Archive for the ‘Fathers’ Category

A reader sent me this very interesting question for discussion (and, by the way, you can now send questions or comments to eirenikonblog at me.com):

… I was hoping to use this forum to moot an issue that has troubled me relating to the transmission of the Petrine function in the early Church.  It involves Clement’s letter to the Corinthians.  I have always had difficulty with the traditional Catholic portrayal of the transmission as flowing seamlessly from Peter to Linus and their successors as president of the apostolic see down to our time.  How could Linus have exercised the Petrine function (as Catholics understand it) of leadership within the universal Church while many of the apostles remained alive, indeed while Paul himself was not only present in Rome but actually writing from Rome to other churches from the capital (in a classic demonstration of Petrine leadership)?  Surely this is only a role that could have been assumed by the bishop of Rome once the apostles had all died.  This is why the traditional dating of Clement’s letter made sense to me as by the mid to late 90s, John would have either passed on or been sent on the exile that Tradition links with his martyrdom.  If, as Dr Tighe and the current Pope seem to prefer, the letter is to be ascribed to the mid 70s, why would Clement be intervening in Corinth at all when the Apostle John himself could do so with greater ease (being closer at Ephesus) and with so much greater authority?  Indeed, it is only the context of John absence or indisposition that Clement’s authoritative language and intervention makes any sense.  Such an understanding of transmission (from the apostles as a whole and not just from Peter) to the Church of Rome would seem to explain satisfactorily from the Catholic point of view the otherwise embarrassing absence of demonstrable exercise of Petrine leadership by any Roman bishop between Peter and Clement.  An earlier dating of the letter, while consonant with the traditional Catholic view of the chronological assumption of the Petrine role by Peter’s immediate episcopal successors, strikes me as deeply problematic ecclesiologically.

N.B. If I remember correctly, Dr Tighe argues on the basis of George Edmundson’s The Church of Rome in the First Century (the 1913 Bampton Lectures) (available online here). Also, I am not sure that the current Pope argues for the early date of Clement’s letter. Here, in his March 7, 2007 address on Clement of Rome, he seems to accept the later date of Clement’s letter, “immediately after the year 96.” Perhaps the younger Ratzinger argued differently?

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… [T]he reading of history that you have taken on from Joseph Farrell, that I think constitutes an ideology, in fact resembles, theoretically and rhetorically, the ideology of those who gave fuel to the Bosnian war. It presents a discourse wherein the West is conceived to have fallen from divine grace, and the chief villain of the story is St. Augustine. It is to his “dialectic” of divine simplicity, which you see as fundamentally akin to that of Eunomius, that you ascribe the manifold problems of the West. It may well be that you accord Augustine some credit as an honest Christian; but his thinking you consistently represent as heresy, “Sabellianism” or “Semi-Sabellianism.” When I say that this is an ideology, I mean that it is maintained only through a kind of willful disregard of Christian history. It presents a caricature view of both the West and the East, a caricature that arises from an impatience with looking at facts. Neither the East, nor certainly the West, was ever as monolithically Photian in its understanding of the trinitarian mystery as you make it out to be. That is one of the things, in writing this blog, that I have tried to show.

That impatience with looking at facts has serious consequences for Christian relations. The West is asked to renounce its own past, to take on a view of God that never really belonged to it. I do think that this is a kind of destruction of memory, implicitly a kind of violence, and that the West rightly rejects such a demand. And I know that theoretical violence often issues in the physical kind.

This is not to say that the West never perpetrated violence on the East, both theoretical and physical. And it is right that the theoretical and physical causes of violence be acknowledged and renounced on both sides. But my consistent claim throughout this blog has been that people like the Cappadocians, St. Athanasius, St. Maximus, and other fathers of the Church were constantly aware of the dangers of Christian misunderstanding, dangers of violence, and that they sought to obviate those dangers by perceiving, if at all possible, the underlying commonality of doctrine when there was a verbal disagreement. I think that that is what St. Maximus does in his Letter to Marinus. And I am pretty certain that the underlying commonality of doctrine St. Maximus defends in that letter allows for the orthodoxy of St. Augustine’s teaching on the Holy Trinity, in spite of what is said by Anastasius the Librarian.

In short, I think that Bekkos is a better reader of the patristic evidence than Photius is. It may be that you think such an acknowledgment is inconsistent with belonging to the Orthodox Church. Perhaps you are right; God is judge. But I have a great hesitation to leave Orthodox discourse entirely in the hands of those who are impatient with fact, and who thereby disallow the possibility of any Christian reconciliation from the outset …

Peter Gilbert

Update (6/30/2008) – A new post at De unione ecclesiarum: “On exclusive truth-claims; or, What I Believe”

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(Apologies for the cheesy title.)

Recently on some of my favorite blogs, there have been some excellent rebuttals to Orthodox contentions about the Filioque clause and the Procession of the Holy Spirit.

First, Sacramentum Vitae’s Dr Michael Liccione (a veteran of irenic, scholarly, substantive online Catholic-Orthodox debate) has added a new installment to an ever-growing series of posts on the Filioque. As always, the gigantic ensuing combox discussions are well worth following. Also, by popular demand, Dr Liccione has added a separate blog category for discussion of the Filioque, as of today containing 13 posts.

Second, Dr Scott Carson of An Examined Life has posted a lengthy reflection on the Filioque debate currently going on at Sacramentum Vitae. Dr Carson’s past posts dealing with the topic are also well worth studying (see especially here).

Third, Brandon, at the philosophy blog Siris, has another reflection on the ongoing debate at Sacramentum Vitae. Brandon’s previous posts on the topic may be read through here.

Fourth, Jonathan Prejean at Crimson Catholic has posted “A Filioque Footnote” to the Sacramentum Vitae, debate, concerning a Catholic patristic scholar’s take on Gregory of Nyssa’s use of the phrase dia tou yiou (“through the Son”).

Finally (last but not least), Dr Peter Gilbert at De unione ecclesiarum has a very interesting post which is more up my alley, as a very lazy amateur who enjoys studying history more than theology or philosophy. The post concerns Anastasius Bibliothecarius (“the Librarian”) – a very colorful ninth-century member (and perhaps antipope) of the Roman Church – and his apparently Greek-friendly (even Photian) interpretation of Maximus the Confessor’s defense of Latin understandings of the Spirit’s Procession (be sure to read Dr Gilbert’s earlier post on that here).

Update (6/25) – And yet another lengthy post from Dr Liccione, “Creedal Amplification”. Our cup runneth over!

Update (6/28) – Wei-Hsien Wan at Torn Notebook has a great new post on the Filioque debates from the perspective of a “bystander” (which I consider myself to be as well). The post ends with some extremely wise advice from Saint Ephrem Syrus:

Father, Son and Holy Spirit can be reached only by Their names;
do no look further, to Their persons, just meditate on Their names.
If you investigate the person of God, you will perish,
but if you believe in the name, you will live.
Let the name of the Father be a boundary to you,
do not cross it and investigate His nature;
let the name of the Son be a wall to you,
do not cross it and investigate His birth from the Father;
let the name of the Spirit be a fence for you,
do not enter inside for the purpose of prying into Him.
(Memra on Faith 4:129-40)

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A. St. Leger Westall, “The Fathers Gave Rome the Primacy”, The Dublin Review, CXXXII (January-April 1903), pp. 101-114.

The famous xxviii. Canon of Chalcedon has been for many centuries a favourite authority among all those who, whether in the East or in England, are anxious to find support in primitive times for their rejection of the Petrine prerogatives of the Holy See. To a serious student of history, however, it seems an act of no small temerity in an opponent of the Papal claims to appeal to any episode in the history of this Council, for at no period of the Church’s existence is the universal recognition of the Pope’s supremacy more clear. The correspondence of St. Leo with St. Flavian, with the heretic Eutyches, with the Eastern and Western Emperors, and the Empress Pulcheria; the famous letter of St. Peter Chrysologus to Eutyches, the letters of St. Leo to the Council, the attitude of his legates there, the enthusiastic reception by the Council of his epistle to Flavian, the terms of the sentence of deposition on the Alexandrian Patriarch Dioscorus, the Acta of the Council, and its conciliar letters to Pope Leo and the Emperor Marcian, with the correspondence that followed – all these form a testimony to the universal belief in the jus divinum of the Papal supremacy so overwhelming in its force, that it is a matter of amazement that any candid mind should entertain a doubt as to the sentiments of the Church in that age. 

But though we have all this, yet, in the opinion of Anglican writers, we ought “to think we have nothing when we see Mardochai the Jew sitting before the King’s gate” – when, that is, the xxviii. canon of the Council tells another story. Even those writers who admit that the canon, having been rejected by the West, has no legal validity as an Ecumenical law, appeal to its as evidence that, in the opinion of a large assembly of bishops, the ecclesiastical pre-eminence of Rome was due only to her secular greatness; and further, that Pope Leo himself, while rejecting the canon, did not deny this assertion. “The Fathers,” says the canon, “properly gave the primacy (hoi pateres eikotes apodedokasi ta presbeia) to the throne of the elder Rome because that was the Imperial City.” The Papal primacy, it is argued, is here based merely upon ecclesiastical consent, and is due to the civil greatness of the capital. This contention has been overthrown, times out of number, by Catholic writers who have shown without difficulty, from the documents already mentioned, how clearly expressed was the belief of the Council in the Petrine prerogatives of the Pope. Even so sturdy an Anglican as the late Canon Bright readily admits (Hist. Ch., p. 414) that “the Council repeatedly refers to the connection of Rome with St. Peter,” and that “the civil greatness of Rome was only one cause of her ecclesiastical precedency.” 

It appears to the present writer that, whatever arriere pensee may have been in the minds of Anatolius, the Archbishop of Constantinople, and some of the courtier-bishops who were concerned with him in drawing up the canon, it was most certainly intended to bear an acceptable interpretation to the Pope, St. Leo. Everything depended on their being able to secure his assent to the canon – this they themselves declare – and it is, therefore, certain that they would not have done anything which must inevitably defeat their purpose. Viewed in this light, it is highly significant that the idea expressed in the famous sentence, “hoi pateres apodedokasi k.t.l.,” and to some extent even the wording of that sentence, is that of the Pope St. Leo himself. Shortly and somewhat vaguely it conveyed the Pope’s own well-known teaching as expounded by him in language of great eloquence and beauty a short time before the meeting of the Council. The sentence, therefore, is not only patient of a Catholic interpretation, but, when all the circumstances of the case are considered, could not have been intended by its authors to suggest anything else to the mind of the Pope.


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I have just begun listening to Bishop Hilarion’s talk at the recent SVS conference. He makes reference to the (in)famous Canon 28 of Chalcedon, and gives the standard Orthodox (and generally non-/anti-Roman) interpretation of it: that it ascribes the origin of Old Rome’s primacy not to the will of Christ or succession from the Apostle Peter, but to the will of “the Fathers” based on purely political or historical considerations. In other words, here we have what Fr Francis Dvornik called the Byzantine East’s “principle of accommodation” triumphing over Rome’s (and, to a lesser extent, Alexandria’s and Antioch’s) “principle of apostolicity.” This is why (so the standard account continues) Pope Leo so strenuously objected to it, and the Roman Church never received the Canon.

I am immediately reminded of a very interesting, and very old, article from the Dublin Review contesting the standard reading of Canon 28. The article was suggested to me by Dr William Tighe back at Cathedra Unitatis, where I posted the article in five parts. I would like to re-post the article here at Eirenikon. Look for A. St. Leger Westall’s article “The Fathers Gave Rome the Primacy” later today. The article is a tad polemical for a blog called Eirenikon, but I think Westall’s fascinating argument should be heard.

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The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies

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

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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From Wei-Hsein Wan of Torn Notebook, chock full of brilliant quotes from great lights of the Church, both Eastern and Western, ancient and contemporary:

Church Unity and Legitimate Variance, Part II: Two Other Voices

For as, in the case of one and the same quantity of water, there is separated from it, not only the residue which is left behind by the hand when drawing it, but also those drops, once contained in the hand, which trickle out through the fingers; so also there is a separation between us and, not only those who hold aloof in their impiety, but also those who are most pious, and that both in regard to dogmas of small importance (peri dogmaton mikron), which can be disregarded (parorasthai axion), and also in regard to expressions intended to bear the same meaning. – Saint Gregory the Theologian

If we apply to our present situation what St. Gregory and St. Basil have said about their own age, we will see that they were in fact much more “liberal” than the most advanced “ecumenists” of today. Neither Gregory nor Basil regarded the disagreement on the question of the divinity of the Holy Spirit as an obstacle for reconciliation among the Churches; nor did they claim that those who did not confess the Spirit as God were outside the Church. Moreover, it was a common practice in the fourth century—indeed, approved by St. Basil—to accept Arians into the Church through repentance, not requiring baptism or chrismation. In our own times some Orthodox say that Roman Catholics, being “heretics”, are outside the Church, and should be rebaptised when received into Orthodoxy. Yet neither Catholics nor Protestants would deny the divinity of the Son of God, as did the Arians, not would they deny the divinity of the Holy Spirit, as did most fourth-century theologians and bishops. And surely the question of the procession of the Holy Spirit is less significant than the question of his divinity. To regard today’s Catholics and Protestants as “pseudo-churches” is totally alien to the spirit of the ancient Church Fathers such as Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. Their understanding of the divisions among the Churches was much more dynamic and multi-dimensional, and much less rigid. Many divisions between the Churches could be healed if contemporary theologians used the methodology advanced by St. Gregory. – Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Vienna

Church Unity and Legitimate Variance, Part III: Truth and Our Will to Unity

…[W]e must learn that unity, for its part, is a Christian truth, an essentially Christian concept, of so high a rank that it can be sacrificed only to safeguard what is most fundamental, not where the way to it is obstructed by formulations and practices that, however important they be, do not destroy community in the faith of the Fathers and in the basic form of the Church as they saw her. – Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Church Unity and Legitimate Variance, Part IV: Love, the Language of Truth, and the Will to Include

… Insofar as the unity to which Christians are called is a unity bound by love, our will to unity must also be a will to include rather than exclude. What I mean is that we Christians must attempt to live, speak and think in ways that enfold as many people as possible into the fellowship of the Church. This is true first of all with respect to Christians who find themselves disagreeing with one another on points of doctrine. They ought to struggle to count each other as being within the Church rather than outside her.

As I said in the first post of this series, there is today a theological maximalism in the Church that is driven by the need to exclude—to separate true believers from errant heretics. Don’t get me wrong: there are of course times when Christians have to draw boundaries between truth and falsehood, between orthodoxy and heresy. But the will to exclude cannot be our first instinct or response. In fact, even when we are forced to draw the lines, we must do so only with deep regret and sadness. God’s will for the Church, after all, is that she gather into her fold men and women “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Revelation 7.9) so that Christ might be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15.28; Ephesians 1.23). By her constitution, she tends toward inclusion. As followers of Jesus, we ought to always lean toward reaching out, toward reconciliation, toward embrace. In this way, we will be more like our Master who once defied established norms by talking to a Samaritan woman and eating with people on the margins of religious correctness. – Wan-Hsien Wan (emphasis added)

P.S. May I recommend that you vote for Torn Notebook at the Eastern Christian Blog Awards, nominated in the categories of Best Theology Blog and Best Individual Blog?

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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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In response to the earlier post “Bishop Hilarion: God’s Mercy is immeasurable”, His Grace, Hilarion (Alfeyev), Russian Orthodox Bishop of Vienna, posted the following clarification in the combox:

Friends, I came across your blog by accident. Thank you for your interest in what I said in Rome. However, I must state that what some of you take as my position is in fact that of St Isaac of Nineveh. It is his views that I tried to present as faithfully as I could in my paper and in my earlier book The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, on which this paper is based. Please read the text of my paper here.

As you will see, I clearly state: “The teaching on universal salvation, which is so explicitly preached by Isaac the Syrian, has never been approved by the Orthodox Church. On the contrary, Origenist idea of the apokatastasis ton panton (restoration of all), which has certain resemblance with this teaching, was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council”.

Then I try to explain the difference between St Isaac and Origen: “However, we would not completely identify Isaac’s idea of the universal salvation with Origenist ‘restoration of all’. In Origen, universal restoration is not the end of the world, but a passing phase from one created world to another, which will come into existence after the present world has come to its end. This idea is alien to Christian tradition and unknown to Isaac. The latter is more dependent on other ancient writers, notably Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodore of Tarsus, who also developed the idea of universal salvation, yet in a way different from Origen’s. On the other hand, it would not be fair to say that Isaac simply borrowed the ideas of his predecessors and inserted them into his own writings. Isaac’s eschatological optimism and his belief in universal salvation are ultimate outcomes of his personal theological vision, whose central idea is that of God as love. Around this idea the whole of his theological system is shaped”.

Many thanks, Vladika, for this important clarification. We are truly honored by your participation in our humble ecumenical forum!

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Textual analyses of five of his most recent Wednesday catechesis, on Saint Augustine. The words that the pope added spontaneously, beyond the written text, are underlined. They’re on the themes closest to his heart 

by Sandro Magister 
ROMA, March 11, 2008 – Last Wednesday, Benedict XVI dedicated his weekly audience with the faithful and the pilgrims to a catechesis on Pope St. Leo the Great. 

Joseph Ratzinger recalled that he was not only “at the same time both a theologian and a pastor,” but was “also the first pope whose preaching has reached us today, first addressed to the people who gathered around him during the liturgies.” It is a preaching that consists of “very beautiful sermons” written in “splendid and clear Latin.” 

And he added: 

“It comes naturally to think of him also in the context of the current Wednesday general audiences, appointments that over the past two decades have become for the bishop of Rome a normal form of the encounter with the faithful and with the many visitors from every part of the world.” 

These words are enough to indicate how Benedict XVI recognizes in himself many traits of this great predecessor, who was a respected advocate of the primacy of Peter and of the bishops of Rome – a primacy that was “necessary then as it is today” – a sure teacher of faith in Christ as true God and true man, in a time of great Christological disputes, and an authoritative celebrant of a Christian liturgy that “is not the memory of past events, but the actualization of invisible realities at work in the life of each person.” 

Before turning to St. Leo the Great, Benedict XVI dedicated his Wednesday audiences to other Fathers of the Church, after dedicating a previous cycle of audiences to the Apostles and to other figures of the New Testament. 

After the Easter season, the pope will dedicate catecheses to other great Patristic figures like Gregory the Great, and then, little by little, to Western and Eastern pioneers of medieval theology like Anselm, Bernard, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Gregory Palamas.

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