Archive for the ‘Quotes’ Category

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


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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I do not deny that there are differences between the Churches, but I say that we must change our way of approaching them.  And the question of method is in the first place a psychological, or rather a spiritual problem.  For centuries there have been conversations between theologians, and they have done nothing except to harden their positions.  I have a whole library about it.  And why?  Because they spoke in fear and distrust of one another, with the desire to defend themselves and to defeat the others.  Theology was no longer a pure celebration of the mystery of God.  It became a weapon. God himself became a weapon!


I repeat: I do not ignore these difficulties. But I am trying to change the spiritual atmosphere.  The restoration of mutual love will enable us to see the questions in a totally different light.  We must express the truth which is dear to us – because it protects and celebrates the immensity of the life which is in Christ – we must express it, not so as to repulse the other, so as to force him to admit that he is beaten, but so as to share it with him; and also for its own sake, for its beauty, as a celebration of truth to which we invite our brothers.  At the same time we must be ready to listen.  For Christians, truth is not opposed to life or love;  it expresses their fullness.  First of all, we must free these words, these words which tend to collide, from the evil past, from all political, national and cultural hatreds which have nothing to do with Christ.  Then we must root them in the deep life of the Church, in the experience of the Resurrection which it is  their mission to serve.  We must always weigh our words in the balance of life and death and Resurrection.


Those who accuse me of sacrificing Orthodoxy to a bind obsession with love, have a very poor conception of the truth.  They make it into a system which they possess, which reassures them, when what it really is, is the living glorification of the living God, with all the risks involved in creative life.  And we don’t possess God; it is He who holds us and fills us with His presence in proportion to our humility and love.  Only by love can we glorify the God of love, only by giving and sharing and sacrificing oneself can one glorify the God who, to save us, sacrificed himself and went to death, the death of the cross.


But I would go further.  Those who reproach me with sacrificing truth to love have no confidence in the truth.  They shut it up, they lock it up like an unfaithful woman.  But I say, if the truth is the truth, we must not be afraid for it; let us give it, let us share it, let us show it in its fullness, let us welcome all that there is of light and love in the experience of our brethren. If we continue in this attitude, then truth will become clear of itself, it will conquer all limitations and inadequacies from within, on the basis of the common mystery of the Church.  Let us enlarge our hearts, “let each one of us, as the apostle says, look not to our own things, but rather to the things of others” (Phil. 2:4).  We have a sure criterion – life in Christ.  Faced with a partial expression of the truth, let us ask in what measure it conveys the life in Christ, or in what measure it is liable to compromise it.


Orthodoxy, if it goes back to the sources of its great tradition, will be the humble and faithful witness to the undivided Church.  The Orthodox Churches, in coming together themselves in mutual respect and love, will set a movement of brotherhood going throughout the Christian world, giving the example of a free communion of sister Churches, united by the same sacraments and the same faith.  As to the Orthodox faith, centered as it is on liturgical praise and worship, and on holiness, it will bring the criterion of spiritual experience to ecumenical dialogue, a criterion which will allow us to disentangle partial truths from their limitations so that they may be reconciled in a higher plenitude of truth.


But we Orthodox: are we worthy of Orthodoxy?  Up till the efforts we have made in recent years, what kind of example have our Churches given?  We are united in faith and united in the chalice, but we have become strangers to one another, sometimes rivals.  And our great tradition, the Fathers, Palamas, the Philokalia: is it living and creative in us?  If we are satisfied to repeat our formulas, hardening them against our fellow Christians, then our inheritance will become something dead.  It is sharing, humility, reconciliation which makes us truly Orthodox, holding the faith not for ourselves – if we did that we should simply be affirming yet one more historic confession of faith – but for the union of all, as the selfless witnesses of the undivided Church.


Athenagoras I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (1886-1972) [source]

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Or, the real reason why this year the vast majority of Eastern Orthodox Christians are celebrating the Feast of Feasts five weeks after the rest of Christendom. From the always informative blog De unione ecclesiarum:

Although for most Christians Easter is just around the corner, for the Orthodox Church Lent began this week; there is a five-week disparity this year between the dates of Easter (April 27th for the Orthodox, March 23rd for everyone else). When I was younger I asked my mother why the Orthodox Easter and the Protestant and Catholic Easter fall on different dates, and was given the following explanation: for the Protestants and Catholics, Easter falls upon the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox; for the Orthodox, Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox after Passover. As a rule of thumb, I have found this explanation always to work (e.g., Passover begins this year on the evening before April 20th, which also happens to be a full moon); however, I have also learned that, as an explanation for why the differences exist between the Orthodox Church and other churches in their calculation of the date of Easter, it is erroneous. The difference between the dates of Easter arises from the fact that the Western churches calculate this date according to the revised, Gregorian calendar while the Orthodox Church calculates Easter according to the old Julian calendar. That is to say, all the churches observe the rule, established by the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century, that Easter be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox; but they identify differently the day on which the vernal equinox occurs. Although the vernal equinox — the moment when day and night are exactly equal, or, to speak in Ptolemaic terms, when the sun, in its annual journey through the zodiacal belt, crosses the celestial equator, marking the beginning of Spring in the Northern hemisphere — actually occurs on March 20th this year, the Orthodox Church reckons “March 21st” as a fixed date for this astronomical event, and it reckons this fixed date according to the Julian calendar. Currently, the Julian March 21st is the Gregorian April 3rd, that is, roughly 13 days later than the astronomical equinox; over time, the discrepancy will continue to grow, at the rate of about a week per millennium, so that, if nothing else changes, Orthodox Christians in the year 6008 will be celebrating Easter in late May or June.  

See also this very helpful article by the late Orthodox canonist Archbishop Peter (L’Hullier).

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Here follows an extract from the Answers of Demetrius Chromatenus, Archbishop of Bulgaria (A.D. 1203,) to Constantine Cabasilas, Archbishop of Dyrrachium.

Question.  Is it any harm for a Bishop to enter the churches of the Latins, and to worship in them, on any occasion when he may be invited by them? And should he give them the kataklaston [that is, the antidoron or blessed bread,] when they are present at the Liturgy in the holy and Catholic Church?

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Ite ad Scripturam

Apologies for a lackluster beginning to this blog. I am still trying to figure out whether or not I have the time to devote to such an endeavor. Just so you all know I’m still around, I did want to post an interesting combox exchange about Saint Augustine and original sin at the Anastasis Dialogue:

The esteemed Pontificator, Father Alvin Kimel, said:

I found the discussion [about original sin on an Eastern Orthodox message board] ecumenically quite discouraging. I am amazed by the continuing polemical charge that the Catholic Church teaches a doctrine of original guilt, i.e., God holds everyone morally responsible for the sin of Adam. It doesn’t matter how many times Catholics protest the caricature, the polemic continues. It appears that the East has nothing to learn from Western theological reflection or spiritual experience.

Ben Mann from Denver replied:

What amazes and saddens me the most about that thread … and similar threads, ad nauseam … is the almost total neglect of Holy Scripture by all parties … Catholics and Orthodox often chide protestants for being ignorant of Sacred Tradition and of the Fathers, and thus having no unity; yet it appears to me that much of the division between eastern and western churches exists because we do not love our own Bible as much as the protestants do. Do we have the humility to temporarily leave off examining Patristic citations and points of history, and attempt to find our common ground in the Scriptures? I am not at all saying that we should start ignoring the Fathers and simply read the Bible. I do think, though, that Orthodox and Catholics become distressingly gridlocked when discussing their apparent disagreements because they are prioritizing Church Councils and Church Fathers over the Church’s own Bible — when in fact we all know that Scripture, Tradition, and Teaching Authority are not even separable. If we have disagreements about a controversial teacher like augustine, why not simply go back to the Scriptures that inspired him? If we think that the “other” tradition overemphasizes one view of sin or salvation, why not return to Scripture and see how it harmonizes several views? I truly think that just as protestants will only find unity by getting over their fear of Tradition and Teaching Authority, the Catholics and Orthodox will only find it by learning to love the Bible as much as the Fathers and Doctors of the Church did.

To which Father Kimel replied:

Ben, I agree with you. I would instance the ecumenical convergence on justification between Lutherans and Catholics as an example of what can happen when fellow believers sit down and prayerfully and patiently read the Scriptures together.

Going to the Scriptures … What a concept! I must confess that this is one of the last things that I do when I contemplate the difficulties and differences between East and West. And yet this is the very first thing that we ought to do, because it is precisely what the Fathers did.

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I can unite in myself, in my own spiritual life, the thought of the East and the West, of the Greek and Latin Fathers, I will create in myself a reunion of the divided Church and from that unity in myself can come the exterior and visible unity of the Church. For if we want to bring together East and West we cannot do it by imposing one upon the other. We must contain both in ourselves, and transcend both in Christ.

Thomas Merton

Hat tip to Teófilo at Vivificat

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It would have been truly a blessing if the preaching of the Gospel had forever shone brilliantly in Christ’s Church in all its unspeculative simplicity. It would have been genuinely salvific if the seal imprinted by the invocation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit upon those undergoing regeneration through baptism had been seen by all as the one and only seal of godliness. But since Sextuses and Pyrrhons (I mean those people who, at various times, have discredited the true teachings by their argumentation) have thrown ecclesiastical matters so far off center that, on the one hand, unspeculative simplicity of faith now appears as stupidity to our theological connoisseurs and religious intelligentsia, and those who know no more than their confession of faith in the Holy Trinity are scarcely counted as belonging to our religion, while, on the other hand, variety and hyper-speculation in doctrinal matters are considered a form of wisdom and of nearness to God, perished is the blessedness of simplicity of faith, perished is the common salvation which was expected to be enjoyed once and for all by all who are imprinted with the seal of baptism; for theological divergence over the Trinity, united above all reason, and theoretical variety over the Unity, ineffably made Three, have splintered the Christian people into competing denominations.

– Patriarch John IX (Bekkos) of Constantinople
(Read more here)

Some commentary by Peter Gilbert:

… [T]his quotation from the work On Peace already shows that Bekkos is not a relativist, as some people make him out to be; he differentiates between orthodoxy and heresy, and he goes on in the book to specify what some of these heresies are. As for his understanding of catholicity, that is a more difficult question. The passage suggests that Bekkos identifies Christ’s Church, in some way, with the totality of the baptized. (St. Augustine, in his debates with the Donatists, said exactly the same thing.) There is a “common salvation, which was expected to be enjoyed once and for all by all who are imprinted with the seal of baptism.” Even though Bekkos says that this “common salvation” has “perished” (along with the “blessedness of simplicity of faith”), I sense that he is engaging in at least slight rhetorical exaggeration here. At the very least, he does not want to be too quick about defining the Church’s mystical boundaries. His business is to heal a division; he knows he cannot succeed in that task if he starts off by sharply differentiating between “us” and “them,” between what is “mine” and what is “yours,” employing “cold terms that banish godly concord.” He thinks that at least some of those differentiations have been made prematurely and stupidly, and that the Church has suffered because of it.

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“I do not deny that there are differences between the Churches, but I say that we must change our way of approaching them. And the question of method is in the first place a psychological, or rather a spiritual problem. For centuries there have been conversations between theologians, and they have done nothing except to harden their positions.”

Athenagoras I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (1886-1972)

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Rome must reckon … with the probable continuance and even accentuation, within Orthodoxy, of a vigorous ecclesiastical nationalism, and, from her viewpoint, little seems more depressing … Until those attitudes are purified, and replaced by an inter-nationalism, a catholicity, better befitting the pattern of the Christian koinonia, there can be no place within Orthodoxy for a Roman see embodying the universal pastorate of Peter and the apostolate to the Gentiles of Paul.

Rome looks at this important aspect of contemporary Orthodoxy with such dismay because she not only desires but needs reunion with the Orthodox East. In the face of her own numerous theological liberals and the innovationist tendencies of churchmen (and churchwomen) in various portions of her far-flung ‘Western’ patriarchate, from Santiago de Chile to Manila, from Melbourne to Detroit, Catholicism’s grasp of the historic Christian tradition can only be strengthened by the accession of Orthodoxy to communion with Rome.

In such matters as: the upholding of the transcendentality of revelation vis-à-vis human understanding, the defence of the Trinitarian and Christological doctrine of the first Seven Councils, a perception of the nature of salvation as more than temporal alone, the maintenance of a classical liturgical life, the nourishment of group and personal devotion to Mary and the saints, the preservation of the threefold apostolic ministry of bishops, presbyters, and deacons (in that same gender in which the incarnate Word exercised his own high priesthood), the encouragement of the consecrated life, especially in its most basic form, monasticism, and the preservation of the ascetic dimension in spirituality – in all of these the present struggle of the Papacy to uphold Catholic faith and practice in a worldwide communion exposed to a variety of intellectual and cultural influences often baleful, if sometimes also beneficient, can only benefit from Orthodox aid.

The energies of authentic Catholicism can only be increased by the inflow of Orthodox faith and holiness: the precious liquid contained within the not seldom unattractive phial of Orthodoxy’s canonical form. Can this greatest of all ecclesiastical reunions can be brought off? The auguries are not good, yet the Christian lives from hope in the unseen.

Fr Aidan Nichols, OP, from Rome and the Eastern Churches: A Study in Schism (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992), pp. 330-331.

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