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Archive for April, 2006

Pagels Decoded

Father Paul Mankowski, SJ begins his critical account of Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels, The Pagels Imposture, with the following precis (I have added the hyperlink to the ANF book and chapter cites of the texts in his citation):

I am going to demonstrate that Professor Pagels’s media reputation as a scholar is undeserved, her reputation as an expert in Gnosticism still less so. The case for the prosecution will require some careful reading. Those who want to follow along with the sources at their elbow should find a copy of Pagels’s 1979 book The Gnostic Gospels (NY: Random House). Those who have some Latin and a library handy may want the Sources Chrétiennes edition of Irenaeus’ Adversus Haereses (ed. Rousseau & Doutreleau, Paris: Cerf, 1974, 1982) and can bookmark page 278 of Vol. 211 and page 154 of Vol. 294.* Others can get most of the gist from the translation available in Vol. 1 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), with a finger in pages 380 and 439. OK, to work.

Fr Paul then begins to unfold his argument by first citing what he takes to be an egregious cobbling together of quotes from St Irenaeus:

Pagels’s The Gnostic Gospels is in large measure a polemic against St. Irenaeus (approx. 130-202 AD), Bishop of Lyons and a Father of the Church, and is aimed in particular against the defense of ecclesial orthodoxy offered by Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies — which was written in Greek but which survives, for the most part, in an ancient Latin translation.

In a chapter called “One God, One Bishop,” Pagels is concerned to show that the doctrine of monotheism and the hierarchical structuring of the Church were mutually reinforcing ploys designed to consolidate ecclesiastical power and eliminate diversity — specifically, the diversity that Pagels finds in the Gnostics whom Irenaeus was at pains to refute. Pagels claims that Valentinian Christians (disciples of the Gnostic Valentinus) “followed a practice which insured the equality of all participants” and put the bishop Irenaeus in a double-bind situation by ignoring his orders. Says Pagels (page 43: brackets, ellipsis, and emphasis are Pagels’s):

What Irenaeus found most galling of all was that, instead of repenting or even openly defying the bishop, they responded to his protests with diabolically clever theological arguments:

They call [us] “unspiritual,” “common,” and “ecclesiastic.” … Because we do not accept their monstrous allegations, they say that we go on living in the hebdomad [the lower regions], as if we could not lift our minds to the things on high, nor understand the things that are above.

Pagels’s quotation of Irenaeus is tagged by an endnote reference which, on page 162, reads “Ibid. [Irenaeus AH], Quotation conflated from 3.15.2 and 2.16.4.” To put it mildly, an interesting method of citation. Let’s look at the sources.

Fr Paul then goes through the details of the quotes and Pagels’ “conflating of them” (see his argument at the link above) to demonstrate his claim.

To recapitulate: Pagels has carpentered a non-existent quotation, putatively from an ancient source, by silent suppression of relevant context, silent omission of troublesome words, and a mid-sentence shift of 34 chapters backwards through the cited text, so as deliberately to pervert the meaning of the original. While her endnote calls the quote “conflated,” the word doesn’t fit even as a euphemism: what we have is not conflation but creation.

Re-reading Pagels’s putative quotation, you may have noticed that the word “unspiritual” corresponds to nothing in the Latin. It too was supplied by Pagels’s imagination. The reason for the interpolation will be plain from the comment that immediately follows (page 44 in The Gnostic Gospels). Remember that she wants to argue that Irenaeus was interested in authority and the Valentinians in the life of the spirit:

Irenaeus was outraged at their claim that they, being spiritual, were released from the ethical restraints that he, as a mere servant of the demiurge, ignorantly sought to foist upon them.

Put simply, Irenaeus did not write what Prof. Pagels wished he would have written, so she made good the defect by silently changing the text. Creativity, when applied to one’s sources, is not a compliment. She is a very naughty historian.

Fr Paul concludes:

The Gnostic Gospels, like those portions of Pagels’s later work with which I am familiar, is chock-full of tendentious readings and instances where counter-evidence is suppressed. The example of “creativity” here discussed may fairly be called a representative specimen of her methodology, and was singled out not because it’s the worst example of its kind but because it’s among the most unambiguous. No one who consults the source texts could give Pagels a pass, and that means she forfeits the claim to reliability as a scholar. Attractive as her ideological sympathies may be to many persons — including many academics — she does not deserve to be ranked with serious textual scholars like Claremont’s James Robinson, and her testimony on the accuracy of inventions such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code cannot be solicited without irony.

[H/T Michael Liccione]

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Lent this year has been among the most difficult times of my life, and that of our household. Never would I have chosen the sorts of disciplines we have been experiencing. Nor has the Paschaltide brought swift deliverance and resolution. Things seem to be brightening, but the tendrils of darkness still remain. It makes for an odd cacophony of emotive voices in one’s soul. Our Lent was not filled with the abstinences of so many others, being a household with a nursing mother and infant, and a toddler. Ours were rather different sorts of abstinences, few of them self-chosen. Whereas my relationship with God has almost always been one of peace, it has, for going on sixty days now, been largely one of pain. The masks have been removed from certain aspects of my life, and such revelations are not altogether pleasant and many of them are frightful. Never has the stress of these weeks been so constant an irritant, so powerful a catalyst for my own anger and argumentativeness. I have spoiled by snappishness and petulance moments so brief and fleeting that could have otherwise been filled with more happiness and joy.

This is not to say that we have been bereft of the ministrations and blessings of God. Despite my faithlessness he has remained faithful. Fellow Christians, members of our parish, our families, have blessed us very tangibly in gifts, the use of vehicles, and the blanket of prayers. Even my own wrestlings and doubts have been calmed by the opportunities to hold my daughters in my arms and rock them to sleep. Never has the bedtime liturgy of the Our Father, a couple of hymns, and the stillness of relaxation and rest been so sweet as in the past couple of weeks. Never has my daughters’ laughter rang so deliciously in my ears.

What has been hope-inducing these past couple of weeks is the capacity to track in reverse what appear to me to be the footprints of God, his gracious providence through banal daily events. How many times do flights get delayed coming into, out of and through O’Hare due to spring-time thunderstorms? And in the space of that delay, I browsed the bookstore and bought a job-hunting book. That book led to some realizations about inadequacies in my resume, which I addressed in the days immediately following. That revised resume led to the two current initial screening phases of two job positions–both of which companies (or their recruiter) contacted me after having viewed my (revised) resume online. For the previous month and a half my resume got no action. Would I have gotten even these nibbles had I not revised my resume? Would I have revised my resume had I not purchased and read the entire job-hunting book during my flight delay and the subsequent flight? Would I have browsed the bookstore and come across the book had there not been a flight delay?

Some of the current experiences we are going through are the result of ignorance and poor choices. Economics is, quite literally, the law of the home, and we have just simply not been taught or trained in those laws that make for an economically stable home. Both of us being in and out of graduate school for all of our married life does not help a whit, of course. But this simply increases the imperative nature of the simple basic principles upon which a Christian home can be managed. So, having purchased the aforementioned job-hunting book, a day or two later I was once again browsing the bookstore for a related title. Instead of that title, however, I came across a book that provided the sort of simple and helpful laws of the home necessary for a family of four. Having digested its contents, I am trying to begin the formation of habitual behaviors that will enable us to address our current failures and protect against them in the future.

Despite these acts of grace by God for our salvation, however, the struggles and the consequences of them still trace their marks on my soul. I find myself, perhaps, like St. Thomas, in the days following the Resurrection. Hearing the hopeful word, wanting so desparately to believe it, but fearful of trusting such a preposterous account. So, he retreated from that hope and attempted to find refuge in what could be seen and touched. I want a job. I want a home for my family. I want us reunited geographically and not flung out across the vast midwestern plains. I want to both see and believe.

I do not know if I can take the Saint’s lesson for me, to have the conviction of things not seen, the assurance of things hoped for. I am, right now, too much like the Saint in his flesh. I walk by sight and not by faith. Still it is for me to remember these backward-traced footprints. It is for me to remember that the blessing is upon those who do not see and yet believe. It is for me to cry out with the Saint, “My Lord and my God.” But I do not know if I have even that much faith. God is ever gracious, but I am double-minded and am tossed about.

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Some of the tidbits from Notes for Pascha & Bright Week:

• We greet one another during the entire Paschal season (which lasts 40 days) with the words: “Christ is risen!” and the response to the greeting is: “Indeed, He is risen!” . . .

• During Bright Week, our prayers in church and at home are sung and not read as we sing all week the feast of the risen Christ: Christ is risen!

• During Bright Week, our morning and evening prayers are replaced by the singing of the short service of the Hours of Pascha (see your prayer books or see below): Christ is risen!

• During Bright Week, we do not read from the psalter at home or in church for the prophecies have been fulfilled: Christ is risen! . . .

• During the Paschal season we begin all of our prayers at home and in church by singing the troparion of Pascha: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”

• During the Paschal season and extending to Pentecost, we do not pray “O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth…” for the Comforter comes on Pentecost. Christ is risen!

• And most important of all: “A Pascha worthy of all honor has dawned for us. Pascha! Let us embrace each other joyously!…This is the day of resurrection. Let us be illumined by the feast. Let us embrace each other. Let us call ‘Brother’ even those who hate us, and forgive all by the resurrection, and so let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” “And unto us He has given eternal life. Let us worship His resurrection on the third day!”

Read the rest at the link above, especially the service of the Paschal Hours

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Orthodox Images of the Christ

A nice webpage of Orthodox icons of Christ at Elpenor:

Orthodox Images of the Christ

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Our priest, Fr. Patrick, has an article in the Winter 2006 issue of Christian History & Biography: Turning Point: The Crowning of Charlemagne:

Few moments in world history proved to be of greater significance than what transpired in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Christmas Day in the year 800.

All eyes in the basilica that day were fixed on an unusually tall, very energetic, and powerfully built man of 58, a Frankish king named Charles, as he knelt devoutly before the tomb of the Apostle Peter. Just as he was beginning to rise after his prayer, Charles was approached by the Bishop of Rome, Pope Leo III, who set a crown on his head and dramatically announced, “Charles Augustus, crowned great and peace-giving emperor of the Romans, life and victory!”

“Great” he was indeed, and that Latin adjective, magnus, was eventually assumed into the name by which he has been best known, Charlemagne. For the first time in more than three centuries, and with the blessing of the Church, Rome once again had a Western emperor.

The diadem set on the head of Charles that day crowned likewise the many and colossal achievements of his career. Since becoming King of the Franks in 768, Charles had unified and reorganized most of Western Europe, using his sword to accomplish the first task and his considerable executive skills to bring about the second. Ironically, his sole significant military defeat, when he pushed south into the Pyrenees to attack the Moors in northern Spain, attained legendary status in The Song of Roland. His other enemies—Saxons, Avars, Bavarians, Lombards, and the rest—did not fare so well, and by the time he received his imperial crown, Charles controlled everything from the English Channel to the borders of Byzantium. With respect to his governing, Charles enjoyed almost no structural support and virtually no centralized taxation. He relied almost entirely on alliances constructed by the force of colossal personality and the influence of his many strong friendships.

Three aspects of Charlemagne’s influence live on.

Read the rest at the link above.

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Remains of Russian painter found in monastery:

More than 500 years after he is thought to have died, Russian experts believe they have found the remains of the inspirational medieval icon painter Andrei Rublev, and intend to use them to build up a better idea of what he looked like.

During the course of restoration work on a Moscow church located in the city’s Andronikov Monastery, where Rublev is said to have died in 1430, the remains of two monks have been uncovered underneath the altar.

Experts believe it is “highly probable” that one of the men is Rublev, a monk whose icons are regarded as some of the finest pieces of religious art that have ever been created.

Scientists are now to run exhaustive tests on the bones to confirm their theory. The bones were found with a ceramic cup, the remains of small crucifixes that would have been worn around the neck, and leather sandals. . . .

His distinctive and hauntingly beautiful work decorates the walls of the Cathedral of the Annunciation in the Kremlin and several other churches across Russia. His most famous work, the Old Testament Trinity, hangs in Moscow’s Tretyakov Art Gallery. . . .

The fact that the “Rublev remains” are of a man who was around 50 years old when he died came as a surprise, since he was thought to have lived well into old age. . . .

Rublev was first mentioned in historical texts in 1405, and his icons are revered by the Russian Orthodox Church, which posthumously canonised him in 1988. They are famed for their simplicity, their vivid colours, and, quite simply, their “Russianness

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‘Holy Fire’ Ceremony Held in Jerusalem:

Pilgrims celebrated the Orthodox Easter ”holy fire” rite Saturday as a flame believed by some to be miraculously ignited illuminated thousands of torches and candles at Christianity’s holiest site.

Security was tight as visitors from around the world flocked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where tradition says Jesus was crucified and buried. . . .

The Greek and Armenian Orthodox patriarchs in the Holy Land descended into the church’s underground tomb to bring out the flame. Worshippers clutching bundles of unlit tapers and torches waited in the darkened church for the church leaders to emerge.

When they reappeared with lighted torches, church bells pealed. Worshippers cheered, shrieked “Christ, Christ,” and ululated. The flames were passed around to the thousands of faithful and light and smoke filled the cavernous church within seconds.

The ritual dates back at least 1,200 years. The precise details of the flame’s source are a closely guarded secret, but some believe it appears spontaneously from Christ’s burial area as a message from Jesus on the eve of the Orthodox Easter that he has not forgotten his followers.

“My connection to Jesus is stronger, my connection to Jerusalem is stronger now,” said Jeanette Gennetian, 66, of Watertown, Mass, a member of the Armenian Apostolic church.

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Thoughts on Providence

[Please continue to take these ruminations as explorations of someone who doesn't know much, however dogmatically I state my ignorance.]

There is that verse from Psalm 118 (119 in Hebrew) which is prayed in St. Basil’s Divine Liturgy:

. . . for all things serve thee.

As has been evident to my readers I have been much in thought regarding Providence. Not, mind you, in the sense of a theological concept, nor of a thorny philosophical problem to wrest from the hands of the likes of Sextus Empiricus, but, rather, in the sense of what it has to do with the Personhood of God and of my relationship to him.

In fact, it is not even so bland as that. Rather, it is this variegated kaleidoscope of synergy that marks every moment of salvation. For that is God’s very name: Savior. And Providence is but one more name for salvation.

I have been pondering, in these latter days, the following prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, d. 1867 (emphases added):

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon thy holy will. In every hour of the day reveal thy will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with firm conviction that thy will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by thee. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray thou thyself in me. Amen. [from A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers (SVS Press, 1983), p. 20]

The mystery here is not that God acts, nor that his acts are essentially unknown and unseen to us save he reveal them. No what strikes me is the singular notion that this is a prayer asking to be interwoven into this Providential tapestry. Reveal thy will to me. Thy will governs all. Guide my thoughts and feelings. Pray thou thyself in me.

When moments of crisis come, especially those which press home the inescapable fact that one has contributed by one’s own choices and acts to those critical moments, it is often easy, and tempting, to attribute such things wholly to oneself, failing to recognize that nothing happens apart from God’s Providential will. It is also temptingly easy to attribute one’s deliverance to God as external to one’s situated trouble, failing to recognize that God is with us to deliver us in these things and by them. All things serve him, and thus all things work together for our good, for our salvation–even our own sins and failings. Not because such sins and failures have any essential pragmatic value per se, but because God is a savior. He redeems our times.

This is all so very humbling. It brings one to the realization that we truly do not know for what we ought to pray, except that his will be done in heaven and on earth. Pray thou thyself in me.

There is another prayer of Metropolitan Philaret, concerning reliance upon Providence, that is, if possible, even more difficult to pray:

O Lord, I know not what to ask of thee. Thou alone knowest what are my true needs. Thou lovest me more than I myself know how to love. Help me to see my real needs which are concealed from me. I dare not ask either a cross or consolation. I can only wait on thee. My heart is open to thee. Visit and help me, for thy great mercy’s sake. Strike me and heal me, cast me down and raise me up. I worship in silence thy holy will and thine inscrutable ways. I offer myself as a sacrifice to thee. I put all my trust in thee. I have no other desire than to fulfill thy will. Teach me how to pray. Pray thou thyself in me. Amen. [from A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers (SVS Press, 1983), p. 24]

These are the sorts of prayers one prays knowing that one hasn’t yet reached the point at which such prayers are prayed with one’s full being. We pray them only proximately, praying also to be made able one day to truly pray them. We pray beyond our ability so as to become able, by God’s grace, to pray them.

This, too, is Providence. And our salvation.

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Fetuses and Pain

A great little post over at The American Thinker: Fetuses and Pain. From the post:

The study of fetal and neonatal pain is an evolving discipline. In 1987 a landmark article in the New England Journal of Medicine, “Pain and its effects on the human neonate and fetus,” forever changed the perception that newborn reaction to pain was just a “reflex” and reformed the practice of omitting anesthesia for newborn medical procedures.

When writing about fetal pain, the classic issue of the mind-brain problem is always present. It is impossible to prove what another being perceives and difficult to ascertain which anatomic structures and physiologic processes are necessary for the experience of pain. The authors who dismiss the possibility of fetal pain not only reiterate this point, but also attempt to relate pain to the brain structures that develop very late in gestation. . . .

The foremost authority in fetal and neonatal pain, K.J.S Anand, was a researcher at Harvard when he co-authored the 1987 landmark study on neonatal and fetal pain, and now holds an endowed chair in critical care medicine, pediatrics, anesthesiology, pharmacology, neurobiology and developmental sciences at the University of Arkansas. Anand was critical of the JAMA article, stating that even though it purported to be a “systematic multidisciplinary review,” the authors utilized ambiguous scientific methodology in selecting only the articles that supported their point of view.

Unlike the authors of the articles dismissive of fetal pain, Anand actually takes care of babies at the same gestational ages as the fetuses under discussion. He has done extensive research in the area, authoring dozens of articles, and has no axe to grind in the abortion debate. He has testified before Congressional committees in the debates on the Partial Birth Abortion Act and, more recently, in relation to the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act.

The main point he makes is that pain perception is not a hard-wired system and has multiple layers. He believes that the structures for pain in fetuses are not the same as in older children and adults, and the lack of mature structures should not lead to the conclusion that fetuses do not feel pain. Anand states that pain is an integral part of the nervous system and that fetuses will use whatever structures are available.

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The Prayer of St. Ephrem OLIC Podcast

Our Life in Christ has finished up the series on the Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian. Here are the mp3 links to each program dealing specifically with the prayer. I cannot recommend highly enough this entire series. It is the absolute best I have encountered not only from OLIC but from any other talk program of any kind.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

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