Friday, December 15, 2006

Let's Agree to Disagree, Pt. 2 (Liturgics)

To dovetail with the first part of this series, the same tolerance should be extended to liturgics. Subdn. Benjamin wrote an important post on why Western Rite Orthodox should not be drawn into partisan battles of ritual. (Heaven knows why this should need pointed out, but....) He wrote:
Those looking to continue some old "Parson's Handbook" vs. "Ritual Notes" death-match ought to keep it within Anglicanism ...[B]oth ritual approaches are venerable, based on the ancient traditions of the Western Churches. There is no reason why they can't be complementary. (And every reason they should be - BJ.)
As I wrote months ago, adapting the 1904 Observations to Sarum (ROCOR) or Continental (AWRV) rubrics "are different ways to do the same thing...Let's hear no more of various hair-splitting 'two approaches' posts, which serve only to divide an already (numerically speaking) miniscule religious movement (legitimate Western Rite Orthodox in the world), and opt instead to embrace the Church, Her teachings, and whichever approach She has furnished us at present."

This should not stop at the edge of the Western Rite, though. Both Byzantine and Western Rite liturgical practices are equally doxological, unquestionably Orthodox, and approved by the Church. Some Byzantines may now long for only one Orthodox liturgy...but the Church has never willed it thus. Likewise, some "ugly Western Riters" may look askance at their Byzantine brethren...but Sts. Gregory the Great and Theodore of Tarsus did not. We are one Church, one Faith, one Lord, one Baptism. Drawing together in the unity of the faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit, let us love one another with such an intensity that our light might illumine an ever-darkening world.


Let's Agree to Disagree (When We Can)

Let me join this plea for inter-Orthodox unity and an end to the internicene warfare that consumes so much time and space online. Huw Raphael points out something I've said (offline) for some time: Orthodoxy demands acceptance of a number of theological doctrines, upon which there can be literally not one iota of compromise. Outside that well-defined territory, the Church has been home to a number of pious opinions, or theologoumena, which vary and may even contradict each other. Moreover, the Church does not condemn those who hold either position, as long as such an opinion is not an heresy (which, again, is well-defined). To further puzzle some, all these views may have a Biblical/patristic pedigree chockful of quotes from the Fathers, the canons, ctaechisms, and the lives of the Saints.

It may be the influx of former Protestant evangelicals or the pervasive, egotistical push for self-justification that seems to have driven this charitable spirit into exile. We desperately need its return.

Seas of ink have been spilled and vast oceans of electrons have been displaced as adherents of one theologoumenon press their teeth upon the other. (If you want to see what I mean, do a Google search of "Aerial Toll-houses" -- which, unfortunately, have nothing to do with chocolate chip cookies [though mine probably will].) Life could be much easier if we agree that, in matters not rising to heresy, we simply understand equally Orthodox individuals who equally love God have a difference of opinion. (I've advocated a similar approach with some of my WRV brethren about the prevailing Orthodox opinion on non-abortifacient birth control, only to be denounced as a would-be abortionist.)

While we should be honest, and may be spirited, in disagreement, we should agree to keep such disagreements civil in tone, respectful in conduct, and limited in verbiage. (If this is a matter of opinion, it's hardly worth taking time away from praying the Office or evangelizing the outside world. Ultimately, we're navel-gazing.) And we should refuse to employ language that would present the other side as heretics, when they very well may end up being right.

Let the tolerance begin!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Papists Against Limbo (PAL)

The word in the title is a joke. I guess I wasn't the only one who thought Limbo was uncatholic. Here's the relevant quotation from The Ratzinger Report:
Limbo was never a defined truth of faith. Personally -- and here I am speaking more as a theologian and not as prefect of the congregation -- I would abandon it, since it was only a theological hypothesis. It formed part of a secondary thesis in support of a truth which is absolutely of first significance for faith, namely, the importance of baptism. It formed part of a secondary thesis in support of a truth which is absolutely of first significance for faith, namely, the importance of baptism. To put it in the words of Jesus to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). One should not hesitate to give up the idea of “limbo” if need be (and it is worth noting that the very theologians who proposed “limbo” also said that parents could spare the child limbo by desiring its baptism and through prayer); but the concern behind it must not be surrendered. Baptism has never been a side issue for faith; it is not now, nor will it ever be. (The Ratzinger Report, pp. 147-148.)
Comments: Some have written that giving up the idea of Limbo will encourage people not to have their children baptized. Christian parents should naturally have their children baptized as soon as possible, and perhaps the idea of a vengeful God denying their children Heaven would speed the process along. However, using the threat of "Limbo" to frighten parents into compliance is like a mother telling her child if he doesn't take his afternoon nap and stop interrupting mommy's soap opera, his father will shoot him. It may succeed in producing the desired behavior at the expense of propounding a threat that is in equal parts false, cruel, and inhumanly terrifying while instilling a distorted picture of the father (or the Father). Perfect love casteth out fear. As St. Antony said, "I no longer fear God; I love Him." Let parents love Him and love their children in Him by clothing their children in the God Who is love and philanthropia.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Orthodoxy and Limbo

For some time, reports have suggested Pope Benedict XVI is about to jettison the medieval "theological hypothesis" (his term) known as Limbo. (This BBC item also reports the underappreciated fact that this began with Pope John Paul II.) An interesting discussion broke out on York Forum and another on Ely Forum concerning Pope Benedict XVI's decision to have Roman Catholic theologians draw up a report that could abandon the RCC teaching that unbaptized babies go to "Limbo" upon death.

(What is Limbo? A place that is not Heaven, nor Hell, nor Purgatory. "Aquinas taught that limbo is a place of perfect natural happiness, but without the supernatural vision of God (the 'beatific vision'), to which no creature has a natural right." Clear everything up?)

The longstanding RCC belief in Limbo follows from the premise that babies are infected with "Original Sin" (the guilt of sin), which is only washed away in the waters of baptism. [1] Although babies committed no actual sins, they inherited Original Sin and thus, according to this theology, could not be granted the joys of Heaven. Neither had they earned Hell; here beginneth Limbo. Despite the supposedly pervasive influence of extreme scholasticism throughout the West, generations of Latin theologians knew nothing of Limbo.

In my quite fallible, far-from-perfect view, I find the concept of Limbo outside Orthodox theology: the wrong answer to the wrong question. Since Orthodox do not believe in original "guilt" [2] but rather they men are born with an inborn predisposition to sin, there seems no more need for Limbo than there is a need for the belief in the Blessed Virgin's Mary's Immaculate Conception to produce a perfect Christ. [3]

At a minimum, most Orthodox hold out the firm — and comforting — possibility that unbaptized babies go to Heaven; many state categorically that babies who die without baptism attain salvation. Russian Orthodox Bishop HILARION (Alfeyev) weighed in on the subject, writing tersely that the historical Orthodox teaching on unbaptized babies "is opposite to the teaching of Thomas Aquinas." The Orthodox Office of Prayer and Supplication for the Victims of Abortion, prayed by H.G. Bp. BASIL, for instance, implores God, "[W]e humbly pray, according to Thy unfailing promise: grant the inheritance of Thy kingdom to the multitude of spotless infants who have been cruelly murdered."

This salvation is possible due to the Orthodox understanding of salvation. Pseudo-Dionysius whose works are important for all historical churches taught that God bursts forth in an endless stream of "rays" or "processions" (dynamis) toward His creation, and that each man responds to the degree he is able. The author played on the contrasting images of God's descent toward man, and man's ascent (or rather, assent) in return. Could it not be these children had such faith as they were capable of possessing, preserved their innocence, and went to Heaven?

St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote in his seminal (surviving) work, Against Heresies:
And as the presbyters say, Then those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of paradise, and others shall possess the splendour of the city; for everywhere the Saviour shall be seen according as they who see Him shall be worthy. [They say, moreover], that there is this distinction between the habitation of those who produce an hundred-fold, and that of those who produce sixty-fold, and that of those who produce thirty-fold: for the first will be taken up into the heavens, the second will dwell in paradise, the last will inhabit the city; and that was on this account the Lord declared, "In My Father's house are many mansions." For all things belong to God, who supplies all with a suitable dwelling-place; even as His Word says, that a share is allotted to all by the Father, according as each person is or shall be worthy. (Book 5: Chapter 36: Paragraphs 1-2.)
St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote in his treatise, "On Infants' Early Deaths" that since "the innocent babe has no such plague before its soul's eyes obscuring its measure of light, and so it continues to exist in that natural life; it does not need the soundness which comes from purgation, because it never admitted the plague into its soul at all." St. Gregory wrote that humans are nurtured first by milk, then by solid food in both the earthly and the heavenly life. Since infants have never contended for virtue as adults must, [4] they "partake only so far in that life beyond (which consists, according to our previous definition, in the knowing and being in God) as this nursling can receive; until the time comes that it has thriven on the contemplation of the truly Existent as on a congenial diet, and, becoming capable of receiving more, takes at will more from that abundant supply of the truly Existent which is offered." Thus, he says the infant begins at the level upon which he/she has experienced and responded to God (a low level, to be sure) but holds out the promise of eternal advancement or as the Western Rite Liturgy of St. Tikhon says, "continual growth in Thy love and service."

Yet it is precisely this eternal growth in grace that the doctrine of Limbo rejects.

The idea that infants, and even the unborn, have some form of communion with God startles the modern imagination, so bathed in empiracism. However, this concept was grasped by an unlikely source: Martin Luther. [5] Luther answered a common Anabaptist objection to paedo-baptism, writing:
The children themselves believe...and have their own faith which God works within them through the faithful intercession of their parents who faithfully bring them to the Christian Church...Through their [parental] intercession and assistances, the children receive their own faith from God.
This is significant, as A Catholic Dictionary defines "the limbo of children" as a place for "all, children and adults, who leave this world without baptism of water, blood, or desire." Who can prove a child lacks the baptism of desire? [6]

I have even heard a traditionalist RCC priest say the Holy Innocents prove unbaptized babies attain salvation. It is possible some were not yet seven days old and, hence, uncircumcised (the Old Covenant sacrament of initiation, which St. Paul likens to baptism).

The RCC has moved away from the (again, in my far-from-perfect opinion) monstrous belief in Limbo. The (1992) Catechism of the [Roman] Catholic Church now states:
As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.
I'm happy to report that in October, a member of Pope Benedict XVI's commission predicted the belief in Limbo would be deemed "neither essential nor necessary," and the commission would recommend against its continued use.

Apparently, the current pope had a negative view of Limbo before his pontificate. His pressing forward with this recommendation will eliminate one more stumbling block to reconciliation with the East, a passion of his (and his predecessor). More importantly, I pray it will more perfectly reflect God's nature as a loving and compassionate Father. Standing with the Orthodox Church, I believe God, Who is love, is more inclined to embrace the youngest, most innocent, most helpless of His children in His eternal embrace than to cast them into a place of nothingness where they shall be eternally denied a glance of His countenance.

1. This medieval RCC teaching is somewhat mitigated in the current catechism.
2. With apologies to some of my friends, and despite occasional references here-and-there, Orthodoxy has not accepted this view as part of its normative/prevailing self-definition, either now or to my knowledge in history.
3. Yes, I'm aware many Orthodox believe in this as a theologoumenon, while most have rejected it since its promulgation as a Roman Catholic doctrine.
4. This is a vital concept in the Church Fathers. The Greek mind more readily understood man's spiritual than his physical nature, the exact inverse of modern man. Thus, the classical Greeks inquired why man had to be saddled with a body of flesh, impressing its disordered passions upon the soul. St. Gregory of Nazianzus/the Theologian repeatedly writes that man was given flesh that he might strive to overcome and subdue the passions, strengthening himself in virtue. This makes man more worthy of reward than the angels, who do not "wrestle with flesh and blood," as it were.
5. Martin Luther, in his disputation with the Anabaptists, also taught, "If faith remains with the sleeping Christian while his reason is not conscious of the faith why should there not be faith in children, before reason is aware of it?"
6. The Raymond Touk article is a good overview, although it claims in the second paragraph, "[F]or infants, baptism is the sole means of salvation, (as they cannot make an act of faith, which requires the use of reason)."

Update: I see the Pontificator has posted a series of detailed articles on this topic, taking a similar position. They're worth reading. Begin here and "continue" at the end of each article.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Vagantes Hit the Coptic Church

Yes, the vagante Pseudodox now bedevil the Oriental Orthodox, as well. Note this report, discussing "a dissident bishop trying to set up a rival church":

[T]he self-proclaimed Archbishop Maximus I announced plans to start appointing bishops around the country and split from the Coptic Orthodox church.

"This man is married and has two daughters while bishops in our church should remain single," [Pope Shenouda III] said, adding that he believed Maximus would never receive government authorizations to pursue his project.

In an interview published last week, Maximus charged that Shenuda's pontificate had been disastrous and accused the patriarch of inciting sectarian violence in Egypt. [As if - BJ.]

When asked Monday if he would excommunicate Maximus, Shenuda [sic.] answered: "No need…he has already renounced the church."

Elsewhere, Pope Shenouda III noted, "The church has 20 centuries of history behind it. It has remained solid and was never harmed by the dangers threatening it, and it will not be affected by this development." Nope; the vagantes, for all their pride and self-importance, if they do not join Orthodoxy, pass out with a whimper and succeed in doing little aside from misleading trusting souls into placing their faith in a false ecclesiastical body.


Question for Bloggers: Should I Go Beta?

I'd appreciate your thoughts: should I finally go to Blogger Beta? I'd heard some unfavorable reviews of the Beta version early on. Is it worth changing? Please let me know your thoughts, here or offline.


More Evidence of Christianity in Ancient England

St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London

New archeological discoveries show Christianity may have a longer history than most have believed, and St. Martin-in-the-Fields may be the oldest standing church in London:

Archaeologists excavating near the edge of Trafalgar Square in London have found evidence of early Christianity in England, suggesting the area has a much older religious significance than was originally believed.

A team from the Museum of London has discovered a hoard of what is almost certainly royal treasure, buried in a mysterious, empty human grave laid out in the traditional Christian manner - east to west.

"Our excavations demonstrate the position as a significant and important place at an earlier date than we thought," said Alison Telfer, the senior archaeologist in charge of the dig...

Located immediately next to one of the capital's most famous churches - St Martin-in-the-Fields - immediately to the north of Trafalgar Square, the empty grave appears to form part of a previously unknown ancient cemetery, dating back more than one and a half millennia. Archaeologists have also discovered 24 other graves on the site, all still holding the remains of their occupants....

The empty grave, judging by its treasure, and several of the other early graves in the cemetery are estimated to date from the time that Bertha was Queen of Kent - 590 to 610 [and the article says probably belonged to her daughter or niece]...

Bertha was a devotee of the cult of St Martin. Her personal church in Canterbury, presented to her in about 590 by her then pagan husband, Aethelberht, was dedicated to the saint - probably at her behest. And her husband was, after about 597, very keen on ecclesiastical development in London, which was technically part of the kingdom of Essex but in reality under Kentish overall control...

The excavations have also revealed a second mystery. At least one of the other graves was pre-Anglo-Saxon and dates from the very late Roman or immediate post-Roman period. The burial, in a stone sarcophagus, was also Christian - like virtually all the others - but was 200 years older. (Emphasis added.)

This raises the possibility that the site had Christian links long before the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England, possibly as the location of a small church or mortuary chapel built there in the very late Roman period, immediately before the Anglo-Saxon pagan conquest. This would mean St Martin-in-the-Fields is London's oldest surviving ecclesiastical site, predating St Paul's by some two centuries.