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Archive for March, 2016

Melito of Sardis

I had the pleasure of reading St. Melito of Sardis’s On Pascha this Easter. It reminded me of the very few writings I have read of the Syrian fathers. What makes On Pascha and similar writings so enjoyable is the infusion of typology and allegory. These writers are poets and hymn-writers who simply sing the praises of the Lord. Their statements of theology are direct, mysterious, and can be seemingly paradoxical. They love to use (and I love to read!) striking contrasts, and abrupt transitions between their own voice and the voice of another.

St. Melito is also enjoyable to read because he is a pre-Nicene father. It is not uncommon to come across statements from the early Church fathers that are so foreign to our ears as to sound dubious if not downright heretical. Statements such as St. Gregory the Theologian’s “co-mingling” when speaking about the two natures of Christ or St. Hilary’s “two sources” regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. I think we sometimes underestimate how much we are formed in both East and West by Nicene and Chalcedonian approaches. In On Pascha 9 we read:

[Jesus] is father, in that he begets. He is son, in that he is begotten.

Donall and Conall

You know what they’re saying.

In the introduction accompanying this particular translation of On Pascha, Alistair Stewart-Sykes cites the above as evidence that for Melito “there is no real distinction between the Father and the Son.” (p. 29) From the information given in the introduction concerning Melito’s theology and from On Pascha itself I am not convinced this is necessarily the case.

invalid argument

Not to be flippant toward Mr. Stewart-Sykes. This was just too funny not to use.

When I first read that Jesus is father in that he begets, my first thought was that Melito was referring to the fact that in Jesus Christ we are made sons. Abraham is the type and Jesus is the reality; Abraham is only the father of a multitude in Jesus Christ, who is the true father of nations. Mr. Stewart-Sykes immediately addresses this, saying, “Although there has been an attempt to interpret this passage as referring to the sons whom Christ begets in salvation, thinking to rescue Melito from any imputation of heresy, elsewhere we hear that ‘he bears the father and is borne by him.'” (ibid.) But this statement does not necessarily bear the imprint of modalism either. Directly before this, Melito professes Jesus as being “He who sits at the right hand of the Father.” (On Pascha 105) How can Jesus sit at the righthand of Himself?

However, bringing into the discussion the assertion that Jesus bears the Father does shift what we are talking about. It is now a discussion of the relations of the Persons of the Holy Trinity.

It should be noted at the start that bearing the Father is not the same as being the Father. In regards to bearing the Father, it is only natural that Melito would say this; it is impossible to speak of Christ being borne by the Father without also asserting that He bears the Father because God is One. Jesus Christ is the firstborn of creation; He is the One through Whom all was created and Who took created nature upon Himself in order to redeem it. This does not mean though that He, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, is a creature. It is expressive of His having taken on true flesh and having primacy in everything. He possesses that primacy precisely because of His being the Uncreated One – God. In that He took our visible nature, however, “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15 NAB) He is also “the refulgence of [the Father’s] glory” and “the very imprint of [the Father’s] being” (Heb 1:3) This is because He is of the Father Himself – God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God. So He tells His apostles: “The Father and I are one,” (John 10:30) and “Whoever has seen me as seen the Father.” (14:9) In this it is perfectly right to say the Jesus bears the Father and is borne by the Father. And, in regards to our salvation, it is not only perfectly right to say that Jesus is father in that he begets, but proclaim with the prophet Isaiah that “a child is born for us, and a son is given to us,” and we name Him “Father-Forever.” (Is 9:5)

 

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Another reflective post from Sancrucensis. The distinctiveness of Christianity is that Christ is not merely a model. He does not simply show us what true sacrifice is and how to offer true sacrifice. He brings us into His very being (partakers of the divine nature) and work. In raising us up, He transforms us and makes us new. We are able to sacrifice because He first sacrificed Himself. Further, we are only able to sacrifice in His sacrifice.

I had not come across this way of speaking of sacrifice and sin before: private good versus common good. It strikes me as fitting very well with the theological approaches of the Victorines.

+ A very happy and blessed Easter to all.

Sancrucensis

Christ, our paschal lamb, was sacrificed. The verse for the Alleluia of Mass during the day on Easter Sunday gives the sacrifice of Christ as the cause of our joy. It is by sacrifice that Christ won His victory over sin and death. What is sacrifice? It is an outward, sensible sign of interior self-giving love. Sin is refusal of love and gift. God wanted to give everything to us; He wanted to give Himself to us. But this gift cannot be received and possessed as a private good; it can only be had as a common good. And a common good is possessed when one gives oneself to it. To receive the gift of God is to give oneself to God. And to give oneself to God is to receive oneself from Him. Hence, as Gaudium et Spes puts it,  “man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of…

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christ-triumphant-over-sin-and-death-marten-de-vos

“It is I,” says the Christ,

“I am he who destroys death,

and triumphs over the enemy,

and crushes Hades,

and binds the strong man,

and bears humanity off to the heavenly heights.

It is I,” says the Christ.

 

“So come all families of people,

adulterated with sin,

and receive forgiveness of sins.

For I am your freedom.

I am the Passover of salvation,

I am the lamb slaughtered for you,

I am your ransom,

I am your life,

I am your light,

I am your salvation,

I am your resurrection,

I am your King.

I shall raise you up by my right hand,

I will lead you to the heights of heaven,

There shall I show you the everlasting Father.”

 

He it is who made the heaven and the earth,

and formed humanity in the beginning,

who was proclaimed through the law and the prophets,

who took flesh from a virgin,

who was hung on a tree,

who was buried in earth,

who was raised from the dead,

and ascended to the heights of heaven,

who sits at the right hand of the father,

who has the power to save all things,

through whom the father acted from the beginning and for ever.

 

This is the alpha and the omega,

this is the beginning and the end,

the ineffable beginning and the incomprehensible end.

This is the Christ,

this is the King,

this is Jesus,

this is the commander,

this is the Lord,

this is he who rose from the dead,

this is he who sits at the right hand of the Father,

he bears the Father and is borne by him.

To him be the glory and the might for ever.

Amen.

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harrowingCaparroso

I am not a universalist. On the question of how many are saved, the thinking of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as given in Spe Salvi serves me as a general guide. He states that there are some “who have totally [emphasis mine] destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love.” These he says are beyond remedy and “the destruction of good would be irrevocable.” He also says there are people “who are utterly [emphasis mine] pure, completely permeated by God.” For these people their “journey towards God only brings to fulfillment what they already are.” (45) These two states on earth, however, only apply to a relatively small group of people. Benedict goes on to say,

Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur? (46)

Now it should be stated that his thoughts following this question pertain to Christians. However, while different factors certainly come into play for non-Christians, his thoughts are not necessarily limited to Christians alone. Benedict does not explicitly say whether he thinks most people in this middle state go to hell or if they go to heaven, but he does make it clear that we can and should have a great hope for people in this state. In fact, our own hope depends on our hope for others: “Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too.” (47)

While at Tenebrae yesterday evening, the question of how many go to hell was brought to mind. Each of Jesus’s last words on the Cross had something to say about this question.

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34 NAB)

My thoughts first turned to myself. I do know what I do. My background is in theology and the faith is what I teach. That, however, is all academic. It’s one thing to study theology; it is quite another to live it – and some how the study seems to make the living more difficult. What knowledge is Jesus talking about? The scribes of Israel knew where the Messiah was to be born; yet, it was three gentiles that went to adore Him. Before this on the night of his birth is was not the learned men and priests of Israel who adored the Lord, but uneducated illiterate shepherds. For all my learning and my pondering do I “know”? True knowledge is experienced. One of the common marks of a saint is their intense love for God. A love that brings a great horror of sin, of hurting the Lover. This love and the knowledge that accompanies it are not the fruit of study. How many truly know?

When Christ speaks these words it is also important to remember that He is not asking the Father to forgive only the soldiers, the members of the Sanhedrin, or the Jews who condemned Him. He died for every sin of every man in all the history of the world. He was asking forgiveness of all men of every place and of every time. I am one of those whom Jesus petitions for, saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” There is no prayer as efficacious as that of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is not possible for us to fathom the magnitude of this prayer made on the Cross for all at all times.

Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. (v. 43)

Spoken to a thief who had just admitted that he had been condemned justly and that his punishment of crucifixion corresponded to his crime. Why? Because he recognized Jesus as the Christ. This is salvation at the hour of one’s death. This hour is a great mystery to us. It is not possible for us to know what is happening at the moment of one’s death. It is not possible for us to know – even for ourselves! – how one will respond when they encounter the majesty and glory of the Benevolent One, the One who is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty itself, who is Judge and Merciful Father. Through the omnipotent solicitude of our God, death itself has become a grace. There is simply no telling how one’s heart may receive it.

Mary and Eve

Woman, behold, your son. (John 19:26)

As Jesus is the New Adam so Mary is the New Eve. She is not just the mother of St. John or of Christians, but the mother of all humanity. She is the true Mother of the Living. All humanity was redeemed through the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The life He offers us though only comes through baptism. Mary as the one who bore that life within her and brought Him into the world is the mother of all who have that life. But she is also the great intercessor. There is no greater intercessor to the Son than His mother, and she intercedes for all humanity. She stands before the throne of her Son always interceding for us whether we acknowledge her as our mother or not. And for those who have not the life of Christ within them she works for them to receive that life. A striking example of this is the mass conversion of Aztecs and other tribes in Mexico through the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Knowing that she who is the most beautiful of all God’s creatures, the crowning jewel, Ark of the Covenant, Daughter of Zion, Mother of our Lord, and Spouse of the Spirit through her most pure and immaculate heart seeks our good makes my heart swell. What hope there is in the midst of all this dung when we have so great an advocate! Oh, Blessed Mother, so intimately entwined within the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Holy Trinity, One God!

Edward hopper - lonely woman

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)

These words of Christ more than any others show the depth of His passion. In bearing the weight of our sins and crucifying them on the Cross with Himself, He feels the enveloping darkness our sins bring upon us. He feels the abandonment of the Father – a true loneliness despite those who love Him being so close. He does not say this simply for Himself though. The One who says this is the Man, the Son of Man, the New Adam. In saying this, all humanity in Him says this as well. It is the cry of both Jesus and man to God. This cry of anguish, however, is not the end. It is the beginning. Christ’s cry was genuine. It was a cry that arose from His heart, a heart formed by the Holy Scriptures. (What a great mystery. The Word Incarnate formed by the Word inked). The Son of David cries out with a Psalm of David, Psalm 22. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” A psalm which further on petitions the Lord: “But you, Lord, do not stay far off; my strength, come quickly to help me…. Save me from the lion’s mouth, my poor life from the horns of wild bulls.” (Psalm 22:20, 22) And the petition is answered. The one forsaken is saved. He has not been abandoned. The psalm ends with great praise and in complete victory: “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord [emphasis mine]… All who sleep in the earth will bow low before God; All who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage.” (vv. 28, 30) The cry of man in Jesus Christ is also man’s answer in Him.

I thirst. (John 19:28)

His thirst indeed was great while He hung upon the Tree, but it has not the first time he had longed so strongly drink. His words go beyond the mere desire for drink and express a deeper thirst – the salvation of souls. As Benedict said above our hope must include hope for others. He thirsts for the ones He suffers for. He, the Lover, thirsts for His beloved who has turned from Him. He longs for her to turn her gaze back towards Him and to look in love upon His love, His face. He longs for us, and cries out in His desire for us. Is His thirst really only satiated by a few? This cry is a pray to His Father. Again, there is no prayer more efficacious than that of the Son. The power in it’s omnipotence of this power is utterly unfathomable to us. But this cry is also a cry to us. Just as the onlookers at the Cross brought wine to Him, which He took before breathing His last, so too are we to bring “common wine” to Him in response to His thirst. Our hope for the salvation of all is to be accompanied by our work for the salvation of all, a work that is wholly selfless, done not simply out of obligation, but out of true love and devotion for the Lover who calls all.

crucifixNails

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. (Luke 23:46) It is finished. (John 19:30)

Just as humanity is brought up into heaven in the humanity of Christ at the Ascension, so too here humanity is commended into the Father’s hands in the humanity of Christ. The offering has been made and the work is done. There is no place more secure to which man can be entrusted.

In the end, while it is only natural for us to wonder at this question, to wonder how many will go to heaven and how many will go to hell, to wonder which will gain more souls, one should also wonder why anyone would be so bold as to answer this question in a definitive manner. The simple fact of the matter is that we do not know nor can we know how many go to hell, whether it is a majority or a minority, and how much of either. It is a mystery not revealed to us. What is revealed to us is that Christ is our Redeemer and we, Christians, are co-redeemers with Him. We are called not to pass judgment on individuals or humanity as a whole. We are called to hope for the salvation of all others and to work for that salvation with fear and trembling. On this Holy Saturday let us rest in this mystery.

Champaigne_-_Le_Christ_mort_couché_sur_son_linceul

 

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Beautiful! For me information about L’Arche go here.

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Annunciation Crucifixion

CNS has a informative piece on When Good Friday falls on the feast of the Annunciation. As with many things (especially pertaining to feasts and calendars), the West and the East approach this liturgical conundrum in different ways. In the Roman tradition the solemnity of the Annunciation is displaced by Good Friday and moved to the next available day. Since the solemnity of Easter is eight days that means the first available day is the Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter. In the Byzantine tradition, however, Good Friday does not displace the Annunciation. When they fall on the same day both are celebrated on that day. Both traditions are rooted in the history of the Church’s practice and both have sound reasons. From this a couple of things struck me. First, I was reminded that Romans have a particular intensity psychologically building up to the Triduum and Easter Sunday. Celebrating another feast on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, or Holy Saturday would disrupt that spiritual and psychological progression to Easter. It would at least disrupt the intensity of it – switching gears is difficult in this case. But this fact about Romans reminded me of something I particularly love about Byzantines: Celebrating multiple feasts on one day is par for the course. What is particularly interesting though is that the celebration of the Annunciation will not in any way take away from the Byzantine’s experience and celebration of Good Friday.

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Francis kisses feet

Fr. Dwight Longenecker gives his readers a refreshing change of pace from the usual Holy Thursday articles and reflections. Check it out.

 

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave an interview a few months ago. This is rather rare for him, and it is refreshing to read him again. The full interview can be read at Aleteia.

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The latest over at Bensonian begins with a quote from Francis Bacon:

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

I confess that I haven’t yet read the rest of the post because I was so struck by this quote. My first reaction was to stop and go back to a book that I have recently begun and intend to read “wholly, and with diligence and attention.” That book is Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. But then my mind quickly turned to a question: What books have I chewed and digested? A great many, but only in part. What books have I read in there entirety with diligence and attention? Very few. And the type of books and the author that first came to mind surprised me. I am usually engrossed in works of theology and social commentary. When I read fiction it is usually someone like Tolkien. I first thought of none of these. No, my first thoughts went to Ernest Hemingway, a man with whom I do not share much regarding our world views. Often times when I read Hemingway I think he has just missed the mark, that he took the right fork when he could have gone left. There are two books I have read by Hemingway in their entirety: The Old Man And The Sea and For Whom The Bells Toll. I highly recommend both of them.

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crached dry earth

A cry – O Lord my God, how great is Your mystery. How ineffable Your works! What can we know? All our knowledge leads to dust, an oppressive darkness. But isn’t that what this current age has succumbed to? We know more about the world and how it works then any generation preceding ours. One discovery leads to another; the more questions answered, the more questions arise, the more excitement and anticipation build. Our technological advances have created a global communication network and accessibility hitherto unknown. Our age has been and continues to be marked by an optimism of breaking borders, bringing people together for a flourishing of humanity, the likes of which has never been seen. There is nothing we cannot accomplish. The only limits are the limits of our imagination. And, yet…

The past century has been marked like no other by genocide, war, and generally speaking man’s inhumanity to man. The optimism of modern man is found to be unfounded. The world like parched earth is cracking, drawing away from itself. It is becoming a valley of bones, and when life comes, for which it so desperately yearns, it is drawn deep into the earth like rain in the desert leaving no evidence of its having come.

Tower of Babel

In the midst of all our progress, we have made ourselves a new Babel. We once again commit the sin of Adam and Eve seeking to make ourselves gods without You. Why?

Shifting gears – Sometimes when its difficult to begin a piece. It’s best to just begin writing. For me that has to be directed to someone. Hence, the opening to this post. In a wonderful article at Image Journal, “Learning Poetry, Unlearning God”, Natasha Oladokun said,

I wonder if our tendency to worship idols is often less a matter of defiance and more a kind of impatience, coupled with a blinding ache for something authentic.

All human actions are expressions of truth and motivated by a desire for good. Man, however, has a way of twisting things.

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.

All are formed by God – not just our bodies, but also the deepest, most intimate, core of our being. This manifests itself through the yearning of the satisfaction of our being. Our condition is that of there always being something wanting. There is something interior to us that we are only able to approach through detachment from things without.

It is no coincidence that the destructiveness of the modern age, which originated in the West, has paralleled a growing secularization. In the Christian tradition turning within means turning to God for it is in the depths of our heart that we truly encounter and live with the Lord. This necessarily means that we are turned toward our neighbors in love. Like Christ, we must come down the mountain of transfiguration to climb the summit of glory which is the Cross. However, the modern age with its “enlightenment” rejects God. It rejects the Cross. But that yearning is still there and the Way for it to be satisfied is the same. And so it finds expression through the idolatry of our time – reason, technology, progress, success, the self – an idolatry brought about through the sin of Adam and Eve: impatience.

Man is discontent with the world and unwillingly to work through the seeming stupor and labor of God’s time. He wants it now, in his image. In this state there are only two options for man: the death of nihilism or the tyranny of absolutism. The world more often than not goes the route of tyranny. Others must be brought under submission in order to bring about peace and order. Man, however, never responds well to oppression. He reasserts himself in the face of forced submission. Why? Because the yearning never goes away. We were not made to be compelled by others, and we know this. Man constantly reasserts himself in the face of any perceived constraint. The result, however, is not freedom. Rather, it produces a constant tension within individuals and society as a whole. Man lives in the state of a perpetual tug-of-war between being free of constraint, being constrained, and constraining others. In all of this, though, there is hope:

Just as you do not know how the life breath
    enters the human frame in the mother’s womb,
So you do not know the work of God,
    who is working in everything. 

triumph-of-christianity-detail-gustave-dore

One of the greatest signs of God’s omnipotence for me is that He doesn’t work for our good despite sin, but rather He is able and does work for our good through our sins and the sins of others. God’s glorification and ultimate triumph came on the Cross. It is finished. The victory has been won. His sacrifice and victory are once and for all. His grace penetrates all facets of human life and is operative in every moment.

Man’s constant dissatisfaction drives him toward God. The hope of idolatry is that the idolatrous will someday face that their rejection of God and embrace of secularism does not satisfy and never will. The hope is that at some point man’s reassertion will not simply be of himself against an oppressor (be it a person, government, company, or ideology), but will be the recognition that he is weak and needs an Other – an assertion of the reality of being human. Only then will there be the humility that is needed to trust the Other and to have patience in His works, coupled with radiating joy in authenticity.

 

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