The End of Christ’s Kingdom


The Kingdom of Jesus Christ

One of the accusations Theophilus of Alexandria spends a significant number of words on is the idea that there is a sharp distinction between the Kingdoms of the Father and that of His Son, Jesus Christ. Because of this difference in kingdoms, Theophilus argues, the eternity of Christ’s Kingdom is denied and therefore:

We read in the Gospel that when the Lord and Saviour, showing us a model of fortitude and patience, mounted the cross, ‘Pilate wrote a title and put it over his head; it read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”. Many of the Jews read this title, which was written in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek. The Chief priests of the Jews then said to Pilate: “Do not write, “The King of the Jews’.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” Therefore if Pilate could not be moved either by civil discord or by entreaty to remove Christ’s kingdom from the title, Origen should know that without any compulsion he is doing what the Jews did in reckoning that Christ’s kingdom would come to an end. They, indeed, denied that he was a king when he was on earth; Origen strives so far as he can, to disparage him as one reigning in heaven. As a result he has Pilate who replied to the Jews: ‘What I have written, I have written’ as the accuser of his crime.”

Theophilus of Alexandria, Sixteenth Festal Letter, par. 9.

This seems to be an interpretation of Origen’s teaching on “the end or consummation” as we find it in On First Principles (Book, I, Chapter 6). For Origen the Son of God contains within Himself the eternal principles (what St. Maximus the Confessor would say are the “logoi”) of all creation:

… Wisdom was the beginning of the ways of God, and is said to be created, forming beforehand and containing within herself the species and beginnings of all creatures …

Origen, On First Principles, Bk. I, Ch. 2, Par. 3.

In this sense the Son – who is Wisdom – is the beginning of all creation. In fact it is the Father who creates the world in and through the Son. It is important to notice here that Origen does not here attribute actual existence in a preexistent state to pre-incarnate spirits or souls. From there Origen argues that the relationship between creation and the Son enables the Father to orchestrate salvation:

We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end, even His enemies being conquered and subdued. For thus says holy Scripture, The Lord said to My Lord, Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool. And if the meaning of the prophet’s language here be less clear, we may ascertain it from the Apostle Paul, who speaks more openly, thus: For Christ must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet.  

Origen, On First Principles, Bk. I, Chap. 6, Par. 1.

Because the Son is the one who became incarnate the Father works salvation through Him. This – Origen argues – is what it means to say that God’s enemies are “conquered and subdued” Jesus Christ is therefore a conquering King. But what could Scripture mean when it asserts that this Kingdom is temporal and lasts only until ? It is here that Theophilus terribly misunderstands (or more maliciously, perhaps, misrepresents) Origen’s teaching. Theophilus, in his Sixteenth Festal Letter, points out that denying the eternity of the Kingdom of Christ implies that Father and Son are not one but separate. This would make Origen a proto-Arian in denying the consubstantiality of Father and Son:

Anyone who sets a term on the kingdom must be thought to feel the same about the divinity, which naturally possesses a perpetual sovereignty. Since the Word of God reigns, he is certainly God, and for that reason it follows that anyone who attempts to set  term to the kingdom is compelled, as I have argued, to believe that Christ will also cease to be God.

Theophilus of Alexandria, Sixteenth Festal Letter, Par. 7.

For Theophilus Christ’s divinity depends on the eternity of Christ’s Kingdom insofar that when one asserts the temporality of one it of necessity implies the temporal nature of the other. This is not how Origen wants his teaching of the kingdom to be understood. For Origen Christ’s Kingdom is to be understood under two aspects as it were. First of all because Jesus Christ came to save us His kingship has a salvific aspect to it. Salvation is not an eternally ongoing process. The suffering of Christ is sufficient to end evil and sin. If sin and evil indeed come to an end – which they will – than salvation has a terminus. It is this that Origen undestands to be indicated when he asserts (from Scripture) that Christ’s Kingdom is until. But until when? Origen answers this question as follows:

Seeing, then, that such is the end, when all enemies will be subdued to Christ, when death— the last enemy— shall be destroyed, and when the kingdom shall be delivered up by Christ (to whom all things are subject) to God the Father; let us, I say, from such an end as this, contemplate the beginnings of things. For the end is always like the beginning: and, therefore, as there is one end to all things, so ought we to understand that there was one beginning; and as there is one end to many things, so there spring from one beginning many differences and varieties, which again, through the goodness of God, and by subjection to Christ, and through the unity of the Holy Spirit, are recalled to one end, which is like the beginning: all those, viz., who, bending the knee at the name of Jesus, make known by so doing their subjection to Him: and these are they who are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: by which three classes the whole universe of things is pointed out, those, viz., who from that one beginning were arranged, each according to the diversity of his conduct, among the different orders, in accordance with their desert; for there was no goodness in them by essential being, as in God and His Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. For in the Trinity alone, which is the author of all things, does goodness exist in virtue of essential being; while others possess it as an accidental and perishable quality, and only then enjoy blessedness, when they participate in holiness and wisdom, and in divinity itself.

Origen, On First Principles, Bk. I, Chap. 6, par 2.

The until is when Christ renders His Kingdom to His Father as St. Paul clearly says:

24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.

25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.

26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.

28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15, 24-28.

This – of course – is conveniently ignored in Theophilus’ argument. Nothing is here said about Jesus Christ ceasing to be God. What is argued here is that Christ’s Kingdom, insofar as it entails salvation history, has a conclusion. At this conclusion the Son renders the world (now free from all evil and sin) to the Father so that God will be “all in all.” To turn the tables on Theophilus a bit one could wonder if he believes that Christ’s salvific action is insufficient to complete the task of salvation? Presuming some sort of unending balance between the powers of good and evil? That the devil is in fact not defeated but will continue – forever – to wage war against Christ and the Saints? And if indeed Christ is not strong enough to defeat the devil and sin … can such a Christ really be God? It would seem that Theophilus’ God is equally matched by His own creation. Surely Theophilus would not have wanted to assert such folly?

In the end it would seem that God reigns over His creatures and that this reign has different aspects. The aspect of salvation history is temporal. The aspect of divine sovereignty is not. To say that the Father is saving creation through Jesus Christ is not to assert the lesser divinity of Jesus, anymore than it diminishes the Son’s divinity when we say that the father created the world through and in Him. In fact, I would argue, it implies the Son’s divinity.

In Evagrius’ Praktikos we will encounter this idea again. Right from the beginning he asserts that there are two Kingdoms. That of Christ (Heaven) and that of God. The next post will be looking into that more deeply.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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Of Embodied & Dis-embodied Souls


Because on we have begun to enter more and more on the territory of prayer as understood in Egyptian Monasticism – specifically that of Evagrius – we need to take a look at Origenism. In what follows below I will make an attempt to do so. Let’s begin!

Origenism

Much has been made of Evagrius’ alleged Origenism. Two distinct controversies can be found that concern Origenism. One toward the end of the 4th century the other in the sixth century. Origen himself played no role whatsoever in either since had long since succumbed to consequences of being tortured for his faith sometime in the 3d century. Evagrius died shortly before the first controversy broke out, and was long dead by the time the second broke out. An uncomfortable fact ignored by most scholars (except Great Schema Monk Gabriel Bunge and Augustine Casiday). Neither Origen nor Evagrius personally played any part in the so-called Origenist Controversies yet both men have received the lion share of the blame for said controversies. The problem is now located in their teachings as judged by those who were entirely unfit to understand them.

So what is Origenism? To explain this phenomenon in a few sentences is a great challenge and I am not sure it can be done. I will, however, make an attempt. Origenism seems to be a doctrine used by Theophilus the Bishop of Alexandria to legitimize his ruthless burning, looting, and persecuting a large group of Egyptian Monks who had fallen out of favour with him. It is difficult to find out what precisely caused the initial rift between Theophilus and the Tall Brothers but it seems certain that there were differences with regard to ecclesial discipline and the proper use of ecclesial finances. From there accusations were hurled from the Tall Brothers to their Bishop and from the latter toward his former friends. Theophilus was a very skilled ecclesial lawyer and realized he could not make a legal case against the Tall Brothers. Yet he could not leave the Tall Brothers alone either since they could very well undermine his episcopal authority. To safeguard his authority Theophilus sought to take action against the Tall Brothers. No legal/canonical case could be made so his only resort was theology. If he could make accusations of heresy stick he could make a case and deal with the Tall Brothers once and for all. This he did. In fact he did it so successfully that even today Origen’s name is enough to invoke the specter of heresy.

The success of Theophilus’ anti-Origenist campaign can be seen at work toward the end of the 6th century when Emperor Justinian is using Origenism as a weapon to fight some monastic troublemakers of his day and age. The accusations are similar and Justinian’s two lists of anti-Origenist anathemas bear the fruits of Theophilus’ theological creativity. The first list of anathemas dates from 543 and the second list – erroneously attributed to the 5th Ecumenical Council – dates from 553. Justinian, like Theophilus, wrote letters exposing what he believes to be the heresy of Origen and he condenses them conveniently in the 15 Anathemas of 553. These anathemas were sent to the Bishops gathered in Constantinople to attend the Ecumenical Council which would soon open. Since these anathemas illegitimately found their way into the documents belonging to the 5th Ecumenical Council it is these that I will consider in a bit more detail. I am aware that 4th and 6th century Origenism are different but I do not think the distinction matters for the purpose of this article.

15 Anathemas

With the background provided above we are now better positioned to answer the question I posed earlier as to what Origenism is. Let’s begin with the anathemas:

  1. If anyone asserts the fabulous pre-existence of souls, and shall assert that the monstrous restoration (apokatastasis) that follows from it, let him be anathema.
  2. If anyone shall say that the creation of all reasonable things includes only intelligences, without knowledge and altogether immaterial … but that no longer desiring the sight of God they gave themselves over to worse things, each one following his own inclinations, and that they have taken bodies more or less subtle … let him be anathema.
  3. If anyone shall say that the sun, the moon, and the stars are also reasonable beings, and have only become what they are because they have turned to evil, let him be anathema.
  4. If anyone shall say that the reasonable creatures in whom the divine love has grown cold have been hidden in gross bodies such as ours and have been called men, while those who have attained the lowest degree of wickedness have shared cold and obscure bodies and are become and called demons and evil spirits: let him be anathema.
  5. If anyone shall say that a psychic condition has come from an angelic state. and moreover that a demoniac and a human condition has come from a psychic condition, and that from a human state they may become again angels and demons … let him be anathema.
  6. If anyone shall say that there is a twofold race of demons, of which the one includes the souls of men and the other the suprior spirits who fell to this … and that the most holy and consubstantial Trinity did not create the world, but that it was created by the working intelligence (Nous demiourgos) which is more ancient than the world … let him be anathema.
  7. If anyone shall say that Christ … had … pity upon the divers falls which had appeared in the spirits united in the same unity (of which he himself is part), and that to restore them he passed through divers classes, had different bodies and … finally has taken flesh and blood like ours … let him be anathema.
  8. If anyone shall [presume to say] that God the Word … is so only in an inaccurate manner, and because of the abasement, as they call it, of the intelligence … let him be anathema.
  9. If anyone shall say that it was not the Divine Logos … [who] descended into heaven, but shall pretend that it is the Nous which has done this, that Nous of which they say (in an impious fashion) he is Christ properly so called, and that he is become so by knowledge of the Monad; let him be anathema.
  10. If anyone shall say that after the resurrection the body of the Lord was ethereal, having the form of a sphere, and that such shall be the bodies of all after the resurrection … let him be anathema.
  11. If anyone shall say that the future judgment signifies the destruction of the body and that the end of the story will be an immaterial nature … let him be anathema.
  12. If anyone shall say that the heavenly Powers and all men and the devil and evil spirits are united with the Word of God in all respects … and that the Kingdom of Christ shall have an end: let him be anathema.
  13. if anyone shall say that Christ is in no wise different from all other reasonable beings … but that all will be placed at the right hand of God … as also they were in the feigned pre-existence of all things: let him be anathema.
  14. If anyone shall say that all reasonable beings will one day be united in one, when the hypostases as well as the numbers and the bodies have disapeared … moreover that in this pretended apokatastasis, spirit only will continue to exist, as it was in the feigned pre-existence; let him be anathema.
  15. If anyone shall say that the life of spirits shall be like to the life which was in the beginning while as yet the spirits had not come down or fallen, so that the end and the beginning shall be alike, and that the end shall be the true measure of the beginning: let him be anathema.

These anathemas seem to be deeply concerned about the “feigned pre-existence” and the other propositions condemned seem to follow from or be closely related to it. Much scholarly work has been done on these anathemas and how they relate to Origen. It has become clear that most of these propositions are not to be found in any of Origen’s writings. In fact the very premise – the feigned pre-existence – is a doctrine not held by Origen but in fact declared impossible by him. To Origen only the Trinity can exists without a body. To be bodiless is an attribute exclusive to God. Creatures, all of them and by necessity, are embodied. Origen never conceives of naked souls or disembodied spirits not in the beginning and not in the end. This can be clearly seen in Peri Archon (On First Principles) as well Origen’s other extant works.

It is crucial that at this point it is clearly understood that if Origen did not teach the preexistence of which he is here accused then the Christological problem addresses in the anathemas does not occur. There is no preexistent Christ-Nous to become incarnate instead of the very Word of God doing so. To Origen, as for Evagrius, it is precisely the Word of God which becomes incarnate. The proposition that the resurrection body is denied permanence is also vacuous. Both Origen and Evagrius assert the continued existence of the body. What kind of body is of course the question. It seems to me that Ilaria Ramelli has convincingly argued that this is a real, corporeal, body but divested of mortality. In other words: a body that is not flesh and blood but a real, material, body nonetheless. This is a luminous or glorious body and is the spiritual body St. Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15. This body is subjected to mortality because of sin, and it is this body that will rise and continue eternally. The destruction of bodies (doing away of numbers etc.) is nothing other than the shedding of flesh and blood. Mortality is done away with and immortality is gained. Corruption is removed and incorruption is put on precisely as St. Paul had taught.

The issues that are involved in Origenism all seem to be in the realm of Physike which is the first stage of mature knowledge in the Christian understanding of spiritual growth. St. Paul had warned that meat not be given to babies in Christ who are in need of milk and cannot handle meat. It seems to me that meat has become available to those not able to handle it and it has been terribly misunderstood and has spun wildly out of control. This is precisely why meat is not to be given to the immature. Exactly what was misunderstood will become clear later. It is important at this point to realise that physike or natural contemplation is not to be undertaken by those who have not yet built a strong foundation in a living relationship with Jesus Christ. This is done first and foremost by an active sacramental life and by reading the Scriptures under guidance of the Church (the Catholic Catechism is an excellent resource here). Once such a stability has been achieved can the hard work of contemplation begin. Contemplation begins – oddly enough – with praktike because here we learn to recognize who we are, who are tempters are, and how we can overcome our tempters and our own sinful inclinations. This is necessary if we are to – ever – begin the work of contemplation.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

In re-reading this article I realize that I have in fact not succeeded in doing justice to the subject. I will re-visit this issue in another post.

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Relationship with food (ii)


The three stages

It may seem awkward that on this blog about the Anglican Breviary an extended discussion of food is underway. It is, however, directly relevant. Our relationship to food is a vital, if not fundamental, element of our spiritual life. We cannot hope to learn to live the kind of life which sustains prayer unless we have some measure of control and understanding concerning how, what, and when we eat. It is not accidental that the Desert Fathers as well as St. Benedict’s Rule have important things to say precisely about the consumption of food.

St. Evagrius of Pontus divides the spiritual journey of the Christian in three parts:

  1. Praktike
  2. Physike
  3. Theologike

All three are stages in the spiritual life . They are not neatly separate as the Christian life is actually lived, but they overlap. Evagrius’ is not an iron clad system. Evagrius did not invent this line of thought, nor was he the only expositor of it. It would seem that this sort of teaching circulated rather widely among the so-called Origenist Monks of 4th century Egypt. In using the word Origenism I must make it clear that I am referring to the teaching such as can be found in St. Anthony the Great and those following in his footsteps. I am not referring to the sort of Origenism (if it can be called that! ) described by either Theophilus of Alexandria or the Emperor Justinian. When I use the term Origenism I am referring to the mainstream Nicene Orthodoxy as it is turned into a practical way of living and teaching by St. Anthony and other 4th century Desert Fathers.

The stage of praktike concerns the putting into practice of the commandments. Performing the commandments opens up to Physike which is the contemplative knowledge of created reality. Physike is mediated knowledge of God. God as Creator and Redeemer is indirectly revealed in Scripture and Nature. As one continues to improve in living a dedicated life in Christ (praktike) God will eventually reveal himself to the Christian without mediation. This is what Evagrius calls Essential Knowledge or theologike. This stage is not the necessary result of praktike and physike (even though it is not attained without them). Theologike is the result of God’s grace. One becomes a theologian only if God chooses to bestow this grace upon the faithful Christian. There is therefore no technique that brings it about.

Gastrimargia

As a spiritual diagnostic tool we are perhaps familiar with the so-called seven deadly sins. This list is first found as such in St. Gregory the Great, himself a great master of the spiritual life. Pushing back beyond St. Gregory we find St. John Cassian listing eight such deadly sins, and pushing beyond St. Cassian we find Evagrius’ list of eight such sins. We cannot push further behind Evagrius, the list of eight deadly sins first occurs in his writings. These eight are all of them manifestations of one basic and founding sin though: self-love (being in love with one self). Unlike St. Gregory the Great, Evagrius sees misdirected love as the problem where it all begins to go wrong. Not pride but love of self is the core problem in the spiritual life. Love, true love, is the remedy of this ailment and the three pronged path of Christian life (praktike, physike, theologike) is the medicine.

The Evagrian list consists of the following vices:

  1. gluttony (gastrimargia)
  2. fornication
  3. avarice
  4. sorrow
  5. despondency
  6. anger
  7. vainglory
  8. pride

To understand these vices and to perceive how they affect one’s life is the great work of praktike. It is therefore important to understand at least some of the basics of Evagrius’s psychology and anthropology of which we will hear more anon. At this point it is crucial that the reader understands that it is not by accident that gastrimargia tops the list. It is not that this is the most vile or heinous of the vices, rather it is because this vice forms the first breach in our defenses. It is a gateway vice and forces an opening into our lives for the others.

The first thing to do when we find ourselves in a hole is to stop digging. In the context of the eight vices to stop digging is the equivalent of learning to relate to food in a healthy way. To gain control over our eating habits rather than to have them control us. Eating is something even the most spiritually advanced must do in order to live. There is therefore a sense in which the least experienced beginner and the most advanced expert are facing the exact same task. There is no elitism here. In a following post I will pick up on how gastrimargia manifests in our lives. It may be a surprising discovery! Gastrimargia – to lift but a tip of the veil – does not always manifest in eating or drinking too much … The deadly sins or passions manifest in hidden ways.

In the Fall man was seduced and fragmented by food and his redemption too involves food. The fallen man is baptized so that he may have access to the Eucharistic Body and Blood of his God and Saviour: Jesus Christ. This Jesus unites us all into one body. The Eucharistic Lord is broken so that the multitude of “breads” (Hosts) would reach the multitude of the divided human race, bring them to partake of the one Cup (containing the Lord’s Blood), so the division may be overcome and healed. In Jesus Christ we have become adopted into God’s family and have God for our Father.

Food and Breviary

Food and what we do with it, how we relate to it, is of great significance in the spiritual life. It is therefore of great importance that the we realize the Breviary regulates our relationship to food by means of the kalendar. Throughout the Church Year there are several seasons in which our intake of food and the kinds of food we consume is regulated by fasting and abstinence. The Desert Fathers provide different rules of eating and fasting for their disciples. The idea is to adapt the rule to the need of the individual disciple. The Breviary acts – in a sense – as a spiritual father or mother. It gives general guidelines for eating and fasting that are general enough so that most (if not all) can follow it.

One of the key points is here is not that one performs great acts of asceticism as if the spiritual life were some sort of circus act. The point is rather that the commandment given in the beginning (Genesis 3) concerning what we shall and shall not eat be followed. In other words: the waters of Baptism returns us to Paradise and God once again puts before us a command. We are given the opportunity to obey and by obedience to God become free from the slavery to our desires. The Breviary is a means through which God guides us. This guidance is not limited to the kalendar. The Legends of the many, many saints we find in the Breviary provide us a pattern of living. They are examples showing us how God’s commandment can be put into practice in different circumstances. Christianity is a way of life. The Anglican Breviary provides a guide on the way if we would only use it.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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Relationship with Food …


Our relationship with food

Today, in the year of our Lord 2016, there continue to be problems with regard to eating. For a great many people in what is often called the “third world” the problem is that there is not any food to be eaten. Hundreds if not hundreds of thousands of people starve. Even in 2016. The “first world” countries on the other hand seem to be suffering from sometimes highly destructive relationships to food. Today we hear about “Binge Eating Disorder,” or “Food Addiction,” and we have also learned that over consumption of certain foods (and drinks) can severely undermine the metabolic function of the body to the point where Type 2 Diabetes sets in. Eating is a very ordinary and every day sort of activity. Yet it is worth paying attention to eating because it really should not be taken fro granted at all. People do not fall ill, or even deadly ill, simply by not eating (starvation). People can also contract deadly illnesses by eating too much or by eating the wrong kinds of foods. In a very real sense therefore “we are what we eat.”

If our relationship with food gets out of hand it can lead to over eating. Not an over eating where we enjoy good company, good food, and good beer in a festive sort of way. But rather a compulsory drive to loosen one’s belt buckle and devour the contents of our refrigerator. All alone, without enjoyment but rather increasing a feeling of guilt with every bite. In other words it is a lonely, unhappy, deeply tragic phenomenon. Eating until one is so full that the stomach hurts, nausea sets in, one is emotionally drained … A devastating collapse of our body and soul.

In the spiritual teaching of St. Evagrius Ponticus eating plays a very important role. The spiritual journey of the praktikos (one who puts into practice the teachings of Christ) begins with the phenomenon of eating. What is more “eating” will remain a concern for as long as the journey lasts. Though the spiritual journey of the praktikos is not intended as a remedy for psychological or physical illness, it can play a beneficial role insofar as it too aims at restoring a healthy relationship to food. It is, naturally, evident that the spiritual journey also does not resolve a food shortage where the means of production (for eample) are insufficient or lacking. With these limitations in mind we can still confidently say that the path of the praktikos is a healthy one and is part of a “healthy life-style.”

Knowledge – gnosis

The above listed disorders can be diagnosed as psychiatric illnesses. There are different schools of psychiatry and they will differ in their approach to tackle the problematic relationships we might have with food. The famed “psychological” insights of the Desert Fathers is not such a science. The Desert Fathers, Evagrius in particular, have important psychological insights, but they are not a medical diagnostic tool. Nor are they “therapy” in the medical sense. Insofar as the psychology of the Desert Fathers concerns human beings, however, there are bound to be points of contact with the medical practice and if applied wisely the Desert Fathers may have some beneficial things to contribute.

The psychology of the Desert Fathers is an integrated part of a larger whole. To the Desert Fathers this larger whole is properly called Gnosis or knowledge. Great Schema Monk Gabriel Bunge (a former Benedictine hermit) explains this knowledge:

This Christian Gnosis is the fruit of God’s grace and it consists of divine grace and human effort. It encompasses physics and metaphysics, philosophy and theology, practice and theory, in one grand worldview concerning created reality.

~ Gabriel Bunge, “Gastrimargia,” p. 16-17.

The psychology of the Desert Fathers, instead of being a medical science, always points beyond itself. It is oriented towards metaphysics and theology. This is not a psychology which limits the human being to an ever improving self, it rather seeks to free the human being from the evil thoughts. The latter have taken away from the human being the ability to transcend oneself in an encounter with the Other whereby it also enabled to experience the self’s true nature. The psychology of the Desert Fathers seeks to return this ability of transcendence and encounter to the human being. He is not merely a self … A human beings is gifted with being after the Image of God. This is what is in need of being restored. It is here that we clearly see that this psychology does indeed point beyond itself to ultimately theological things such as our relationship to and with God. Christian Gnosis is the knowledge of ourselves as fallen, it is the knowledge of ourselves as imago Dei (image of God), it is the knowledge that tells us what we are to do if we wish to return from fallenness to imago Dei, it is the knowledge of the world as created by God, it is the knowledge of our spiritual opponents, and, ultimately, it is the knowledge of God as Trinity. This knowledge is never merely cerebral. It always implies activity and action. To know what to do is possible only if one does it. This is why the Lives of the Fathers are so crucial. They show us what to do. Once we are doing what we have been taught we will also grow in knowledge of what we are doing. This growth is gradual, hard work, but real.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

 

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Paschal Foundation


It is often asserted that the Christian Faith is founded on two pillars:

  1. Trinity
  2. Incarnation

On the face of it this assertion seems quite plausible. After all … The dogmas of Trinity and Incarnation seem to conveniently encapsulate the entirety of the Christian Faith. Yet, as we have entered the Octave of the Ascension, it is time to reconsider this assertion. Fr. John Behr has put forward a critique of the idea that Trinity and Incarnation are the two pillars of Christian Faith. His suggestion is to return to an older understanding of Christian Faith and its foundations.

The Cross of Jesus Christ is in fact the foundation of Christian Faith. It is through the medium of Scripture that Jesus Christ is revealed to be the Word of God whose Father is in heaven and whose Spirit is given at Pentecost. In other words: the Trinity and Incarnation are truths arrived at through contemplating the Cross by the medium of Scripture. Fr. Behr points out it is crucial to understand that what is exegeted is not first and foremost a list of canonical books we call Scripture. Rather what is exegeted is Jesus Christ by means of Scripture. We are not “Biblians” but CHRIST-ians. Easter or Pascha is the foundation of the Christian Faith.

The Bible is not therefore the primary focus of our attempts to know God. The Bible provides the words, images, concepts, it provides the context through which God is known. This knowledge of God through Scripture is not gained by dialectical studies, not by finding out the sources the authors of a biblical book have used, nor by learning the history of the text. God is known through Scripture by God’s gracious revelation. In and through prayerfull reading (in liturgy & lectio divina) we lift our hearts/minds to the place where God reveals himself.

The Passion of Jesus Christ is as it were the lens which concentrates the various rays of Scripture into one so as to reveal its true message. Jesus Christ is the Word of God whereas the Bible speaks of Him.

Enjoy: Behr Paschal Foundation

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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Apocatastasis & Transfiguration


The link below has some inspiring and uplifting thoughts by the Russian Orthodox Priest & theologian Sergius Bukgakov. In a time of much uncertainty, turmoil, and religious violence a reminder of where God will lead the world is timely. No matter how unlikely it may seem to us now, our efforts at destroying our world, each other, and ourselves will ultimately be unsuccessful.

Thank God.

236738026-Apocatastasis-Transfiguration

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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… in the presence of God and his Saints … (RB 58,18)


In the Rule St. Benedict insists that the novice upon entering the monastic community pledges his loyalty in oral and written form “in the presence of God and his Saints RB 58, 18).” The promise is made by the novice “in the names of the Saints whose relics are there and in the name of the abbot (RB 58, 19).”

To a modern, contemporary, reader the significance of this solemn act may be lost. Moderns are too often as little interested in the dusty old teachings of the holy Fathers as they are in relics. The names of the Saints is a mere addition to those witnessing the event. But so much more lies behind this solemn act that is too often lost to a modern observer.

The novice is in fact entering a living community of monastic life. The Saints, present in their relics, are living parts of that community. But the Saints present in their relics are not the only Saints making up this local community. The community also consists of Saints whose relics may not be present. The relics emphasize that the presence of the Saints is not pretence but tangibly real. Relics can be touched in veneration. Insofar as thee relics can be touched we can touch the Saints whose relics they are. Among the Saints comprising the community are the holy Fathers (RB 73, 2) whose teachings are to lead the novice (and his fellow monastics) to the very heights of perfection (RB 73, 2). These holy Fathers may not be present in their relics but they are very much present in their teachings. These teachings are currently located in the present abbot of the community, so that the abbot is a living voice of the holy Fathers (RB 64, 2) in his “goodness of live and wisdom of teaching.” The abbot is a father (RB 2,3) to his monks placing the abbot in a position similar to the holy Fathers! Fatherhood is a title shared with Christ because fatherhood is ultimately Christ’s and is given to the abbot and the Saints as grace.

Communal fellowship is not merely horizontal. There is more to community than modern hearers of the word might think. Above it was said that the Saints are part of the living community the novice is entering. A Christian community, Fr. Bunge points out, is “entirely unthinkable without the (living) testimony of those who have followed the Lord “from the beginning (John 15, 27).”

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

~ 1 John 1 1-3

No-one “comes to the Father except through the Son (John 14, 6)” and it is this Son who is the only true “mediator between God and humankind (1 Tim. 2, 5). In much the same no-one seeking communion with the Father and the Son can achieve it “except through the handing on by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses (Lk 1,2).” The holy Fathers are to us the ones handing on what they have received from their fathers, the latter have received it from theirs stretching all the way back to Jesus and his Apostles. The holy Fathers are authentic eyewitnesses and servants of the word [or Word] in the sense of Lk 1, 2.

We have not come to this task because of works that we have done (Titus 3, 5 & 2 Tim. 1, 13), but having as our model the sound discourses which we have heard from the fathers, we have been equally a witness to some of their deeds.

~ St. Evagrius of Pontus, On the Vices opposed to the Virtues, 1.

The holy Fathers are “equally witnesses” and, it should be remembered, so is the spiritual father of today: the abbot. For any Christian it is impossible to sidestep or otherwise circumvent the “teachings of the holy Fathers” because in doing so he will inevitably introduce novelties and things alien to the Christian way.

It is fitting for those desirous to walk on the Way – that Way which said about himself that “I am the Way and the Life” – that they would learn from those who have travelled along this way before them. It is also fitting that they should hear from them what is needful and converse with them about the things that are helpful. This is to prevent the introduction of things that are alien to our walk.”

~ St. Evagrius of Pontus, Epistle 17, 1.

The Christian monastic (both monks and nuns and non-monastics) strives to attain the same communion with the Father and His Son together with all the Saints already achieved by the holy Fathers who are “alive to God (Lk. 20, 38).” This is hat true Christian communion is.

Ultimately the communio Sanctorum (communion of Saints) consists of all the Baptized in both the horizontal and vertical senses. The communion of Saints is not actuated at the service of the Altar but it is forged in the waters of Baptism. The service of the Altar follows is made possible as it were by Baptism. The holy Fathers and the Saints who have travelled on the Way before us are present with us in Christ as our living brothers and sisters in faith. It is as our living and present brothers and sisters that we ask their help and intercession. In this our Protestant friends mistakenly believe that death has successfully separated us from Christ. After all our unity is in Christ and if we are separate from one another this can only be because we are separated from Christ! But as Catholics we know that the love of Christ unites us to Him in a bond which is unbreakable (Rom 8, 38).”

This is therefore what it means to adhere to St. Paul’s admonition to “stand firm  and hold fast to the traditions (2 Thess. 2, 15)” that we were taught. Not merely preserving the what is handed on to us but maintaining it in living communion. This is not “traditionalism” in the sense of doggedly sticking to ways and means regardless of life and context. It means living through the traditions given to us today. Traditional is not that which has gathered thick layers of the dust dust of age. Traditional refers to that which is authentically from the beginning. It can very well be that new aspects of tradition must arise in order to follow the teachings of the holy Fathers (RB 73, 2) in the present day context. This does not, however, mean innovation can now commence. The following of the traditions requires not creativity, but rather fidelity. St. Benedict provides an example of evolutionary wiggle room in his Rule:

Above all else we urge that if anyone finds this distribution of Palms unsatisfactory, he should arrange whatever he judges better, provided that the full complement of one hundred and fifty Psalms is by all means carefully maintained every week, and that the series begins anew each Sunday at Vigils.

~ St. Benedict of Nursia, The Holy Rule, 18, 22-23.

For Benedictines – those following the Holy Rule – the precise order of Psalms given by St. Benedict does not have to be followed. Others are possible. In Benedict’s time one of the alternatives was another Roman distribution of Psalms such as presumed in the liturgical writings of Amalarius of Metz and present in the pre-1911 Roman Breviary (only a slight alteration was made in the Psalter at Trent). The ways in which the Psalms can be distributed is limited by important qualifications:

  1. the Psalms mist all be recited at least once a week
  2. the Psalter must begin its cycle at Sunday Matins (Vigils = Matins).

This, of course, refers to common prayer and not to private prayer. The distribution found in classical Books of Common Prayer (BCP) is an excellent starting point for private prayer or a “little office” of personal devotion where the Psalms and Scripture readings are read slowly and lead the practitioner into extemporaneous prayer arising from the Psalms and Scriptures themselves. Here quality is much more important than quantity! As suitable as the BCP can be as a launching platform for private devotion so unsuitable is it as Liturgical Prayer. In essence peforming Morning or Evening Prayer as contained in the BCP as a solemn, publicly sung Office is therefore neither here nor there. This does not imply the BCP offices are bad, it only says something pertaining to their use. For liturgical prayer the given traditional liturgies are more than suitable and exceedingly adequate. We might consider the Anglican Breviary or Monastic Office here. Cranmer’s efforts are not necessarily in vain so long as his ill-conceived attempt at turning private devotion into common prayer is corrected.

In other words tradition is not dead and therefore unchanging (as is evident in both the Anglican Breviary and the Monastic Office). But neither can tradition be entirely undone and re-invented. Authenticity requires fidelity to what is given to what was handed on to us. So that in form, structure, and in time there is a direct and immediate connection to what was from the beginning. In fact … the beginning is present (or ought to be) manifested and made present in the current form and structures. This is as true for liturgy and personal devotion as it is to other aspects of the Benedictine (and therefore Christian) way of life. It is also in this sense that the abbot, the current abbot, of this particular monastic community, embodies the life and teaching of the holy Fathers.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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