"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

Tuesday 31 May 2016



When God became man in Palestine, a new relationship was created between Heaven and earth, Eternity and time: there came into existence the ‘fullness of time’ which culminated in “kairos” of Jesus, the ‘last times’ (eschaton).  The “fullness of time” was a direct result of the Incarnation and from Jesus’ true identity as God-man.   Just as we identify the persons of the Blessed Trinity only by their relationships with one another, we call God the Father “Father” because of his relationship to the Son, and the Word is “Son” only because of his relationship to the Father, and the Holy Spirit is breathed forth by the Father to become the mutual union of Love between the Father and Son, so the identity of Jesus as a human being can only be thought of correctly in his relationship to his Father in the Holy Spirit, and to the human race in the same Holy Spirit, and especially to the Church.   This relationship to the human race is not something that happened after the Incarnation: it is the very meaning of the Incarnation, and a dimension of his identity as the Christ.  The title by which Jesus described himself, ‘Son of Man’, implies this corporate personality.  Kings in the ancient Middle East were considered the personification of their people: what happened to them was considered to have happened to all their subjects.   If they were praised, all felt uplifted; if they were insulted or wounded all screamed for vengeance.  What was a pious fiction in the mystique of oriental royalty is literally true of Jesus because of the action of the Holy Spirit from the moment of his conception, uniting him both in the Holy Trinity as Son of God and to the whole human race as Son of Man: this double union constitutes his identity.. Archbishop John Zizioulas writes:

The Holy Spirit does not intervene a posteriori within the framework of Christology, as a help to overcoming the distance between an objectively existing Christ and ourselves; he is the one who gives birth to Christ and to the whole activity of salvation, by anointing him and making him Kristos (Lk 4: 13).   If it is truly possible to confess Christ as the truth, this is only because of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12, 3).   And as a careful study of 1 Cor. 12 shows, for St Paul, the body of Christ is literally composed of the charismata of the Spirit (charisma = membership of the body).   So we can say without risk of an exaggeration that Christ exists only pneumatalogically , whether in his distinct personal particularity or in his capacity as the body of the Church and the recapitulation of all things.
Such is the great mystery of Christology, that the Christ-event is not an event defined in itself – it cannot be defined in itself for a single instant even theoretically  - but it is an integral part of the economy of the Holy Trinity.    To speak of Christ means speaking at the same time of the Father and the Holy Spirit.   For the Incarnation as we have just seen is formed by the work of the Spirit and is nothing else than the expression and realization of the will of the Father. 
Hence, everything that Jesus did in life was directly related to his place in the Blessed Trinity and also related to the whole human race of all times and places; and the Holy Spirit is the link at both levels.   It can be said that, during his life on earth, Jesus lived about thirty three years of ordinary “horizontal” history and was crucified at the end of it, and that the empty tomb took place three days later around two thousand years ago. However, as God-made-man, there was another “vertical” dimension to his life: he had a relationship with his Father through the Holy Spirit, and it was the Holy Spirit who placed him in contact with all times  and, by so doing, made Christ the meaning of all time, making him the universal focal point of all history.     For this reason, Christ’s time is called the “fullness of time”.

  This “fullness of time” came into existence in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was completed and reached perfection in Christ’s death which was his doorway into eternity.  Thus his life was united to all human lives, and his sufferings were united to all human sufferings, and his fidelity was united to all men in their infidelity and sin. He bore our sufferings and sins, changing suffering into a way to God, seeking and obtaining pardon for all sin, and giving to transient human life a value and a hope it would never have had without him, the capacity to receive eternal life as sons of God, and the means to bring this about.   What is impossible for men is possible for God.   By means of the Christian Mystery, God was making the impossible possible, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (Jn 1, 12)..  Because Christ was directly related to all times and places by the activity of the Spirit during his time on earth, God’s revelation in and through Christ in the past became as much God’s revelation to us in the present as it was to his contemporaries.  Thus, when the Church sings, “Hodie, Christus natus est”, it is celebrating our contact with the birth of Jesus, which we come to know about through the word of God and celebrate as a true theophany in the liturgy.  The activity of the Holy Spirit does not take the event out of the past and put it in the present; he simply bridges the gap between past and present, because the Spirit is outside time and has the same relationship with all times.   We are “contemporaries” with Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection in the Spirit.       This fact does not merely justify the “hodie” of the liturgy, it also justifies Catholic devotion to the “Divine Child” or to the “Infant of Prague”, or to the Passion of Christ in its historical details, as the Franciscans and Passionists have favoured.   Thus, although the death of Christ is an historical event, the memory of which has been passed down from one generation to the next, it is also a reflection of the presence in each generation of the Holy Spirit who makes the event the supreme revelation of God to us in the present, in spite of being an event in the past.

Nevertheless, his death is not only the climax of the ‘fullness of time’, it is also Christ’s kairos, the time that will truly last for ever, the time that is actually present in the liturgy.   To discover this we must look at his death from a completely different angle, as the radical self-giving in love by Jesus himself, an offering for all eternity because it is without limits, a total submission to the will of the Father without reserve or limitation. This self-offering was Christ’s act of voluntarily   dying in loving obedience to the Father; and it became a permanent dimension of the risen Christ, an essential characteristic of the eternal relationship of his glorified humanity to the Father, without losing contact with its historical context, because there is no time in heaven.  Thus he is depicted in the Book of Revelation as the Lamb “slain but standing” ().   Fr Jean Corbon writes of Christ’s death:

Above and beyond its historical circumstances, which are indeed of the past, the death of Jesus was by its nature the death of death.   But the event wherein death was put to death cannot belong to the past, for then death would not have been conquered.   To the extent that it passes, time is the prisoner of death; once time is delivered from death, it no longer passes.   The hour on which the desire of Jesus was focused “has come, and we are in it” forever; the event that is the Cross and Resurrection does not pass away.   (The Wellspring of Worship by Jean Corbon, Ignatius Press, pg 56) 

Thus, by means of his ascension into the presence of his Father, this passage of Jesus through death and resurrection has become the permanent means for human beings and even for the whole universe to be transformed into sharers of the divine life.  Hence, we who live in time are destined to ascend, through his death and resurrection, into the presence of the Father.   By dying on the cross and entering heaven by resurrection-ascension, Christ has brought about a new way of being human.   By passing through his death to share in his resurrected life, the whole creation is destined to be transformed into “the new heaven and new earth” spoken about in the Apocalypse; and this is already a living reality in Christ in heaven.   It is into this reality that the Church passes every time it celebrates Mass.   His pasch has become our pasch, his mystery our mystery.  We are baptised into his death and resurrection and celebrate the same mystery of our participation in this process at every Mass.   Once in his presence, we receive eternal life from the Father, a life that belongs by right to the human nature of the risen and ascended Christ, but which he shares with us through the Spirit who makes us one body with him.   Sharing in his human nature that has been transformed by resurrection, we share in his divine life and also share in his joy 

When we ‘ascend’ in the Mass to the heavenly sanctuary into the presence of the Father through the veil that is Christ’s flesh, our baptism and confirmation are renewed.  In the words of St Ambrose, “By his Ascension, Christ passed into his mysteries.” Corbon, “The Wellspring of Worship, pg 98).   In our communion with the risen Christ in heaven, all our sacraments, our baptism and confirmation, our ordination or marriage, are rejuvenated and become again and again, active means of grace, because we have been united by the Spirit to their Source who is Christ.       The death of Christ is like a black hole through which the whole human race, and indeed, the whole of creation have to pass in order to bring into existence a ‘new heaven and a new earth’.   

  The Gospel of St Mark is said to be simply an account of the Passion of Christ, with a long prologue which tells of his public ministry, and an epilogue which tells of his Resurrection.  It is clear that, for St Mark, his Passion is the most important revelation of all.   St Matthew’s account links the death of Christ in apocalyptic fashion with the emptying of the tombs and the resurrection of the dead (Mt 27, vv 51 – 54).   St John’s Gospel also attaches to Christ’s death on the cross many of the ideas that belong to the Last Day in other gospels.   For instance, when Jesus is lifted up (crucified) he will draw all men to himself (); in the cross, Jesus and his Father are glorified (); and the crucifixion is the Judgement of the world ( ).   Moreover, the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world is linked with Christ’s death on the cross(   )..   He tells Simon Peter before the crucifixion that he is going on a journey and that Si Peter cannot go with him now, but that one day he will be able to go (Jn 13 )   It implies that accompanying Jesus through death to resurrection is a future option for Simon Peter, and for us.   It is not only a historical memory, however direct may be our contact with this event through the memory of the Church: through it Christ in the ‘fullness of time’ and we in our own time pass into the ‘eschaton’. .

 In his “presentation” of Liturgia y Oracion by Fr Jean Corbon, Prof. Felix Maria Arocena of the University of Navarre in Spain tells us that there is an altar in the church of the Convento de San Bernadino de Siena in Bergamo which illustrates the confluence of our historic memory of the Passion with our participation in Christ’s sacrifice of the Mass.   Caravaggio so painted his picture of the Passion that, every time the priest elevates the host at Mass, we become aware of the two ways in which we are brought into contact with the cross, with the historical event through the memory of the Church as depicted in the painting, and with the same event as our door into eternity, our way to God through the Eucharist.  On Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the Church takes its normal emphasis away from the Eucharist in which the death and resurrection of Christ are united together as one single mystery, and concentrates on the historical event where the resurrection was in the future, and Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”.   We do this because, through the action of the Holy Spirit,  the crucifixion of Jesus is the clearest and most intimate theophany (manifestation of God) in human history, not only for Our Lady and St John on the day, but for us and for all believers until the end of time.  

This passage of Jesus through death to resurrection and ascension into the presence of the Father is celebrated for all eternity by the angels and saints in heaven, as they share the joy of the Father at the arrival in heaven of his only begotten Son, and they share in the joy of Jesus as he is accompanied by those whom he has saved – “A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” from all times and places – streaming into the heavenly Jerusalem with him.   This is the heavenly liturgy.

One direct result of the ascension was the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Church at Pentecost.  In this reason we can say that the ascension of Christ is the epiclesis which is the cause of every other epiclesis in Catholic liturgy.   Indeed, Pentecost is the origin of the Liturgy of the Church.   According to P. Jean Corbon OP, (The Wellspring of Liturgy), the Liturgy is brought about by the synergy (harmony or synchronization between two “energies” or activities) between the activity of the Holy Spirit and that of the Church which brings about the Church’s liturgy.   In this relationship, the Church is pure need, but the Holy Spirit enables it to do what would be impossible without the Spirit. 

 The Eucharist memory of the Paschal Mystery

"Do this in memory of me" (Luke 22,19; 1 Cor. 11,24.25). It is following this command of the Lord that the Church has always understood, from its very beginning, the great mystery it was to guard and that the Church was called upon to transmit faithfully over the centuries until the glorious return of Christ. Even when the first Christians continued to go and pray in the temple (see At 2,42; 5,12; 3,1), the first act that allowed them to identify themselves as a new community, was the celebration of the "new Easter". Using a surprising denomination, they indicated in the "breaking of the bread" the novelty of their prayers. This consisted in listening to the Word, in remembering the death and resurrection of the Lord and joyfully awaiting the day of His return; the prayers for giving thanks, the Eucharistic prayer, was established from the very beginning as the recollection of the Lord’s supper which took place before his death on the Cross (see 1 Cor 11,26).

The Eucharist therefore is understood as an act created by Jesus himself, placed within the history of Salvation, in the period of time that elapsed between his death and his return in the parousia. The eschatological conscience that accompanied this prayer, therefore constitutes one of the peculiarities that characterize its meaning and allows its integral preservation until the Lord Jesus shall accomplish the "restoration of all things" (At 3,20). The cry of Marana-tha ("Come, Our Lord!"), pronounced during the Lord’s supper, strongly attests to what extent the first community felt the Lord’s presence close to them and to what extent they rejoiced in thanking Him (ευχαριστουντες Eph 5,20), without however forgetting that the fullness of communion had not yet been fully been donated and for this reason they invoked His return. It was this Eucharistic awareness that allowed the first community to experiment in a totally particular manner the closeness, the presence and the communion with the Lord Jesus and it was this that allowed it to confront in a heterogeneous manner the Judaic cult and any other pagan sacrificial action (see 1 Cor 10,16-22). The participation in the body and the blood of Christ went well beyond any analogy, because it involved the real presence of the Lord and real communion with Him. This dimension, which already exists in the signs and the words reveals the sacrificial sense of the Eucharistic banquet, has always allowed believers to build and to strengthen the bonds with their brothers (the "saints" of At 9,13) to the pointing of calling themselves for this reason "God’s community", "the holy assembly" and "the Lord’s people". Finally, it is from Eucharistic life that this community received the strength to lead a moral life that was coherent and a source of testimony. Paul’s invitation to "examine oneself" so as to be worthy of sitting at the Eucharistic banquet is an indication of a conscience capable of perceiving the rules of its own existence in conformity with the mystery it celebrates. These elements allowed them to become aware that it was in the Eucharist that the believing community always found the origin of its being "only one body", "the body of Christ and members of member" (1 Cor 12,27).

This brief introduction, that creates the essential scenario for theologically approaching the subject of the Eucharist, allows us to verify the fundamental and constituent points of this mystery. First of all, there is no rift between Jesus’ established act during the last supper, "the eve of his passion" or "the night on which he was betrayed" and the believing community’s successive customs. This custom has simply repeated and celebrated only what Jesus himself had indicated and commanded to be repeated after his death. Any historical-critical analysis that might attempt to separate these two moments, insinuating that the "Lord’s Supper" is a composition of the community, is destined to disintegrate when confronting the historical evidence which has no analogies with other cultural celebrations and the very self-awareness of the primitive community. The conformity with the entire message announced by the Lord and the events of His death and Resurrection discovers its most coherent and original synthesis in this command to pass down the actions of the Last Supper. With this command for the anamnesis, He impresses the seal of His real presence among His faithful and His Disciples beyond His death. A single act that is not characterized by a tired repetition or representation, but that on the contrary, presents itself as the apax efapax in its unrepeatability. The very words zikkārōn, anamnesis, memory simply interpret the uniqueness of the act in its ever-lasting historical presentation.

The historical and theological development that took place during the first centuries, and of which the Fathers have left us a precious testimony, becomes real in the various passages that progressively lead to the verification of the public characteristics of the liturgical action. The building of the first basilicas with their circular shape, the centrality of the altar added to the solemnity of the celebration are the testimony of the progress that occurred starting with the foundations of Eucharistic life within the Church. Thomas, with the Scholastic will lead to a meditation of the sacramental characteristics of the Eucharist. It is sufficient to read once again some of the questiones (73-79) in the III Pars of the Summa Theologiae so as to verify the deep theological unity that is achieved in the analysis of the signum et res and of the sacrificium laudis et crucis. Regarding the meaning of the Eucharist Thomas wrote: "This sacrament has three meanings. The first concerns the past, because it commemorates the Lord’s passion which was a real sacrifice… The second concerns the effect of the present representing the unity of the Church in which mankind is united through this sacrament. For this reason it is called communion or synaxis… The third concerns the future: because this sacrament is prefigurative of the divine beatitude which will occur in the homeland. In this sense it is called viaticum, because it shows us the path for achieving it and for the same reason it is also described as the Eucharist, the good grace". As one can see, the triple distinction of the sacrament as signum rememorativum (because it proves the uniqueness of the redeeming act), demonstrativum (in the sense that it accomplishes the announced redemption) and prognosticum (because it is the anticipation of the Eschatological banquet), find in these words their theological importance. The antiphon to the Magnificat in the Corpus Domini feast simply evokes liturgically in a poetic synthesis the theological intuition: "Recolitur memoria passionis eius, mens impletur gratiae et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur".

The Tridentine was to mark a fundamental moment in the history of the dogma. Contrary to the Protestant interpretation according to which Christ’s presence is produced by faith, the Councilior Fathers affirmed that Christ is not present in the Eucharist simply because we believe He is, but that we believe because He is already present and that He is not absent because we do not believe, but He remains with us so that we may live in communion with Him (see DS 1654). In the history of the development of this dogma, the Tridentine stage clearly underlines the deep emphasis concerning the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The expiratory finality and the sacrificial character of the Eucharist mark in a decisive manner the theology of this sacrament and the terminology achieves its irreversible dogmatic depth. The Tridentine affirmations lead, as is well known, to the successive controversy that essentially concerned the sacrificial nature. A debate and a theological meditation that reached our times in a interpretative "muddle".

The Second Vatican Council certainly marks a fundamental stage in liturgical, theological and pastoral reform of the sacrament. Although it does not include as specific document concerning the sacrament, the second chapter of the Sacrosanctum concilium can be considered a decisive point on this subject. Because the Council keeps its eyes firmly fixed on the Church, the Eucharist is understood in a binding relationship with the life of the Christian community for which it is the "summit and the source" (LG 11). The terminological variety with which the sacrament is described in the more or less 100 passages of the different documents of the Council, shows on one hand a dogmatic richness and on the other the difficulty in synthesizing the teachings it contains. At least two fundamental issues certainly flow into the teachings of the Council that had determined previous theological reflections.

The first, essentially is referred to Odo Casel’s studies (+1948) with his theory of "renewed-presentation". He claims that in the Eucharist the mystery re-presents itself, meaning a renewed-enacting in favor of the community that celebrates it. The Holy Mass, therefore confers a presence of a trans-temporal and trans-locational nature to the mystery of the Cross. Having removed the reference to a dependence for mystery cults, Casel’s theory had various supporters who continued to favor his interpretations relying in particular on the dimension of the characteristics of the new and definite alliance of the Eucharist. The second, refers to studies by M.Thurian and Louis Bouyer that instead reproposes the notion of a memorial as the sacred pledge that God offered to His people so that they would uninterruptedly represent this to Him. In this manner, they attempt to meditate even more on the essential connection that there is between the memorial, the sacrifice and the banquet.

These brief concise outlines only intend to reproposes the plurality of the interpretations that concern this sacrament. The theological accentuations that we find concern in turn a number of particular subjects that can be synthesized as follows:

1. The concept of memoria (anamnesi), where the institution’s central and founding event finds its basis and its original unity in Jesus’ act at the Last Supper.

2. The concept of giving thanks (beraka), in which the gratefulness of the faithful for the supreme gift they have received becomes clear. Hence the sense of the divine cult, of the glorification, praise and adoration that the community addresses to the Father for the wonders He as accomplished and of which they His people are the witness.

3. The concept of sacrifice (thysia), in which the renewed-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is underlined as an act of redemption involving both His body and the Church.

4. The concept of epiclesi with which the interior action of the invocation of the Spirit, who works and accomplishes the Eucharistic act, is stressed. This presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist is synthesized in Ippolito the Roman’s anaphora, were one prays to God the Father saying: "Allow your Holy Spirit to descend upon the offering of your Holy Church, and after reuniting them, concede to all the Saints who receive it to be filled by the Holy Spirit so as to fortify them in the faith and in the truth, that we may praise you and glorify you through your Son Jesus Christ, through whom you receive the glory and the honor, Father and Son with the Holy Spirit within the holy Church now and for ever and ever" (Apostolic Tradition, 4). It is the prayer that requests the benediction of the Lord and that is celebrated by the Church as blessing the Lord Himself, according to Paul’s expression: "the chalice of benediction which we bless" (1 Cor 10,16).

5. Il concept of communion, with which one intend to infer the aim of the Eucharist and its accomplishment. The new alliance that Christ enacts with His blood creates the life of the Church and for the church stating the premise of redemption. None as well as Saint Augustine have been capable of understanding the connection in this relationship: "If you are to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostles who tell the faithful: Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member (1 Cor 12,27). If therefore you are the body of Christ and his limbs, your holy mystery is placed on the table of the Lord: you shall receive your holy mystery. To what you are you answer Amen and by answering you undersign it. In fact you hear: "the body of Christ" and you answer: "Amen". Really become the Body of Christ, so that the Amen (that you pronounce) shall be true!" (Sermon 272).

6. The eschatological concept, with which one insists on the final and preparatory characteristics of the Eucharist. "While awaiting His coming" repeated after the consecration clearly certifies the Eschatological intent that the Eucharistic supper contains as the affirmation and the anticipation of new heavens and earth in the Kingdom of God.

A text written by the great Catholic theologian M. J. Scheeben, allows us to synthesize the various elements we have tried to examine: "The Eucharist –he writes in The mysteries of Christianity- is the real and universal continuation and amplification of the mystery of the Incarnation. Christ’s Eucharistic presence is in itself a refection of a amplification of His Incarnation... The transformation of the bread into the Body of Christ thanks to the Holy Spirit is a renewal of the wonderful act with which He originally formed his Body from the breast of the Virgin by virtue of the Holy Spirit Himself and took this body onto His person: and of how, thanks to this act, he entered the world for the first time, hence in this transformation He multiplies His essential presence through space and time". The Eucharist, finally, remains the rule for correct theological thought; we are reminded of this by Saint Ireneus who wrote: "Our doctrine is in agreement with the Eucharist and the Eucharist confirms it" (Against Heresy IV, 18, 5).

+ Rino Fisichella

Monday 30 May 2016



There were a few comments a while ago that raised the topic of Thomas Merton’s relationship with Orthodoxy, and TheraP mentioned a review that he had written on Father Alexander Schmemann’s work. I had read the review in Monastic Studies (no. 4, Advent 1966: 105-115) earlier this year, and since reading Father Schmemann’s The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdom, had been wanting to return to it. TheraP drew my attention to the fact that it had also been included in the volume Merton & Hesychasm: The Prayer of the Heart & the Eastern Church (The Fons Vitae Thomas Merton series), and this weekend I have been visiting friends who have this book. The whole book looks fascinating and there are several other essays that I have dipped into and would like to read properly, both by Merton and by people like Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Canon A.M. Allchin, Rowan Williams and Jim Forest. But I re-read his review of Father Schmemann’s Sacraments and Orthodoxy and of Ultimate Questions. Here are a few extracts:

…Sacraments and Orthodoxy, a powerful, articulate and indeed creative essay in sacramental theology which rival Schillebeeckx and in some ways excels him. Less concerned than Schillebeeckx with some of the technical limitations of Catholic sacramental thought, Schmemann can allow himself to go the very root of the subject without having to apologize for his forthrightness or for his lack of interest in trivialities.

Let the reader be warned. If he is now predisposed to take a comfortable, perhaps exciting mysterious, excursion into the realm of a very “mystical” and highly “spiritual” religion, the gold-encrusted cult thick with the smoke of incense and populated with a legion of gleaming icons in the sacred gloom, a “liturgy which to be properly performed requires not less than twenty-seven heavy liturgical books,” he may find himself disturbed by Fr. Schmemann’s presentation. Certainly, Sacraments and Orthodoxy will repudiate nothing of the deep theological and contemplative sense of Orthodox faith and worship. But the author is intent on dispelling any illusions about the place of “religion” in the world of today. In fact, one would not suspect from the title of this book, it is one of the strongest and clearest statements of position upon this topic of the Church and the world. (474) ….

The heart of Fr. Schmemann’s argument is that the Church’s vocation to worship and witness in the world is a vocation to a completely eucharistic view of all creation, a view which, far from setting aside worship and confining it to a special limited area of cult, sees and celebrates the world itself as “meaningful because it is the sacrament of God’s presence.” “Life itself,” he continues, in terms that would perhaps disconcert those habituated to the strict logical categories of scholastic thought, “is worship.” “We were created as celebrants of the sacrament of life.” Man is regarded by Fr. Schmemann as naturally homo adorans, the high priest of creation, the “priest of the cosmic sacrament” (the material world).

Even in his most fallen and alienated state, far from the Church and from the vision of God, man remains hungry for the eucharistic life. He longs, unconsciously, to enter into the sacred banquet, the wedding feast, the celebration of the victory of life over death. But his tragedy is that he is caught in a fallen world which is confused and opaque, which is  no longer seen as “sacrament” but accepted as an end in itself. That is to say, it is no longer seen as a gift to be received from God in gladness and returned to Him in praise and celebration. It is accepted on its own terms as an area in which the individual ego engages in a desperate struggle against time to attain some measure of happiness and self-fulfillment before death inevitably ends everything. Even when he seeks a “religious” answer to his predicament in the fallen world, man finds himself struggling to produce “good behavior” to make things come out so that he will have happiness in the world – or, failing that, in the next.

Even Christianity sometimes ends up by being a pseudo Christian happiness cult, a judicious combination of ethical tranquilizing and sacramental happy making, plus a dart of art and a splash of political realism (a crusade!). This of course calls for specialists in counselling, men trained to give the right answers, engineers of uplift! “Adam failed to be the priest of the world and because of this failure the world ceased to be the sacrament of divine love and presence and became ‘nature’. And in this ‘natural’ world, religion became an organized transaction with the supernatural and the priest was set apart as the transactor.” It is precisely from this state of affairs that secularism arises: “Clericalism is the father of secularism.”

True to the tradition of the Greek Fathers, Fr. Schmemann sees all life as “cosmic liturgy,” and views man as restored by the Incarnation to his place in that liturgy, so that, with Christ and in Christ, he resumes his proper office as high priest in a world that is essentially liturgical and eucharistic. The function of the Church (and of the sacraments) is then to lead all mankind back on a sacred journey to reconciliation with the Father. In the liturgy, the Church calls together all men and invites them to join ranks with her and, in answer to the “tidings of great joy,” to go out in procession to meet the Lord and enter with Him into the wedding banquet which is His Kingdom of joy and love. (477-478)
Dom André Louf on the Liturgy of the Heart

This is my report of a public lecture given by Dom André Louf in Saint Andrew’s Orthodox Parish, Ghent, as part of the colloquium on the Syrian Fathers. Please note my earlier disclaimer on the accuracy of my reporting and translations, something that may particularly apply to my reporting of this talk as I was tired and my note taking somewhat uneven! I also have the impression that Dom André skipped over some sections due to time constraints. Once the text is published I may consider doing an English translation for publication somewhere.

The late Dom André Louf, ocso was abbot emeritus of the abbey of Mont des Cats in France and author of several books, including Teach us to Pray, The Cistercian Way and Grace can do more. He became a hermit and translated Syrian texts. He was responsible for the French translation of the second series of St Isaac’s homilies.

The phrase “liturgy of the heart” is not found in Scripture but it finds its roots in the reference in 1 Peter 3, 4 in which Peter speaks of the “ho kruptos tès kardias anthropos” (“interior disposition of the heart”, NJB, or “inner self”, NRSV), literally the hidden human being of the heart.

This interior human heart is viewed by Scripture in rather ambiguous terms. It may be orientated to wicked schemes (Gen. 6, 5), it may be hard and even turned to stone (Ex. 7, 3) but it may also be softened and humbled (2 K 22, 19) and especially contrite (Ps 50, 17) and to be healed by God (Ps 147, 3). God reproaches the uncircumcised heart (Lv 26,41; Dt 10, 16; 30, 6; Jer. 9, 26). It is on the tablets of the heart that God will write a new law (Pr. 3,3; 7, 3). With the prophet Ezekiel God promises to change the heart of stone to a heart of flesh (11, 19; 36, 26). Solomon will plead for such a heart at the beginning of his reign (1 K. 3, 9) and advises his son David to watch over his heart, for from the heart come the wellsprings of life. (Pr. 4, 23)

Jesus’ teaching on interiority lies within this tradition. He calls the pure of heart blessed, and contrasts them with closed hearts and hearts which bring forth evil (Mt. 15, 18). “Good people draw what is good from the store of goodness in their hearts; bad people draw what is bad from the store of badness. For the words of the mouth flow out of what fills the heart.” (Lk 6, 45) It is in the heart that one can ponder the Word as Mary did (Lk 2, 19) for as Paul reminds us (quoting Deuteronomy) “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” (Rm 10, 8) It is likewise the hearts that burned within when Jesus appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. (Lk 24, 32) The heart is also the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6, 19), a temple in which an interior liturgy is celebrated (Ep. 5, 19).

Such are the biblical illusions that are summed up in the phrase “ho kruptos tès kardias anthropos” of 1 Peter 3, 4.

Paul contrasts this “inner nature” with our “outer nature” that is decaying. (2 Cor. 4, 16-18).

Could it be that this most interior reality is frightening for our contemporaries? We can even ask why the text from Ephesians 5, 19 “sing and praise in your hearts” is often translated today as “with all your heart”. While this might be linguistically defensible, no single Church Father interpreted in this way, for they understood it as alluding to the interior liturgy of the heart, which runs as a thread through the entire patristic tradition.

This liturgy of the heart is something which the Holy Spirit is constantly praying in every baptised person, whether we are aware of it or not. “…the Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words” (Rm 8, 26). This prayer is something which all Christians carry in their hearts, whether they are aware of it or not. In the deepest part of our being we find grace and prayer, and even if we are unaware of it the Spirit is praying “Abba, Father” in us.

If this is true, then the purpose of prayer is simply to bring us into contact with this prayer that is already being prayed in us. Any “methods” or “techniques” of prayer, or the disciplines of turning inwards and quieting the heart, only exist to help this unconscious prayer to become conscious. This is, moreover, an unconsciousness that is much deeper than the psychological unconscious which is becoming better known today. This is an unconscious that touches the very roots of our being. It is metaphysical and meta-psychological, for it is concerned with that place where our being is immersed in God and repeatedly springs up from God. This is the place where prayer does not stop, the domus interior or templum interius as it was called in the Middle Ages.

Most of the time we are not conscious of the prayer taking place in this inner temple. We can only believe in it with a growing certainty, and trust that God will lift the veil and allow a little of this unconscious prayer to emerge to consciousness. Sometimes this is merely a sudden illumination, a passing light which clarifies aspects of our existence and which never leaves us even in the midst of new periods of dryness. More often, though, it involves a slow and patient process in which something emerges towards the surface, awakening a new sensitivity or what Ruusbroec called a “feeling above all feelings”.

While it is certainly true that some circumstances are more conducive to this process than others, and thus silence, simplicity and asceticism can be important preparations for prayer, Christian prayer is never determined by such preparations. God allows prayer to arise in us “when He wills, as He wills and where He wills” as Ruusbroec says. For God is always greater than our heart and remains the only Master of our prayer. Prayer is totally gratuitous although we need to persevere in times of trial.

In persevering in times of dryness and crisis, in seeing all of our efforts ending in dead ends, and in being confronted with our own weakness that we receive the grace of recognising ourselves for the sinners who we really are. It is precisely in encountering ourselves as sinners that we also encounter the grace of God. John Cassian tells us: 

Let us in this way learn in all that we do to perceive both our own weakness and the grace of God at the same time, so that we are able to proclaim every day with the saints: “They have pushed me down to make me fall, but the Lord has supported me.”

What is our task as human beings in this process? It has only one name, and that is humility. Cassian describes this as “every day humbly following the grace of God that draws us.” Learning humility, even, or perhaps especially, through failure, is the greatest lesson that we can learn. As one of the Fathers said: “I would rather choose a defeat humbly accepted than a victory achieved with pride.”

This is the heart of the process, the point at which it is possible for a new sensitivity to be born, and it can be characterised by confusion and doubt. The old Christian literature referred to this with the imagery of “diatribe tès kardias” or “contritio cordis” or “contrition mentis”. It would be good to try and recapture something of the jolting language which has been lost in later translations, for this is not simply about “contrition” as we have come to understand it in recent spiritual literature but rather about a “broken” and “pulverised” heart that has literally been shattered. In this we are reminded of the utter poverty of the Christian. Isaac of Nineveh writes:

Believe me, my brother, you have not yet understood the power of temptation, nor the subtlety of its guiles. One day the experience will teach it to you and you will see yourself as a child who no longer knows where to look. All your knowledge will be nothing more than confusion, like that of a little child. Your spirit which appeared to be so firmly anchored in God, your precise knowledge, your balanced thought world, they will all be submerged in an ocean of doubt. Only one thing will be able to help you and will conquer them, namely, humility. Once you have grasped this, their power will disappear.

And, as Saint Basil tells us, “Often it is humility that saves someone who has sinned frequently and heavily.”

This is a painful pedagogy. Instead of fleeing from it, we are called to follow its trajectory and to make it our own, not out of masochism, but because one senses that it is the secret source of the only true life. In biblical language we can say that it is here that the heart of stone becomes broken so that may be made into a heart of flesh.

If such temptation does lead to sin then this is not due to a lack of generosity, but rather to a lack of humility. And sin offers us the chance to discover the narrow and low gate that leads to the Kingdom. Indeed, it could be that the most dangerous temptation is not the temptation that leads to sin, but rather the temptation that follows sin, namely the temptation of despair. It is only through eventually learning humility that we can escape this. And through this we learn the gift of mercy. Isaac of Nineveh writes: 

Who can still be brought into confusion by the memory of his own sins…? Will God forgive me these things whose memory so torments me? Things that I have an aversion to but which I nevertheless slip towards. And when I have done them their memory torments me more than a scorpion’s bite. I detest them and yet I find myself in their midst, and when I feel pain and sorrow over them I continue to seek them our – oh unhappy person that I am! … This is how many God fearing people think, people who desire virtue but whose weakness forces them to take into account their own frailty: they live continually imprisoned between sin and remorse. … Nevertheless, do not doubt your salvation … His mercy is much greater than you can imagine, and His grace is greater than you can dare to ask for. He looks only for the slightest sorrow …

How does this transition occur? We cannot predict when or how we will be brought into this interiority, but when it happens we know that we are not in control. We become aware of a new sensitivity and of a peace that cannot deceive us, of a centeredness and of a prayer that emerges of its own accord. There are certain times or places in our lives at which we find ourselves closer to this breakthrough, times or places where one is closer to its becoming a reality.

One of these privileged places is always the listening to the Word of God in Scripture. Scripture has the power to shake our heart awake, to drill through it, batter it open, so that prayer can spring up. Likewise, sickness, the death of someone close to us, and great temptations are favourable moments in which our longing for God means that we are more open to Him.

We find all these favourable moments brought together in the celebration of the Liturgy. The Church has instinctively sensed the mysterious affinity between the external Liturgy celebrated in churches of stone and the Liturgy celebrated in the deepest depth of each baptised Christian. The Church has learnt through experience how to harmonise these two liturgies of the praying Christian.

In our contemporary world we find conflicting desires that make such interiority difficult. On the one hand there is a desire for such interiority, but, on the other hand, there is much that makes it difficult for us to surrender to it. We cannot blame this on God, who desires to give Himself to us. But the children of the Church are also the children of their culture and find themselves in a cultural transition. It may be that there are elements in our culture, both of yesterday and of today, that make it more difficult to find real interiority. Or it may be that there are elements that at first sight make it easier to enter into such interiority – such as the reactions to the dangers below found in some youth movements which are orientated to religious experience – but which are really illusory.

We can name three negative influences in the religious culture of the last decades. The first is to reduce the Gospel to an ideology, which is more orientated to thought patterns than to life. The Second is to reduce the Gospel to activism, in which one loses contact with one’s inner life and reduces the Gospel to marketing. And the third is to reduce the Gospel to moralism in which a skewed moral vision which can hinder authentic interior experience.

[Dom André skipped over the first two points - I suspect due to time pressure - and concentrated on the third.]

The life of the Holy Spirit in us seeks ways to express itself in concrete circumstances, but if it is authentic this is, in the first place, expressed in spontaneity, freedom and deep joy. In a second moment we can describe Christian behaviour from without, such as Paul does in his teaching on the fruits of the Spirit. Such a moral pedagogy should help to bring us into contact with the inner experience and make us sensitive to the workings of the Spirit. However, it has not always been so simple. Influenced by cultural ethical schemas, morality has sometimes lost its way in abstract and absolutised studies of human behaviour which resulted in an idealised set of rules which one had to adhere to.

This is not to deny the need for ethical norms, but rather to recognise their pitfalls, and in particular the danger of separating interior disposition and exterior action. This can result in two dangers. Firstly, it can result in someone who is unable to live up to the expectations of the law becoming caught up in a spiral of guilt. The law accuses, but Jesus refuses to accuse and has come to free us from guilt. Secondly, it can result in a more subtle and dangerous danger, that of an easy conscience and apparent perfection in which one becomes cut off from the liberating action of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus avoided both of these dangers. He never drove sinners to despair and he confronted the conceit of the Pharisees. He did not come for the righteous, but for sinners.

To speak about sin and sinners is a problem in our contemporary world, which does not know how to deal with sin and sinners. Yet there is a link between sin and our access to the inner way. We may be desperate sinners who are burdened with guilt feelings. Or we may play the role of freed sinners who dream of a morality without sin. Or – and this is the worst – we may be the incurably righteous who look down on sinners. Insofar as we belong to one of these categories we are not able to access the inner way.

God longs for sinners as a Father longs for his lost son. For genuine sinners, who do not seek to gloss over or excuse their weakness, but who have become reconciled with their weakness and who rely on God’s mercy. At the moment that one receives God’s forgiveness, someone is opened up in one’s heart so that one’s heart can become transformed from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Sin no longer drags one down and bruises one, but has rather become the door to the depths of our heart for it leads us to the knowledge of the merciful Father.

The Heart

“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely ... I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is every- where.” Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Ten Days on Mount Athos
Seeking God: Benedictines of Norcia

Sunday 29 May 2016


     “Do this as a memorial of me.” St Paul relates in First Corinthians that Jesus said these words at the Last Supper, both of the bread and of the cup: “This is my body, which is for you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Paul himself adds, “Until the Lord comes, therefore, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.” So it is that Jesus transforms a simple Passover meal into the heavenly Banquet, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. That is what we do every time we gather together as God’s family to celebrate the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass. From the earliest days, the Christian Church, as recorded in the New Testament, our forebears in the faith believed without doubting the word spoken by the Lord and its power to bring about what it says, just as at the beginning of creation God had said, “Let there be light”, and there was light. This is the faith of the Church today, our faith. When Jesus says this morning, “This is my body, which is given for you,” and “This is the cup of my blood, which is shed for you,” we can be sure that his word is true and that what he says, he does. However, it is not only in the Real Presence that Christians believe, for Jesus asks us to “do this as a memorial of me”. The Mass is a memorial of the whole of Christ’s life, from his Conception through the working of the Holy Spirit to his Ascension and the outpouring of that same Spirit. In other words, the Mass makes present for us the whole Christ event and, what is more, anticipates and prays for his Coming in glory as Judge at the end of time. When we talk about the Sacrifice of the Mass, we naturally think of Christ’s Passion, Crucifixion and Death, and, of course, in the Mass we are totally immersed in the Cross of Jesus, but it is true to say his whole life is sacrificial. In the Mass, then, we celebrate the whole of the Mystery of the Incarnation: his Conception in the Virgin’s womb, his Nativity in the cave of Bethlehem and his lying in the manger, his Circumcision and first shedding of the Precious Blood for our redemption, and so on. Every moment and aspect of the life of Jesus is Sacrifice, including his Resurrection. At Mass, in the Son, we receive the Father and the Holy Spirit. God, though three persons, is but One, and in communion with Christ we are united to the Holy Trinity. But there is something more. In today’s Gospel we read St Luke’s simplified account of the feeding of the five thousand. There was no small boy to bring forward the five loaves and two fish, one of the loveliest images in the Gospels. Even so, with this inadequate offering, Jesus is able to feed the multitude and there are leftovers in abundance, enough to fill twelve baskets. Leaving aside numerical symbolism, with the humblest of gifts, Jesus is able to feed a vast number of people and there is a lot left to share with others. Like the manna in the wilderness, the food, with which Jesus feeds us, does not run out. He who created all that is, can feed the hungry and nourish our souls. However, as with the widow’s mite, he needs the little we can give, especially if it is given with a loving and generous heart. At Mass we offer him bread and wine and receive in return his Body and Blood. What an extraordinary exchange of gifts! That is why we have come together to give thanks today. Abbot Paul Of Belmont (UK)

The Historical Origin of the Feast of

my source: http://www.salvemariaregina.info/Reference/CorpusChristi.html
This Feast of the Sacred Body of Our Divine Lord is celebrated in the Latin Church on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday to solemnly commemorate the Institution of the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist. This great event is also commemorated on Maundy Thursday, mentioned as Natalia Calicis (Birth of the Chalice) in the Calendar of Polemius (448) for the 24th of March, the 25th of March being recognized in some places as the day of the Death of Christ. This day, however, occurs in Holy Week, a season of sadness, during which the minds of the faithful are expected to be occupied with thoughts of Our Lord's Passion. Moreover, so many other mysteries relative to the Passion are commemorated on this day that the principal event, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, is deserving of a particular festival. This is mentioned as the chief reason for introducing the feast of Corpus Christi in the Papal Bull Transiturus.

The instrument in the hand of Divine Providence was St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon, in Belgium. She was born in 1203 at Retinnes near Liège. Orphaned at an early age, she was educated by the Augustinian nuns of Mont Cornillon. In time she made her religious profession and later became Superior. Intrigues and persecutions of various kinds drove her from her own convent several times. She died on the fifth of April, 1258, at the House of the Cistercian nuns at Fosses, and was buried at Villiers.

From her early youth, Sr. Juliana had a great veneration for the Blessed Sacrament, and always longed for a special feast in Its honor. This holy desire was given further impetus by an authentic vision which she was shown of the Church, whose liturgical cycle appeared as an almost-full moon, yet having one dark void, signifying the absence of such a solemnity. She humbly submitted this revelation to Msgr. Robert de Thorete, then Bishop of Liège; to the learned Dominican Hugh, later Cardinal Legate in the Netherlands; and finally to Jacques Pantaléon, at that time Archdeacon of Liège, who afterwards was successively made the Bishop of Verdun, Patriarch of Jerusalem (after the First Crusade), and finally elected to the Papacy as Urban IV. Bishop Robert was favorably inclined to promote a greater devotion to our Eucharistic King. Since bishops had the right of ordering feasts for their respective jurisdictions, he called a synod in 1246, and ordered the celebration to be held in the following year; also, that a monk whose name was John should write the special Office for the occasion. The episcopal decree is still preserved in Binterim (Denkwürdigkeiten, V, 1, 276), together with parts of the Office. The pious Bishop did not live to see the fulfillment of his command, for he died on October 16, 1246. Nevertheless, the feast was celebrated for the first time by the obedient canons of the Cathedral of St. Martin at Liège.

Meanwhile, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Jacques Pantaléon, was elected Pope on August 29, 1261. There was at that time in Liège a devout recluse in whom St. Juliana had inspired a fervent devotion of the Holy Eucharist, who spent her time in adoration of Our Divine Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. She besought the Bishop of Liège, Heinrich of Guelders, to request the Sovereign Pontiff to extend this beautiful celebration to the entire Catholic world. Pope Urban IV, who had long cherished a fervent devotion for the feast of Corpus Christi, granted the petition on September 8, 1264, by publishing the Bull Transiturus. Having extolled the love of Our Savior manifested in the Holy Eucharist, he ordered the annual celebration of Corpus Christi on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, and at the same time granted many Indulgences to the faithful for the attendance at Mass and at the Office. This Office, composed at the request of the Pope by the Angelic Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas, is one of the most beautiful in the Roman Breviary, and has been admired not only for its wonderful devotion, but also for its literary excellence.

The death of Pope Urban IV on October 2, 1264, shortly after the publication of the decree, somewhat impeded the spread of the new feast. But Pope Clement V again took the matter in hand, and at the General Council of Vienne (1311), took measures to implement the feast of Corpus Christi. His new decree embodied that of Pope Urban IV, and his successor, Pope John XXII (of Sabbatine Privilege fame) also urged its observance. The Procession of the Blessed Sacrament, which was already held in some places, was endowed with rich indulgences by Popes Martin V and Eugene IV. The pious Bishops of the German Empire were the first to accomplish a uniform observance of the new feast (instituted at Köln in 1306, at Worms in 1315, and in Strasbourg in 1316). In England it was introduced from the continent between 1320 and 1325.


Something which existed from the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes, that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word who is life - this is our subject. (1 John, 1,v1)
It is highly likely that this was written quite some time after the Ascension of our Lord into heaven, written by someone who, though he wrote in St John's name, had not actually seen Christ in the flesh; yet he stressed seeing, watching and touching as well as hearing.   This is in line with what Jesus says to St Mary Magdalene in St John's Gospel, "Noli me tangere - Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father."  This implied, paradoxically, that she would be able to embrace him once he is united with his Father in heaven.  It is also in keeping with his insistence that, "My flesh is real food and my blood real drink." (John 6, v55)  In communion, we do not just embrace our Lord, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in him." (John 6 v56)   The visual aspect of the Eucharist is found in the earliest epiclesis in the Anaphora (eucharistic prayer) of St Basil which asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit to "show" the bread and wine to be the body and blood of Christ.
Padre Wilmer Lamar: Corpus Christi in Peru

However, as the history of the Corpus Christi feast tells us, devotion to Christ's real presence in the Eucharist apart from the celebration of Mass and from communion is a characteristic of the western Latin tradition and thus is not universal.   I can think of three reasons for this.   The first is the rise of heresies in the West that denied the real Presence, this leading to a greater emphasis by the Church of the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence.   The second is that, as people came less and less to communion at Mass - a phenomenon in both East and West - gazing at the consecrated host in adoration as a form of spiritual communion became a substitute for sacramental communion: the advantage of this form of eucharistic devotion being that it does not demand a certain interior preparation before it can be practised.   The third factor was the less than adequate reception by the West of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (the 2nd Council of Nicaea 787ad) due to the opposition of the Frankish bishops. Unfortunately, an inaccurate latin translation of the Greek led the bishops to believe the Council was advocating idolatry.  As the Franks could not stand the Greeks, they were willing to believe anything to their detriment, just as so many Greeks and Russians are now willing to believe anything against us!!)  As Catholicism wants to grasp Christ using all the senses, Eucharistic devotion was a substitute for icons.

Nevetheless, Eucharistic devotion is founded on sound theology; and there is much evidence that Our Blessed Lord actually coaxed the West to adopt this practice.  Firstly, there is the number of saints whose sanctity has been fed on this devotion.  Then there is the number of people who have been led to Christ through meeting him in his presence in the tabernacle or when exposed in a monstrance.  There was this sense of the presence of Christ in Catholic churches, catching them by surprise when  they enter a Catholic church for the first time - I have known many, including my own father.   It was predicted at the end of Vatican II that devotion to the Blessed Sacrament would die out, and statistics supported this view; but the very opposite has taken place: chapels of perpetual adoration are very common, and exposing the Blessed Sacrament has become a major tool in the New Evangelisation, the advantage being that the presence of Christ can be presented to people, no matter their state of soul.

Just as, in the Eastern Orthodox churches their way of "seeing, watching and touching" our Lord is the icon, so the classical western way is adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  It is no surprise, therefore, that there are occasions when people encountering the Lord in one of these ways should come across the miraculous.   Once, when I was staying in St Elizabeth's Convent, an Orthodox monastery in Minsk, there visited an abbot of a monastery in central Europe, I think Bulgaria.  The first thing that surprised me was that he had lived in England and spoke perfect English with a Birmingham accent.  He showed me a small icon that was exuding myrrh.  This is not uncommon in the Christian East.   In the West there are cases of bleeding hosts.  The next two videos give modern examples of eucharistic miracles:
One thing that is a characteristic of the modern Catholic Church is the way it strives to breath with both lungs, East and West, praying the Jesus Prayer and including devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and the use of icons in natural combination.  The Peruvian monk who has replaced me as prior of our monastery in Pachacamac, Father Alex, is a highly gifted iconographer whose icon painting is an integral part of his monastic spirituality; but this does not stop him adoring Christ in the Blessed Sacrament: it is no longer an either-or.

A good example of this are the monks and nuns of the Assumption of Our Lady and St Bruno, a flourishing congregation in the erimetical Carthusian school, and their devotion embraces East and West:

Friday 27 May 2016


On Idolatry – G.K. Chesterton
On Idolatry – G.K. Chesterton

“Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.” – G.K. Chesterton

I wrote on this phrase back in 2014, when the conversational climate was not as bad as it is today. Just two years ago, I wrote on this passage and related it to how we relate to and address believers with whom we disagree. I still clearly see that the issue needs to be addressed. Pope Francis and Patriarch Kyril met in Havana. Before they had even met, one could already see blogs and Facebook postings from Orthodox believers pontificating (pun intended) about how nothing could happen unless the Roman Catholic Church acquiesces to every one of their points. Notice that I did not say that the Romans would acquiesce to every one of the Orthodox Church points; I said to every one of their points. This is because this is actually their opinion. In some postings that I have read, I could not agree with what the posters blithely define as essential to be Orthodox. More than one poster would actually be excluding some of their fellow Orthodox by what they insist is essential, let alone Roman Catholics!

It would not be so bad if they pontificated about their opinion. But, they write as though there is somewhere a settled body of agreement among the Orthodox as to what it would take to allow the Roman Catholic Church to be one with us. There is no such body of settled doctrine or agreement. There are various canons that point in certain directions, and there are various doctrines to which the Orthodox unequivocally point and state are essential. But, there are other areas that are nowhere near settled. The issue of leavened and unleavened bread was never settled before the final split. Yes, the Orthodox state that the Quinisext Council is Ecumenical because the Sixth Ecumenical Council said so. The only problem is that the Patriarch of Rome and his bishops never agreed to all of the clauses. In fact, it is well recorded that when the three delegates returned, their signature was rejected by the Pope. And, bread is not the only issue. There is the issue of portraying Jesus as a Lamb, the issue of statues versus icons, etc. For those who think that those are issues on which Rome would yield, given that they neveryielded on those issues, I will simply say that they will not. More than that, despite what the Quinisext Council said, on those issues I will argue that, despite Orthodox claims, the failure of the Church of the West to accept those canons means that our claim that they are Ecumenical may be more wishful thinking than either historically or theologically accurate.

But, should there come to be an actual possibility of reunion, those are issues that will be settled by the Church through her bishops, and not by one or another bishop, or one or another website, or one or another blog post. Sadly, I fear that if such is ever the case, there would promptly be a split by those claiming to be “true” Orthodox while at the same time acting as though Orthodox ecclesiology means little to them. They will cite the saints: Athanasius and Valentine and Ignatius and John of Damascus, etc., while managing to ignore the fact that even the great warriors for truth did not leave the Church, but stayed faithful to her even when it seemed as though the majority were against them. That faithfulness worked, for the Holy Spirit was with them, and their enemies were not able to charge them with being schismatic. When sent into exile, they fled not but quietly went, while continuing to argue their point. Not so the various who are already writing about how they would leave the Church should there ever be rapprochement.

And it is here that G.K. Chesterton gives us a pointer. Idolatry uses fear as its weapon. All too often fear is invoked in various of the postings, oh, not all of them, but more than I would like to see. One of the major fear points is the word “ecumenism.” It is bandied about as though everyone knows that ecumenism must be wrong. But, of course, what they mean is that they fear that the Orthodox will give up all their beliefs for the sake of unity. Yet the recent Synod of the Russian Orthodox made it clear that ecumenism is a good thing because it allows us to have contact with those who most need to be exposed to the Truth. The Synod made clear that ecumenism does not mean that we will give up our beliefs, but rather that we will have a platform to engage others in order to communicate Truth. It is an evangelistic view of ecumenism. It is a convenient word for the fearful to use because there are groups who have “dumbed down” the faith in order to try to find an acceptable compromise that will allow everyone to be together. And, there are indeed liberal theologians who use ecumenism as a way to peddle old and discredited heresies, or even some types of paganism. But, the Russian Synod carefully defined ecumenism in such a way that it gave Patriarch Kyril the freedom to meet with Pope Francis without any fear that some unacceptable compromise would come of the meeting. Idolatry sets up ecumenism as a false devil.

But, the hardest proposition for idolatry to accept is the reality that rapprochement with the Catholic Church must include the possibility that we may be shown to be wrong on one point or another. It is true that, as the Church, the Holy Spirit will keep us in the Truth. But, that does not mean that at every minute there is no untruth in the Church. The recent break in communion between the Churches of Antioch and Jerusalem forms a clear example of untruth in the Church. One or the other of the Patriarchates must be wrong, or both may be wrong. But, it is impossible that both are walking in Truth. I had earlier mentioned the Quinisext Council, and the refusal of the West to accept its canons. We cannot so hold a view of the Church that anything and everything that the East has done must be 100% Truth. There are hierarchs, writers, and bloggers whose view is that the Roman Church must completely change itself into an Orthodox Church. But, if we think in human terms, that is as unrealistic a viewpoint as a husband expecting that his wife will admit that she was wrong on every issue before he will forgive her. Anyone counseling the couple will clearly say to them that they both have committed sin against the other, and that there will be no resolution until both parties admit their sin. I am convinced that the same is true between the Orthodox and the Catholic. There has been sin on both sides. We cannot progress until we are willing to admit that possibility. We cannot heal the rift unless all sides come to the table in a spirit of humility.

I agree with the Russian Synod. Properly handled, ecumenism is a force for good. I agree that we are not giving up on our essential doctrines. But, at the same time I agree with the Russian Synod and G.K. Chesterton that all who call upon the name of Jesus are called to be One. There is no other acceptable option save what the Patriarch and the Pope have done, met together and spoken about what may be in the future, and on what things we may work together.

History of a Dialogue
Christiaan Kappes*
Towards a theological reconciliation between East and West

In the annals of history, theological dialogue has been a fairly regular occurrence between the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. It is worthwhile to recall that bishops and theologians were often sent from both Rome and Byzantium to enter into theological discussions, especially following the cause célèbre, known as the "Schism of 1054". From that period until present it is true that there were only two "success" stories of a corporate reunion between the two Churches as recorded in the annals of the Catholic Church's biographers. Yet, the principle of the theological dialogue with the Orthodox Church was never in question.

 The first "successful" reunion of Churches was accomplished at the Second Council of Lyons (1274). Tragically, St Thomas Aquinas died on his way to the Council, despite his invitation to attend as a theologian. His fellow doctor, St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, was perhaps the most notable theologian present. Due to a minimal Greek presence and over-reliance on the will of the Byzantine Emperor, the Union effected by the Council has been commonly described as a "dead letter". No sooner had Emperor Michael VIII returned to Constantinople, than the Greek Church refused en masse to make the Union effectual.

More serious theological debates and overtures were subsequently sponsored by the Byzantine Court at various times following the ineffectual Council of Lyons. These public debates and theological discussions familiarized Latins with Greek Fathers and Synods. The theological exchange was also an occasion for some erudite Greeks to become familiar with and even translate Latin Fathers and Scholastic authors into the Greek idiom. Especially following the translation of St Augustine (De Trinitate) and St Thomas Aquinas (Summa contra Gentiles), Greek theologians began to absorb Latin patristic insights and even Scholastic ideas into their own corpus theologicum during the Palaeologian dynasty. Even famous authors like Gregory Palamas and Mark Eugenicus (two of the three "Pillars of Orthodoxy") employed Latin learning within their own works. Many of these discoveries have escaped even specialists' notice until recent times. At present, there is a burgeoning group of scholars who have dedicated themselves to exploring Latin and Scholastic influences in 14th and 15th century Byzantine theology.

In the early 20th century, Cardinal Joseph Dyčlovskyj wrote an inspiring article noting that — even in the East — the study of St Thomas Aquinas in se has always tended toward Catholic unity. Undoubtedly, there are both philosophical and theological reasons for the Cardinal's thesis. Due to the natural exposition of the universal principles of reasoning and correct thinking as espoused by St Thomas, the Doctor Communis secured for himself the perennial value of his works. Each person, insofar as he is rational, can grasp the fundamental ideas and loci upon which Scholasticism bases its arguments. Secondly, due to St Thomas' profound grasp of Christian doctrine, he was able to reflect the mens Ecclesiae in nearly every major area of importance to the Roman Magisterium. The vast majority of the theological propositions explained and promoted by St Thomas were held in common with Byzantine Orthodoxy. On this score, a former Patriarch of Constantinople, the hand-picked successor of Mark of Ephesus to oppose Florence, wrote: 
"O excellent Thomas would that you had not been born in the West such that you would have need to advocate the differences of that [Roman] Church! You were influenced by it with regard to both the procession of the Holy Spirit as well as by the difference with respect to the divine essence and energy. For surely, then, you would have been infallible in your theological doctrines, just as you are so too inerrant in these matters of ethics (S. Th. Prol., 17-19)"!1
Following Thomas' sweeping influence in Byzantium, a sort of "first Scholasticism" penetrated the confines of the Byzantine East. The list of admirers and imitators of both St Thomas and/or Scholastic method (vel in parte vel in toto) continues to grow as Byzantine theologians of the Medieval and Renaissance period are studied and their sources are uncovered.

It is true that St Thomas' doctrine was a fertile soil that ultimately paved the way for the Council of Florence, but it must also be admitted that he was cause for polemics in Byzantium. The question of St Thomas' intrinsic value vis-à-vis Greek Orthodoxy is a hotly debated issue. Historically, Orthodox of the late 14th century often psychologically associated Aquinas with anti-Palamism, i.e. a theology tending to reject the mystical theology of Gregory Palamas. Gregory's distinctions between the essence and energy of God, the notion of the "uncreated light" seen by saints, and his understanding of divinization were all subject to scrutiny by the very first Byzantine Thomists, Demetrius and Prochorus Cydones. Their opposition to Gregory Palamas and their "Latin-minded" way of theologizing sealed a negative fate of "first Scholasticism (c. 1398)" in Byzantium.

The question of St Thomas' intrinsic value in East-West dialogue remains. He was understood and utilized positively and negatively by many celebrated Byzantine divines (e.g. Macarius Makres and Gennadius Scholarius). Perhaps the most learned theologian of his time, Gennadius Scholarius (d. c. 1472), was able to give a balanced and philosophically well-founded presentation of Catholic and Orthodox differences because of his sound knowledge of Latin theology and Scholastic philosophy. Ultimately, both Churches have adopted their champions from this period. Therefore, it is only fitting and proper that these theological giants should be understood before any serious attempt is made to speak about "commonalities" and "divergencies" between East and West.

 Following Florence (1439), additional theological developments have increased the points of discussion between the two Churches at present. Nonetheless, any history of theology should be deemed questionable if it does not recognize what Aquinas, Palamas, and Mark of Ephesus recognized as real doctrinal stumbling blocks towards unity. If these (and other "doctors" of both respective Churches) are not read as the foundational sources for understanding East-West divisions theologically, one risks positing too many or too few points of disharmony between the two Churches.

This fundamental importance of understanding the classic and perennial theology of each Church is incumbent on both Eastern and Western theologians. Taking the example of both St Thomas and (St) Mark of Ephesus, both were willing to be in theological dialogue with their opponents. Thomas' very educational system depended on the professor being a skilled debater. Holding quodlibetal disputations required a thick skin and willingness to work through each objection from one's interlocutor. The professorial task was to reconcile the areas of substantial agreement and focus on the areas of fundamental irreconcilability of any proposition with Christian doctrine. Mark was on friendly terms with Latins aiding the scholarly pursuits of men like Nicholas of Cusa. He did not refuse to enter into dialogue with the Latins and came freely to Florence. His addresses to the Pontiff in Italy were respectful and sincere. He asked the members of the Council to remember that debates sometimes contain strong language. He apprized his Roman interlocutors that anything that sounded harsh was said in charity and that such mishaps should be excused as peculiarities of cultural expression.

This traditional task of theological dialogue and mutual theological understanding has not ceased. Following Blessed John XXIII's establishment of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity In 1960 and his Successors' emphasis on Christian unity, scholars are still attempting to understand better all aspects of the traditional Catholic-Orthodox debate. This summer, an opportunity for better mutual understanding will take place in London. The Institute of Classical Studies 2012 Byzantine Colloquium "When East met West: the Reception of Latin Theological and Philosophical Thought in Late Byzantium", to be held in Senate House, University of London, between 11-12 June 2012, will explore some important aspects of the theological dialogue between the two sides.2 The contributors, both eminent and younger scholars, hope to present a scholarly and objective look at Latin patristic and Scholastic influence on Byzantine theology. An exciting part of this colloquium will be devoted to reports on the progress and utilization of texts of "Thomas de Aquino Byzantinus",3 an international research project aiming at providing new critical editions of translations of, and commentaries on, Thomas Aquinas' opera omnia by Byzantine authors.4 The influence of Thomas on Byzantine writers and saints is only gradually coming to light. These editions will help the theological world secure Thomas' factual place within Byzantine theology. In order to illustrate the depth of influence that Thomas graecus exercised, presentations will focus on the sources used by Byzantine theologians like Matthaios Blastares, Demetrios Chrysoloras, and Gennadios Scholarios. There will also be presentations on the role of Augustine in Eastern theology and the Latin authorities employed for discussions at the Council of Florence. Contributors come from both Catholic and Orthodox backgrounds (inter alia). Also, in small part, the conference represents a happy result of efforts initiated under the Vatican's Secretary for the Holy See's Relations with States. Among the contributors will be a participant under the auspices of the Holy See's venture with the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs.5 The joint venture is a scholarship program to provide Catholics with an opportunity to study Orthodox theology in Greece in order to increase mutual understanding between Orthodox and Catholic theologians.6
*Fr Kappes holds a licentiate in philosophy and a doctorate in Sacred Liturgy

The next post on this topic will have two Orthodox articles against ecumenism and my reply.

1 Gennadius Scholarius, "Résumé de la Prima Secundae de la Somme théologique de sanit Thomas d'Aquin", in Oeuvres Completes de Georges Scholarios 5, ed. L. Petit -X. Siderides -M. Jugie, Paris, Maison de la Bonne Presse 1933, 1.

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