"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch


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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

RUSSIAN SPRING, HOLY WATERS AND HOPE for Orthodox-Catholic Relations By Jane Costlo plus My Comments

Christ Pantocrator of Belmont
"written" by Dom Alex Echeandia osb
Commonweal / www.commonwealmagazine.org / 30 July 2014 

 Vast open fields stretch for miles toward the southern horizon, dark brown, waiting to be sown with wheat or rye. A river winds lazily along, its thickets of willow and oak sheltering nightingales. It’s a landscape that might be Minnesota, except for the particular histories that so deeply mark it (and those nightingales, which aren’t found in the Americas). This is central Russia, and I’m traveling with a dozen undergraduates from Bates College in Maine. 

Our destination today is a natural spring that flows from limestone outcrops toward the river below. What makes the visit more than a geology excursion are our guides, who move gingerly down a well-trodden path ahead of us: both in black cassocks, each equipped with a cell phone and a cross. Fathers Oleg and Zbigniew: one Orthodox and the other Roman Catholic, one a Russian seminary graduate nearing forty, the other a Polish transplant in his fifties, will tell us briefly about the history of the spring, before we retire for lunch and longer conversation at a nearby café. 

 Holy springs are as much a part of this landscape as oaks and willows, or the occasional trenches that are reminders of the great tank battle fought here in 1943. Orel is a sleepy provincial city of just over three hundred thousand, whose natives take great pride in their literary progeny (Ivan Turgenev the “westernizer” and Nikolai Leskov, one of whose novels depicts the life of provincial clergy), but also in their resilience during WW II. The city was occupied by Nazis for nearly two years; when the end of the war is celebrated each May 9 there is no family that does not feel some intimate link to its losses. The course I’m teaching is loosely organized around the theme of “Environment and Culture”: it includes visits to writers’ homes, a national park, a monastery. Along the way we talk with agronomists developing cold-resistant apples and an oncologist who has tracked thyroid cancers in the wake of Chernobyl (there are fewer than initially anticipated).

The spring at Saltyki is part of the complicated, scarred, often beautiful landscape I want the students to experience and, hopefully, come to understand. Frs. Oleg and Zbigniew are the best possible guides to its history.

 In the headlines and beyond, these are fraught days; May of 2014 hardly seems an auspicious time for cross-confessional dialogue in southwest Russia. Throughout the month the state-run news media is dominated by allegations of atrocities perpetrated against Russian speakers in Ukraine; a nightly talk show whips viewers into a frenzy of indignation at “fascists” in Kiev. Ukrainian-Russian politics are deeply intertwined with culture, language, and religion: western, primarily Catholic Ukraine leans toward Europe; eastern, Orthodox Ukraine has strong historical ties to Russia. But the friendship between these two men manifests the possibility of quite different relations between Orthodoxy and Catholicism in easternmost Europe.

 THE TWO MET IN 2000, when Fr. Zbigniew first arrived in Orel. Fr. Oleg took the initiative, and over time they’ve became close enough friends that they attend each others’ services on religious holidays and feast days. Fr. Zbigniew is sole priest at the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, Orel’s only Roman Catholic parish; he is by training a builder (at one point during our conversation over lunch he ponders the restaurant’s beams and says they’re probably plastic), and has been intimately involved in the construction of his congregation’s building. Fr. Oleg, on the other hand, serves with four other priests in a parish that nominally has eighty thousand parishioners—although at most five hundred attend services.

 Both men have come to the priesthood in a period of religious renewal in Russia, after seventy years of communism. The religious repressions of the Soviet era affected all traditions and denominations; the Orthodox Church, however, particularly in the postwar period, was granted limited ability to train priests and keep churches open. Catholics, on the other hand, a tiny minority historically associated with immigrant groups (Germans brought to Russia in the eighteenth century by Catherine the Great, Polish residents of the Russian Empire, Ukrainians), were allowed only two churches throughout the whole of the USSR. 

 There was no Catholic priest in Orel in the Soviet era; but, remarkably enough, Catholics were baptized by Orthodox clergy, and at this very spring, which served as site of clandestine services after a small chapel on the bluff above had been destroyed. The small grotto from which the water flows is shaded now by a towering willow; small icons are set into rough niches in the limestone, and the willow itself is tied with multi-colored scraps of cloth and ribbon—an essentially pagan practice, Fr. Zbigniew suggests, a way of saying “I was here.” We stand in the willow’s shade, across from a hand-lettered sign that reads “Please Don’t Litter,” and listen as both priests offer prayers. Fr. Zbigniew explains how we might drink or wash our faces—crossing ourselves or offering prayers in silence. 

As we’re listening to his explanation, a couple finishes collecting drinking water in large containers; they stand politely and then the man tells us that the water is among the purest in the region—he works for the local Environmental Protection service and has seen the data. The couple drive off up the dusty embankment in their Russian four-wheel drive, and we’re left in the cool quiet of noonday. 

 As we settle in at the café for mushroom soup and garlicky eggplant, Frs. Zbigniew and Oleg bless our meal and invite questions. This is not a conversation among students of religion but among undergraduates whose own religious background (if it even exists) is unknown to me. One never knows just what they’ll ask. This isn’t their first encounter with religious issues on the trip: from our first walking tour of Moscow we’ve heard about the role of Orthodoxy in post-Soviet life, as a fundamental part of Russian culture and identity, and an increasingly prominent aspect of official rhetoric. We saw the churches of the Kremlin and later visited Optina Pustyn, a monastery south of Moscow that has repeatedly played a key role in Russian intellectual life. And our first exposure to a sacred spring came at the convent of Shamardino, where one of the sisters offered us a ladle of “living water” with a radiant smile. 

Throughout these excursions I’d been chagrined to realize how little my students know about religion, and how opaque the liturgical traditions can be to them. Four of them managed to stand through much of the Optina service, but at dinner their stories were filled with awkward jokes: “Some people were making bread”; “the guy with the holy smoke came around.” In this conversation, as in an earlier visit in 2006, students’ questions for the priests are wide-ranging: will the unbaptized and non-Christians go to hell; how did they come to be priests; what’s the hardest part of their jobs; what is it they most wish for; what was their training; how many churches are there in Orel. They ask, too, about how they pray, how they communicate with God; what their favorite books are (other than the Bible!), and whether all Orthodox priests have such wonderful voices. Both men respond with generosity and humor, but also with a directness that for some reason surprises me. 

Responding to one young woman’s question about whether it’s possible to be both Catholic and Buddhist, Fr. Zbigniew says no, not if you take seriously the difference between a profession of faith in God and a tradition that knows no God. I admire his candor, the way in which he’s taking the young woman’s question seriously. For all of the informality and touristic aspects of our visit, both men have approached this encounter as an occasion for what I can only call religious education. 

 And education, it turns out, is a key concern for both of them. For Fr. Oleg, there is palpable excitement in welcoming a new generation of believers to the post-Soviet church, but also the challenge of working in with what he calls two different cultures. In the late Soviet era, virtually anyone who presented himself could enter the priesthood, and many had no formal religious education. He longs to find time to educate his parishioners about Orthodoxy, particularly since the language of the service is incomprehensible to many Russians—it is “ninth-century Bulgarian”—and they need to be taught what happens during the liturgy, and what it means. The demands of liturgy and embedded assumptions make undertaking the work of education difficult, however. 

And both men have dreams for their respective churches: Fr. Zbigniew’s is to open a home for abandoned children—to begin his own “adopted family.” Fr. Oleg dreams of going out one day and discovering that there is no more poverty—no more beggars, no more abandoned children digging through dumpsters. That a “Mother Theresa” would emerge in Orel. He feels how little he himself can do. It is, he says, a drop in the ocean.

 And as I reflect on the broader contexts of our conversation, I think about drops in the ocean of political hostilities and misunderstanding. These two men make tiny but significant steps toward mutual respect and understanding. They attend each other’s services; they see each other frequently and, Fr. Zbigniew says, “without obstacles”; they find time to have lunch with a group of American students and their professor. As Fr. Zbigniew puts it, “This is the basis for our ecumenicity. Among our parishioners we have mixed Russian Orthodox-Roman Catholic families. This is the future of the church, it rests on this elementary level—the level of ordinary people, our parishioners. As I said once in a sermon, this is what the unity of our church is founded on, that is in the family, where people live together, pray together, celebrate holidays together.” For a few brief hours, my students and I get a glimpse of that family, so wholly unlike the images being endlessly replayed on official Russian media. Both men operate in the rich terrain of ancient traditions seeking to open dialogue with youth and with a society in the throes of enormous change. They are acutely aware of the historical terrain in which they operate—a terrain of violence, repression, and hostility, but also of intermarriage, communication, and shared concerns. One can only hope and pray that such friendships become the soil of broader understandings. That tiny drops might keep flowing from small springs. * * *(thanks to Jim Forest)


Diversity is divine: division is diabolical.   The very word "satan" means "adversary", "enemy".  It is easy to believe this when looking at the Ukraine and see how good men have become adversaries.   Once more, the East-West schism is demanding blood from each side.   Once more, each side has its conflicting story formed out of facts, different memories, conflicting interests, different points of view, propaganda, lies, and a pride that can only exist by pretending that the other side is less well intentioned than itself.

When I was in Belarus, a pious white sister who helped look after mentally handicapped people - wife of an ex-Colonel in the Russian Army - told me that Britain fought in the Second World War after the Russians had already broken the back of German military power.   I do not blame her.  That is what she had been taught.   She could not distinguish between history and nationalistic propaganda.   Many Russian Orthodox clergy and people have a knowledge of the history of relationship between the Eastern and Western forms of Catholicism which is no better than her knowledge of the Second World War; and Catholics usually have no knowledge of it at all.   I watched a Russian programme on the history of  Byzantium, clearly by intelligent, competent and good people; but they believed the simple "cowboy and indian" view of history, that East was good and West was bad; and, in all probability, that is how they interpret the present Ukraine conflict.

An Orthodox deacon in Minsk, who had studued the Documents of Vatican II in his Orthodox seminary under the tutelage of a Catholic professor, told me that, where Belarus is different from Russia, is that Catholics and Orthodox are neighbours, and there are many mixed marriages.   Also, both groups suffered together under the Nazis and under Soviet oppression.   In contrast, he said, on the whole, the Russians are anti-Catholic but have no real knowledge of Catholicism.

In the Byzantine Liturgy, the "kiss of peace" is placed before the Creed because, according to that Liturgy, we can only sing it "with one heart and one mind" if we love one another, not just tolerate each other, actually love each other.   Hence, theologians can talk to each other until they are blue in the face: until we love one another, there will be no unity.   It is not good enough to reach unity with only a portion of the Orthodox Church, or a part of the Catholic Church.   Hence, more important than theological discussion is getting to know and love each other.   

Faith is the knowledge born of religious love...when the love is God's love flooding our hearts......    With that objectification there recurs the question of God in a new form.   For now it is primarily a question of decision.   Will I love him in return or will I refuse?   Will I live out the gift of his love, or will I hold back, turn away, withdraw?(Method in Theology by Bernard Lonergan S.J.   Darton Longman & Todd, 1972. ISBN0 232 51139 X)
  I am convinced that the living Christian faith of each is such that both sides, once our knowledge of the other is transformed by God's love for us, once we can look at each other with eyes of faith, will recognise with joy the beauty of our own Catholic faith in the other, even though it is differently expressed, and will be eager to learn from the other and borrow from the other what is good for our own well-being.

However, just as Grisha told Prokhor who would become St Seraphim of Sarov, there is an obstacle between the  the heart where Christ lives and the mind which is largely unconscious of Christ's presence.   This obstacle is made out of our pride, lack of faith, auto-sufficiency, our distorted passions, the effects of our sins etc.  There is a similar obstacle between East and West, a wall that has been built by both sides, made of exactly the same ingredients as that which separates our mind from our heart.   Just as Prokhor had to chip away at his rock with the bright weapons of obedience and prayer, so we must do the same: there is no short cut.   In order to love one another, we must get to know one another and be obedient to Christ's call together wherever we can.   As the Patriarch of Moscow has pointed out, our first obedience together must be the re-evangelisation of Europe.   There is much that we can do together without causing problems without foisting on our own communion a situation for which it is not ready - which I suspect is one of the Patriarch's concerns because there is much anti-Catholicism in Orthodoxy.  But this must be accompanied by prayer and penance because our fight is not just against flesh and blood, for schism has a diabolical element,  and because, even if we are trying our level best to avoid it, we cannot help but hurt each other from time to time: such is schism.   The Ukraine is an example.   Orthodox inroads in Guatemala is another.

Meanwhile there is friendship across borders.   There always have been areas where Catholics and Orthodox have been close: it is just as much an ingredient in our present relationship as are the difficulties.   The above article is a heart-warming example of this.  May friendships increase and multiply.   The Holy Spirit is at work!

Saturday, 16 August 2014


icon of the Mother of God, by Dom Alex Echeandia

In Eastern Orthodox theology, the idea of dogma possesses specific characteristics of its own - owing to its special relationship with the doctrine of the Spirit, with the Orthodox teaching on Tradition, with the theology of the Councils, and with the notion of the infallibility of the Church as a whole. In this, Orthodox theology has, most notably, preserved one vital feature of the primitive Christian concept of dogma, namely, its inseparable relationship with the liturgical life of the Church.

Negatively, this leads Orthodox spokesmen to draw attention to the apophatic character of dogma. Dogma's negative form (in ruling out certain avenues of thought as cul-de-sac) expresses a self-conscious inadequacy of the human mind before the Christian mystery. Dogma does not exhaust the fullness of revelation, nor that of Christian experience. Put positively: dogma is, in the words of Paul Evdokimov, the 'verbal icon of truth', a symbol of the indescribable mystery, [1] Dogma upholds the mystery; it leads into it; and it expresses it, but apophatically - as in the celebrated case of the dogmatic horos of Chalcedon, with its four negative qualifications of the Union. The making of dogma contributes to the keeping of the Church's unity, yet new definition has never been considered as an aim in itself. Rather is it an extraordinary measure directed against disruption of that unity by false teaching.

Dogma is seen in contemporary Orthodox thought as, first, doxology, and then, secondly, homology - the profession of the faith. Because of their doxological character, the dogmas are quite naturally affirmed in the course of the baptismal and eucharistic liturgies, as also in iconography. The Orthodox Church celebrates special feasts to commemorate the chief ecumenical councils, which she considers as a continuation of the event of Pentecost, when the Spirit came upon the apostles gathered together in prayer. As the Greek lay theologian Christos Yannaras has written: 

The latent, non-expressed, aim which animates the dogmas and theology of the ancient Church is spiritual. It is theological doxology. There are no dogmatic statements by the Church which could not become doxological hymns in praise of God; there are no Christian hymns which could not be accepted in some measure as a dogmatic comment on the Church's faith. These two aspects - cultus and dogma - are inseparably joined in the Orthodox tradition. . . [2] 

For his French counterpart Olivier Clement, a convert to Orthodoxy, dogma is the 'adoration of the human mind', an act of precise thinking, yet not about the mystery, but rather in it. [3]

The formulation of dogmatic statements is seen by Orthodox writers as a theandric process, in which both God and man are involved. The Holy Spirit co-operates with human actors, as in the words of the 'apostolic council' in Acts 15, 'It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us'. From an historical standpoint, the dogmas of the ecumenical councils were shaped in a human attempt to overcome aporiai and dialectical contradictions. [4] But at the same time, the patristic Church affirmed that she was guided by the Holy Spirit, and, thanks to this guidance, would preserve her identity, and the continuity of her nature and belief, intact. The consensus of bishops, united during a council as bearers of the supreme authority of the Church, is a sign of the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit, while the consensus of the entire People of God, expressed in the reception of the dogmatic defmitions by believing Christians as a whole certifies the theandric character of these dogmata.

Orthodox writers sometimes distinguish between the 'biblical character' of dogma, which it owes to its condition as a truth revealed by God, and its 'ecclesiastical character', which follows on from its definition by an ecumenical council and acceptance by the Church as a whole. So far as the vital biblical source is concerned, the need for such a scriptural reference explains the Orthodox hostility not only to the content of the Catholic dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception (deemed extraneous to, or even contradictory of, the Scriptures) but also to the dogmatic form of belief in the glorious Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in the Catholic Church. Since - according to these theologians - the Bible does not mention Mary's Assumption, and only the liturgical tradition, together with mediaeval Byzantine theology, treats of it, there is no call to dogmatise that event, or to regard it as occupying an integral place in the economy of human salvation. No dogmatic statement can add to the contents of Scripture. [5] Relevant to this is the conviction of an apparent majority of Orthodox theologians that Tradition is not a second source of revelation, parallel to the Bible. Rather is it that reality thanks to which, and owing to the presence of the life-giving Spirit, the Church transmits the sense, and the unity, of Scripture. The Holy Spirit, who, by the inspiration of the biblical authors, embodied revelation in the Bible now assists the Church to remain rooted in the biblical message and to accommodate herself to the exigencies of each epoch by preaching, by the issuing of dogmatic statements, by the teaching of Church fathers, by iconography, and by liturgical worship. [6] Dogma lives in the stream of Tradition, and acts as its witness. It enables believers to accept the truth, as transmitted by living Tradition, and, in case of necessity, separates it from error. Formulated dogma becomes for believers the rule of faith, separating orthodoxy from heresy. The Orthodox Church does not exclude the possibility that she may proclaim fresh dogmatic definitions at some future ecumenical council, should the need to preserve the integrity and purity of faith require it. If, however, the Church extends the rule of faith by new definitions, this does not entail any augmentation or development of Tradition, but rather a deeper knowledge of the truth, within Tradition's stream. [7] The task of dogma, indeed, is not only to protect the truths of faith against error, or to define them in a conceptual manner (as an organic part of the Church's life). That task is also to furnish direction for spiritual and moral living.

Against this backcloth of the general understanding of what dogma is, how do the Orthodox view the idea of doctrinal development as such? The question of doctrinal development does not play in Orthodox thought the major role it took on in Catholic reflection since the nineteenth century. Orthodox theologians have tackled the issue chiefly as a reaction to the Catholic dogmatisation of the Immaculate Conception, the primacy and infallibility of the pope, and Mary's Assumption. A majority, it may be, of Orthodox writers register serious reservations about what they take to be the Catholic theory of doctrinal development. Some consider it to involve a 'vitalistic' theory of pre-conscious knowledge which is little different from an admission of blank unawareness, by the ancient Church, of some later points of confessional believing. Again, some regard the movement of Catholic thought on the issue as an attempt to transcend the notion of a closure of revelation with death of the last apostle. Many avoid the term 'evolution of dogmas', but find the phrase 'doctrinal development' acceptable at any rate when taken in the sense of a refinement of the language of theological statements, and a deeper understanding of the revealed contents. [8]

For the existence of such a doctrinal development in the Church's history, the formation of dogma at the seven ecumenical Councils constitutes formidable evidence. More widely, Clement has put forward a tripartite scheme, in which Orthodoxy moves through three great periods of doctrinal development: the christological period, consisting of the first eight centuries of the Church's existence; the pneumatological period, running from Photius' council of 879-880 on the Filioque to the Constantinopolitan synods of 1341 and 1351 on Palamism; and lastly, the early modern and modern periods which are increasingly dominated by ecclesiological concerns. If in the first period the Christendom of both West and East was absorbed in the truth of the Incarnation and its saving effects, in the second the standpoint of Eastern theologians shifted in a way that went largely unrecognised in Latin Christendom. The new focus of attention on the truth of the Holy Spirit showed doctrinal development proceeding in terms of a different logic from what was happening in the West. Henceforth, Orthodox ecclesiology, the subject matter of the third phase, would be formed under the predominant influence of pneumatology. [9]

In terms of its revealed content, however, dogma remains, despite this, immutable: such is the teaching of the Fathers and the common consensus of the Church as a whole. [10] From Chalcedon onwards, the later ecumenical Councils insist that their decrees were no different from the rulings of previous councils, being re-statements by way of protecting truth against mis-statements. [11] Many Orthodox theologians are opposed to the idea that earlier dogmatic affirmations can include in tacit or implicit fashion hidden truths of faith that may be teased out by the later Church. They stress that dogma is simply the analysis of what has already (in the apostolic period) been uttered. The fullness of revealed truth is always present, they stress, in the Church, though in dogma that fullness is recapitulated as an expression of the Church's consciousness in a way particularly well-suited to dealing with the problems, and the errors, of some given time. Clement terms this the 'involution' of dogma, not its 'evolution'. [12] The concept of a vital, pre-conceptual state of knowledge is, such writers maintain, effectively indistinguishable from that of a sheer unconsciousness, and this ruptures the common consciousness of the truth of the Church. Consequently, an opinion considered false in one epoch is regarded as true in another - as actually transpired, they allege, in the case of the Immaculate Conception.

Despite Clement's attempt at a periodisation of the history of Orthodox doctrine which will give due weight to each of three successive epochs, far more characteristic of Orthodox theology at large is the immediate confronting of early tradition with modern thought. The Trinitarian and christological determinations of the first seven ecumenical councils are treated as a fundamental system of reference, to be used in developing responses to the questions left undiscussed at those councils - and above all, in the areas of anthropology and ecciesiology. The dogmatisation of the notion of a divine Person provides the warrant for Christian teaching on human personhood, while the doctrine of the Holy Trinity gives us a model to follow in speaking of the unity between local churches. [13] Orthodox theologians reach out immediately to the teaching of the Fathers, without the mediation of mediaeval and early modern theology, whereas, despite a succession of patristic revivals, Catholic divines must necessarily pay attention also to the high mediaeval doctors and to the fresh direction provided by the Council of Trent.

The pre-Revolutionary Russian academician W. W. Bolotov introduced the distinction, now widespread among the Orthodox, between dogma and dogmatic formulation. [14] Although Orthodoxy is deeply devoted to the dogmas proclaimed by the seven councils, it distinguishes dogma as a living truth in the Church from the historical expression of that truth. The councils never identified their definitions with the fullness of revelation. There is always some kind of antinomy between mystery, as found in revelation, and its rational comprehension in the words of men.

Occasionally, an Orthodox writer will go further and rejoice in the predominance of theologoumena over dogmas in Orthodoxy, as did the Russian priest-theologian S. B. Bulgakov. For Bulgakov, freedom is the nerve of theology, and diversity and multiplicity in theological expression constitutes Orthodoxy's beauty and power. Yet this point of view cannot be sundered from its context in Bulgakov's own controversial theological career, in which his personal development of the idea of Sophia, the Wisdom of God, as found in Scripture, the Fathers, and the Byzantine-Slav liturgy and its accompanying iconography, brought down on his head the condemnation of the Moscow Patriarchate as unwarranted innovation, and the sharp criticism of a number of his fellow-theologians as opening the door to a second Gnostic invasion of the Church. [15]

What is of value, to Catholic eyes, in the Orthodox discussion of the idea of doctrinal development is the Eastern stress on the doxological and liturgical dimension of the dogmas. Aware of the spiritual fecundity of the dogmatic formulations, the Orthodox testify in an admirable way to the vitality of the living mystery which underlies the truth now expressed in conceptual form. Although this emphasis on the connexion of the dogmas with the Church's worship and devotion is by no means strange to Catholicism, it is given greater relief in Orthodoxy. At the same time, the Orthodox need the complementary stress of Catholic theological tradition on the peculiar values of the mind, in what may be termed a spirituality of the intelligence at work on its God-given materials. [16]


1. W. Evdokimov, L'Orthodoxie (Neuch�tel 1959).

2. C. Yannaras, 'Dogma und Verk�ndigung im orthodoxen Verst�ndnis',
Ostkirchliche Studien 21 (1972), pp. 132-140; cf. N. A. Nissiotis, 'Remarques sur le
renouveau de la Th�ologie syst�matique', in La Pens�e orthodoxe 12 (1966), pp. 125-134.

3. O. Cl�ment, 'Orthodox Ecclesiology as an Ecclesiology of Communion', in One in Christ 6 (1970), p. 102.

4. S. Bulgakov, 'Na putiach dogmy (posle semi v selenskich soborov)' in Put' 9 (1933), pp. 3-35.

5. J. Meyendorff 'The Meaning of Tradition', in Scripture and Ecumenism (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1965), pp. 43-58.

6. Cf. V. Lossky, A l'image et � la ressemblance de Dieu (Paris 1967), p. 166.

7. Ibid., p. 162; O. Cl�ment, Transfigurer le temps (Neuch�tel 1959), p. 194.

8. S. Bulgakov, Pravoslaviye (Paris 1965), pp. 84-5; idem., 'Dogmat i dogmatica' in
Zyvoie Priedaniie (Paris 1947), pp. 9-24; V. Lossky, A l'image et � la ressemblance de Dieu, op. cit., pp. 158-163; O. Cl�ment, Trans-figurer la temps, op. cit., pp. 185-200; Metropolite Seraphim (Lade), L'Eglise orthodoxe. Les dogmes, la liturgie, la vie spirituelle (Paris 1952), pp. 18-21; J. Meyendorff 'The Meaning of Tradition', art. cit., pp. 48-50; D. Staniloae, 'The Orthodox Concept of Tradition and the Development of Doctrine', Sobornost 5 (1969), p. 652.

9. O. Cl�ment, Transfigure le temps, op. cit., pp. 195-200.

10. P Evdokimov, Orthodoxie, op. cit., p. 000; J. Meyendorff 'The Meaning of Tradition', art. cit., pp. 50-1.

11. Ibid. See also: idem, 'Historical Relativism and Authority in Christian Dogma', in Sobornost 5 (1969), p. 637; V. Lossky, A l'image et � la ressemblance de Dieu, op. cit., p. 162.

12. O. Cl�ment, Transfigurer le temps, op. cit., pp. 191-4.

13. P. Evdokimov, Orthodoxie, op. cit.

14. W. W. Bolotov, 'Thesen �ber das Filioque von einem russischen Theologe', Revue internationale de th�ologie 6 (1898), pp. 671-112.

15. 5S. Bulgakov, Pravoslavije, op. cit., pp. 196, 224.

16. This appendix is based on a report made for me by Father Wojciech Morawski, O.P.)., of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas, Rome. He draws attention to the studies on this subject of a Polish student of Orthodox theology, Waclaw Hryniewicz, O.M.I., whose relevant writings are here given as a contribution to the discovery by Western Catholic theology of the, so far, virtually unknown Polish theology of this century, something which the freedoms now enjoyed by the Polish Church, and Polish society, will make possible. They are:

'Apofatyzna teologia', in: Encyklopedia Katolicka, I, (Lublin 1973), 745-8.

'Dogmat i jego funkcje w swietle teologii prawoslawnej. Ateneum Kaplanskie 69.407, pp). 401-419.

'Eklezjologia prawoslawna', in W. Granat (ed), Ku czlowiekowi i Bogu w Chrystusie, II, (Lublin 1974) pp. 376-91.

'Recepcja orzeczen Magisterium przez wsp�lnote Kosciola w swietle teologii prawoslawnej', Zeszyty Naukowe KUL, 18 (1975) nr 2 (70), pp. 11-27.

Rola Tradycji w interptetacji teologicznej. Analiza wspolczesnych pogladow dogmatyczno-ekumenicznych (Lublin, 1976).

'Interpretacja dogmatu jako problem ecumeniczny', Roczniki teologicznokanoniczne, XXIII, (1976), no:.2, pp. 73-85.

The above chapter is taken from From Newman to Congar 


Thursday, 14 August 2014


the Church is not an apparatus, nor a social institution, nor one social institution among many others. It is a person. It is a woman. It is a Mother. It is alive. A Marian understanding of the Church is totally opposed to the concept of the Church as a bureaucracy or a simple organization. We cannot make the Church, we must be the Church. We are the Church, the Church is in us only to the extent that our faith more than action forges our being. Only by being Marian, can we become the Church. At its very beginning the Church was not made, but given birth. She existed in the soul of Mary from the moment she uttered her Fiat. This is the most profound will of the Council: the Church should be awakened in our souls. Mary shows us the way .  (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger)

my source: Called to Communion
Today, August 15, is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven. On this day, the universal Church celebrates what took place at the end of our Blessed Mother’s earthly life. “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This dogma is the great antidote to materialism and the moral corruption that follows despair, because in Mary’s Assumption into heaven we see our own glorious destiny as fellow creatures like her, united to her Son. In her Assumption we see the eschatological finale awaiting the Church, of which she is the icon.
The Assumption Fra Angelico (c. 1430) 

 This doctrine was not formally defined as a dogma until 1950, when Pope Pius XII did so in an Apostolic Constitution titled Munificentissimus Deus. Although the Orthodox have not formally defined the doctrine as a dogma, this doctrine is not a point of dispute between Catholics and Orthodox, because the Feast of the Assumption has been celebrated in the universal Church (both East and West) on this same date (August 15) since the sixth and seventh centuries. However, this doctrine is not accepted by most Protestants, and is therefore an occasion of difficulty with respect to the reconciliation of Protestants and the Catholic Church. 

 Recently Peter Leithart responded to Christian Smith’s claim that sola Scriptura is the belief that Christians have “the Bible alone and no other human tradition as authority.” Leithart protested against this definition, claiming that the Reformed do acknowledge the authority of tradition, but hold Scripture to have final authority. My response to Leithart can be found here, where I argue (briefly) that to subject tradition to the test of one’s own interpretation of Scripture is to deny the authority of tradition, and thus to vindicate Smith’s claim. The problems with biblicism, which Keith Mathison refers to as “solo scriptura,” are well-addressed both by Mathison (see “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura and the Question of Interpretive Authority“) and Smith in The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture.

 How does that relate to the doctrine of the Assumption? The two most common Protestant objections to the doctrine of the Assumption are (1) that it is not in Scripture, and (2) that because it is not in Scripture, the Church has no right to declare it a dogma. Both objections presuppose that Scripture is not only the final authority, but is the only authority, such that if a doctrine cannot be found explicitly in Scripture then either it was not taught by the Apostles, or we have no way of knowing whether it was taught by the Apostles. However, if the doctrine of the Assumption comes to us through the Tradition, and if Tradition is authoritative, then both objections fall flat. 

 The primary Protestant objection is that the doctrine of the Assumption is not part of Tradition, but is an accretion, or, even if true, is uncertain. And the basis for this claim is that the doctrine is not apparent in the first three centuries of the Church, given the manuscripts we have containing writings from that time. St. Epiphanius hints at it in the fourth century, and we have evidence that there was an empty tomb of Mary in Jerusalem in the fourth century. But there is no solid historical evidence prior to this that Mary was known to have been assumed into heaven. There are two different paradigms at work here. From the Protestant point of view, whatever is not in Scripture is suspect, and that is even more so when we have no independent evidence that the doctrine in question was known by the Church in her first three centuries. So from the Protestant point of view, the spread of the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption in the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries is presumably the spread of a novelty, myth or legend. From the Catholic point of view, by contrast, the universal acceptance of the Feast by the sixth and seventh centuries, indicates that this doctrine was present all along, at least in seed form, otherwise it would not have been accepted by the whole Church. 

So underlying these two paradigms is the question of ecclesial deism, whether or not the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church into all truth. For the Protestant who does not believe that the Spirit is guiding the Church into all truth, the universal acceptance of the doctrine of the Assumption is no more evidence of its truth or Apostolicity than not. If one does not believe that the Church is being guided by the Spirit, then there is nothing more imaginable than that the whole Church be drawn away into gross error. 

And this is especially so insofar as Protestantism’s justification for its existence depends on it being true that the whole Church fell into hundreds of years of heresy. For the Catholic, however, it is inconceievable that the whole Church would be drawn away into doctrinal error. The Church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15), and so if the whole Church embraces a doctrine, we can know that this doctrine is both true and apostolic.1 

 And that is how Catholics understand the development of the doctrine of the Assumption. This doctrine of the Assumption comes to us through Tradition, and this Tradition can be found in the early Patristic homilies, especially those given on this feast. But as Pope Pius XII pointed out when defining this dogma, the feast was not the source of the faith in this doctrine; rather the faith in this doctrine was the source of the feast. He writes: 
 However, since the liturgy of the Church does not engender the Catholic faith, but rather springs from it, in such a way that the practices of the sacred worship proceed from the faith as the fruit comes from the tree, it follows that the holy Fathers and the great Doctors, in the homilies and sermons they gave the people on this feast day, did not draw their teaching from the feast itself as from a primary source, but rather they spoke of this doctrine as something already known and accepted by Christ’s faithful. They presented it more clearly. They offered more profound explanations of its meaning and nature, bringing out into sharper light the fact that this feast shows, not only that the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary remained incorrupt, but that she gained a triumph out of death, her heavenly glorification after the example of her only begotten Son, Jesus Christ-truths that the liturgical books had frequently touched upon concisely and briefly. (Munificentissimus Deus, 20) 
 To read the early homilies given on this feast, see On the Dormition of Mary: Early Patristic Homilies, edited by Brian J. Daley, and The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption (Oxford University Press), written by Stephen J. Shoemaker. Shoemaker has some of these homilies available on a webpage titled “Early Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition.” And Luigi Gambero’s Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought is also a helpful resource. The Dormition of the Theotokos2 The Apostles knew of Mary’s dormition, since Christ had entrusted her to St. John’s care, and Mary was obviously a central figure in the community of the early Church. So how she completed her days was part of the Apostolic Tradition. But that Mary had been assumed body and soul into heaven was not universally known in the first few centuries of the Church. It is not that the Fathers of that time denied it; they simply didn’t talk about it, or talk about any first-class relics of Mary. The doctrine of the Assumption gradually came to be universally known within the Church, from the latter part of the fifth century, and by the sixth and seventh centuries, it was a universal feast. The Church Fathers viewed Mary not only as the New Eve, but also as the Ark of the New Covenant. (See here and here.) Hence they came to understand Psalm 132:8 (“Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.”) as referring to Mary’s Assumption. The more clearly they understand that Mary had been preserved immaculate, the more clearly they understood that she too had been preserved from corruption. Similarly, the more clearly they grasped her dignity as the Mother of God (Theotokos), the more they recognized the fittingness of her Son keeping her body from corruption. Likewise, the more clearly they understood Mary’s role as the New Eve, and thus as Christ’s associate in the work of the redemption, the more clearly they understand that she too, in her own flesh, must have participated in His victory over death.

 Here are a few selections.

Theodosius, Jacobite Patriarch of Alexandria (d. 567 or 568) O my beautiful mother, when Adam transgressed my commandment, I passed upon him a sentence, saying: ‘Adam, you are earth, and you shall return unto the earth again. For I too, the Life of all men, tasted death in the flesh which I took from you, in the flesh of Adam, your forefather. But because my Godhead was united to me, for that reason I raised it from the dead. I would prefer not to have you taste death, but to translate you up to the heavens like Enoch and Elias. But these also, even they must at last taste death. But if this happened to you, wicked men would think concerning you that you are a power which came down from heaven, and that this dispensation took place in appearance alone. ( On the Falling Asleep of Mary) St. Gregory of Tours (d. 594) Finally, when blessed Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was about to be called from this world, all the apostles, coming from their different regions, gathered together in her house. When they heard that she was about to be taken up out of the world, they kept watch together with her. And behold, the Lord Jesus came with his angels and, taking her soul, handed it over to the archangel Michael and withdrew. At dawn, the apostles lifted up her body on a pallet, laid it in a tomb, and kept watch over it, awaiting the coming of the Lord. and behold, again the Lord presented himself to them and ordered that her holy body be taken and carried up to heaven. There she is now, joined once more to her soul; she exults with the elect, rejoicing in the eternal blessings that will have no end. (Libri Miraculorum 1, De gloria beatorum maryrum 4

 St. Modestus of Jerusalem (c. AD 630) The bright spiritual dawn of the Sun of Justice, [our Lady Mary], has gone to dwell and shine in His brilliance; she is called there by the one who rose from her, and who gives light to all things. Through her, that overwhelming radiance pours the rays of His sunshine upon us, in mercy and compassion, rekindling the souls of the faithful to imitate, as far as they can, His divine kindness and goodness. For Christ our God, who put on living and intelligent flesh, which He took from the ever-Virgin and the Holy Spirit, has called her to Himself and invested her with an incorruptibility touching all her corporeal frame; He has glorified her beyond all measure of glory, so that she, His holy Mother, might share His inheritance. (Encomium on the Dormition) 
 John of Thessalonica John of Thessalonica was Metropolitan of that city between 610 and 649. In his homily on the Dormition of Mary, he indicates that the Church at Thessalonica was one of the few Eastern Churches where the Feast of the Assumption had not become part of the liturgical year. In his homily, he explains that the reason for this delay by his episcopal predecessors in the Church at Thessalonica was not due to impiety or laziness, but to make sure that the Dormition narrative was an authentic part of the Apostolic Tradition. And he writes his homily after having investigated to determine that the Assumption is an authentic part of the Apostolic Tradition. 

 Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 733) [Her body], being human, was adapted and conformed to the supreme life of immortality; however, it remained whole and glorious, gifted with perfect vitality and not subject to the sleep [of death], precisely because it was not possible that the vessel that had contained God, the living Temple of the most holy Divinity of the Only-begotten, should be held by a tomb made for the dead. … You are, as it is written, “all-beautiful” (Song of Songs 2:13), and your virginal body is all-holy, all-chaste, all the dwelling place of God, so that dissolving into dust is foreign to it. (Homily 1 on the Dormition) Your departure did not lack witnesses, nor was your Dormition false. Heaven tells the glory of those who ran to meet you then; earth presents the truth about it; the clouds cry out the honor they paid you, and the angels tell of the offering of gifts that was made to you then, when the apostles were at your side [as you passed away] above Jerusalem. (Homily 2 on the Dormition) And when we, the disciples of the Lord, gathered with the throng in your presence, O Gethsemane, for the funeral of the Ever-Virgin Mary, we all saw that she was laid in the tomb and then transferred elsewhere. She passed beyond our sight, beyond any dispute, before the tomb was sealed with the stone. . . While she was being praised with hymns, and was about to be lowered into the tomb, she left the tomb empty. (Homily 3 on the Dormition) St. John Damascene (d. 750) Even though your most holy and blessed soul was separated from your most happy and immaculate body, according to the usual course of nature, and even though it was carried to a proper burial place, nevertheless it did not remain under the dominion of death, nor was it destroyed by corruption. Indeed, just as her virginity remained intact when she gave birth, so her body, even after death, was preserved from decay and transferred to a better and more divine dwelling place. There it is no longer subject to death but abides for all ages. … Your holy and all-virginal body was consigned to a holy tomb, while the angels went before it, accompanied it, and followed it; for what would they not do to serve the Mother of their Lord? Meanwhile, the apostles and the whole assembly of the Church sang divine hymns and struck the lyre of the Spirit: “We shall be filled with the blessing of your house; your temple is holy; wondrous in justice” (Ps. 65:4). And again: “The Most High has sanctified his dwelling” (Ps. 46:5); “God’s mountain, rich mountain, the mountain in which God has been pleased to dwell” (Ps. 68:16-17). The assembly of apostles carried you, the Lord God’s true Ark, as once the priests carried the symbolic ark, on their shoulders. They laid you in the tomb, through which, as if through the Jordan, they will conduct you to the promised land, that is to say, the Jerusalem above, mother of all the faithful, whose architect and builder is God. Your soul did not descend to Hades, neither did your flesh see corruption. Your virginal and uncontaminated body was not abandoned in the earth, but you are transferred into the royal dwelling of heaven, you, the Queen, the sovereign, the Lady, God’s Mother, the true God-bearer. … A precious ointment, when it is poured out upon the garments or in any place and then taken away, leaves traces of its fragrance even after evaporating. In the same way your body, holy and perfect, impregnated with divine perfume and abundant spring of grace, this body which had been laid in the tomb, when it was taken out and transferred to a better and more elevated place, did not leave the tomb bereft of honor but left behind a divine fragrance and grace, making it a wellspring of healing and a source of every blessing for those who approach it with faith. (Homily 1 on the Dormition, 10, 12-13

 It was necessary that the body of the one who preserved her virginity intact in giving birth should also be kept incorrupt after death. It was necessary that she, who carried the creator in her womb when he was a baby, should dwell among the tabernacles of heaven. (Homily 2 on the Dormition) Dr. Feingold lecture on the Assumption In November of last year, Dr. Lawrence Feingold of Ave Maria University, gave a lecture on the subject of the Dogma of the Assumption, to the Association of Hebrew Catholics. The audio both for the lecture and the following Q&A are available below. I have included summary headings for the different parts of the lecture, according to the minute they occur in the lecture. The mp3s for both the lecture and the Q&A can be downloaded here. Lecture: The Dormition of the Virgin (ca. 950-1000) (1′) Introduction. The Assumption as the final mystery of the life of Mary. Scripture doesn’t narrate it, so how do we know it? (4′) What is the significance of Mary’s Assumption? (5′) What is the relation between the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and the dogma of the Assumption? (10′) Mary as New Eve. She shares in all the mysteries with Christ, and hence also shares with His victory over death. (16′) 

The teaching of St. Francis de Sales and St. Alphonsus Ligouri on the Assumption. This mystery is a mystery of our participation with God. It is a mystery of theosis. Mary is the icon of the Church, and so her assumption reveals to us something about the Church. Her participation in Christ’s victory over death prefigures our future participation in this victory. (21′) Enoch and Elijah as types (23′) The woman in Revelation 12. (26′) The Song of Songs — reading in the liturgy (27′) Ps. 132:8 – Mary as ark (29′) History of the development of the Feast of the Assumption, celebrated in the seventh century in the universal Church (both East and West). (35′) How Pope Pius XII went about defining this dogma. (38′) How is this dogma opportune for our times? How does it address materialism, atheism, naturalism, and the loss of Christian hope? (41′) The definition of the dogma, in MD. (43′) Did Mary die, or not? (46′) Mary’s Dormition (48′) Church Fathers on the Assumption (57′) What do we celebrate in this Feast? Question and Answer 1. How is it that feasts are celebrated before they are defined by the Church? (1′) 2. Can Lazarus be used as a type of Mary’s Assumption? (2′) 3. Didn’t Jesus say under questioning from the Apostles that Elijah had returned to earth already, and was treated poorly by the Jews? (4′) 4. Explain again why Mary is a type of the Church. (6′) 5. How do we know that Mary had no pain in childbirth? (9′) 6. What about Revelation 12 which speaks of the woman giving birth with the pains of childbirth? (11′) 7. It seems that it would be still more fitting if Mary, like Christ, had some mission during her Dormition. Tradition tells us that Christ’s soul harrowed hell was His body was in the tomb. Does it tell us anything of Mary’s soul while her body slept?

Video of the declaration of the dogma

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