where it gets rather difficult.
We can at least begin by ruling out some bad answers to the question.
First, as Bishop Wcela says, “A ‘Catholic’ translation of the Bible does not have to be made by Catholics.” We might even say that it is desirable for Catholics to cooperate with other Christians in the translation of the Bible. According to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Catholic Church “cooperates willingly with other Churches and ecclesial Communities in the making of translations and in the publication of common editions in accordance with what was foreseen by the Second Vatican Council and is provided for in the Code of Canon Law.” This is because the church “sees ecumenical cooperation in this field as a valuable form of common service and common witness in the Church and to the world” (see here). A Catholic translation of the Bible does not even require any Catholic sponsorship at all; the Revised Standard Version is the obvious example here.
Second, a “Catholic” translation of the Bible is not simply the most “accurate” or “precise” translation. In translation, Bishop Wcela tells us, “Human emotions, familiarity and doctrinal issues will always play a role.” He provides us with three examples.
By the end of the 4th century, Jerome had managed to translate the prophets from Latin into Hebrew. And, thus, he translated Jonah 4:6 as saying that the Lord prepared hedera to grow over Jonah’s head as a protective shade. The older translation, based on the (Greek) Septuagint, claimed that the plant was cucurbita. Was it ivy or a gourd? Augustine wrote to Jerome, saying that this issue had caused tumult in Africa, and asking him to replace “ivy” with the familiar “gourd.” Jerome said no. Augustine replied that he did not wish Jerome’s translation to be read in the churches. (Scholarship, alas, has not settled the controversy.)
In the 19th century, Francis Kenrick, then coadjutor bishop of Philadelphia, later archbishop of Baltimore, prepared an English translation of the Bible from the (Latin) Vulgate and the original Greek. He translated μετανοεῖτε in Matthew 3:2 as “repent,” not the more familiar “do penance.” The Bishop of Charleston was not happy, perhaps because translation from the Greek tended to appear Protestant. The Bishop of Louisville also criticized a Kenrick note that suggested that baptizo meant “immersion,” because, as he put it, “the Baptists here have been exulting over it too much.”
More recently, Fr Gerald Fogarty has written that the New American Bible’s rendering of Matthew 28:6, “He is not here. He has been raised, just as he promised,” in place of the older, “He is not here, for he has risen even as he said,” seemed to some to diminish Christ’s authority through rendering him passive.
Perhaps, then, we should look at history to help us identify what makes a Catholic Bible “Catholic.” Catholic scholars first translated the Bible into English during the late 16th and early 17th centuries at Rheims and Douay – hence the Douay Rheims Bible. This translation, Wcela says, was full of archaisms and Latinisms – “If thou be a prevaricator of the Law, thy circumcision has become prepuce,” “But they incontinent leaving their nets followed him.” Thus, from 1749 to 1772, Bishop Richard Challoner revised the translation – “If thou be a transgressor of the Law, thy circumcision has become uncircumcision” (Rom 2:25), “And they immediately leaving their nets followed him” (Matthew 4:20).
The production of a Catholic translation based on Hebrew and Greek had to await Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943), which called for translations to be made from the original texts. The Pontifical Biblical Commission, less than ten years earlier, had told inquiring Dutch bishops that only translations from the Vulgate could be used in the Liturgy. An existing American translation project was radically changed in midcourse after the publication of Pius XII’s groundbreaking letter.
The question of translation in general became even more pressing after the Second Vatican Council because of vernacular liturgy. The Consilium, meant to implement Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium, issued an instruction on translation, Comme le prévoit. The instruction says that a liturgical translation cannot “merely reproduce the expressions and ideas of the original text.” It goes on to say, “Rather it must faithfully communicate to a given people, and in their own language, that which the Church by means of this given text originally intended to communicate to another people at another time.” (See Todd’s commentary here.) Needless to say, this claim would also affect any translation of the Bible which would be used in the liturgy of the Word.
And, thus, history brings us not to resolution, but to a conceptual impasse.
Should a “Catholic” translation of the Bible be distinguished by “formal equivalence,” which attempts to replicate the grammar, style, and feel of the original language while sounding like good English? Or should a “Catholic” translation – perhaps inspired by Comme le prévoit - be marked by “functional equivalence,” which attempts to “convey the meaning of the original text as one would when communicating today,” while still being faithful to the original language? The English priest-translator Ronald Knox tried to replicate the meaning, emphasis, and idiom of the original language. But even he, following Belloc, said that the translator should ask not “How shall I make this foreigner talk English?” but rather “What would an Englishman have said to express this?” The question, then, is whether the emphasis in translation is on the language being translated, or the receptor language? (We shall see that there has been a movement towards “formal equivalence.” But how decisive can this movement be?)
Recently, the question of formal vs. functional equivalence became most pressing regarding inclusive language. In 1994, the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) withdrew an earlier approval for lectionary use of the New Revised Standard Version and the revised New American Bible psalter because of these issues. Then, the International Commission of English in the Liturgy’s translation of the psalter was determined by the CDF to be unacceptable and its imprimatur was taken back. (Eventually, in 1997, a lectionary was finally approved.) The question was whether the possibility of a Christological meaning tied to the specific word “man” in the Psalms outweighed contemporary pastoral considerations.
The question of translation was raised more generally by the CDWDS document Liturgiam Authenticam (LA), which was concerned in part with scriptural texts that would be used in the liturgy. Thus, LA potentially affected all Catholic Bible translation. Bishop Wcela tells us that LA argued for formal equivalence in place of functional equivalence. LA also claimed that a special liturgical language should be recognized. With this language, “the texts become truly memorable and capable of expressing heavenly realities.” (LA also reiterated that translations should be made from original texts.)
More controversially, LA suggested that in every territory there “should exist only one approved translation, which will be employed in all parts of the various liturgical books.” And most controversially, LA opposed the majority of uses of inclusive language, supporting “man” as expressing the “interplay between the individual and the universality and unity of the human race.” LA also proposed the Vulgate reading as decisive in cases of divergent readings of the text.
LA also confused readers when it suggested that the church “should not be subject to externally imposed linguistic norms that are detrimental to [her] mission.” But isn’t language always shaped by usage? LA also told translators to “avoid a wording or style that the Catholic faithful would confuse with the manner of speech of non-Catholic ecclesial communities or of other religions, so that such a factor will not cause them confusion or discomfort.” What of the “common witness” in ecumenical cooperation? And LA said that “In translating biblical passages where seemingly inelegant words or expressions are used, a hasty tendency to sanitize this characteristic is likewise to be avoided.” Bishop Wcela wonders if this means that we must return to the literal “any who pisseth against the wall” translations (see here for the Douay-Rheims translation).
So “What’s Catholic about a Catholic translation of the Bible?” Given that a “Catholic” translation requires official approval, and any successful Catholic translation will be eligible for use in the lectionary, we can suggest that a Catholic translation will be distinguished by “formal equivalence” more than “functional equivalence,” and by caution with regard to inclusive language.
But functional-equivalence Bibles – the Contemporary English Version, for example – are still approved for nonliturgical use, meaning that they can’t be judged to be completely wrong. And the inadequacy of literal translation has been recognized. For instance, the Pontifical Bible Commission, in The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, said, “The passage from one language to another necessarily involves a change of meaning, for they come up against other traditions of thought and other ways of life.” Furthermore, given some of the reception of LA, we can wonder what sort of precedent LA will actually set, and, more generally, where this history will end.
So, “What’s Catholic about a Catholic translation of the Bible?” It has official approval, and, beyond that, Bishop Wcela tells us “the devil is in the details.” The question seems simple and yet unanswerable.
What do you think?