Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Be You Therefore Perfect, as Also Your Heavenly Father is Perfect.

This article by Bishop Kallistos Ware again emphasizes theosis in a way that I have never found in the Western churches (yes, I know it's there, it's just not emphasized). In the same way, our rule speak about being "created anew", connecting to our baptismal vows, yet we do not mention the mystery of what we are becoming.

What I find interesting is that in being created anew, wanting nothing necessary to completeness , we become more human by becoming teleios! The fact that I avoid this path is a witness to my self-centeredness born of my pain and my looking to that pain for meaning rather than pointing to the Trinity.

Now there is a specific reason for this mysterious and indefinable character of human personhood. And this reason is given to us by St. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the fourth century. "God," says he, "is a mystery beyond all understanding." We humans are formed in God’s image. The image should reproduce the characteristics of the archetype, of the original. So if God is beyond understanding, then the human person formed in God’s image is likewise beyond understanding. Precisely because God is a mystery, I too am a mystery.
Now in mentioning the image, we’ve come to the most important factor in our humanness. Who am I? As a human person, I am formed in the image of God. That is the most significant and basic fact about my personhood. We are God’s living icons. Each of us is a created expression of God’s infinite and uncreated self-expression. So this means it is impossible to understand the human person apart from God. Humans cut off from God are no longer authentically human. They are subhuman.

If we lose our sense of the divine, we lose equally our sense of the human. And that we can see very clearly from the story, for example, of Soviet communism in the 70 years which followed the revolution of 1917. Soviet communism sought to establish a society where the existence of God would be denied and the worship of God would be suppressed and eliminated. At the same time, Soviet communism showed an appalling disregard for the dignity of the human person.

I think those two things go together. Whoever affirms the human also affirms God. Whoever denies God also denies the human person. The human being cannot be properly understood except with reference to the divine. The human being is not autonomous, not self-contained. I do not contain my meaning within myself. As a person in God’s image, I point always beyond myself to the divine realm.
(Emphasis is mine)

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Who Do You Say I Am?

I found myself arguing with Father DeSalvo quite unintentionally last night when he spoke about Jesus really being born in March and 6 April as the actual date of easter. I did not realize how reactive I had become toward "news" about the historical Jesus. I was greatly impressed as a late teen reading Jesus: An Experiment in Christology with historical criticism of scripture, accepting (like many others) that new truth was being revealed about Jesus. However, as I became exposed to the Third Wave through E.P. Sanders in the 1980s, I began to realize that this "news" was more polemic than history ("In the end, one no longer learns what the text says, but what it should have said, and by which component parts this can be traced back through the text.").

One example is the idea that is pertinent to the tension between West and East: the Pharisees were very "external" in their religion and that Jesus had come to replace that "external religion" with "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it". I adopted that belief as historical, although others had challenged that, too, as polemical, but I found it too convenient to ignore.

Now I find brilliant exegesis on the subject and I am humbled, yet again. Now the "head" is not the hypocrital enemy of the "heart". Once, again, they meet at the cross.

"Jesus did not act as a liberal reformer recommending and himself presenting a more understanding interpretation of the law. In Jesus' exchange with the Jewish authorities of his time, we are not dealing with a confrontation between a liberal reformer and an ossified traditionalist hierarchy. Such a view, though common, fundamentally misunderstands the conflict of the New Testament and does justice neither to Jesus nor to Israel. Rather Jesus opened up the law quite theologically conscious of, and claiming to be, acting as Son, with the authority of God himself, in innermost unity with God, the Father. Only God himself could fundamentally reinterpret the law and manifest that its broadening transformation and conservation is its actually intended meaning. Jesus' interpretation of the law makes sense only if it is interpretation with divine authority, if God interprets himself. The quarrel between Jesus and the Jewish authorities of his time is finally not a matter of this or that particular infringement of the law but rather of Jesus' claim to act "ex auctoritate divina," indeed, to be this "auctoritas" himself. "I and the Father are one" (Jn. 10:30).

Only when one penetrates to this point can he also see the tragic depth of the conflict. On the one hand, Jesus broadened the law, wanted to open it up, not as a liberal reformer, not out of a lesser loyalty to the law, but in strictest obedience to its fulfillment, out of his being one with the Father in whom alone law and promise are one and in whom Israel could become blessing and salvation for the nations. On the other hand, Israel "had to" see here something much more serious than a violation of this or that commandment, namely, the injuring of that basic obedience, of the actual core of its revelation and faith: Hear, O Israel, your God is one God. Here obedience and obedience clash, leading to the conflict which had to end on the cross. Reconciliation and separation appear thus to be tied up in a virtually insolvable paradox.

In the catechism's theology of the New Testament the cross cannot simply be viewed as an accident which actually could have been avoided nor as the sin of Israel with which Israel becomes eternally stained in contrast to the pagans for whom the cross signifies redemption. In the New Testament there are not two effects of the cross: a damning one and a saving one, but only a single effect, which is saving and reconciling."

(Cardinal Ratzinger, Reconciling Gospel And Torah: The Catechism, Section 3, 1 April 1996)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

If Anyone Desires To Come After Me

At a meeting this past weekend, I heard Father Maximos emphasize that monastics are lay people giving radical witness to their baptismal vows. I was surprised by this statement. I've often heard John Michael refer to St. John Chysostom's teaching that all people, included those married, are called to a monasic life: "What then are these things [labors, readings, watchings through the night, fastings] to us (one says) who are not monastics? Sayest thou this to me? Say it to Paul, when he says, "Watching with all perseverance and supplication" (Eph. vi. 18), when he says, "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." (Rom. xiii. 14.) For surely he wrote not these things to solitaries only, but to all that are in cities. For ought the man who lives in the world to have any advantage over the solitary, save only the living with a wife? In this point he has allowance, but in others none, but it is his duty to do all things equally with the solitary[Hom. in Epist. ad Haeb., 7, 41.] Homily VII on the letter to the Hebrews.

Now, I find "The Western Church has canonized monasticism and the lay state as two forms of life. One corresponds to the “counsels,” the other to the “precepts” of the Gospel. . . . The essentially homogenous character of Eastern Church spirituality ignores the difference between the “precepts” and the “evangelical counsels". It is in its total demands that the Gospel addresses itself to everyone, everywhere.“When Christ,” says St. John Chrysostom, “orders us to follow the narrow path, he addresses himself to all. The monastics and the lay person must attain the same heights.” [Epist. ad Haeb., 7, 4; 7, 41 Adv. oppugn. vitae monast., 3, 14.] "

This "homogenous character" is surprising to me. I once got a stern lecture from a good monk when I stated that there was no difference between the two of us as Christians (I was thinking of the "precepts" at the time; he emphasized the "counsels"). The "Eastern Church spirituality" certainly leaves me disoriented, not because I'm in disagreement but because I have to shift my world to the more primitive monasticism I've only read about and am now encountering. The odd thing is that I already knew these things intellectually; it's just that the reality of the difference between us was only our "dress" really smacked me upside the head.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I am the Vine and You Are the Branches

I just read an excellent post on Pontifications the text of "Petrine Offices and Particular Churches" by Henri Lubac, S.J. , on Collegiality and the Petrine Office. I love the image Lubac gives of the collegiality as the connection of the Bishops to the Universal Church, with the Pope communicating the essence of this collegiality. I'm so accustomed to reading about collegiality as a concept opposing the Petrine office. This makes much more sense: the Church as one organismic whole, each Bishop revealing the Truth from the Church to his diocese, and the Pope making conscious the Truth of the whole through his Teaching. This reminds me of the Jungian concept of the "collective unconscious" and the idea that an individual could focus it and communicate it. Thus, the Pope is not some elected leader promulgating his platform; he collects and reflects the Truth back to the Church through the Bishops. An interesting point of Lubac's is that the Bishops that ignore the Pope's teachings are disconnecting their diocese from the heart of the Church. Breathtaking!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Anarchical Freedom and the Loss of Mystery

I have been reading the Pope's work from 1996: Truth and Freedom. It contains an explanation of his term "anarchical freedom" which he used recently referring to relationships outside of marriage in Christ. He is wrestling with the very heart of the Enlightenment and secular relativism from a perspective that is new to me. Yes, I understand that the Enlightenment required the banishment of the possibility of mystery. This was necessary for the enthronement of reason and the progress of science and technology by simplifying our view of the world.

In limiting our world view to reduce complexity, however,we also constricted our perceptual fields to our selves (I no longer think because I exist; I exist because I think). This limitation was not a one-time event but a steady march of "progress", as we simplified steadily and relentlessly what we allowed as "real". The benefit was that we developed a power-full model of the material world. The cost was that we became more and more unable to perceive the Truth. The paradox, of course, is that this depravity made some people much more aware of Mystery (Carl Jung comes to mind) because those whose perceptual fields were less limited noticed that others were missing something!

The Pope points out that now we have so simplified our world view that we have excluded the Truth and, thus, find ourselves bewildered. Like Alice in Wonderland, we are lost in anarchy, wanting to go somewhere and not caring where in particular, lost in a world with no reliable guides. This is the meaning of Anarchical Freedom. We find our way (as Lewis Carroll so curiously illustrates via the Chesire cat) by encountering Mystery. However, we have to put up with apparent madness in this encounter as we extend our perceptual fields, opening ourselves progressively to the Truth. It is only through the Truth that we find the reliable external guides that bring us Freedom.

It seems that through our Enlightenment we have marched into Hell while searching for individual power and now must widen our perceptual fields (open our eyes) to Mystery so that wecan find the Truth and be free. Hmmm--sounds familiar.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Knowing God

I think that we spend an awful lot of time discussing God, theology, spirituality, etc. I have long grown weary of such speech and consider it a Gnostic fault of mine. I found this quote of St. Columbanus (6th Century Celtic Saint) that spoke so eloquently to that point. He was a monk in Ireland, who with 12 of his brothers, went to evangelize the Franks in Gaul in the late 6th century. My guess is that he too struggled with communicating the good news using words.

Who, I ask, will search out the Most High in his own being, for he is beyond words or understanding? Who will penetrate the secrets of God? Who will boast that he knows the infinite God, who fills all things, yet encompasses all things, who pervades all things, yet reaches beyond all things, who holds all things in his hand, yet escapes the grasp of all things? “No one has ever seen him as he is.”

No one must then presume to search for the unsearchable things of God: his nature, the manner of his existence, his selfhood. These are beyond telling, beyond scrutiny, beyond investigation. With simplicity, but also with fortitude, only believe that this is how God is and this is how he will be, for God is incapable of change.

Who then is God? He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God. Do not look for any further answers concerning God. Those who want to understand the unfathomable depths of God must first consider the world of nature. Knowledge of the Trinity is rightly compared with the depth of the sea. Wisdom asks: “Who will find out what is so very deep?” As the depths of the sea are invisible to human sight, so the godhead of the Trinity is found to be beyond the grasp of human understanding.

If any one, I say, wants to know what you should believe, you must not imagine that you understand better through speech than through belief; the knowledge of God that you seek will be all the further off than it was before.

Seek then the highest wisdom, not by arguments in words but by the perfection of your heart, not by speech but by the faith that comes from simplicity of heart, not from the learned speculations of the unrighteous.

If you search by means of discussions for the God who cannot be defined in words, he will depart further from you than he was before. If you search for him by faith, wisdom will stand where wisdom lives, “at the gates.” Where wisdom is, wisdom will be seen, at least in part.

But wisdom is also to some extent truly attained when the invisible God is the object of faith, in a way beyond our understanding, for we must believe in God, invisible as he is, though he is partially seen by a heart that is pure.

St Columbanus