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Archive for the ‘Palamism’ Category

Good friend of the blog and frequent commenter, Michaël de Verteuil, attended the recent “Orthodox Constructions of the West” conference at Fordham University (June 28-30), and sent the following first installment of a report about the conference to Eirenikon readers:

Update – The official press release from Fordham can be read here.  Michael Liccione, of Sacramentum Vitae, discusses the conference here.  An interesting combox discussion can be read over at John’s Ad Orientem.

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The Conference was amazingly rich both in content and participants. I felt it was money well spent for several reasons that should come out in our discussion. As it covered two and a half days and involved the presentation and discussion of about a dozen papers, a single report would not do it justice. On the other hand, offering a dozen reports at one go would just lead to a confused and scattered discussion, so I have proposed to our kind host that we offer offer no more than one or two a day, perhaps holding off on the next one until comments trickle to a stop. I should also note that the proceedings will eventually be published, and this approved and more comprehensive version should ultimately be given primacy over the notes I offer here.
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One major disappointment for me was the limited time I was able to spend with Dr. Tighe, Dr. Peter Gilbert (of “Bekkos” fame) and Fr. Paul [frequent commenter on Eirenikon – Ed.] (who managed to make his way from Greece for the Conference). It was wonderful to see them and chat with them in the flesh, however, no matter how briefly. Unfortunately, Dr. Michael Liccione who had planned to attend doesn’t seem to have been able to make it.
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From what I could tell, about half the participants appeared to be Orthodox, perhaps a quarter to a third were Catholic with teh remainder a smattering of secular historians and Protestants. I am told that attendance was just under 180 at its highest, and that seems about right though I didn’t take a count myself.
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Anti-ecumenists were notably absent, perhaps understandably, though as you will see in subsequent reports, their flag bearers were present in spirit and their works discussed, in some cases not altogether unsympathetically.
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I will begin with this report of Fr. Taft’s opening address. It proved hard to bear for some of the Orthodox attendees but, as one of them put at lunch to the agreement of his fellow Orthodox at the table, Fr. Taft has pretty well earned to right to say whatever he wants. ;-)
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Monday, keynote address, Fr. Robert F. Taft, SJ:
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“Perceptions and Realities in Orthodox-Catholic Relations Today: Reflections on the Past, Prospects for the Future”
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In the opening keynote address, Fr. Taft, introduced as the world’s foremost expert on the history of the Byzantine liturgy with over 800 publications to his credit, noted that the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue remained on track (which he found encouraging), but offered two grounds for disillusion: the field remained the preserve of theologians and hierarchs and needed to be pursued more at the grassroots level, and the process continued to be plagued by failure to accept and confront respective responsibility for “a dolorous past.”
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In the spirit of openness, Fr. Taft began by acknowledging the responsibility of his own (Jesuit) order, describing its relentless 16th and 17th century proselytism against Eastern Christians in the Ottoman Empire, India, Ethiopia and the Polish Commonwealth as a form of ecclesial imperialism. Uniatism pursued in this way had resulted in merely partial unions while dividing Eastern Churches as lay people loyally followed their bishops without clearly appreciating the underlying issues in dispute. As a result, the consequences of uniatism posed the greatest obstacles to wider reunion.
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Ironically, only full reunion would resolve the resulting problems, but there was still a role for interim solutions. As examples, Fr. Taft pointed to the need for steps like abandoning “selective histories” and adopting “shared history” that would be based on common hermeneutic principles. Each side should also be clearer on what was required of the other as a basis for reunion. (By this I understood him to mean more than the restatement of simplistic, insulting and empty exhortations to “repent” and “return to the true faith,” but he didn’t specify.)
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He noted progress on the Roman side with recognition that the 9th century had seen a problematic evolution of the exercise of its primacy in the East, and the fact that Catholic scholarship no longer referred to the “Eastern schism” preferring instead to a more neutral and less judgmental “East-West schism.” He contrasted this Roman movement, however, with an Orthodox failure to acknowledge that Papal primacy in the West had played a critical role in keeping the Western Church united as a bulwark against rising secularism, and that the absence of the exercise of this Petrine function in the East left chaos, usurpation and local schism there as the only responses to intra-Orthodox ecclesiological quarrels.
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Fr. Taft also stressed that the Jesuits/Catholic side was not solely responsible for uniatism. Whatever its flaws, it had been proposed initially by Eastern bishops bashed by the Reformation on one side, by the Poles and Jesuits on another clamoring for absorption of their Orthodox flocks into the Latin rite, and finally by Russian imperialism treating this same flock as ripe for military conquest and incorporation. Uniatism had in fact been offered as a compromise by five of the seven Orthodox bishops under Polish rule and only secured after lengthy negotiations with the aim of respecting Eastern faith, worship and autonomy.
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Orthodoxy needed to undertake its own examination of conscience and adopt a less polemic view of history. Fr. Taft noted, for example, that the Catholic apology for past sins against the unity of the Church was met largely with indifference, with Russian and Greek bishops even averring that Orthodoxy, for its part, had nothing to apologize for never having resorted to uniatism or used the secular arm to impose its will or oppress the conscience of others (this elicited some nervous chuckling from a largely scholarly audience). Orthodox forms of “uniatism” had been manifest with respect to an Assyrian “Orthodox” Church under Russian auspices in the interwar period and could be found even today in the existence of “Western rite Orthodoxy”. Historically, the East had often resorted to the civil power in imposing its jurisdiction and oppressing minorities, and Fr. Taft cited as examples instances in Southern Italy and Sicily as well as amongst Armenians, Syriacs and Copts at the hands of Byzantines, and against the Georgian Church, Old Believers and Polish Catholics by Orthodox Russians.
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It was important to avoid anachronistic impositions of current standards and rules on ages past, as all powers, not just Western ones, had sought to impose religious conformity by force. It was, Fr. Taft brutally argued, time for Orthodox polemicists to “grow up.” Behaviour, not doctrine remained the main obstacle to reunion in his view. Ecumenical scholarship was in need of the application of Christian principles to unite faithful rather than stress and highlight often superficial differences; to be realistic and truthful while applying the same standards with consistency to both sides. Fairness required recognition that differences that were already in play in the first millennium should be accepted as valid, as the magisterium would otherwise be contradicting itself in having once accepted what to some was now unacceptable. Both the Western and Eastern fathers had to be incorporated in any review of our respective theologies. Misrepresentation had to be avoided, and he offered two examples. Orthodox critics still tended to treat scholastic theology as “the” rather than “a” Western theological framework. Similarly, Neo-Palamite efforts to treat existing differences as having been dogmatized should be resisted. It was false, for example, to claim that Palamism had been condemned by the Catholic side and ignore the fact St Gregory figured on the calendar of Eastern Catholic Churches and was thus considered a Saint by Catholics as well as by Orthodox.
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Concluding, Fr. Taft argued that the discourse was sorely in need of increased “common human decency.” He pointed to the dialogue with Anglicanism as a model to follow (though it was unclear to me whether he meant the Anglican dialogue with Catholicism, the one with Orthodoxy, or both), at least in terms of courtesy and temper.
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During the subsequent question period, Fr. Taft acknowledged that the autocratic model of Roman primacy had never been accepted in the East. He also noted, however, that there was no evidence the West had ever for its part recognized the Pentarchy and thus autocephally as the Church’s organizing principle. The way forward thus probably lay in a synthesis rather than in the imposition of one or the other model. Fr. Taft also stressed the primacy of saving souls over the strict application of abstract ecclesiological principles that were, in any case, not universally respected by either side. Overlapping episcopal jurisdictions, for example, could be accepted as legitimate pastoral responses to local cultural diversity so long as the communities concerned felt a genuine need for them.
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The Conference was amazingly rich both in content and participants. I felt it was money well spent for several reasons that should come out in our discussion. As it covered two and a half days and involved the presentation and discussion of about a dozen papers, a single report would not do it justice. On the other hand, offering a dozen reports at one go would just lead to a confused and scattered discussion, so I have proposed to our kind host that we offer offer no more than one or two a day, perhaps holding off on the next one until comments trickle to a stop. I should also note that the proceedings will eventually be published, and this approved and more comprehensive version should ultimately be given primacy over the notes I offer here.

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By Cristian Ciopron (English translation via De unione ecclesiarum)

[Our friend Michaël comments on this interesting piece: "I can't tell if the author is Catholic or Orthodox ... but what I found surprising were the extensive citations from the Venerable Bede and St Thomas regarding the light on Mount Tabor. While this might not be remarkable for a Catholic, the weaving of citations from late Western Fathers with those of Eastern saints would be very striking for an Orthodox. Even for a Catholic, the focus on the Uncreated Light would in itself be noteworthy."]

The Transfiguration of Jesus occurs in the Synoptic Gospels. It is an event narrated only by the Synoptics, as it belongs to their logic and to their line of discourse about who Jesus of Nazareth is. These Gospels narrate the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor as a sequence of events, the first of them being a visible manifestation of Christ’s identity, something which must be interpreted in conjunction with the other signs. I presume that the Gospels are speaking about a visible light, a visible reality, not about a metaphorical light, such as the light of knowledge or understanding; in fact, each synoptic author tries to convey the exact impression made by the Lord’s transfigured luminosity, and seems to indicate a visible light, something to be seen, in the proper sense of the word. I believe that the Gospels speak about a light pertaining to the domain of visibility, not to that of knowledge.

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Orrologion has posted the original text of the “Twelve Differences between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches” by Teófilo de Jesús along with excellent responses to each of the twelve points from Fr Alvin Kimel, of Pontifications* fame, who in his extended period of discernment after leaving the Episcopal Church studied the claims of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy in great depth.

Some excerpts:

On Primacy. Is it true that the Orthodox Church rejects totally any understanding of ecclesial headship? What about the bishop of a diocese? Does he not wield and embody a divine authority given to him by Christ Jesus? Is he not the head of his community, which precisely is the Church? And when Catholics speak of the Pope as the earthly head of the Church, are they in any way denying that Christ alone is properly head of the Church? When Catholics speak of the primacy of the Pope, are they exalting the Pope above the Episcopate, as if their power and authority derived from him? And are Orthodox theologians incapable of entertaining an authentic primacy within the episcopal college for the bishop of Rome? …

On Conciliarity. The Catholic Church understands the Church precisely as a communion of particular Churches and local dioceses; moreover, the Church as the universal Church is not to be understood as simply the sum or collection of all particular Churches: each diocese is itself a truly catholic body … Catholic ecclesiology is so much more complex and diverse than is sometimes appreciated …

On Original Sin. I’m sure there are differences between Catholic construals of anthropology and Orthodox construals of anthropology (please note the plural); but I do not believe that this is because the Catholic Church authoritatively teaches a forensic imputation of original sin and the Orthodox Church does not. Why do I say this? Because it is not at all clear to me that the Catholic Church authoritatively teaches the *forensic* imputation of Adam’s guilt to humanity. I know that some (many?) Catholic theologians have sometimes taught something like this over the centuries, but the Catholic Church has strained over recent decades to clarify the meaning of Original Sin not as the forensic transfer of Adam’s guilt but as the inheritance of the Adamic condition of real alienation from God–i.e., the absence of sanctifying grace … Important differences on the nature of original exist between St Augustine and magisterial Catholic teaching …

On Liturgical Reform. I agree here that there are important differences between Catholic and Orthodox liturgical praxis at the present time. Sadly, many sectors of the Catholic Church appear to have uncritically embraced the thesis that the Church must adapt her liturgy to the spirit of the modern age. This has been disastrous for Catholic life and spirituality. One does see signs, however, that the insanity is passing.

On Grace and Deification. While perhaps it might have been true at some point in the past that Catholic theologians tended to reduce grace to a created power, this cannot be asserted today. Catholic theologians are quite clear that everything begins with and centers around Uncreated Grace. Catholic theologians do have a problem with some of the Palamite construals of grace and the popular Orthodox rejection of any notion of created grace–they do not see how the Palamite position does not lead to the annihilation of human nature–but this does not mean that Catholic theologians and poets cannot envision an eschatological life as full and vivid as the Orthodox. Surely Dante’s Paradiso may be invoked at this point. But I do acknowledge a difference of homiletical and ascetical emphasis between Catholics and Orthodox on theosis, sanctifying suffering, and the life of the resurrection.

* I was inspired to begin blogging after reading Pontifications, though I am not nearly as erudite and well-spoken as Fr Kimel and some of his interlocutors, both Catholic and Orthodox.

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The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies

“Overcoming the Schism,” Chicago, May 8-10, 1998

THE SCHISM: GROUNDS FOR DIVISION, GROUNDS FOR UNITY
“A LATIN’S LAMENTATION OVER GENNADIOS SCHOLARIOS”
Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem.

In August of 1994, I was happy to be one of the many Latin clerics who over the years, in divisa or in borghese, have made a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain of Athos, the Garden of the Mother of God. On the feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration I was able to set foot on that peninsula where souls and bodies hidden from the world, but known to God and His angels, share still in the bright glory of that mystery narrated in the Holy Gospels. I made this pilgrimage with the blessing of my abbot after attending an international meeting of some clergy. On Athos I expected to be refreshed and edified, and I was, after having had to breathe deeply the “schismatic” atmosphere of a sadly typical postconciliar gathering of ecclesiastics, some of whom were merely juridically Roman Catholic, for whom God and the things of God could scarcely be said to hold the primacy, and the Pope not at all.

In a shop by the docks at the little western port of the Mountain I found a postcard representation of an icon depicting a touching and curious scene: “The Lamentation over Constantine Palaiologos” written at the Old Calendarist hesychasterion of the Mother of God of the Myrtle Tree in Attica. In the icon the emperor reposes on a bier with a candle as two women mourn on either side, one kneeling, written as “Orthodoxy” and the other, “Hellas”, standing with her hand to her mouth in a gesture of reverence, calling to mind the original sense of the imperial Roman adoratio. A touching scene, I say, because it brings to mind the magnificent “courage born of despair,” as even the malicious Gibbon puts it, with which the last of the Roman emperors died leading the defense of his New Rome, yet still a curious one, since this Constantine XII died in communion with the see of Old Rome, having received the Eucharistic viaticum on the morning of the halosis at a uniate liturgy, the last to be served in the Church of Holy Wisdom.

Even more curious was the figure “Hellas” for nothing could be less Byzantine, less Orthodox, less imperial, than the use of this term to name the nation of Greek-speaking Romaioi. To Orthodox Byzantium “hellenic” meant secular, pagan, something worse than heterodox, to be anathematized in the synodikon on the first Sunday of Great Lent. At the time of the fall of the City a “hellene” was one who exceeded even the utilitarian impiety of the Florentine latinophrones by promoting the Florentine Platonic revival.

The figure of Orthodoxy, undoubtedly the most important in the image, was in very strange company indeed, with anomalies more than anachronistic. That this icon was the work of Old Calendarists who clearly intended it to be the expression of a rigorously Orthodox historical sensibility indicates a fact, more relevant than ever, which those of us – inter quos ego – who sympathize with the zealots, Catholic and Orthodox, must keep in mind. It is this: We must be vigilant to ensure that in our understanding and defense of right belief and right worship we do not adopt the ideological preoccupations of political and philosophical movements, sometimes those of our friends and allies, which are foreign to our faith and its tradition, lest we undermine the very thing we are striving to preserve. We must examine carefully the understanding and instincts of the best representatives of our twin tradition, Eastern and Western, especially at the points in history when they are explicitly opposing each other or together combating the same contemporary errors. The happy result of this can be a genuine ecumenism, an ecumenism of the “anti-ecumenical,” innocent of ideology or indifferentism. Dom Gerard Calvet, abbot of the traditional Benedictine abbey of the Madeleine, Le Barroux in Provence has said: “The true ecumenism is that of Tradition… the more I deepen my understanding of Tradition, the more I rediscover other men.” [1]

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Our friend Wei-Hsein Wan of Torn Notebook (formerly Bumi Dipijak) has posted a quote from Saint Basil the Great, with commentary, illustrating a certain broadness of mind about doctrinal matters, a legitimate variance and pluralism in theological expression, within a common dogmatic framework (the Nicene Creed, sans Filioque, quoted as such in Dominus Iesus 1):

At such a time, then, there is need of great effort and diligence that the Churches may in some way be benefited. It is an advantage that parts hitherto severed should be united. Union would be effected if we were willing to accommodate ourselves to the weaker, where we can do so without injury to souls; since, then, many mouths are open against the Holy Spirit, and many tongues whetted to blasphemy against Him, we implore you, as far as in you lies, to reduce the blasphemers to a small number, and to receive into communion all who do not assert the Holy Spirit to be a creature, that the blasphemers may be left alone, and may either be ashamed and return to the truth, or, if they abide in their error, may cease to have any importance from the smallness of their numbers.

Let us then seek no more than this, but propose to all the brethren, who are willing to join us, the Nicene Creed. If they assent to that, let us further require that the Holy Spirit ought not to be called a creature, nor any of those who say so be received into communion. I do not think that we ought to insist upon anything beyond this. For I am convinced that by longer communication and mutual experience without strife, if anything more requires to be added by way of explanation, the Lord Who works all things together for good for them that love Him, will grant it. (St. Basil the Great, Letter 113: To the Presbyters of Tarsus [emphasis added])

I can certainly see how this sort of attitude can go too far, leading to an extreme theological agnosticism (the kind that got Barlaam in hot water with Palamas). But it is a good corrective, I think, to the extreme theological maximalism and triumphalism one so often finds among partisans of both East and West (and which, in my reading, made permanent the schism and crystallized the extreme opposing points-of-view).

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“What almost always passes for ‘Orthodox theology’ among English-speaking Orthodox these days is actually just a branch of the larger Orthodox picture. Indeed, it tends sometimes to be rather sectarian.

The Orthodox Church is an ancient castle, as it were, of which only two or three rooms have been much in use since about 1920. These two or three rooms were furnished by the Russian émigrés in Paris between the two World Wars. This furniture is heavily neo-Palamite and anti-Scholastic. It relies heavily on the Cappadocians, Maximus, and Gregory Palamas (who are good folks, or course). Anything that does not fit comfortably into that model is dismissed as “Western” and even non-Orthodox.

Consequently, one will look in vain in that theology for any significant contribution from the Alexandrians, chiefly Cyril, and that major Antiochian, Chrysostom. When these are quoted, it is usually some incidental point on which they can afford to be quoted.

Now I submit that any ‘Orthodox’ theology that has so little use for the two major figures from Antioch and Alexandria is giving something less than the whole picture.

Likewise, this popular neo-Palamite brand of Orthodoxy, though it quotes Damascene when it is convenient, never really engages Damascene’’s manifestly ‘Scholastic’ approach to theology.

Much less does it have any use for the other early Scholastic theologians, such as Theodore the Studite and Euthymus Zygabenus. There is no recognition that Scholasticism was born in the East, not the West, and that only the rise of the Turk kept it from flourishing in the East.

There is also no explicit recognition that the defining pattern of Orthodox Christology was formulated in the West before Chalcedon. Pope Leo’’s distinctions are already very clear in Augustine decades before Chalcedon. Yet, Orthodox treatises on the history of Christology regularly ignore Augustine.

Augustine tends to be classified as a ‘Scholastic,’ which he most certainly was not.

But Western and Scholastic are bad words with these folks.

In fact, however, Augustine and the Scholastics represent only other rooms in the larger castle.

For this reason I urge you, as you can, to read in the Orthodox sources that tend to get skipped in what currently passes for ‘Orthodoxy.’ For my part, I believe the Russian émigré theology from Paris, which seems profoundly reactionary and anti-Western, is an inadequate instrument for the evangelization of this country and the world. I say this while gladly recognizing my own debt to Russian émigré theology.”

Father Patrick Henry Reardon (All Saints’ Orthodox Church, Chicago), an excerpt from an e-mail to an inquirer that’s been making the rounds in the Orthodox and Catholic blogospheres

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I do, I confess, take exception to the claim [by Fr John McGuckin] that [my] book [The Beauty of the Infinite] ‘is not Orthodox theology’. Of course it is. Admittedly it does not much resemble the sort of ‘neo-Palamite’, ‘neo-patristic’ books which have dominated Eastern theology since the middle of the last century, when the great ressourcements movement that has done so much to define modern Orthodoxy was inaugurated. But Orthodox theology has taken many forms over the centuries – mystical, scholastic, mystagogical, idealist, neo-patristic, even ‘Sophiological’ – all of which have been perfectly legitimate expressions of the Eastern Church’s mind. And frankly, I think that the theological idiom to which Orthodox theology has been confined for the last fifty years or so has largely exhausted itself and has become tediously repetitive. It has also, to a very great extent, done much to distort the Orthodox understanding of the traditions of both East and West.

David Bentley Hart, Scottish Journal of Theology, 60(1): 95-101 (2007).

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From our old friend Mike Liccione comes an important clarification on the Latin Catholic notion of “created grace” –

There certainly were Catholic theologians in the later Middle Ages who were “nominalists,” and it is certainly true that many of those nominalists treated the question of grace in more or less the way janotec criticizes. But not all scholastics were nominalists by any means. The via moderna of that period in Catholic theology, in my opinion, did tend to go wrong as janotec says; and that was a key precursor to Protestantism’s essentially forensic account of justification. But some Catholic theologians were Franciscans and Thomists who were anything but followers of that path. Indeed, in the hands of those more traditionally-minded theologians, the very concept of “created grace” was intended largely to explain how justification and sanctification consisted in what we’d now call an “ontological” change in the human soul, in such wise that the soul could become a “partaker of the divine nature” without becoming God-by-nature. In that respect, use of the concept of created grace had the same goal as that of St. Gregory Palamas when he expatiated on the distinction between the divine “essence,” which cannot be shared, and the divine “energies” or actions ad extra, which can and indeed must be shared if we are to have the life God destines us for—the “life eternal” otherwise known as theosis or “divinization.” As I see it, the chief difference between the older, more robust Catholic theology postulating “created” grace, and the Palamite view that the divine energies are “uncreated” and thus God, is that the Catholics used the term grace not merely for its primary referent, which is indeed the Uncreated himself insofar as he communicates his life to us, but also for the instruments he uses to communicate his life to the human person, and especially for some of the effects of that communication within the human person.

Please read the entire informative post here.

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