Monday, March 25, 2013

No Icon of the Source of our Faith

The first Sunday in Great Lent for the Orthodox is called the Triumph of Orthodoxy particularly over the heresy of the iconoclasts which raged throughout the Eastern Roman Empire for nearly two centuries because of the Isaurian Emperors.  After the seventh and final ecumenical of Nicaea, Orthodox doctrine was upheld that icons of Christ and the saints may be depicted and venerated, but not worshiped (which was never sanctioned in the first place) for the honor that we give to the image passes to the prototype or origin.  But, in a great irony I suppose, the one thing that is central to our faith as Christians cannot be depicted or has been erroneously claimed to be depicted in our iconography.

That thing, or rather event, is the Resurrection.  St. Paul states clearly that without the resurrection our faith is in vain (I Cor. 15: 17). But how can the Resurrection be depicted? It cannot.  How does one capture in paint and canvas a rising of the dead without stretching the limits of what has been revealed to us?  I don't know and it's probably for that reason that the Resurrection has never been attempted.  We definitely have icons of the immediate aftermath of the Resurrection with Christ in Hades freeing the Old Testament Patriarchs and appearing to both the myrrh-bearers and to His Apostles.  Icons claiming to be that of the Resurrection are actually that of the Harrowing of Hades as prophesied by Habbakuk (see icon at the side).

Whether this is an irony or not, the fact that the Resurrection of Christ cannot be depicted as if we were to depict a saint or any other of Christ's events shows that Christ, though incarnate for our sakes, is still God and God is spirit and transcendent which should fill us with terror and awe.  It also demonstrates that as much of a role as we do have in the salvation of our souls (extremely limited as it is), God's will prevails which will never be understood by us until we join with him in true communion, by grace, at the very end of the age.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The fundamentalism of those who argue Argumentum Ex Silentio

The word fundamentalist has come to have only negative connotations.  It describes someone who is stubborn, unbending, arrogant, old-fashioned, etc..  When used to describe someone of Christian belief, that word will also include connotations of bigotry, chauvinism, racism, misogyny, etc..  The word fundamentalist will inevitably come up whenever Christians of different confessions, or even the same confession argue opposing sides with social issues, particularly gay marriage and abortion.  Those who argue against gay marriage and abortion are branded as fundamentalist because they may quote Scriptures, but I would argue that those who argue for supporting gay marriage and abortion on demand are just as fundamentalist as the people they decry.

I'm a teacher of all things ancient and one of the subjects I discuss at length with my classes is mythology.  Now when you consider that mythology is the realm of the fantastic, extraordinary and irrational, one might think students would gravitate instantly to that subject, but, alas such is not always the case.  For a generation which is hooked on YouTube videos, X-box games, virtual reality and such, which are fantastic and divorced from reality, I'm amazed how they try to rationalize the mythology of the Greeks and Romans.  "Well, why didn't x do y and avoid his fate?  Couldn't Achilles and Patroclus have been more than 'just friends'?"  The problems with such questions is that we are bound by the sources and what they tell us.  To make an argument and base it on what a source doesn't say, is an argument from silence or, in Latin, argumentum ex silentio.  This is a logical fallacy:  Assuming that since the text is silent on the subject, anything, whether plausible or possible, may have happened.  Qui tacet consentire--He who is silent consents.

Fundamentalists are accused of using the words of Scripture out of context and thus their arguments are false.   Yet at the same time, if stubbornness and arrogance characterize the fundamentalists, then it equally applies to those who argue ex silentio.  A typical argument will run like this:
"The Bible says homosexuality is sinful."
"But Jesus didn't say a word about homosexuality."
"But Leviticus does."
"But Jesus didn't and his message of tolerance and forgiveness should apply even to them."
"Where does Jesus say that sinful behaviors are OK, that they should just be overlooked.  Doesn't he say to the adulterous woman: Go and sin NO MORE?"
"Jesus preached tolerance...for everyone."
"Where does Jesus preach tolerance."
"He just does"

Repeat ad nauseam.

Now, keep in mind that the Church has consistently held that homosexual relations are wrong, just as heterosexual relations are wrong outside of marriage.  Jesus said nothing about either in the Gospels, but the Church has still maintained both.  Jesus never said anything specifically about abortion either, nor did St. Paul in his writings, but the Church has consistently for 2000 years maintained that abortion is destruction of God's creation and gift.  But therein lies the problem.  Both sides essentially quote Scripture.  One quotes actual words; one quotes silence and paraphrased platitudes.  And both sides are left in exactly the same connundrum as when the argument began.

The Orthodox Church has never accepted that the Scriptures are the SOLE source of dogma and doctrine. That is why many of shake our heads whenever arguments of this sort take place when both sides make  appeals to Scripture and what Scripture says nothing about.  The Argumentum Ex Silentio fundamentalist is stubborn and unbending just as much as the Word fundamentalist is.   This is why the witness of the Church is invaluable and should not take second place to the Bible.  Keep in mind that even Scripture witnesses that the Church is the bulwark and pillar of truth, not the Bible.  And the doctrine of the Church, as St. Vincent of Lerins, rests in what was taught always, everywhere and for all time (i.e. Catholic), not based on what the Scripture says ONLY. 

The Argumentum Ex Silentio fundamentalist will never admit stubbornness, but that is exactly what he is.  He relies on what is not in the written word to justify any position he may take within Christianity, no matter how crazy and off the wall it is.  The Bible Fundamentalist will pound one phrase, one verse of Scripture and hook the word allein to it (German for alone, which is what Luther did with several of his translated passages of Romans to justify his sola gratia, sola fide heresies) as that is the end all, be all.  Both extremes leave out the Church entirely.  Both extremes leave out the Holy Spirit.  Both extremes rely on themselves as the sole authority.

I will grant that I have more sympathy for the Bible Fundamentalist with regards to the social issues specifically addressed here.  However, the Bible Fundamentalist does not have my support when he tries to excise the sacraments, the priesthood, prayers, the Divine Liturgy and offices because those aren't clearly addressed in Scripture. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Media simply doesn't get or doesn't want to get Roman Catholicism or Chrisitanity, in general

I hope this is my last post on the papal election and the election of Pope Francis.  I don't have a horse in this race so it is almost a waste of my time to continue to write about it. Nonetheless, I'll say a few more words.

The media couldn't help but fawn over the choice of Jorge Maria Begeglio as the Pontifex Maximus.  There was no shortage of stories about how this pope as Archbishop of Buenos Aires lived a life of simplicity by cooking his own meals, living in a simple apartment and even using public transportation.  But there was more--this man spent a great deal of his energy caring for the poor, making it a focal piece of his ministry while in Argentina.  Surely a man who was humble like this and not one of those rich, poor-hating popes like Benedict XVI would also be in favor of women's ordination, homosexual marriage, marriage of priests, liberalization of abortion and use of contraceptions, right?  How wrong they were.

"But, but, he cares for the poor. So it's only logical that he favor abortion rights, right?  He must also favor homosexual marriage, too, right?"

Regrettably, the media found out that Pope Francis was a Roman Catholic after all.  Pope Francis, even during his tenure as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires railed against abortion, homosexual marriage, contraception, etc.  Why would the media just automatically assume that care for the poor=endorsements of abortion?  Because the media simply doesn't get Christianity, in general, nor does it get Catholicism, in particular. And, too many get their information about Christianity and Roman Catholicism from the media so the cycle of stupidity and assumption repeats ad infinitum.

Since when did caring for the poor automatically mean a support for abortion on demand, or no fault divorce, or homosexual marriage, or women's ordination?  Mother Theresa cared for the poor and she was and is still attacked for condemning abortion.  Why would the media assume a man elected pope would be different?

It's wishful thinking and it is pointless.  Despite my many arguments with Rome, whatever her faults, she still upholds a good moral foundation for how society should conduct itself embracing a culture of life, not death, of charity, not selfishness, etc.  That will not change. The media is not going to get one of their own in the papal office any time soon.  And since that is the case, now the media will resort to demonizing.  If he won't play ball with our liberal agenda, we'll come up with every bit of dirt we can on him.  It has already started for Pope Francis.  It was the same with Pope Benedict XVI.

You can read this article which accuses the pope of being in collusion with the military junta that ruled Argentina in the 1970s. Who can forget that as soon as Ratzinger was elected as pope, the next day papers came out denouncing him as a Nazi because he was forcibly conscripted into the Hitler Jugend? 

The media know that their influence is waning in politics and in the world of religion.  Just like in democracy, when they don't get what they want, they resort to villainy, hyperbole, slander, demagoguery, etc.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habent papam novum

Notice  that I did not write "habemus" which translates to "We have" but "habent" meaning "they [i.e. Roman Catholics] have..." 

The Roman College of Cardinals has made Jorge Maria Begeglio the new Pope of the Roman Church who has taken the name of Francis I. 

Now, I have no horse in this race and the Cardinals can vote for whomever they were moved to do so.  However, I feel that I have to say a few words about the Pontifex Emeritus, Benedict XVI.  As a teacher of Latin, a profession which, whether for good or ill, depends largely on the Catholic Church to preserve its Latin heritage to ensure I have a job, Benedict was a godsend.  Benedict is a man of profound erudition, not only in theology but especially as a man of Latin letters.  His motu proprio to allow for greater freedom of the use of the Tridentine Rite or Extraordinary Rite of the Latin Mass has been, in many ways, a boon to the study of Latin.  Even his resignation was announced in Latin first, not in Italian or even his native German.  He has even been responsible for the creation of several schools for the teaching of the Latin language.  A more powerful friend to the classics, I do not know. 

As a pope, I'm in no position to judge.  I will say, however, that Benedict's great respect and love for the traditions of the church gained him many friends particularly in the Orthodox Church, for which he has great respect and love.  Reconciliation with the Orthodox was one of his primary goals, though that goal will always be a pipedream as long as Rome persists in her adherence to heresies which have been condemned repeatedly by the Orthodox. 

With regards to this current pope, he does not appear to be the erudite scholarly man that Benedict is and that is no fault.  I fear though that since this man was an appointee of the late Pope John Paul II, he may well undo some of Benedict's reforms when it comes to permission to use the Extraordinary Rite and that will be a great blow to Catholics, many of whom want and demand the Extraordinary Rite, claiming that the Novus Ordo is too much like a Protestant contemporary worship experience with a few more prayers and the Eucharist.  And if such is a case, Latin will suffer along with it. But, this is purely conjecture on my part.  I don't believe that Francis is very knowledgeable of Latin.  His benediction to the City and to the World (Urbi et Orbi) sounded very hesitant and unsure, but I'm sure that much of that was due to the unnerving experience of being elected Pope of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

One interesting thing about Francis is that in his role as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was also the prelate for the Eastern Rite Catholics in that region of the world. [Sidenote:  many southern Italians use the Eastern or Byzantine Rite and Argentina was a popular place for Italians to go after WWII].  I'm hopeful that  the experience he had as prelate will benefit him now as Pople and that he will continue the work that his predecessor began with regards to the Orthodox, who are Eastern Rite, for greater understanding and reconciliation.

I'm not qualified as I'm not a Catholic to say who should lead their particular church. I leave that to her respective temporal leaders and to God.  I will admit that I am sad that Benedict is now officially gone. He was a friend to the Orthodox and to tradition and to Latin.  This current pope, I cannot analyze just yet; he's been on the job now for only eight hours.  I'm hopeful that he will continue and not repudiate the work that has been done by his predecessor for the sake of Latin, for the sake of the traditions and liturgy of the ancient church and for the sake of good relations with the Orthodox.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tuesday of Cheese Week

Now is the time for turning back, O my soul; hasten to show unto God worthy fruits of repentance.  Keeping fast and praying, rise up and cry urgently: Praise, bless and exalt Christ above all forever.--First Canon for the second Day, Canticle 8 in the third tone

The soldiers of Christ cast aside the fear of kings and tyrants; boldly and with courage they confessed Him as the Lord of all, their King and God:  and they now intercede for our souls.--Aposticha at Orthros in the third done

When the undefiled Virgin saw upon the Tree the Son who without seed had been born from her womb, unable to endure the wound in her heart, she cried aloud in grief: "O Thou who rulest all creation by Thy will, how art Thou lifted on the Cross as one condemned?  Thou sufferest, because it is Thy will to save mankind.--Stavrotheotokion at the Aposticha at Vespers in the first tone

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lutherans warn Vatican--Do not create a "Lutheran Ordinariate"

The creation of the Anglican Ordinariate by the now, former Pope of Rome, Benedict XVI allowed the Roman Church to extend an olive branch to conservative Anglo-Catholics in England and beyond who were discontent with the hierarchy's loosening standards on women's ordination, ordination of homosexuals, homosexual weddings, etc.  Those Anglicans who were received into this ordinariate were allowed to retain their liturgical customs and praxis.  I'm not sure if they were forced/invited to recognize the headship of the Pope in spiritual matters, but there were definitely those who took the offer and didn't look back.

Now there are rumours that the Vatican may attempt to entice conservative Lutherans in the same way, by creating an ordinariate for them.  This prompted a slew of accusations and polemic from primarily liberal Lutheran groups (mainly in Europe) who said that such a move would "send wrong signals" (whatever that means) and would be a damaging blow to ecumenical relations.  You can read more of the reaction here.

First of all, I think the liberal Lutherans should calm down.  Conservative Lutherans are those who adhere to a quia subscription of the Confessions which means they would never enter into any kind of arrangement which would  require them to acknowledge the headship of the pope.  Any Lutherans who would do that are probably more Catholic than Lutheran anyway and would probably convert and swim the Tiber entirely rather than just take a dip in the kiddy pool version.

Secondly, what does this say about ecumenism?  I've been long of the opinion that ecumenism, as it exists now, simply seeks to unify churches administratively without regard for what the true faith is.  They call it diversity and that strengthens the church rather than hinders it (I'm sure that the confessors of the faith who died for the orthodox doctrine would disagree, but I digress).  True and good ecumenism is not about uniting the churches, but having these disparate confessions unified to the Una Sancta which already exists.  There's no harm in talking to people, but you must wonder why we continue to talk to people who have so consistently and unapologetically discarded the traditions of the faith.  And you must also wonder why we continue to talk with them who insist that diametrically opposed points of doctrine are somehow both valid.

This reaction by this group of Lutherans simply betrays that the ecumenism practiced today by the mainline Protestants is NOT about a true unity of the faith, but a unity of agreeing to disagree so let's all commune at the same altar.  And the Church has never tolerated heresy and schism in its midst for a great long time before it was able to throw it out.  At the same time, their reaction underscores that, even for liberal Lutherans, beliefs do matter, even if they officially continue to taut their preference for "diversity of beliefs" within a church.

The liberal Lutherans want so much for their perverted doctrines to be recognized, particularly by Rome.  But Rome won't budge. That's what they mean by this action being a damage to ecumenical relations: Rome insists that the Lutherans are deficient in many doctrines and practices and will insist on its faith as the norm and standard from which unity is born.  How dare they continue to be Catholics!  Of course, if the situation were reversed and the Lutherans announced a "Catholic Ordinariate" (not going to happen), there would be no hypocrisy on their part.

Ecumenism, as it is practiced now, is dangerous for precisely this reason.  The Orthodox are best to withdraw themselves from these frivolous dialogues and wastes of time. 

Monday of Cheese Week

The gateway to divine repentance has been opened: let us enter eagerly, purified in our bodies and  observing abstinence from food and passions, as obedient servants of Christ who has called the world into the heavenly Kingdom.  Let us offer to the King of all a tenth part of the whole year, that we may look with love upon His Resurrection.--Sessional Hymn at Orthros after the 2nd reading from the psalter in the first tone

Let us make haste to wash away through fasting the filth of our transgressions, and through acts of mercy and compassion to the needy let us enter into the bridal chamber of the Bridegroom Christ, who grants us the Great Mercy.--Sticheron at Psalm 140 at Vespers in plagal fourth tone.

Selections of the First Kathisma of the Spiritual Psalter of St. Ephraim the Syrian, First Stasis

Blessed is he who loves repentance; which saves all sinners, and does not delight in sin, that he might not appear ungrateful before God our Saviour.-- Spiritual Psalter # 1

I bow down to Thee, O Master; I bless Thee, O Good One; I beseech Thee, O Holy One; I fall down before Thee, O lover of mankind; and I glorify Thee, O Christ; for Thou, O Only-Begotten Master of All, O Only Sinless One, was, for the sake of me, an unworthy sinner, given up to death on the cross in order to free the soul of a sinner from the bondage of sin.--Spiritual Psalter # 2

Thus, as Thou hast always heard me, so now do not scorn my prayer.  For Thou seest that my mind, like a prisoner, seeks Thee, the Only True Saviour.--Spiritual Psalter # 3