"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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Tuesday, 19 June 2018


INTRODUCTION by  G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis & Fr Roger Peck

"This elementary wonder, however, is not a mere fancy derived from the fairy tales; on the contrary, all the fire of the fairy tales is derived from this. Just as we all like love tales because there is an instinct of sex, we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. This is proved by the fact that when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales--because they find them romantic. In fact, a baby is about the only person, I should think, to whom a modern realistic novel could be read without boring him. 
This proves that even nursery tales only echo an almost pre-natal leap of interest and amazement. These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.''

― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

"The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’ The child enjoys his cold meat, otherwise dull to him, by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savory for having been dipped in a story…by putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality : we rediscover it.”
― C.S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature

"Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e., the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call 'real things'.”   

“Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history… nor diabolical illusion… not priestly lying… but at its best, a real unfocused gleam of divine truth on human imagination” (Miracles, 138).

"Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens - at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Orsis, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle."  

"To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. The one is hardly more necessary than the other."

C.S. Lewis's essay Myth Became Fact concludes:
"This is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher."

Recognising the Creator

A universe that is the result of random forces of nature is not purposed; and meaning requires a mind in which to inhere. When God called Abraham, a people were given a future; and somewhere along the way those people would inevitably look back to discover that they also had a past. Looking back they could see God's hand at work in the events of history. God places us in the cleft of the rock and covers us with his hand until his glory has passed by. Only then can we see Him (cf. Ex 33:22). The mythological character of this passage is clear. We live life forwards but understand life backwards. Day unto day takes up the story but night unto night makes known the message, (cf. Ps 19:2-3) We cannot see God face to face but we can see His back (cf. Ex 33:23). The wheel of life has beenstraightened out and become a story. Choices matter, things serve a purpose and life has meaning; and it is the logos, the mind of God, the creator of all that is and the author of history, who provides the necessary context.

But to understand (to stand under) the logos requires imagination. Instead of feeling things psychically or observing them scientifically we need to appreciate them poetically.
"CS Lewis and Tolkien on Myth and Knowledge" by Fr Roger Peck in Faith Magazine 2011

What can G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis teach us on the New Evangelisation?   What do we have to do and what do monks and monasteries have to do with it?

For C.S. Lewis and, perhaps for the Inklings in general, there is concrete experience and abstract thought with imagination that connects the two.  Both concrete experience and abstract thought must be analysed by reason in order to discover truth, but this cannot be done until they are made meaningful by being expressed in a coherent story.  Nonsense is neither true nor false and it is imagination that makes sense of things. 

Our imagination allows us to have many ways of reacting to the world around us, and with our imagination we can go beyond the commonplace into other dimensions.   Darwin went beyond the strange animals he could see and came up with his theory of evolution to account for them though, at the time, he did not know whether it was fact or fiction.

But imagination does much more than spur us on to scientific discovery.  It moves  us to surprise, fear, loneliness, excitement, suspense, wonder, admiration and the sense of the holy.  Sometimes, the reactions are suggested by the place or situation, while others are the product of our own minds or fabrication of our own designs.

As Christians, we believe that everything, everybody and every situation, the whole of created reality has a relationship to the Holy Spirit as a story is related to its author. Tolkien tells us that the "Secret Fire", otherwise known as the "Flame Imperishable", is present in all existing things:

"Therefore Ilúvatar gave to their vision Being, and set it amid the Void, and the Secret Fire was sent to burn at the heart of the World; and it was called Eä."― Valaquenta

In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf the Grey referred to both the Secret Fire and the Flame of Anor at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm:

"You cannot pass, I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass."

C.S. Lewis argued that our natural desires are evidence for the actual existence of what we naturally desire, and he points out that the desire for something beyond matter is as ancient as humankind itself.   He writes:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, 120).
  As very small children, we look upon the world with wonder; but, as time goes on and all around us becomes ordinary and humdrum, so we seek wonder in stories of magic and great deeds.  Actually, it is the beginning of our road to God. 

As all human knowledge arises from the use of the senses, knowledge of what is beyond the senses must be inferred in some way from our seeing, touching, tasting, hearing or smelling.  This means that the world around us must point beyond itself; but this can only happen if our response to it is fully human and that we can fully see what is truly there.  We must develop what has been called the "third eye", learning to see, not only sensible things (first eye), not just what the mind understands by what we see (second eye), but the wonder of it all, a wonder that leads to gratitude and even adoration (third eye of the heart).

If we are of a contemplative disposition, we may recognise that there are "thin places"  - to use a traditional Irish phrase - where it is relatively easy to pierce that veil because of its atmosphere, or a place (like a church, for instance)may be made "thin" by design, by icons, music or ritual performance); while another traditional means to help us see beyond is "myth".

It is the conviction of Chesterton, Lewis and Tolkien that creative fantasy, by placing the over-familiar in an unfamiliar setting, in an alternative world of magic, of elves and fairies, can allow us to see the true wonder of the world around us.  It helps us by presenting us with an invented world to appreciate that there is no logical reason why the world we live in should exist as it is, or even exist at all.  It is only one further step to see the world around us with wonder and gratitude: then we are only one step away from the numinous.

Once able to respond to the world around us in a fully human way, not deadened by over-familiarity, we are ready to be encountered by what Rudolf Otto calls the numinous.  He says that this lies at the very heart of all religion.  [The central experience Otto refers to is the numinous (Latin numen, “spirit”) in which the Other (i.e., the transcendent) appears as a mysterium tremendum et fascinans—that is, a mystery before which man both trembles and is fascinated, is both repelled and attracted. Thus, God can appear both as wrathful or awe inspiring, on the one hand, and as gracious and lovable, on the other. The sense of the numinous, according to Otto, is sui generis, though it may have psychological analogies, and it gives an access to reality, which is categorized as holy. Britannica]

C.S. Lewis describes it thus:
Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told "There is a ghost in the next room," and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is "uncanny" rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply "There is a mighty spirit in the room," and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking—a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant and of prostration before it—an emotion which might be expressed in Shakespeare's words "Under it my genius is rebuked." This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.[12]
Before his conversion, C.S.Lewis was an atheist, but also a great lover of mythology, especially that of Northern Europe.  As an atheist, he did not allow his imagination to have anything to do with questions of truth.  Truth is the product of the use of reason which can only be distracted by imagination. Myths were the product of the imagination and were, therefore, false, enjoyable but false.  It had been pointed out to him that the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ are examples of themes found in other religions and mythologies: they are myths and, therefore, are untrue.

It was Tolkien who convinced him that this was mistaken.  (In the first video above, there is a re-construction of that conversation.)   Anyway, for my purpose in writing this article, it is possible to see the pre-Christian C.S.Lewis as a personification of much that is wrong in secular society where a sharp distinction is made between public and private knowledge and where there are attempts to exclude from the public sphere any reminder of and all reference to Christian belief.  This leads to the impoverishment of both  imagination and reason. Chesterton, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have set us the  task to re-unite the two dimensions of reason and imagination which too often have become divorced.  

Of course, all sides recognise the need for rational analysis to find out whether something is true or false, but the rationalists believe that all truth is literal truth, while Chesterton and company were convinced that truth can also be conveyed by symbol and by myth.  This is not simply fancy but is due to the very structure of our minds and by the relationship that created reality has with God. 

Reason, Imagination and Vatican II

The "progressive" party in Vatican II was made up of two groups who could not have been more different or more opposed.  Both wanted to modernise the Church, one by finding answers to new questions by looking into Tradition in a fresh way and using modern tools of enquiry while accepting the validity of all Catholic Tradition down the ages, the other by adapting the Church's teaching and practice to that of the modern secular world.

Nowhere was the difference so sharp than what to do with the numinous.  We have seen that, for Rudolf Otto and Chesterton and Company, the mysterium tremendum sed fascinans is at the very heart of religious experience.  The young Henri de Lubac, around the year 1941, wrote an article in which he noted that the working class in France's industrial cities had largely lost the faith, and he put this down to the absence of any opportunity to experience the numinous.  He called for their re-evangelisation and, at the very centre of the Church's requirement was, he said,  a reform of the liturgy so that ordinary people could encounter and experience the holy in their lives.  This would be absolutely essential is any evangelisation were to be successful, and it became one of the main motives of this group like Ratzinger and others in the Council for liturgical reform.  You can imagine their disappointment and horror when the other group rejected the numinous for horizontal human relationships!!

The other group that had major influence towards the end of the liturgical revision, wishing to adapt the Church to modern life and realising that openness to the numinous is not a major characteristic of modern man, attempted to replace it by human solidarity "in Christ". Modern humanity does not need a dependence on any numinous figure, they said, because it had "come of age" and has learnt to look after itself with its knowledge of the world that science has given.  Of course, the All Powerful God had enabled human beings to stand on their own feet as His images.   Hence, away with all this grovelling and, in its place, let us put where human strangth lies, the unity among humans for whom Christ died.    

The main texts of the "new Mass" were generally very good, and the new Eucharistic prayers were based on the sound Tradition which had been gleaned from  the worldwide Church.  However, the ceremony and the changes in the setting of the Mass "in the spirit of Vatican II" often favoured the second group.  Horizontal relationships received most of the emphasis.  The importance of the sacred was underplayed or even taken out of the ceremony all together. Ratzinger had to watch what he and most of his companions saw as  the inevitable result as people voted with their feet.  Churches emptied, vocations plummeted.   

The problem was not change in itself, nor even in the texts of the New Mass which had been largely written by  the first group.  Pope Benedict, whatever he said in his pain, kept the texts as the ones in principal use and he normally celebrated the New Mass himself both publicly and privately.  The problem was the way it was too often celebrated, and the way modern churches became purely functional, eliminating all depiction of the transcendental, all sense of the liturgy being where heaven and earth are united, where the people become one with the angels and the saints.   

An atheist's world is purely functional, and anything else is the product of the artist's own feelings and attitudes and tells us nothing about the world we live in. On the other hand, a believer's world symbolises, indicates and sometimes manifests the divine presence, and it is sacramental by its very essence as created being, and we celebrate the Mass in the company of the angels and saints.  

I do not know why so many post-Vatican II churches, as well as "modernised" interiors of old churches do the atheists' work for them by emphasising the functions of priest and people but failing to put adequate emphasis on the transcendent dimensions, those that cannot be seen but are present and active in the liturgy of priest and people and are the very reason for the celebration.

This was in no way  universal.   There are wonderful celebrations of the Missa Normativa  and they are becoming more and more common.   Moreover, churches are being renovated in ways that are in keeping with the Catholic view of the world, especially in America.

What can C.S. Lewis and company teach us about evangelisation?

I believe the first thing is that we must base everything on prayer because we cannot give what we haven't got.  Secondly, our campaign must embrace the whole person, his imaginative life as well as his intellectual life because they cannot be separated.  Our liturgy must address all the senses and we must be clear what we are telling people in the liturgy which will be so celebrated that we become aware that we are celebrating in the presence of God, that we are encountering Christ and that we find our unity in Christ.   Also we are only instruments of Christ, servants of "the Secret Fire", content to do as much or as little in this mission according to his will.  We are only successfully evangelising if we are concentrating on allowing him to evangelise  through us, in his way, not ours. The strongest actor in The Lord of the Rings is, without doubt, Divine Providence that chooses unlikely people to do improbable things.  We will only succeed if we permit this to happen and remain alert when it happens.  I am conscious that God chose an anti-Catholic, small town, Assembly of God preacher, David Wilkerson, to inspire the beginnings of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal which successive popes have recognised as a major work of the Holy Spirit.

The Origins of Monastic Life

It is clear from Scripture and Tradition that there is only one Christian life that makes absolute demands on all Christians.  We must meet Christ and find in him the means to love God with our whole being, with everything we've got and are, and we must love one another as Christ loves us.
Belmont Abbey

 We are all, without exception made in his image, and he is united to all human beings without exception by his Incarnation, so that he died for all and rose for all.  Moreover, whatever God's will is for each of us, we must do it from sacramental moment to sacramental moment as his Providence demands.  In this way we become more and more like him because we share in his love for the Father and the Father's love for him in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Valaam (Orthodox)

In the early Church, in the time of persecution, all knew that they could be asked to give all and die for Christ.  They knew that, becoming one with him in the Eucharist, they could be called to be one host with him in martyrdom, to drink the same cup of martyrdom as he drank. Possible martyrdom was implied by the Eucharist.

Hence there was a crisis when Constantine was converted and martyrdom stopped.  Monasticism was adopted by some as a substitute for martyrdom and was adopted by others because they found it too difficult to live an authentic Christian life and a comfortable worldly life at the same time.  Nevertheless, Abbot Antony, after much suffering from the devil and years of solitary prayer, was told by God that a married man in Alexandria had reached a higher sanctity than Antony.   This married man's openness to God was greater than Antony's, and it is God who makes saints.

Friday, 15 June 2018


The most dejected, reluctant convert in all England
"You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England" (Surprised By Joy, ch. 14, p. 266).

Speaking these words is Clive Staples Lewis, known to his friends simply as "Jack", a Professor of English Literature at Oxford University until 1954. Lewis was born in 1898 into an Anglo-Irish family at Belfast. After what he calls a blandly Christian childhood he threw himself heart and soul into a rationalist and idealist atheism that he professed and lived.

Young Jack's intelligence was subtle, his curiosity boundless, his acumen amazing, his dialectic power exceptional; yet something came into play that shattered his seemingly firm belief in the inexistence of God, for in life there is always something else, something unforeseen, unnoticed or surprising.

Surprised by Joy is perhaps one of the most beautiful titles that can be given to a book that is to tell the story of a conversion and it is this title that C.S. Lewis chose for his autobiography, which he wrote at the age of 56. However, it concerns only his first 30 years, because, as he wrote in the preface, "I never read an autobiography in which the parts devoted to the earlier years were not far the most interesting".

In 1955, C.S. Lewis' passionate interest in the first years of human life was a natural, as it were, "obligatory" choice. In those very years the publication of the seven episodes of the Chronicles of Narnia was nearing completion. This was the literary work which, together, with the Screwtape Letters, was to place him among the most read authors, famous throughout the world (it overshadowed, however, his excellent philological research in mediaeval Anglo-Saxon literature).

Even his well-known novels of pure fantasy focus on the theme of youth and conversion. In a passage from Mere Christianity, Lewis speaks of an "emblematic" boy whom he calls Dick, and writes several words that could be taken as summing up the Narnia saga: "It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost him crucifixion....

"As long as Dick does not turn to God, he thinks his niceness is his own, and just as long as he thinks that, it is not his own. It is only when Dick realizes that his niceness is not his own but a gift from God, and when he offers it back to God — it is just then that it begins to be really his own.  For now Dick is beginning to take a share in his own creation. The only things we can keep are the things we freely give to God. What we try to keep for ourselves is just what we are sure to lose".

Dick is not only Edmund, the small boy for whom the lion Aslan gives his life, letting himself be killed in the second episode of Narnia; Dick is obviously Jack.

To borrow Bonhoeffer's words, the story of Lewis' conversion recounted in Surprised by Joy is a story of resistance and surrender. From this viewpoint the book can be seen as a diary in which the writer notes the movements of his soul, shaken, enthralled and at last overcome by God's assault, a diary of Joy (God's Name, according to Lewis), to be followed six years later by the very short and intense A Grief Observed, written after the death of his wife (who, as chance would have it, was called Joy).

'No longer an amiable agnostic'

In the middle of his autobiography Lewis writes: "Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about 'man's search for God'", but Lewis is no longer an "amiable agnostic" and no longer speaks "cheerfully", because he has experienced God's "compelling embrace" and how awe-inspiring his beauty and joy can be. These were the two poles on which Jack staked his entire life, Beauty and its fruit, Joy, "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense), has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is."

In the light of this idea of joy, so intermingled with pain, one glimpses the depth of the image of Aslan, the divine lion who plays the lead role in the Chronicles of Narnia, one of the most surprising Christological figures of 20th-century literature. Aslan, a symbol at the same time of God the Creator and Christ the Redeemer and who sacrifices himself for love, is a lion, at the same time good and majestic, gentle and terrible, because for Lewis God is a lion who goes in search of man, hunts him down and embraces him.

"Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully", he confides in Surprised by Joy. "Dangers lie in wait for him on every side".

A permanent state of siege, this is what life was for C.S. Lewis, an assault that, paradoxically exalted the humility of God who, like the father of the Prodigal Son, goes in search of all, even the one who endeavours to flee from his embrace.

"I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?... The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation".

The world is a dangerous place, especially for those who desire to keep their incredulity intact and prevent God from starting this process of liberation.

Perils undermining his atheism

And Lewis lists all the perils that attacked and then undermined the foundations of his atheism: the beauty of nature and art, the gift of joy with which life regales us in an ever sudden and unexpected manner and then the encounter with others, real people, physically known and those met through the mediation of reading.

Among these numerous "dangerous encounters", it is worth citing three which played a crucial role in the process of the conversion of the English writer: Chesterton, MacDonald and Tolkien.

"In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for", he writes in Surprised by Joy. "A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — 'Bibles laid open, millions of surprises', as Herbert say, 'fine nets and stratagems'. God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous".

It was to be precisely Chesterton's books, (namely The Eternal Man), and those of MacDonald, (in particular The Shadows), that "would prepare" young Jack for the "capitulation" which, however, would only happen with the final blow, dealt by his meeting with Tolkien.

They met towards the end of the 1920s in Oxford, both enamoured of the ancient sagas and legends, and a more than 40-year-long friendship was to develop between them which led to the birth of the novels that are famous today: Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.

Although in 1929 Jack was already on his knees and had prayed to God desperately and reluctantly, it was Tolkien's friendship that brought him to the encounter with Christ. On 19 September 1931, Jack and "Toilers" (as Tolkien was called by his closest friends), together with their common friend Hugo Dyson, were taking their usual after-dinner stroll in the grounds of Magdalen College and began discussing ancient myths and the Truth "hidden" in these legends.

They talked until after three o'clock in the morning and a few days later Lewis wrote to his old friend Arthur Greeves, saying: "I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ, in Christianity.... My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a great deal to do with it", and that he would explain it at some other time.

Like Nicodemus, Lewis the intellectual had his night filled with light and his life changed radically. From that moment he became an ardent defender of faith regained and a refined popularizer of Christian truth: still today his essays on faith, grief and love are among the most effective works of 20th century Christian apologetics.

In this regard his parable is reminiscent of Chesterton's; although Lewis never succeeded in taking the formal steps to enter the Catholic Church (although he did so substantially, which is borne out by the numerous signs of his crypto-Catholicism, and not the least his splendid correspondence with Don Giovanni Calabria, his story, like that of the inventor of Father Brown, was that of a heart and a mind that surrendered to the joy which flows from the Good News and sweeps away all the fantasies and lucubrations of human rationalism (quite different from reason, which is a marvellous gift of God).

Chesterton converted to Catholicism in 1922, a few years before Lewis, and was thus able to pass on to us two affirmations to which Jack would have fully subscribed.

The first is found in his essay: The Catholic Church and Conversion, in which he declares: "The mark of faith is not tradition; it is conversion. It is the miracle by which men find truth in spite of tradition and often with the rending of all the roots of humanity.... A century or two hence Spiritualism may be a tradition and Socialism may be a tradition and Christian Science may be a tradition. But Catholicism will not be a tradition. It will still be a nuisance and a new and dangerous thing...".

The second is found in a poem, written precisely on the occasion of his conversion to the Catholic faith:

"...The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free;
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live"
(The Convert).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
16 July 2008, page 4
L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
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Thursday, 7 June 2018


Like so much Orthodox writing, there is nothing more profoundly true, more beautiful, more necessary for balancing East and West and as a corrective to popular misconception, more enlightening but also  more frustrating.

Before we go further, please read the article here.  It is well worth reading and may advance your appreciation of the Church as communion in the Christian Mystery.  As a Catholic, I found myself agreeing with every line as I was led, sentence by sentence, into the very centre of what it means to belong to the Church.  And then came the frustrating bit: "It [the Church] can have no birthday."  

This rules out any context in which it would be legitimate and true to call Pentecost the "birthday of  the Church", even though it is often spoken about in this way.

I have found that there is a frustrating tendency among Orthodox that, in their anxiety to distinguish Orthodoxy from heterodoxy, they are too ready to distinguish and contrast their particular "doxy" from everybody else's, as though they have forgotten the inadequacy of human language and the apophatic nature of theology in relation to the Christian Mystery that should lead to caution and make us slow to rule out what does not fit in with our own vocabulary.

Apophatic Theology by Andrew Louth (19 mins)

Another example of this enthusiasm for unjustifiably discovering error in differences was the great Russian theologian Nicolas Afanassieff.   No one had dug so deeply into the Catholic truth on the nature of the Church as he did.  His "eucharistic ecclesiology" was accepted by theologians across the division  and became common ground in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. It was adopted by Vatican II and by subsequent popes and has always been a central pillar in the theology of Pope Benedict XVI  Thus, for the first time in centuries, we have our Catholic-Orthodox discussions based on a common theological principle: where the eucharistic community is there is the Catholic Church and thus all the Church's powers have their source in its liturgical life where the Holy Spirit and the Church work in synergy.   This view of the Church hasn't automatically abolished our differences, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Afannassiev contrasts the understanding of the Church in the writings of St Ignatius of Antioch with those of St Cyprian of Carthage.   In the first, the Catholic Church is identified with the local church under its bishop.  It is the body of Christ because its members eat the same bread and drink of the same cup.  As "body", the local church is not part of the Church but the whole.  Just as in a ciborium of consecrated hosts each host is Christ and all together are the same Christ, so each local church is Christ and all together are the same Christ.  True Christian unity is nothing less than the unity of identity.   There is only one episcopal throne  in which the same Christ presides as head of his body in each local church and; as there is no authority higher than Christ, there is no higher authority than the local bishop.  

According to Afannassiev, St Cyprian of Carthage has a very different vision of the Catholic Church.   If for St Ignatius the word "catholic" meant "fullness" in the sense that the fullness and wholeness of truth  and revelation is present in every local church and is thus fully "catholic"  for this reason, for St Cyprian, "catholic" meant "universal", "worldwide", and each Catholic local church is part of the universal whole, the worldwide Catholic Church and is fully Catholic only in so far as it is part.  

How is the  Church one throughout the world if it is divided into a multitude of local churches?   St Cyprian applied St Paul's teaching on the make-up of the local church to solve the problem of the worldwide Church: ecclesia per totum mundum in multa membra divisa (the worldwide Church is divided into many members.    The Church is one because there is one God alone, one Christ, one Church, one Throne of Peter whom the word of God has made its foundation stone.  Every bishop is a successor of St Peter only in so far as he is part of the episcopate.  There is discussion on to what extent the Bishop of Rome where St Peter was buried had any role in the concord between bishops that St Cyprian considered so important.

Thus Afannassieff contrasted two ecclesiologies, one, eucharistic ecclesiology which is based on St Paul's  teaching to the local church of Corinth and found in the letters of St Ignatius; the other based on more empirical concerns, modelled, he says, on the Roman Empire.  The first is sacramental, and the second must inevitably be seen to be legalistic.   The first is basically Orthodox, even though in practice, it often uses the universalist approach; while the second is expressed in the papal dogmas of Vatican I, even if the first can be found in Catholic theological circles when dealing with the liturgy and other subjects.

Those who think and act according to the eucharistic model place ecclesial charity as the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit and as the force behind doctrinal agreement and Christian unity: Ubi caritas, Deus ibi est.   Those who think and act according to the universalist model place Canon Law at the very centre and only recognise ecclesial charity as it is active within the boundaries set by law.   Hence, Catholics divide the Christian world into two parts, Catholic and non-Catholic, according to whether they accept papal jurisdiction or not.   There are Orthodox who only accept the validity of sacraments celebrated within the context of "canonical communion".   They re-baptise anyone who was baptised within the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev patriarchate) because their patriarchate is not recognised by the other patriarchates.   Canonicity is supreme!

For those who think according to the eucharistic model, ecclesial authority is principally an authority of witness as St Irenaeus interpreted the authority of the Roman Church. Other churches, looking at their own faith which is the product of Tradition that springs from their own liturgical life, recognise the principal church as a shining example of what they themselves believe in, so that they are enlightened when they are in doubt, receive help when they are in need, and are guided when they do not know the way forward.   This principle church helps the other churches to be themselves, to be true to Tradition which is fundamentally the same in each identical church.  Their obedience to this central see is an exercise in ecclesial love.   Obedience to a central see is not only a recognition of Christ in that see, but is evidence of the presence of Christ in their own church because he was "Obedient unto death." In Christian life, humble obedience is a mark of authenticity.

In fact, both Catholic and Orthodox theologians  have questioned Afannassiev's thesis that St Ignatius and St Cyprian were in disagreement:
a) St Cyprian's statement that the church is in the bishop and the bishop in the Church is very much like St Ignatius
b)  Nowhere does Afannassiev offer proof that the two disagreed: it is simply taken for granted by him
c)   The Church of East and West revere both saints and look at the Church, local and worldwide, as Catholic both in its local and worldwide dimensions and use the word "Catholic Church" as being proper to both.

It is sometimes a weakness of Orthodox argument that an Orthodox ideal, in all its simplicity and depth, is set in contrast against a theory based on empirical evidence that remains besmirched by human sinfulness.  The empirical evidence is ignored, condemned or forgotten as irrelevant or even heterodox.  It is forgotten that the two arguments do not oppose each other because the problem  is being looked at from two different angles or is being solved in two different  dimensions.    

In a religion of the Incarnation, a problem cannot be wholly solved if the empirical dimension in which it is embedded is ignored.   A local church is the whole church in so far as it is a complete expression of the Christian Mystery as celebrated in the liturgy: Christ is completely present within it.  It is also a part of the Church in so far as it is a local or regional community that has to manifest universal salvation in Christ together to the world with all who are in Christ throughout the world.  The universal Catholic Church is such that each part contains and manifests the whole, and the whole is nothing less than heaven and the cosmos together participating in the life of the Trinity in and through Christ. 

Death, Resurrection and Afterlife
N. T. Wright (32+ mins)

Let us now look at the thesis of Father Stephen Freeman who, I believe, falls into the same error as Father Afannassiev.   His positive contribution to our understanding and appreciation of the Church is excellent, but he does not do enough justice to the Incarnation because he seems to forget the Church in the world, as it has been embedded in history, as it lives its life in this world, as it looks forward to the Second Coming, also deserves theological treatment as an embedded reality.  How would his understanding be seen by St Maria Skobtsova? 

Mother Maria Skobtsova
The New Life/ New Creation in action

As Father Stephen truly says, being Church is to share in  the divine life, and this means sharing in the life of the Holy Trinity.   " The three persons of the Holy Trinity constitute the eternal Church."  We all know that God is eternal and that eternal life is sharing in the life of God.   We also know that the Holy Trinity  has no birthday.

However, the second person of the Holy Trinity has!   We celebrate the Annunciation when God became man in the womb of the Virgin so that we can share the tri-une divine life, "become God".  Thus, the Holy Spirit worked in synergy with the humble obedience of the Virgin Mary, and Jesus was born.  There is nothing wrong to say that the Church was born when God became man, because, without the Incarnation, the Holy Trinity would never have constituted the eternal Church.  

However, when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles is the traditional birthday of the Church.   The Holy Spirit and the Christian community working in synergy brings about the Church.  Without the Holy Spirit there would be no baptism, no Eucharist, no Church; so it could be said that Pentecost brought about the Church.

As Father Stephen tells us, eternal life is not merely the restoration or renewal of this world: it is a new reality.

   Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor. 5:17)
This “new” does not mean “getting a fresh start.” It means something that did not exist before. It is not a repair of the old, but the creation of a new – and this new is “according to the image of Him who created him.        

Notice St Paul's present tense.  All things are new now and we are a new creation.  Jesus is Lord  of the world by means of his death and resurrection.

  What was new in Paris during the Nazi occupation?   Well, Mother Maria Skobtsova was new.   The divine Love of the holy Trinity in which she shared, that completely eternal, completely new love of God that she poured out to the people, that became embedded in their history, that is new.  There were many more who suffered and died under Hitler or under Stalin.  It wasn't that they were heroes, heroism is as old as humanity, but that the love that they were imparting was that of God himself.

Let us explore as deeply as possible our faith, but never let us go so deeply below the surface that we ignore what is going on in plain light of day

June 8th: Feast of the Sacred Heart

I know that many will look on the title of this article and will exclaim, "How preposterous!"   It is well known that this is a purely western devotion: it oozes Roman Catholicism!   How can a devotion so western, so post-schism, be where East and West meet?   I am not suggesting that, one day, some time in the future, this devotion may become a meeting place.   Nor am I saying that, for it to to become an expression of unity, the Orthodox have to adopt the devotion.   I am saying that East and West unite in this devotion, without either side having to do anything: it manifests a unity that already exists.   It is a unity at a very profound level; though, unfortunately, its discovery is not enough to provide answers to all our differences, nor does it herald an   immediate union between East and West.
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