Archive for the ‘Thomism’ Category

We continue with the third part of Michaël de Verteuil’s report on the recent “Orthodox Constructions of the West” conference at Fordham University (June 28-30) (Part 1 and Part 2)


The presentations by DD. Markus Plested and Norman Russell respectively completed the first day of the Conference. As these were more descriptive than analytical, and relied more on biographical material and textual citations, my notes were more perfunctory. As a result, what I draw here may reflect more my personal interests than what the presenters really chose to focus on. I have also taken some liberty in filling some of the historical “blanks” in rounding off Dr. Russell’s argument, based in part on side conversations with him. For an alternative perspective, you may wish to read Dr. Gilbert’s observations here.
In his presentation, “‘Light from the West’: Byzantine Readings of Aquinas,” Dr. Plested noted that in the 20th century it became common place to define the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism in binary mystical vs. legalistic or universalist vs. nationalistic frameworks. He described, in contrast, the picture in the last century of the Byzantine Empire (circa. 1250-1350) as far more complex. Far from dismissing Aquinas as a schismatic heretic of no relevance to Orthodoxy, Byzantine scholars of the period took him very seriously as a skilled and insightful theologian and made extensive use of his writings. Aquinas’ works were engaged not only in controversies with the West, but also by all parties to disputes within Orthodoxy. Both unionists and anti-unionists as well as both Palamists and anti-Palamists would cite Aquinas favourably (albeit not uncritically) and use his arguments in defending their respective positions.
In the next presentation, “From the Shield of Orthodoxy to the Tome of Joy: the Anti-Western Stance of Dositheos II of Jerusalem (1641-1707),” Dr. Norman Russsell jumping forward 350 years and described the role played by Patriarch Dositheos Notaras of Jerusalem in the hardening antipathy between East and West. Dr. Russell argued that despite his subsequent reputation Dositheos’ view of the West was more nuanced than is commonly believed, and that it was important to appreciate the specific historical context and that Orthodoxy faced in the second half of the 17th century. Material circumstances had changed profoundly for Orthodoxy under Islam, and this was to shape the East’s attitude to the West.
The initial Orthodox reaction had not been entirely negative. The superior learning of the Jesuit priests serving the Latin communities in the East was recognized early on. A number of Orthodox bishops were to license Jesuits in their dioceses to preach and hear confessions in support of the comparatively poorly trained Orthodox lower clergy. In addition, Eastern scholars were to take advantage of the superior educational opportunities available in the West where they consequently gained a greater appreciation and sympathy for Western theological perspectives.
Dositheos was to identify and confront the negative consequences shortly after becoming Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1669. In 1672, he summoned a synod to oppose the theology contained in the “Confession of Faith” issued earlier in 1629 by Patriarch Cyril Lucaris of Constantinople. Cyril had come under Calvinist influence while studying in Geneva and Wittenberg, and his Confession had notably expressed agreement with predestination and salvation by faith alone. Under Dositheos’ leadership, the Jerusalem synod rejected these doctrines and reformulated Orthodox teaching in a manner that distinguished it not only from Protestantism but from Tridentine Catholicism as well.
The rest of Dositheos’ tenure as Patriarch was to focus on polemic but also jurisdictional disputes with the Catholic West, notably against French efforts to secure from the Sultan control of the Holy Sepulchre and other key shrines for Catholic religious orders. Dositheos gathered funds to this end and, to counter Jesuit inroads, set up the first printing press in the Ottoman Empire (actually set up in semi-autonomous Moldavia to avoid Ottoman hostility and charges of proselytism). By means of this printing press, Dositheos was able to publish his key apologetic works and compete against the flow of Jesuit-published Greek-language works that were pouring into the Ottoman Empire.
From Russell’s description and Fr. Taft’s admissions in his address, I draw the conclusion that the Catholic side lost a major ecumenical opportunity in the 17th century in pressing too hard for sectarian advantage. In reduced circumstances and denied access to official patronage, Orthodoxy found itself at a serious disadvantage with respect to both the theological ferment stemming from Western Protestantism and the battle-hardened, Jesuit-led Catholic response reinforced by the reforming Council of Trent. The Union of Florence had failed, but Rome could still have made common cause with the East against the Reformation. Instead, it demonstrated contempt for Orthodoxy in its weakened state, pressing sectarian advantage quite literally to the breaking point. The Melkite Church was to split with most of it coming to Rome just a few years of the death of Dositheos. Whereas Dositheos, despite his efforts to contain Latin influence, had been disposed to view Catholics as prodigal sons, (and without my wanting to minimize Constantinople’s role in exacerbating it) the Melkite split was to lead to the deep and lasting chill that would colour Catholic-Orthodox relations down to our day.

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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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“Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth. Someone who is considered by people to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like; once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.” Saint Isaac the Syrian

[Kephalaia IV.77; The Wisdom of Saint Isaac the Syrian, translated by Sebastian Brock, (Fairacres, Oxford: SLG Press Convent of the Incarnation, 1997), p15.]

From Koinonia.

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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 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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