28 May 2008

The handmaid of God Sophia Irene...

...receives the Body and Blood of Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Amen.

Her proud grandfather had the honor of presiding at her birth into the body of Christ, the Church. Following ancient practice, the Church administers Baptism, Chrismation and Eucharist at the same liturgy.
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The handmaid of God Sophia Irene...

...receives the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. ("Seal!")
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The handmaid of God Sophia Irene

...is baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(18 May 2008, at St. George Cathedral, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.)
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26 May 2008

Memorial Day 2008

This picture of my father was taken a year ago at the Memorial Day ceremony in Munhall, Pennsylvania. Now, like so many other veterans of World War II, he rests beneath the land he fought to defend so many years ago. It remains for us to make something of the gift they gave us--the freedom we enjoy. It remains for us to remember, and give thanks to God.

21 May 2008

De trinitate I.1.3

"So then it is difficult to contemplate and have full knowledge of God's substance, which without any change in itself makes things that change, and without any passage of time in itself creates things that exist in time. That is why it is necessary for our minds to be purified before that inexpressible reality can be inexpressibly seen by them; and in order to make us fit and capable of grasping it, we are led along more endurable routes, nurtured on faith as long as we have not yet been endowed with that necessary purification."

St. Augustine says two things here:
1. that the one who seeks to theologize must be pure;
2. that it is difficult to contemplate and have full knowledge of God's substance.

Compare and contrast how St. Gregory the Theologian discusses these two points in his Theological Orations.

ad 1) above:

"In the former Discourse we laid down clearly with respect to the Theologian, both what sort of character he ought to bear, and on what kind of subject he may philosophize, and when, and to what extent. We saw that he ought to be, as far as may be, pure, in order that light may be apprehended by light; and that he ought to consort with serious men, in order that his word be not fruitless through falling on an unfruitful soil; and that the suitable season is when we have a calm within from the whirl of outward things; so as not like madmen to lose our breath; and that the extent to which we may go is that to which we have ourselves advanced, or to which we are advancing." Oration 28.1

ad 2) above:

"It is difficult to conceive God but to define Him in words is an impossibility, as one of the Greek teachers of Divinity (Plato, Tim., 28 E.:"Now that which is created must, as we affirm, of necessity be created by a cause. But the father and maker of all this universe is past finding out; and even if we found him, to tell of him to all men would be impossible.") taught, not unskilfully, as it appears to me; with the intention that he might be thought to have apprehended Him; in that he says it is a hard thing to do; and yet may escape being convicted of ignorance because of the impossibility of giving expression to the apprehension. But in my opinion it is impossible to express Him, and yet more impossible to conceive Him. For that which may be conceived may perhaps be made clear by language, if not fairly well, at any rate imperfectly, to any one who is not quite deprived of his hearing, or slothful of understanding. But to comprehend the whole of so great a Subject as this is quite impossible and impracticable, not merely to the utterly careless and ignorant, but even to those who are highly exalted, and who love God, and in like manner to every created nature; seeing that the darkness of this world and the thick covering of the flesh is an obstacle to the full understanding of the truth. I do not know whether it is the same with the higher natures and purer Intelligences which because of their nearness to God, and because they are illumined with all His Light, may possibly see, if not the whole, at any rate more perfectly and distinctly than we do; some perhaps more, some less than others, in proportion to their rank." Oration 28.4
Both Augustine and Gregory agree on the need for purity in those who would theologize--a word we need to hear in our day. But I am struck by this distinction between the two: Augustine says that it is difficult to have full knowledge of God's substance; Gregory says that it is impossible.

St. Gregory Palamas said somewhere (?reference?) that Barlaam made two errors with respect to the knowledge of God: first, that we cannot really know God in this life; and second, that those in heaven will know God with respect to his essence.

Now in the west, no distinction exists between God's essence and his attributes/energies. As Aquinas says, “God is all the things that He has...” (On Spiritual creatures article 11). The translator of De trinitate notes, ".... the attributes of God are not accidental qualities that adhere to him, nor are his actions things that he happens to do in time. As the Arians rightly insisted, in God all accidents become substance. God is his attributes, and his attributes are him, and the same goes for his actions." (pg. 45)

If we make no distinction between God's essence and his energies--and let it be noted that this is a position that the West is committed to--then, if we say it is impossible to know God's essence we must be hard-core agnostics (not to say atheists) of a sort. Hence Augustine is committed to say that to know God's substance is difficult.

But if we make the distinction between God's essence and his energies, which the East is committed to, then we can affirm both that we can know God even in this life, by knowing his energies; and that we can never know God in his essence, either in this life or in the age to come.

An experiment in blogging...

One of my many projects for the summer, as noted in a previous post, is to read through St. Augustine's De trinitate. Here's where the experiment comes in. From time to time, I will post little excerpts from the work--sometimes comparing and contrasting it with other sources, and sometimes making little comments of my own. I invite readers to participate in this little experiment with me. I may not follow through on your comments or observations, but I do not wish to trust my own reading without getting remarks from others.

1. These posts will not be for everybody. If you don't understand what's being discussed, not to worry--just press on to something else that interests you.
2. I will probably not have the time to bring folks up to speed on these issues; let me recommend for those who are interested, the works of Lossky and Meyendorff.

The text of De trinitate I'll be using is the new edition; here's the bibliographical information:

Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. The Trinity. Translated by Edmund Hill. New York: New City Press, 1991. ISBN: 0-911782-96-6.

11 May 2008

And now for something completely different...

...a rap song about Augustine.

HT: Rogueclassicism

09 May 2008


I've started to draft a post on third-article stuff in the western confessions, but even to do an outline of what must be said will take buckets of time.

What I want to focus on is not the filioque--a western error wrt the Person of the Holy Spirit--but the essence/energies problem--a western error relating to the work of the Holy Spirit. But it will take time to document this, even in outline form. I've cracked open my Boethius and Aquinas. Please be patient.

08 May 2008

The current LCMS problems: "What does this mean?"

In the face of the situation of my former affiliation (the LC-MS), a number of its people are beginning to recognize the depth of the problem. Some seem to think it a political problem, and so hope to solve it by getting new leadership at its next election. Others see it as a spiritual problem, and so hope to solve it by prayer and catechesis. Only a few, but a growing number, understand the problem in its root and depth.

It is a theological problem, caused by a false doctrine of the Church and of Mary, the archetype of the Church. (Make a list of all the problems affecting the Protestant and Roman confessions, and you will find a common factor. All of them concern the Third Article of the Creed, the article on the Holy Spirit. To coin a phrase from Luther, "What does this mean?")

It is an existential problem, in that (judged even by the lights of the Lutheran Confessions themselves, and great Lutheran theologians like Francis Pieper), the Missouri Synod is not Church, but a corporation. Do not pay attention to words, or photos of leaders wearing clerical collars. (If a grocery store puts up a poster for a concert, that doesn't make the store a concert hall.) Look at the actions, for a nature is revealed by its actions, as St. John of Damascus reminds us.

But the LCMS is not alone. The same is true of every Lutheran body in the world. The Lutheran description of Church, as found in the Lutheran Confessions, no longer fits any existing Lutheran body. And so it stands for contemporary Lutherans as a prescription--a demand. Another word for 'prescription' is 'law,' and for Lutherans no human being but Christ can fulfill the law. What comfort, then, can troubled Lutherans find?

Some Lutherans try to find comfort in the notion of the 'invisible' or 'hidden' Church.

Of course, they say, any example of 'Church' below is a corpus mixtum, a 'mixed body.' Because it is composed of sinners, every visible expression of Church must be sinful. (A few years ago, one heard the Church referred to by some of these men as 'whore;' such language is not heard often anymore, but the the thought behind it is still there.) "How could anyone call the visible Church 'holy' or 'pure'?" they ask. "Look how at every level, parish and beyond, it has such sinners!" This is an example of the logical fallacy of composition. It would be as if I said, "Look at this airplane. It's completely made up of parts that weigh little; therefore, it weighs little."

But beyond these visible bodies, or hidden within them, they say, is the true Church. The more refined among them speak of it as 'hidden.' The Church is revealed in the activities of the pure preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments. Now since these things are only done parish by parish, Church cannot be revealed in anything broader than a parish. Trans-parochial entities are called "Church" in a way similar to brick-and-mortar buildings being called "church"--by extension of the proper meaning. But their attempt to limit the nature of Church to its activities has an even more radical implication. Since it is entirely possible that a minister may not, on a given Sunday, rightly preach the Gospel or rightly administer the Sacraments, one cannot say with certainty that one has been in Church until after the Divine Service is ended! Like Tantalus of old, on the Lutheran teaching of Church one can always reach for the Church, but can never touch her. Some might try to use the words of St. John of Damascus, cited above: a nature is revealed by its actions. But by its minimalist notion of what the Church's actions are, the Lutheran doctrine of Church in effect limits its nature to what takes place on Sunday morning for an hour, more or less. For the Orthodox, the Church is revealed not only in these actions, but also in the ongoing, day-to-day activities of prayer and works of love.

The Lutheran notion of hidden Church is a miracle exactly opposite of the Roman miracle of transubstantiation. In the case of transubstantiation, there is a substance (the body of Christ) with no visible accidents of its own. In the Lutheran notion of hidden Church there are accidents (in the category of 'action') with no visible substance underlying them--rather like the Invisible Man in this humorous video by Rowan Atkinson. At its best, this view of Church is sacramental Barthianism. Just as Karl Barth claimed that revelation happens at a kind of mathematical point, so for those who hold the notion of 'hidden church', Church only happens at the mathematical point of a given Divine Service.

Orthodox theologians may sometimes use the language of 'visible' and 'invisible' Church. But their meaning is vastly different from the way those terms are used in the western confessions of faith. The 'visible' Church is the Orthodox Church on earth; the 'invisible' Church comprises the Church on earth, together with those who are in heaven and even those not yet born--all of whom are present to God. Aleksei Khomiakov comments:

The Church is one. Her unity follows of necessity from the unity of God; for the Church is not a multitude of persons in their separate individuality, but a unity of the grace of God, living in a multitude of rational creatures, submitting themselves willingly to grace. Grace, indeed, is also given to those who resist it, and to those who do not make use of it (who hide their talent in the earth), but these are not in the Church. In fact, the unity of the Church is not imaginary or allegorical, but a true and substantial unity, such as is the unity of many members in a living body.

The Church is one, notwithstanding her division as it appears to a man who is still alive on earth. It is only in relation to man that it is possible to recognize a division of the Church into visible and invisible; her unity is, in reality, true and absolute. Those who are alive on earth, those who have finished their earthly course, those who, like the angels, were not created for a life on earth, those in future generations who have not yet begun their earthly course, are all united together in one Church, in one and the same grace of God; for the creation of God which has not yet been manifested is manifest to Him; and God hears the prayers and knows the faith of those whom He has not yet called out of non-existence into existence. Indeed the Church, the Body of Christ, is manifesting forth and fulfilling herself in time, without changing her essential unity or inward life of grace. And therefore, when we speak of the Church visible and invisible, we so speak only in relation to man.