"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

Saturday 30 June 2012


The Cornerstone #14 - Sacred Eastern Architecture by AirMaria

Just before I returned to England from Peru, I attended a talk given by an Italian priest from Rome who belongs to a movement that is pushing the declaration of a new dogma of Mary, Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix.   In conversation with him after his talk, one pious lady asked him when this dogma will be proclaimed.   He answered, "Not with the present Pope, he says that there is only one mediator between God and Man, Jesus Christ;" and I thought, "Thank God for that!!"

Yet, in a way, this doctrine is not as bad as it sounds.   If it can be expressed without the words "co-redemptix" and "mediatrix" which verbally contradict scripture and can lead to confusion,  it is an attempt to say something important.

When Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his humanity was united by the Holy Spirit to the whole human race, past, present and to come.   Without this very real union, he could not have borne our sufferings and our sins.   It is an essential dimension of the incarnation: his identity as the Christ is constituted by his relationship to the Father and his relationship with the whole of humanity.   

Hence, with her "Behold the handmaid of the Lord!  May it be done to me according to your will," the Holy Spirit came into Mary's womb to form the foetus and, at the same time, went out to all humanity, throughout time and space, to unite us all to him.   Of course, only those who responded to the Spirit with faith would share in the divine life of Jesus by participating in his death and resurrection; but it all began with her consent and the coming down of the Spirit.   Through her consent, the divine and human natures became one in Christ, and through the same consent, we receive the Spirit that makes our participation in Christ's death and resurrection possible.  

 The first descent of the Holy Spirit brought about Christ's contact with us.   We would need another descent of the Holy Spirit after the Ascension to bring about our contact with him in heaven and thus to bring about the Church.

But the seeds of the Church were already sown in the womb of the Virgin Mary with the incarnation, and she became, by that fact, our Mother.  The basis for our life in the Spirit is what happened in her womb when she consented to God's call.

The best expression of Mary's present role that springs from the Annunciation is this: that just as Jesus Christ in the Spirit is head of the Church and hence is our relationship with the Father, so Mary, in the same Spirit, is the personification of the Church in our/its relationship to Jesus.  I think we should avoid the use of words like co-redemptrix and mediatrix.   Only Jesus is God and a human being in one divine person, which is the very essence of  Christian mediatorship.

There is another reason why I think it wrong to make a dogma.   The whole idea that making such a dogma gives glory to God or to Our Lady is the product of a legalistic image of the Church which seems to see honour in legalistic folmulae for their own sake.   If Mary's position is properly expressed in the liturgical texts, this is where such a formula can give glory to God because it is within the context of the Church's prayer.   To make it a dogma without need is a waste of time, as well as a further and unnecessary  obstacle to Christian unity


An Orthodox View of Papal Primacy Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America ^ | 2000 | Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis Posted on Saturday, January 14, 2006 10:11:35 PM by Kolokotronis

 The decision to study the primacy of the bishop of Rome in the universal Church of Christ indicates that the Orthodox-Roman Catholic consultation is moving towards the centre of the issues that have separated our respective communions. 

In this process, our deliberations must take seriously into account the theological statements of the bilateral dialogues between Roman Catholics and Anglicans, Lutherans and others. It must also take into consideration the reflection of Roman Catholic theologians who are seeking to reform - but not to reject - the primacy of the Roman church.

[1] Orthodox-Roman theological reflection of the primacy of the Roman church in the universal Church of Christ must proceed, however, from the theological convergence that we have reached, based on the doctrine of the Trinity and the eucharist, concerning the nature of the Church as koinonia.[2] This will help us to transcend, not ignore, some divisive and inconclusive references to historical events.[3] In my view, the primacy of the bishop of Rome thus needs to be debated, reinterpreted, and justified from the developing ecclesiology of communion; this view of the Church is becoming the meeting point of our respective ecclesiologies.

[4] The ecumenical discussions It has become increasingly apparent in ecumenical circles that many non-Roman theologians and churches are actually coming to regard some exercising of primacy by the Roman see as "normal", "desirable", ..useful", or (to some degree) "required". There is, however, a considerable difference between the official Roman Catholic view of primacy and the type of primacy that non-Roman theologians, churches and communions would be ready to accept for the well-being of the Church!

[5] In the bilateral dialogues of Roman Catholics with Anglicans, Lutherans and Reformed, the primacy of the bishop of Rome is discussed in the context of communion ecclesiology. The eucharist is seen * First printed in the Greek Orthodox Theological Review vol. 32, no. 2, 1987. as the effectual sign of koinonia, episkope as serving the koinonia, and primacy properly understood and exercised as a visible and possibly necessary link between all those exercising episkope within the koinonia. 

The local church (a diocese) manifests the fullness of the Church. The communion of faith, love and order of all local churches reveals the unity of God's Church that subsists in fullness in each local church.[6] The communion of the local churches, attributed to bishops of prominent sees, views the function of overseer of their regions as one of the ways of maintaining the faithfulness and the unity of the local churches to Christ's gospel.[7] Partly as a result of this development, the see of Rome, whose prominence was associated with the deaths of Peter and Paul, became the principle centre in matters concerning the universal Church.

[8] The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) statement of Venice (1976) states that the ministry of the bishop of Rome among his brother bishops was "interpreted" as Christ's will for his Church; its Importance was compared "by analogy" to the position of Peter among the apostles.

[9] Classic Roman Catholic tradition maintained that the universal primacy of the bishop of Rome was divinely instituted by Jesus Christ. This was derived from the Petrine texts, and from the gospel accounts of Matthew (16:17), Luke (22:32)and John (21:15-17) according to the Roman tradition, they all refer not simply to the historical Peter, but to his successors to the end of time.

[10] Today, scriptural scholars of all traditions agree that we can discern in the New Testament an early tradition which attributes a special position to Peter among Christ's twelve apostles. The Church built its identity on them as witnesses, and responsibility for pastoral leadership was not restricted to Peter.[11] In Matthew 16:19, Peter is explicitly commissioned to "bind and loose"; later, in Matthew 18:18, Christ directly promises all the disciples that they will do the same. Similarly, the foundation upon which the Church is built is related to Peter in Matthew 16:16, and to the whole apostolic body elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Eph. 2:10).It is thus possible to conclude that, although the distinctive features of Peter's ministry are stressed, his ministry is that of an apostle and does not distinguish him from the ministry of the other apostles. In addition, the New Testament does not contain an explicit record of the transmission of Peter's leadership, nor is the transmission of apostolic authority in general very clear. As a result, the Petrine texts of the New Testament have been subjected to differing interpretations from the time of the Church Fathers on. 

Many theologians regard Roman "primacy" as having developed gradually in the West due to the convergence of a number of factors, e.g., the dignity of Rome as the only apostolic Church in the West; the tradition that both Peter and Paul had been martyred there; Rome's long history as a capital of the Roman empire; and its continuing position as the chief centre of commerce and communication.[12] This view, however, does not necessarily consider the primacy of the bishop of Rome as contrary to the New Testament. It is possible to accept the primacy of Rome in a qualified way as part of God's purpose regarding the Church's unity and catholicity even while admitting that New Testament texts offer no sufficient basis for it

.[13] Whether or not Peter's role can be transmitted in its totality, it would not exclude the analogical continuation of his ministry of unity, guided by the Spirit, among those who continue the apostolic mission. This "Petrine function" is necessary for the unity and catholicity of the Church. It may be executed by the pope, as Vatican I suggests, in consultation with but not independently from the bishops of God's Church. 

For Roman Catholics, the relationship of the bishop of Rome with the ecumenical synods is not clearly defined, as Avery Dulles points out: Vatican I, which placed supreme authority in the pope, left some uncertainty regarding the relations between the papacy, the universal episcopate, and ecumenical synods (which are not necessarily mere meetings of bishops). Since this uncertainty was not fully cleared up by Vatican II. the question of the supreme directive power in the Church still requires further discussion within the Roman Catholic communion.

[14] Lumen Gentium located the ministry of both the pope and the episcopal college within the one people of God; its statements on the local church's full ecclesial reality lead us to believe that Vatican II opted for an ecclesiology of communion in defining the nature of the Church. The real theological problem lies in specifying the exact relationship between the episcopal college and the pope, who can act Without juridical dependence on the college of which he is the head or on the communion of the local churches whose unity and truth he safeguards by being the central member of it.

[15] Karl Rahner proposed that there can only be one organ possessing supreme potestas in the universal Church: the universal episcopal college with the bishop of Rome as its head. The episcopal college can only exercise its supreme potestas in union with its head: neither can the pope ever exercise supreme potestas in the universal Church except as head of the episcopal college (there are 110 juridical limitations on the exercise of this primatial power and no juridical response from the decisions of the legitimate pope ).

[16] It is a truism that Vatican II, through its doctrine of episcopal collegiality, placed the primacy of the bishop of Rome in a new and much needed conciliar interpretative framework, but it simultaneously maintained (without synthesizing) the supreme and, to a certain degree, uncontrollable authority that Vatican I had attributed to the bishop of Rome. [17] The ambiguity of this theological advance of Vatican II led the ARCIC participants to note: "Communion with the bishop of Rome does not imply submission to an authority which would stifle the distinctive features of the local churches. The purpose of the episcopal function of the bishop of Rome is to promote Christian fellowship in faithfulness to the teaching of the apostles."

[18] The critical question here is whether this kind of ministry has been truly exercised by the bishop of Rome in a consistent manner that justifies its claims of importance. The ARCIC statement NOTES:

The theological interpretation of this primacy and the administrative structures through which it has been exercised have varied considerably through the centuries. Neither theory nor practice, however, has ever fully reflected these ideals. Sometimes functions assumed by the see of Rome were not necessarily linked to the primacy. Sometimes the conduct of the occupants of this see has been unworthy of his office. Sometimes the image of this office has been obscured by interpretations placed upon it, and sometimes external pressures have made its proper exercise almost impossible.[19] 
I wonder whether, in moments of divisive theological or ecclesiastical quarrels, it would be possible for the bishop of Rome to exercise his primacy with the approval of all Christians in order to safeguard the unity, the truth and the catholicity of Christ's Church. By the same token, it is difficult to justify ecclesiologically the juridical independence of the bishop of Rome from the college of bishops of which he is head. Does this juridical independence not lead to authoritarian abuses of the pope's ecclesiastical power if and when he chooses? What administrative structure is necessary for the proper function of the primacy in the life of the Church? More significantly, what are the ecumenically accepted rights (of diakonia) and limits (of authority) of the bishop of Rome within a Communion of local churches who have been judged to be fully catholic? One of the most effective and normative means which the Church has for resolving the conflicts and debates which endanger its unity or threaten to distort itsgospel is to appeal to the Tradition embodied in scripture, conciliar creeds, canons and patristic writings. Bishops in such situations have a special responsibility to safeguard the unity and the truth of the Church: it is their collective as well as individual responsibility to defend and interpret the apostolic faith in unity with all God's people.[20] It is possible, however, for the bishops to be intolerant, fallible in judgment, and distorting of the truth. But since Christ will never desert his Church, we remain confident that ultimately the Holy Spirit will lead Christ's Church to all truths and unity.[21] By the grace of the Holy Spirit the Church is infallible when it meets in synods to clarify the Church's understanding of the central truths of salvation once these synods have been recognized by the people of God as true and catholic expressions of the apostolic faith. [22] In such a context the universal primacy of the bishop of Rome would have him be the president as well as the spokesman of the Church and, in times of need, he would be the Church's unitary voice, reflecting and expressing its conscience. "A primate exercises his ministry not in isolation but in collegial association with his brother bishops."[23] Thus primacy fulfills its purpose by helping the churches to listen to one another, to grow in love and unity, and to strive together towards the fullness of Christian life and witness; it respects and promotes Christian freedom and spontaneity; it does not seek uniformity where diversity is legitimate, or centralized administration to the detriment of the local churches.[24] As for the Roman claim that the pope possesses universal immediate jurisdiction over the life of the local churches (the limits of which are not clearly specified), many Christians fear that this jurisdiction may be subject to an illegitimate and uncontrolled use.

[25] The ARCIC statement of Windsor defines jurisdiction as "the authority of power (potestas) necessary for the exercise of an office"[26] and it proceeds to accept the "universal immediate jurisdiction" of the bishop of Rome as inherent to his office due to his call to serve the unity of the koinonia "as whole and in each of its parts".

[27] This "universal immediate jurisdiction" should be exercised, however, not in isolation, but in collegial association with his brother bishops, who are equally concerned for the unity and truth of the universal Church (the result of their office and not of their association with the bishop of Rome). Yet the bishop of Rome, the Windsor statement declares, has the right in special cases to intervene in the affairs of a diocese and to receive appeals from the decision of a diocesan bishop. It is because the universal primate, in collegial association with his fellow bishops, has the task of safeguarding the faith and the unity of the universal Church that the diocesan bishop is subject to his authority.[28] However this kind of authority, although it is defined not as autocratic power over the Church, but as a service in and to the Church, which is a communion in faith and charity of local churches, needs in its practical application to be safeguarded against any abuses which may lead to suppression of theological and liturgical traditions of which the bishop of Rome does not approve. 

The Orthodox position

 What is the Orthodox view on the bishop of Rome's primacy, especially as reinterpreted by Roman Catholicism in its dialogue with other Western Christian churches? One may rejoice that Western Christians have begun to recover his importance for the unity of Western Christendom, but from an Orthodox perspective it is imperative to study the primacy of Rome in the context of the primacies of the patriarchs of the East and their role in the universal Church .[29] It would be impossible for us to reach any convergence on the significance of the bishop of Rome if our consultation were to begin with a comparison of classic Roman Catholic and Orthodox views of the papacy. Our common reflection on this issue must be situated in the common ecclesiology of communion that our respective churches have begun to share, especially after Vatican II.

[30] In 1974 our consultation stated: "The Church is the communion of believers living in Jesus Christ with the Father. It has its origins and prototype in the Trinity in which there is both distinction of persons and unity based on love, not subordination."[31] It also affirmed that the eucharistic celebration "both proclaims the most profound realization of the Church and realizes what it proclaims in the measure that the community opens itself to the Spirit".[32] This kind of ecclesiology leads to an affirmation of the full catholicity of the local church ‑ provided it lives by the Spirit of God which makes it the living body of Christ in communion of love with other local churches that share the same faith and life pattern. Within the unity of the local churches, "a real hierarchy of churches was recognized in response to the demands of the mission of the Church"[33] without, however, the fundamental equality of all churches being destroyed. How should we understand the churches as having a hierarchy if they are fundamentally and irreversibly equal to each other as a result of God's full presence in them? What is the qualitative theological difference between a local church which exercises primacy and another local one over which this primacy is exercised? If a local church is fully catholic, how is it enriched by its relation with a primatial church? 

In 1974, the Roman Catholic members of this consultation vindicated the primacy of the bishop of Rome (as defined by Vatican 1) with no reference to the advances of the Second Vatican Council through which a more communitarian image of the papacy could be advanced.[34] Although the institution of primacy (regional or universal) from an Orthodox perspective is taken for granted by the very fact of its existence, I will agree with Father Alexander Schmemann, who noted that we badly need the clarification of the nature and function of all the primacies, and especially the very concept of primacy.[35] It is imperative that Orthodox ecumenical witness develop an ecclesiologically sound interpretation of primacy. If primacy is defined as a form of power, then we encounter the question of whether in the Orthodox church there is a power superior to that of a bishop, i.e., a power over the bishop, and hence the church of which he is head. Theologically and ecclesiologically the answer must be an unconditional no: there is no power over the bishop and his church. In the canonical and historical life of the Church, however, such supreme power not only exists but is conceived as the foundation of the Church; it is the basis of its canonical system. According to Father Schmemann, this reflects the alienation of canonical tradition from ecclesiology and its reduction to canon law in the context of which the life of the Church came to be expressed in juridical terms.

[36] Our theological statement on the nature of the Church (1974) and the Munich statement of the international Orthodox-Roman Catholic dialogue have indirectly rejected the idea of a universal ecclesiology in which the Church is the sum of all local churches, which all together constitute the body of Christ. This kind of ecclesiology means that each local church is only a part, a member of the universal Church that participates in the Church only through belonging to the whole.[37] Thus, if the Church is a universal organism, it must have as its head a universal bishop as the focus of its unity and as the organ of supreme power. Consequently, the model of ecclesiology makes imperative the necessity of universal primacy as divinely instituted for the essential being of the Church. This is the kind of ecclesiology which, together with other historical causes, gave birth to the image of papacy defined by Vatican I in 1870. Eucharistic ecclesiology affirms the catholicity of the local church, and allows no room for the categories of "parts" or "whole". It is the very essence of this ecclesiology that the universal Church subsists in toto in the local church.[38] This kind of ecclesiology excludes the idea of primacy, understood as power over the local church and its bishop. The local churches, however, are not self-sufficient monads but are united with each other, not in terms of "parts" and "whole", but with regard to their identity of order, faith and gifts of the Holy Spirit which make each one and all of them together the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Trinitarian ecclesiology also develops the insight that there is one Church just as there is one nature in God; the best way to express the oneness of the Church, however, is the communion of the many local churches. It is very important, on the other hand, to emphasize that the multiplicity of the Church should not be subjected to its oneness; in eucharistic and Trinitarian ecclesiology, communion and oneness coincide and, therefore, the multiplicity of the Church is constitutive of its oneness. In the life of the local church this means that the "one", the bishop, cannot exist without the "many", the community, and the many cannot exist without the one. This implies that all pyramidal notions disappear in ecclesiology: the "one" and the "many" coexist as two aspects of the same being. There is no ministry, which does not need the other ministries. On the universal level this means that the Church manifests its oneness through a ministry which comprises simultaneously a primus and the synod of which he is a primus. From this perspective, it is thus possible to accept the universal primacy of a bishop, which cannot, however, be conceived apart from the synod or over it.[39] The communion of local churches, ontologically identical in faith, order and charisms of the Holy Spirit, bear witness to their unity when they gather themselves together through their bishops, in synods. The synod is not "power" in the juridical sense of the word, for there can exist no power over the Church, the Body of Christ. The synod is, rather, a witness to the identity of all churches as the Church of God in faith, life and "agape". If in his own church the bishop is priest, teacher and pastor, the divinely appointed witness and keeper of the Catholic faith, it is through the agreement of all bishops, as revealed in the synod that all churches both manifest and maintain the ontological unity of tradition.[40] As a result of church life and mission in the context of history, moreover, in times of discord the synod becomes the common voice, the common testimony of the ontological unity of several (or all) churches. For Orthodoxy the truth that a synod affirms thus makes the synod an authority in the life of the Church; the basis of its primacy is derived from this as binding for the historical life of God's Church. The primacy of the synod cannot, however, be conceived as power over the local church but rather as a charismatic instrument through which the churches of God witness and express their ontological unity in the truth of the gospel. The primacy of the synod, through which the local churches witness and express their unity in the salvific truths of Christ, does not exclude the primacy of the first bishop or the metropolitan. In regional synods, in which all the bishops of the area must participate, the primacy of the first bishop must be acknowledged and respected as the famous 34 Apostolic Canon states: "The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent... but neither let him (who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity..." From this canon, it is thus evident that the regional primacy can be conceived not as power or jurisdiction but only as an expression of the unity and unanimity of all the bishops, and consequently of all the churches, of an area. We must understand the universal primacy of the Roman Church similarly. Based on Christian Tradition, it is possible to affirm the validity of the church of Rome's claims of universal primacy. Orthodox theology, however, objects to the identification of this primacy as "supreme power" transforming Rome into the principium radix et origio of the unity of the Church and of the Church itself.[41] The Church from the first days of its existence undeniably possessed an ecumenical centre of unity and agreement. In the apostolic and Judaeo-Christian period this centre was first the church of Jerusalem and later the church of Rome ‑ "presiding in agape" according to St Ignatios of Antioch.[42] For the Orthodox, the essence and the purpose of this primacy is to express and preserve the unity of the Church in faith and life; to express and preserve the unanimity of all churches; to keep them from isolating themselves into ecclesiastical provincialism, losing the catholicity, separating themselves from the unity of life. It means ultimately to assume the care, the sollicitudo of the churches so that each one of them can abide in that fullness which is always the whole of the Catholic tradition and not any one "part" of it. The idea of primacy thus excludes the idea of jurisdiction but implies that of an "order" of Church which does not subordinate one church to another, but which makes it possible for all churches to live together this life of all in each and of each in all.[43] In summary, Orthodoxy does not reject Roman primacy as such, but simply a particular way of understanding that primacy. Within a reintegrated Christendom the bishop of Rome will be considered primus inter pares serving the unity of God's Church in love. He cannot be accepted as set up over the Church as a ruler whose diakonia is conceived through legalistic categories of power of jurisdiction. His authority must be understood, not according to standards of earthly authority and domination, but according to terms of loving ministry and humble service (Matt. 20:25).[44] 

Before the schism, in times of ecclesiastical discord and theological controversies, appeals for peaceful resolutions and mediation were made to the pope from all parts of the Christian world. For instance, in the course of the iconoclast controversy, St Theodore the Studite (759-829) urged the emperor to consult the pope: "If there is anything in the patriarch's reply about which you feel doubt or disbelief... you may ask the chief elder in Rome for clarification, as has been the practice from the beginning according to inherited tradition."[45] From an Orthodox perspective, however, it is important to emphasize that these appeals to the bishop of Rome are not to be understood in juridical terms. The case was not closed when Rome had spoken, and the Byzantines felt free on occasion to reject a Roman ruling.[46] In a reintegrated Christendom, when the pope takes his place once more as primus inter pares within the Orthodox Catholic communion, the bishop of Rome will have the initiative to summon a synod of the whole Church. The bishop of Rome will, of course, preside over such a synod and his office may coordinate the life and the witness of the Orthodox Catholic church and in times of need be its spokesman.

 The role of acting as the voice of the Church is not, however, to be restricted to any hierarchical order within the Church, still less to a single see. In principle, any bishop, priest or layman may be called by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the true faith.


 [1] Anglican‑Roman Catholic International Commission, The Final Report, London, SPCK, 1982; hereafter referred to as The ARCIC Statement; Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue, V.‑ Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, Paul C. Empie and T. Austin Murphy, eds., Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1974; Patrick Granfield, The Papacy in Transition, Garden City, NY, Doubleday, 1980; Hans Kung The Church, New York, Sheed & Ward, 1968, pp.444‑48; Hans Kung ed., Papal Ministry in the Church: Concilium 64, New York, Herder & Herder, 1971; Karl‑Heinz Ohlig, Why We Need the Pope: The Necessity and Limits of Papal Primacy, St. Meinrad, Abbey Press, 1975; J. Meyendorff et al. eds., The Primacy of Peter in the Orthodox Church, London, Faith Press, 1963; J.M.R. Tillard, The Bishop of Rome, Wilmington, DE, M. Glazier, 1983; Raymond Brown et al. eds, Peter in the New Testament: A Collaborative Assessment by Protestant and Roman Catholic Scholars, Minneapolis, NY, Augsburg, 1973. 

[2] It is the basic assumption of this paper that no progress can be accomplished in our discussions of the Roman claims of primacy of the bishop of Rome in the universal Church unless it is seen as an instrinsic ecclesiological issue which needs to be refuted or justified on theological rather than on historical grounds. 

[3] This view is based upon the ecumenical findings of biblical scholars that "the papacy in its developed form cannot be read back into the New Testament", Brown, Peter in the New Testament, p.8. It is therefore anachronistic to apply terms such as "pope" or "primacy" to the place, which Peter held within the New Testament. From an historical perspective, there is no conclusive documentary evidence from the first century or the early decades of the second of the exercise of, or even the claim to, a primacy of the Roman bishop or to a connection with Peter, although documents from this period accord the church at Rome some kind of pre‑eminence. However, by the time of Pope Leo I (440‑61), the bishops of Rome "have developed a self‑image which represents them as the heirs and successors and, in a sense, the continuing embodiment of Peter", but "this view is tolerated in the Christian East when it is in the interest of the East to do so, otherwise it tends to be rejected in practice". See the article of Arthur Carl Peipkorn, "The Roman Primacy in the Patristic Era: IL from Nicaea to Leo the Great", in Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue, V : Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, p.97. See also G. Larentzakis, "I ekklisia Romis kai o episkopos avtis", Thessaloniki, 1983; Megas Pharamos, "To papikon proteion, Dogmatiki Theorisis, eks epopseos Orthodoxou," Dogmatika kai ithika, Athens, 1983, pp.149‑91; Emilianos Timiadis, "Tu Es Petrus: An Orthodox Approach", in Byzantine and Patristic Review, vol. 2, 1983, pp.5‑26; Vlassios Pheidas, "I Thesis tou protou ton episkopon episkopon eis tin xoinonian ton topikon ekklision," in Eglise locale et Eglise universelle, Chambesy, Centre Orthodoxe du Patriarcat oecoumenique, 1981, pp.151‑75. 

[4] Olivier Clement. "Orthodox Ecclesiology as an Ecclesiology of Communion", in One in Christ, vol. 6, 1970, pp. 10 1‑22; John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, Crestwood, NY, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985; J. Hamer, The Church is a Communion, London, New York, Geoffrey Chapman, 1964; Michael A. Fahey, "Ecclesial Commmunity as a Communion", in The Jurist, vol. 36, 1976, pp.4‑23; Robert Kress, "The Church as Communion: Trinity and Incarnation as the Foundation of Ecclesiology", ibid. pp. 127‑57. [5] Tillard, The Bishop of Rome p. 10. [6] John D. Zizioulas, "The Local Church in a Eucharistic Perspective: An Orthodox Contribution", in In Each Place: Towards a Fellowship of Local Churches Truly United, Geneva, WCC, 1977, pp.50‑61; idem, "The Eucharistic Community and the Catholicity of the Church", in The New Man: An Orthodox and Reformed Dialogue, J. Meyendorff and J. McLelland, eds, New Brunswick, NJ, Agora Books, 1973, pp. 103‑3 1; E. Lanne, "The Local Church: Its Catholicity and Apostolicity", in One in Christ, vol. 6, 1970, pp. 288‑313; H. de Lubac, Les Eglises particulieries dons I'Eglise universelle, Paris, Aubier Montaigne, 197 1; S.J. Killian, "The Meaning and Nature of the Local Church", in CTSA Proceedings, vol. 35, 1980, pp.244‑55; P. Granfield, "The Local Church as a Center of Communication and Control", in CTSA Proceedings, vol. 35, 1980, pp.256‑63; J. Komonchak, "The Church Universal as the Communion of Churches", in Where Does the Church Stand?: Concilium 146, G. Alberigo and G. Gutierrez eds, New York, Seabury, 198 1, pp.30‑35. For the biblical and patristic documentation of the theology of the local church see: Raymond E. Brown, "New Testament Background for the Concept of Local Church", in CTSA Proceedings vol. 36, 198 1, pp. 1‑ 14; Michael Fahey, "Ecclesiae Sorores Ac Fratres: Sibling Communion in the Pre‑Nicene Christian Era", in CTSA Proceedings, vol. 36, 198 1, pp. 15‑38

 [7] Vlassios Pheidas, "'I Thesis", p.155

.[8] On the patristic development of the primacy of the bishop of Rome see: Gregorios Larentzakis, Ekklisia Romis; James F. McCue, "The Roman Primacy in the Patristic Era: The Beginnings Through Nicea", in Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, pp. 44‑72; Piepkorn, "The Roman Primacy", pp.73‑97; Michael Miller, "The Divine Right of the Papacy in Recent Ecumenical Theology", Analecta Gregoriana, vol. 218, Rome, Universita Gregoriana Editrice, 1980; J. Meyendorff, "St. Peter in Byzantine Theology", in The Primacy of Peter, pp.7‑29. 

[9] The Venice Statement of ARCIC no. 12. 

[10] Denzinger‑Sch6nmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum, Freiburg, Herder, 1963, no. 3055; hereafter cited DS. 

[11] Brown, Peter; G. Kretschmar, "St. Peter's Place in the Apostolic Church", in The Ecumenical Review vol. 9, 1956‑57, pp.85‑90; R. Pesch, "The Position and Significance of Peter in the Church of the New Testament: A Survey of Current Research", in Papal Ministry in the Church: Concilium 64, Hans Kung, ed., New York, Herder & Herder, 1971, pp.21‑35; B. Rigauz, "St. Peter in Contemporary Exegesis", in Progress and Decline in the History of Church Renewal: Concilium 27, Roger Aubert, ed., New York, Paulist Press, 1967, pp. 147‑79; J. Blank, "The Person and Office of Peter in the New Testament", in Truth and Certainty: Concilium 83, Edward Schillebeeckx and Bas van lersel, eds, New York, Herder & Herder, 1973, pp.42‑55; 0. Cullman, Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr: A Historical and Theological Essay, Philadelphia, Westminster, 1962; C. Journet, The Primacy of Peter from the Protestant and from the Catholic Point of View, Westminster, MD, Newman, 1954; R. Schnackenburg, "The Petrine Office. Peter's Relationship to the Other Apostles", in Theology Digest, vol. 20, 1972, pp. 148‑52; Burgess, Joseph Anders, A History of the Exegesis of Matthew 16:17‑19 from 1781 to 1965, Dissertation, Basel 1966, Ann Arbor, MI, Edwards Brother, 1976; S. Agourides, "The Purpose of John 21", in Studies in the History and Text of the New Testament in Honor of Kenneth Willis Clark, Boyd L. Daniels and M. Jack Suggs, eds, Salt Lake City, Univ. of Utah Press, 1967, pp. 127‑32; Veselin Kesich, "The Problem of Peter's Primacy in the New Testament and the Early Christian Exegesis", in St. Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly, vol. 4, 1960, pp.35‑46; Nicolas Koulornzine, "Peter's Place in the Early Church", in The Primacy of Peter in the Orthodox Church, pp. 111‑34. 

[12] Avery Dulles, "Papal Authority in Roman Catholicism", in A Pope for All Christians: An Inquiry into the Role of Peter in the Modern Church, Peter J. MacCord, ed., New York, Paulist Press. p.53; Kilian McDonnell, "Papal Primacy: Development, Centralization, and Changing Styles", in Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, p.174.

 [13] The Windsor Statement of ARCIC no. 7. This view, however, has been repudiated by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 29 March 1982 in its comments on the Final Report of ARCIC. [14] "Papal Authority", p.55; Tillard, The Bishop of Rome, p.41.

 [15] This position can be found in Lumen Gentium no. 25: "... And this is, the infallibility which the Roman pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith and morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment... The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of bishops, when that body exercises the supreme magisterium with the successor of Peter..." 

[16] Commentary on Lumen Gentium nos. 18‑27; Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, H. Vorgrimler, ed., New York, Herder & Herder, 1967, 1, pp. 196‑218. 

[17] For the reactions of the Orthodox see: John Meyendorff, Orthodoxy and Catholicity, New York, Sheed & Ward, 1966, pp. 15‑165; idem, "Rome and Orthodoxy: Authority or Truth?" in A Pope for All Christians, p.144. 

[18] ARCIC, Authority in the Church, 1, para. 3.12. 

[19] Ibid. For Lutheran reservations see: Joseph A. Burgess, "Luther and the Papacy: A Review of Some Basic Issues", in A Pope for All Christians, p.37. For an Orthodox criticism of papacy see: Megas Pharantos, To papikon proteon kai i Orthodoxos Ekklisia, Athens, 1983, pp.193‑217.

 [20] For an ecumenical evaluation and study of episkope see: Episkope and Episcopate in Ecumenical Perspective, Faith and Order Paper no. 102, Geneva, WCC, 1979. For an Orthodox view see: John Zizioulas, Enotis tis ekklisias en ti Theia efvharisita kai to episkopo kata tous treis protous aionas, Athens, 1965.

 [21] The ARCIC Statement of Venice no. 18. 

[22] For an ecumenical study of the councils see: "Councils and the Ecumenical Movement", in World Council Studies, no. 5, 1968; Peter Huizing and Knut Wolf, eds, The Ecumenical Council ‑ Its Significance in the Constitution of the Church: Concilium 167, New York, Seabury, 1983; Kallistos Ware, "The Ecumenical Councils and the Conscience of the Church", in Kanon: Jahrhuch der Gesellschaft fur das Recht der Ostkirchen, 1974, pp.217‑33. 

[23] The ARCIC Statement of Venice no. 2 1. [24] Ibid. 

[25] The ARCIC Statement of Venice no. 24d. It is important to note that Roman Catholicism relies primarily on Christian prophetic protest to compensate for the lack of juridical limitations on the exercise of papal primacy. For ecumenical purposes a more official acknowledgment of the moral limitations on the exercise of papal authority is needed. 

[26] No. 16. 

[27] Ibid. no. 18. 

[28] Ibid. no. 20. This unlimited papal primacy of jurisdiction is predicated, of course, only to a certainly legitimate pope. The emergency procedures which would have to be invoked in the case of an insane or heretical pope are not discussed in any official Catholic document. 

[29] Vlassios Pheidas, Proupotheseis diamorphoseos tou Thesmou tis Pentarchias, Athens, 1969. 

[30] For the evaluation of Vatican II's conciliar texts which favour an ecclesiology of communion see: Lanne, "The Local Church", pp.288‑312; de Lubac, Les Eglises particulieres pp.29‑56; Kilian, "The Meaning and Nature of the Local Church", pp.244‑55; H. Legrand, "The Revaluation of Local Churches: Some Theological Implications", in The Unifying Role of the Bishop: Concilium 71, Edward Schillebeeckx, ed., New York, Herder & Herder, 1972, pp.53‑54. J. Komonchak calls this kind of ecclesiology a Copernican revolution in ecclesiology and he states: "The Church is not universal in the sense of a transnational corporation which from a central office establishes branches in major cities around the world. The universal, catholic Church arises, if you will, from below, because in every local church the full reality of what is called 'the Church' is realized: the communion of believers in the holy things won for us by Christ. The Church universal comes to be out of the mutual reception and communion of the local church"; pp.58‑59 of his article: "Ministry and the Local Church", in CTSA Proceedings, vol. 36, 1981. 

[31] Edward J. Kilmartin, Toward Reunion: The Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, New York, Ramsey, NJ, Paulist Press, 1979, p.77. 

[32] Ibid., p.78. 

[33] Ibid. 

[34] Ibid., p.79. 

[35] "The Idea of Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology", in The Primacy of Peter, p.31. 

[36] Ibid., p.34. 

[37] This was done through the affirmation of the catholicity of the local church. For a Roman Catholic refutation of the universalistic ecclesiology see Komonchak, "The Church Universal", pp.30‑35. [38] Nicolas Afanassieff, "The Church Which Presides in Love", in The Primacv of Peter pp.57‑ 111; J. D. Zizioulas, "The Eucharistic Community and the Catholicity of the Church", in The New Man: An Orthodox and Reformed Dialogue, pp. 107‑31; idem, "The Local Church in a Eucharistic Perspective", pp.50‑61. 

[39] J. D. Zizioulas, "Christology, Pneumatology and Ecclesial Institutions", in Being as Communion. 

[40] Alexander Schmemann, "The Idea of Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology", p. 44; J. Zizioulas, "The Development of Conciliar Structures to the Time of the First Ecumenical Council", in World Council Studies, no. 5, 1968, pp.34‑51. 

[41]Schmemann, "The Idea of Primacy", p.48; Kallistos Ware, "Primacy, Collegiality and the People of God", in Orthodoxy: Life and Freedom: Essays in Honour of Archbishop lakovos, A.J. Philippou, ed., Oxford, Studion Publications, 1973, p.120. 

[42] 12 Pheidas, I Thesis; E. Timiadis, Tu es Petrus, pp. 12‑16. 

[43] Schmemann, "The Idea of Primacy", p.50; Roman Catholic theologians have digested the Orthodox position and beginning with J. Ratzinger, Karl Rahner and Heinrich Fries believe that there is one solution on this issue. Ratzinger, before his elevation to the present position, stated: "Rome must not require more of a primacy doctrine from the East than was formulated and experienced in the first millenium. In Phanar, on 25 July 1976, when Patriarch Athenegoras addressed the visiting pope as Peter's successor, the first in honour among us, and the presider over charity, this great church leader was expressing the essential content of the declarations of the primacy of the first millennium. And Rome cannot ask for more. Unification could occur if the East abandons its attack on the Western development of the second millenium as being heretical, and accepts the Catholic church as legitimate and orthodox in the form which it experienced in its own development. Conversely, unification could occur if the West recognized the Eastern Church as orthodox and legitimate in the form in which it has maintained itself"; see J. Ratzinger, "Die okumenishe Situation ‑ Orthodoxic, Katholizismus und Reformation", in Theologische Prinzipienlehre: Bausteine zur Fundamentaltheologie, Munich, E. Wewel, 1982, p.209. This makes the pope a patriarch of the West and instantly limits his claim of universal jurisdictional primacy over the universal Church. Orthodox theologians must reflect whether this view can be accepted within the boundaries of legitimate diversity and uniqueness characteristic of the Western Church.

 [44] Zizioulas, Being as Communion, p.223. Letters, 2, 86 (PG 99.1332A).

 [45] Letters, 2, 86 (PG 99.1332A)

.[46] Larentzakis, I Ekklisia Romis Copyright: 2000

source: OrthoCath (click)

From Vespers for the feast OF SS. PETER AND PAUL:

Peter, leader of the glorious Apostles and rock of the faith,
and Paul, divinely inspired orator and light of the holy Churches:
as you stand before the throne of God,
intercede with Christ on our behalf.

Paul, the spokesman of Christ and founder of His teachings,
who earlier had persecuted Jesus the Savior,
now you fill the first throne of the Apostles, O blessed one.
Thus you saw things that cannot be spoken,
and ascending to the third heaven you cried:
“Come with me, and be filled with good things!”

...A joyful feast dawns upon the earth today:
the memorial of Peter and Paul,
the wise leaders of the Apostles.
Let Rome rejoice and be glad with us!
Let us keep feast, O brethren, in songs and hymns!
Rejoice, Apostle Peter, true friend of Christ our God!
Rejoice, beloved Paul, herald of the faith and teacher of the universe!
You have boldness before him, O chosen pair;
pray unceasingly that our souls may be saved!

Tuesday 26 June 2012


I must apologise to the readers of this blog because I am going to be away at a theological conference until Thursday evening, which means I will not be giving a class on the Letter to the Hebrews to the novices.   However, I have for them - and for you - a lecture given by Dr Margaret Barker that they can listen to while I am away.   It is very, very interesting; and I would have published it here anyway, but with a youtube video by Dr Scott Hahn and a lecture by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware to complete the picture.   I shall add the other two items when I return.   All together they may well change attitudes to the Mass.   I cannot rate this talk too highly.   Putting it in my blog is the easiest way to give the students access to it.

                                                                          CLICK HERE

Monday 25 June 2012


Alexander Golitzin  

 I have been asked to contribute to this volume primarily, I suspect, in order to serve as the voice of the Christian East. While it is perhaps a little odd for a California boy, and coming thus from the uttermost West, to present himself as an "Oriental," I nonetheless welcome this opportunity to speak on behalf of an entire Christian universe of theological discourse which, up until recent centuries at least, took shape independently of the Western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) traditions, and, in particular, with no input whatsoever from the great Father of Western theology, Augustine of Hippo.

 It is, of course, St. Augustine's elaboration and defense of the double procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son which, long after the saint's death (his writings were not translated into Greek until the end of the thirteenth century), provoked heated controversy between medieval Greek and Latin theologians. No single issue between Christian East and West, including the debate over the nature of papal primacy, has led to such an outpouring of polemic as the Western filioque. Indeed, it continues to the present day. I have no particular wish to dive into this sea of ink, and have so far in my life happily avoided even wading on its shores. Few things so depress the spirit (and occlude the Spirit!) as this seemingly endless controversial literature which, beginning with the Carolingian divines of the late eighth century, now boasts a history of over 1200 years--with no end to it in sight. What I do want to do, however, is offer a very modest suggestion as to why, aside from the more abstruse realms of divine causation, such as the quarrel over one or two sources of origin in the Trinity, or over the more rarified heights of Augustine's analogy of the intellect (mens) for the mutual relations of the Three, Eastern Christians reacted so viscerally, almost instinctively, against the Spirit as proceeding from the Father and Son. 

To be sure, there were and are lots of other factors in play: the ancient linkage between the filioque and the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the Carolingian and Byzantine empires, or of papal primacy once the popes had committed themselves to the credal addition, or simply the very human reality of an underdog East asserting itself against the ever more massive material, intellectual, and institutional might of the West. 

None of these interests me, at least for the purposes of this essay. What does, though, is the very long, indeed unbroken tradition of Eastern Christian spirituality, and especially the great role played in it by the thought and practice of early Christian Syria, whose Jewish roots are well known and are lately coming under increasing scholarly investigation. 

One instance of this influence, only now beginning to be perceived, is that of the Cappadocian Fathers--Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa--whose own influence on Eastern pneumatology and triadology is universally admitted and standard fare in the manuals. 

This is a vast subject, so for the purposes of one necessarily brief essay allow me to focus on a single passage from the writings of the middle Cappadocian, Gregory Nazianzus, called "the Theologian" in the East out of gratitude for his enormously influential and successful Five Theological Orations, given in defense of Trinitarian doctrine in Constantinople just prior to the Ecumenical Council of 381. The passage in question comes about a third of the way through Gregory's fifth oration, "On the Spirit." He is struggling to explain the difference between the procession (ekporeusis) of the Spirit and the generation (gennesis) of the Son, in order to avoid the twin absurdities of the Son and Spirit as brothers, on the one hand, or the Father as "grandfather" on the other. This is, of course, the point where Augustine's analogies in De trinitate came into play: the Spirit as "love" and "gift" linking "Lover" (Father) and "Beloved" (the Son), or the analogy of the intellect, with will (Spirit) as flowing from memory (Father) and intelligence (Son). 

Gregory does something quite different and even a little shocking: What was Adam? A creature of God. What, then, was Eve? A fragment of the creature. And what was Seth? The begotten of both. Does it, then, seem to you that creature and fragment and begotten are the same thing? Of course not. But were not these persons consubstantial? Of course they were. He interjects the caution that his scriptural image is not intended to "attribute creation or fraction or any property of the body to the God-head," but then goes on to explain the meaning of all this. For is not the one an offspring, and the other a something else of the One? Did not Eve and Seth come from the one Adam? And were they both begotten by him? No ... yet the two were one and the same thing ... both were human beings. "Will you then," he addresses his opponents, "give up your contention against the Spirit, that He must be altogether begotten, or else cannot be consubstantial, or God?"[1] He has demonstrated, through the illustration of Eve's beginning, a mode of origin that is not begetting, but a "something else of the One." 

Gregory does not pursue this analogy beyond what I have quoted here, and as far as I know it appears in Greek patristic literature only this once. Perhaps this is why it has not been taken up and examined in detail by the scholarly literature, though I claim no encyclopedic knowledge of the latter. This neglect may be understandable, in that the mental picture which rises unbidden and unwelcome, yet inescapably, from Gregory's image is weird, to say the least, if not positively blasphemous--thus, doubtless, his caution against attributing "any property of the body to the Godhead." On the one hand, he has certainly come up with a very concrete mode of origin that is not begetting, but that very concreteness, on the other hand, cannot avoid giving rise to a certain theological queasiness. I am reminded of nothing so much as my first-grade primer featuring the adventures of Daddy and Mommy, Dick and Jane, and their dog Spot. True, Jane and Spot are missing from Gregory's picture, but the Trinity as nuclear family is otherwise quite complete, and even, we might say, in its limitation to only three ecologically a la mode as well: Adam (the Father), Eve (the Spirit), and their child, Seth (the Son). 

The now uneasy reader might also recall at this point Mormon teaching about Mr. and Mrs. God, though I seem to recall that the Mormons do not particularly identify the Spirit with Herself, Whom in any case they generally keep pretty much under wraps. 

St. Gregory is certainly not a Mormon, but he is, I submit, drawing here on ancient traditions which were especially lively in early Syriac-speaking Christianity and which continue to run--not so openly, but still very deeply--in the wider Christian world east of the Adriatic. These derive first of all from the simple, grammatical fact that spirit or breath, ruach, is a feminine noun in both Hebrew and Aramaic/Syriac. To this we may add, second, the Synoptic accounts of Christ's baptism at the Jordan and, third, St. Luke's narrative of the Lord's nativity, in particular the words of Gabriel addressed to the Virgin: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the Power of the Most High will overshadow [episkiasei] you; therefore the child to be born of you will be called holy, the Son of God" (Luke 1:35), words which are reflected indeed in the Niceno-Constantinopolitanum: "made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary." As Susan Harvey has recently pointed out with great thoroughness and theological restraint, the grammatical use of the feminine for the Spirit remains normative in Syriac Christian literature through the fourth century.

[2] The Gospel story of Christ's baptism and the resting of the Spirit upon Him appears to have been not only central to the earliest Syrian baptismal ordinals, but as well their primary source for the theology of baptism and the Christian life--to the exclusion, for example, of the Pauline notion of sharing in Christ's death (Rom. 6), which only later, sometime in the late fourth century, finds its way into the rite. Likewise, the feast of Epiphany in the East celebrates the baptism at the Jordan and continues to enjoy a more notable prestige (at least judging from the texts and hymns assigned to it) than Christmas, which only later, in imitation of the West, came to be commemorated on its own separate date (save in the case of the Armenians, who have never adopted the Western practice).

[3] To this list I would add the well-known matter of the Eastern epiklesis, itself a source of considerable medieval debate between Greek and Latin theologians over the moment of the eucharistic consecration, i.e., whether the latter takes place at the recitation of the dominical words, hoc est corpus meum, or at the conclusion of the prayer for the Spirit to "make this bread the body of Your Christ." The great Syriac poet and preacher, Jacob of Serug (+521), catches nearly all of these echoes in a few lines from his verse homily "On the Chariot that Ezekiel the Prophet Saw," commenting here on Ezek. 10:6-7 as an image of the eucharist: It is not the priest [typified by the prophet's "angel in white linen"] who is sent to sacrifice the Only[-Begotten], And lift Him up, Who is the sacrifice for sins, before His Father. Rather, the Holy Spirit comes down from the Father, And descending overshadows [sr] and dwells [skn] within the bread and makes it the body. And it is He Who makes it kindled pearls of flame, And Who will clothe those who are betrothed to Him with riches.[4] True, Jacob is no longer saying "she" for the Spirit, but nearly everything else--the baptismal narratives and theology, together with Luke 1:35's echo of Exodus 40:34, and the note of transfiguration in the clothing "with riches"--is fully present and accounted for in this image of the eucharistic consecration. 

St. Gregory's use of Adam, Eve, and Seth--the "nuclear family"-has even more specific echoes in earlier and even contemporary fourth-century literature. The Holy Spirit as "Mother" of Christ appears, for example, in the fragments we possess of the Semitic Gospel to the Hebrews,[5] while the "family" shows up complete in the strange and beautiful "Hymn of the Pearl," thought by an earlier generation of scholars to be wholly Gnostic in character, but recognized more recently as an essentially Semitic-Christian composition.

[6] Placed in the mouth of the Apostle in the mid-third-century Acts of Thomas, a work advocating typically fierce--even heretically encratite (though not Gnostic)--Syrian asceticism, the "Hymn" describes the descent and return of the soul. It concludes with the speaker's being clothed with the "robe of light," an ancient Jewish and Christian motif (and recall Jacob just above),[7] which in context is clearly intended to signify both transfiguration and the mystical ascent to the heavenly throne, two more themes with roots in ancient Jewish literature and Eastern Christian spiritual writings.[8] What particularly catches my eye for our purposes here are a few lines from midway through the poem. The speaker tells of a letter sent to him in "Egypt" (the fallen world) from his "parents" in heaven, and then quotes it: From thy Father, the king of kings, And thy Mother, the mistress of the East, And from thy brother, our other Son, To thee, our son in Egypt, greeting! Awake, and rise up from sleep![9] Here we have the by now familiar Trinitarian formula: the Father, the Mother (the Holy Spirit, as appears elsewhere in the Acts of Thomas), and the Son, Christ our "brother." Neither is this formula a one-time-only business, nor is it confined to a text of an admittedly still debated nature and provenance.

 We find exactly the same formulation in the enormously influential early monastic homilies and correspondence which have come down to us under the name of St. Macarius the Great of Egypt, but which were in fact the product of an unknown Syro-Mesopotamian ascetic. In the well-known collection of The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, "Macarius" links the plague of darkness in Egypt with the fall of Adam: The veil of darkness came upon his [Adam's] soul. And from his time until the last Adam, our Lord, man did not see the true heavenly Father and the good and kind Mother, the grace of the Spirit, and the sweet and desired Brother, the Lord, and the friends and relatives, the holy angels, with whom he [Adam] had been playing and rejoicing.[10] "Macarius" was not writing in Syriac, but in Greek. He also appears to have directly influenced the third great Cappadocian, Gregory of Nyssa, in at least one of the latter's ascetical and mystical works. Together with one of Gregory Nazianzus's disciples, Evagrius of Pontus (+399), "Macarius" indeed ranks as one of the two most important fourth-century monastic sources for later Eastern Christian spirituality and mysticism. He was not, in short and in spite of the controversy (both ancient and modern) attaching to his works, a marginal character, but was right in the midst of those figures and currents that would determine the later shape of Christian orthodoxy. 

Gilles Quispel and Columba Stewart have clearly demonstrated "Macarius's" other debts as well, notably to the originally Jewish-based traditions of Christian Syro-Mesopotamia, and in fact to the Syriac language itself.[11] The extent to which these same influences may have been at work in the great Cappadocians is, as I noted briefly above, only just beginning to come to light. 

If my much abbreviated sampling from the early and fourth-century Syrian East has successfully demonstrated that Gregory Nazianzus was not pulling his Adam-Eve-Seth analogy out of thin air, but was rather reflecting ancient formulations of the Christian Trinity current in the surrounding region, we are still left with a couple of obvious questions. First, what if anything does this archaic and to the modern Christian ear unquestionably bizarre image have to do with contemporary theological reflection on the Trinity? Second, and more specifically, what does it have to do with the issue I raised at the beginning of this little essay, the almost equally ancient but still very lively question of the filioque and the matter of the ecumenical dialogue between Christian East and West? I think it says quite a lot, not all of which I have time to expand on here. Suffice it to say that St. Gregory's recourse to the first human family as an illustration of the Trinity is, first of all, explicitly related to the question of the Spirit's origin, and to the difference between the latter and the generation of the Son--Eve from the side of Adam as opposed to the begetting of Seth. This is, indeed, quite as far as Gregory wants to take this or any other analogy.[12] The Spirit's procession is different from the Son's begetting, both are from the Father, and both processes are finally hidden and ineffable: You tell me what is the unbegottenness of the Father, and I will explain the physiology of the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit, and we shall both of us be stricken with madness for prying into the mystery of God. And who are we to do these things, we who cannot even see what lies at our feet ... much less enter into the depths of God?

[13] These were the conclusions and the attitude which we find enshrined in the original form of the Niceno-Constantinopolitanum, which goes no further than a simple paraphrase of John 15:26. The fact, however, that Western Christians have taken the matter further, beginning chiefly (though not exclusively) with Augustine, and have raised--legitimately, I think--the question of the Second Person's part in the Spirit's origin, brings us to what I, and several other Orthodox theologians before me, feel that the ancient Semitic-Christian tradition sketched above and presupposed by Gregory can contribute to the discussion. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is the so-far-unaddressed question of the Spirit's role in the generation of the Son. What the old image of the Trinity as "family" reveals, together with the Synoptic baptismal narratives and Luke's account of the Incarnation, is a different Trinitarian taxis or model than the one we are all used to: not Father-Son-Spirit, but Father-Spirit-Son, or, and to borrow a phrase from Leonardo Boff, precisely an implied spirituque.

[14] It is this other taxis which I take to be effectively presupposed both by the Eastern epicleseis over the baptismal font and the eucharistic elements, and by the witness of the Eastern ascetico-mystical tradition, which is to say, that it has its roots in the very deepest and, I would argue, most primordial levels of Christian faith and practice as the latter have been known in the East since--well, since the beginnings of Christianity itself. Here, I think, we arrive at the real reasons--beneath and aside from the abstractions of divine monarchia, relations of origin, and of the properties of ousia and hypostasis, or of the purely canonical question of proper or improper additions to the ecumenical creed--for that visceral, almost instinctively negative Eastern reaction to the filioque which I mentioned at the beginning of this essay. 

In a nutshell, the filioque as it stands, tout court, offends as it were the "inner ear" of Eastern Christian faith and practice, almost exactly in the way in which we would speak of the vertigo and nausea resulting from an injury to the fluids of the body's inner ear. Put more briefly still, the filioque strikes us Easterns as unacceptably lopsided. If it answers to a real need to explain in intra-Trinitarian terms the Son's sending of the Spirit, it does so at the expense of the Spirit's own active role and Person. The Latter becomes entirely passive and, in our eyes, this does not in consequence account adequately for the scriptural, liturgical, and--yes--mystical data of the Tradition which witness to His (or, if the reader prefers my ancient Syrians, Her) creative and generative power. 

Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy has written very recently, and Fr. Dumitru Staniloae some time ago, of the need to restore a sense of the reciprocity in the relations between the Son and Holy Spirit.

[15] I would like to second that motion. As to the precise theological shape that reciprocity might take, or what formula might be found to express it adequately, I will not venture either to propose or to guess. Allow me instead to close not with my own words, but with those of a great Byzantine saint and mystic who wrote on the very eve of our millennial schism. St. Symeon the New Theologian (+ 1022) testifies here, as so often in his works, to personal transfiguration in the visio dei. It seems to me that his words might be taken as summing up and encapsulating the legitimate insights of both halves of the now sundered Christian ecumene: What is the "image of the heavenly man" (1 Cor. 15:49)? Listen to the divine Paul: "He is the reflection of the Glory and very stamp of the nature" and the "exact image" of God the Father (Heb. 1:3). The Son is then the icon of the Father, and the Holy Spirit the icon of the Son. Whoever, then, has seen the Son, has seen the Father, and whoever has seen the Holy Spirit, has seen the Son. As the Apostle says, "The Lord is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:7); and again: "The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words ... crying `Abba, Father!' (Rom. 8:26 and 15). He says rightly that the Lord is the Spirit when He cries "Abba, Father!", not that the Son is the Spirit--away with the thought!--but that the Son is seen and beheld in the Holy Spirit, and that never is the Son revealed without the Spirit, nor the Spirit without the Son. Instead, it is in and through the Spirit that the Son Himself cries "Abba, Father!"

[16] "On the Spirit" 11, from Christology of the Later Fathers, trans. E. R. Hardy (London: SCM Press; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954), p. 200. S. A. Harvey, "Feminine Imagery for the Divine: The Holy Spirit, the Odes of Solomon, and Early Syriac Tradition," St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 37.2-3 (1993), pp. 111-139. See, e.g., J. A. Jungman, The Early Liturgy to the Time of Gregory the Great, trans. F. A. Brunner (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1959), pp. 266-277. On the Holy Spirit in Syrian liturgy more intensively, see Sebastian P. Brock, The Holy Spirit in the Syrian Baptismal Tradition (Poona, India: 1979). Homiliae selectae Mar Jacobi Sarugensis, ed. P. Bedjan (Paris: 1908), Vol. 4: 597, lines 8-13. I find it interesting that Jacob uses the verb skn here for the action of the Spirit, but the same root as noun, sekinto (equivalent to the Rabbinic Sekinah), appears exclusively elsewhere in reference to the Son--see 569:21, 570:13, and 602:20. Thus the Spirit in "abiding" or "dwelling" in the bread of the eucharist makes present the "Abiding" or "Dwelling" of God among us which is Christ, the Immanuel. Here thus I would myself discern an echo of the Nativity narratives in both Luke and Matthew--and perhaps of John 1:14 as well. See W. Schneemelcher, ed., New Testament Apocrypha, 2nd ed., trans. R. McL. Wilson (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1991), Vol. 1: 177, and relatedly, A. F. J. Klijn, Jewish-Christian Gospel Tradition (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992), pp. 39-40, 52-55. In Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. II: 380-385. Note that H. Drijvers's introduction to the "Hymn," pp. 330-333, barely breathes the word "Gnostic," whereas G. Bornkam's introduction in the first edition thirty years before can speak of nothing else. The scholarship has shifted one hundred eighty degrees in the space of a generation, and for once it is for the better. See S. P. Brock, "Clothing Metaphors as a Means of Theological Expression in Syriac Tradition," in Typus, Symbol, Allegorie bei den ostlichen Vatern und ihren Parallelen im Mittelalter, ed. M. Schmidt and C. F. Geyer (Regensburg: Pustet, 1982), pp. 11-38. On these in Jewish tradition, see C. R. A. Morray-Jones, "Transformational Mysticism in the Apocalyptic-Merkabah Tradition," Journal of Jewish Studies 43 (1992), pp. 1-31, and I. Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1980); and in Christian literature, A. DeConick, Seek to See Him: Ascent and Vision Mysticism in the Gospel of Thomas (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996); J. A. McGuckin, The Transfiguration of Christ in Scripture and Tradition (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1986); and A. Golitzin, "Temple and Throne of the Divine Glory: Purity of Heart in the Macarian Homilies," in Purity of Heart in Early Ascetic and Monastic Literature: Essays in Honor of Juana Raasch, O.S.B., H. Luckman and L. Kunzler, editors (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1999), pp. 107-129. Acts of Thomas 110:41-43, in Schneemelcher, Vol. 2: 382. Homily 28.4, in Pseudo-Macarius: The Fifty Spiritual Homilies and the Great Letter, trans. G. Maloney (New York: Paulist Press, 1992), p. 185. G. Quispel, Makarios, das Thomasevangelium, und das Lied von der Perle (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1967); C. Stewart, "Working the Earth of the Heart": The Messalian Controversy in History, Texts, and Language to A.D. 431 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). See him against all analogies in "On the Spirit" 31-33, Christology of the Later Fathers, pp. 213-214. "On the Spirit" 8, Christology of the Later Fathers, pp. 198-199. L. Boff, Trinity and Society, trans. P. Burns (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1988), p. 205; cited in R. Del Colle, "Reflections on the Filioque," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 34.2 (1997), p. 211 and n. 24. D. Staniloae, Theology and the Church, trans. R. Barringer (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1980), pp. 92-108; and B. Bobrinskoy, The Mystery of the Trinity: Trinitarian Experience and Vision in the Biblical and Patristic Tradition, trans. A. P. Gythiel (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1999), pp. 63-77, 279-316. St. Symeon the New Theologian on the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, trans. A. Golitzin, here Discourse III, in Vol. I: The Church and the Last Things (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1995), pp. 128-129.
Published in: Anglican Theological Review, 00033286, Summer2001, Vol. 83, Issue 3

Sunday 24 June 2012


There are two persons in the New Testament presented to us as models of all that is essential in the Christian life. Both have their spiritualities summed up in a single sentence for our benefit, and the liturgy has furnished us with an outline of their lives from their conception to the moment they entered heaven.   They are Our Lady and St John the Baptist.
In Mary we see the flowering of Old Testament holiness  which was given to prepare for Christ's coming, and this becomes New Testament holiness when, by her humble assent to the angel's message, she allows God to act in and through her, and she becomes Mother of God.   God the Father awaits her reply which comes out of the very depth of her being, "I am the handmaid of the Lord.   Let it be done to me according to your word."   From that moment, human nature was united for ever to the divine nature, and Jesus was conceived.   She is our model because we too must give our assent in the same way to God's call so that God can work in and through us.   Only if we permit God's word to work in us can there come about our harmonious cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit which enables us to live as sons and daughters of God.   She was totally dependent on the Spirit in order to become Mother of God.   We are just as dependent on the Spirit to fulfil our vocations as Christians.

However, unlike the Virgin Mary, in order to give this assent and to live by it, we need to change, and to change radically; and this change is a life-long process.   As Blessed John Henry Newman said, "Change is the only sign of life, and to be perfect is to have changed much."   St John the Baptist is patron saint of interior change, of conversion.   His message can be summed up in his own statement, "I must decrease, but he (Christ) must increase."   This is the shortest, the clearest, the best summary of the Christian life in the New Testament.   It is what monastic life is all about.   It is the radical rule of life for all Christians.    It is the most important God-given rubric for priests who celebrate Mass 


The vocation of st John the Baptist  is a prophetic one.   He called on the people of his time to completely change their priorities in preparation for the coming of Christ; and, through the liturgy, his challenge is addressed to us.  

He challenges us to radically change in those areas of our lives where Christ has not yet been invited in or where he has been quietly squeezed out.   He warns us that there is no time or room for delay or for beating about the bush.   The time for conversion is now.

He also reminds us that we have a vocation to help prepare people, in our families, among our friends and acquaintances and in whatever situation we may find ourselves, so that Christ may be allowed to enter in.  This vocation is just as prophetic as his was; but we can seek his intercession and help in this prophetic task. 

As Lenin lay dying,  the French ambassador of the time tells us, he looked back on his life and said, "We were fools.   We believed that Russia would be saved by thousands of card-carrying communists, when all that was needed were twelve people like St Francis of Assisi!"   What Lenin did not know was the source of St Francis of Assisi's attraction.   The truth is that St Francis had stripped from himself all that was not Christ, following in the footsteps of St John the Baptist, and this allowed Christ to work in him to change history.   In this, St Francis belonged to a great tradition.   Europe was not converted by programmes, meetings, congresses,  theological discussions or great events.   It was converted by monks and hermits whose lives were centred on God and whose preaching was the fruit of prayerful silence.   St Boniface, who converted Germany and Holland, did not begin his mission by going to a centre of population to start a high-profile missionary campaign. .   He sought out an uninhabited marshland called Fulda to build his monastery where his monks could immerse themselves in prayer, and from which  they could go out to preach.  St John the Baptist started to live the message given him by God long before he preached it.  Like St John the Baptist, the monks' way of life gave an authority to their words that the words by themselves would never have had.   St Francis said that we should preach the Gospel all the time, and, when necessary, with words.  St Anthony of Padua said that there are too many words clamouring for peoples' attention, so that our main way of preaching must be the quality of our lives.     Blessed Charles de Foucauld said that we must proclaim the Gospel with our lives.   In the twentieth and twenty first centuries, encyclicals, congresses, discussions and great events are a help to many who are already Christians; but for the great masses of people, a single photo of Mother Teresa of Calcutta praying, or with a baby in her arms, or among lepers is worth a thousand papal encyclicals as an evangelising tool.   People who knew her, even Hindus, said that they were conscious of God's presence when they were near her, and her words were listened to because of who she was and her closeness to God.

Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have urged on the Church a "New Evangelization" to win back a Europe that appears to be losing the Faith.  Any campaign to win back Europe and the West will fail, will be a waste of time, if it is simply a matter of publications, declarations and news-worthy events.   Any serious mission to re-convert Europe must begin with us, must  begin with me.   And I shall fail to re-convert me if I try to live the life of the Blessed Virgin without living that of St John the Baptist. We cannot live like Mary in humble obedience to the Holy Spirit  so that he will enable us to do what ever he wants doing, while, at the same time, forgetting to live like John the Baptist by living a life of conversion, by changing our priorities so that Christ may live in us and work through us more and more.

All of us have a vocation.   Like Jeremiah and St John the Baptist, each of us was called by God while still in our mother's womb, to do things in harmony with the Holy Spirit that we could never have done by ourselves.   We have even been called to do things that we dont know we are doing.   Once we put ourselves in his hands, God uses us whether we know it or not. 

The context in which we now hear the call is the New Evangelization. If we want to be instruments capable of bringing about such a change in a world so very much bigger than we are, we must accept St John the Baptist's challenge.   We must decrease and Christ must increase.   Then, according to our vocation, we must respond, taking part in whatever the Church wants us to do but remembering that the conversion of the world does not begin by converting "them": it begins by the conversion of you and  me.   What Lenin noted but did not understand is that, once we are completely pliable in God's hands, he can do anything he wants through us, and the size of the task and the numbers involved are not an obstacle to his will.

If we wish to truly celebrate the solemnity of the Nativity of St John the Baptist in a manner befitting its importance, let us honour the saint by looking at those areas of our lives where our wishes, desires or ideas hold sway and where Christ is not yet Lord.   Let us choose one of them and address it thus, "The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."   Let us, then, ask St John the Baptist to support us with his prayers and then let us do everything possible to bring about a change of priorities in this area, so that Christ is allowed to be Lord and we become his instruments.

St John the Baptist,on the solemnity of your Nativity,        pray for us

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