The God Who Brings Suffering

[Please note: Once again, these are words written to myself. They are not meant to be paradigmatic. They are simply an errant exploration of one man, and a sinner.]

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:1-5)

So begins the Book of Job. A life of faith, of love and care for his family. An intercessor.

In one verse the scene changes and an horrific and bizarre bartering for a soul takes place:

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. (Job 1:6)

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Scripture and Tradition

From Fr. Georges Florovsky’s Scripture and Tradition:


This approach to the problem of Scripture and tradition is itself traditional. In fact, it was the approach of the ancient church. St. Irenaeus and St. Basil were appropriately quoted in the Russian Catechism. The problem of correct exegesis was a burning issue in the ancient church during the struggle and contest with heresies. All parties in the dispute used to appeal to Scripture. Moreover, at that time exegesis was the main, and even the only, theological method, and the authority of Scripture was sovereign and supreme. The orthodox leaders were bound to raise the hermeneutical question: What was the principle of interpretation? Now, in the second century the term “Scripture” still denoted primarily the Old Testament. It was in this same century that the authority of the Old Testament was sharply and radically challenged, and actually rejected, by Marcion. The unity of the Bible had to be proved and vindicated. What was the basis and the warrant of a Christian and christological understanding of “prophecy,” that is, of the Old Testament? It was in this historic situation that the authority of tradition was first invoked.

Scripture belonged to the church, and it was only in the church, within the community of right faith, that Scripture could be adequately understood and correctly interpreted. Heretics, namely, those outside of the church, had no key to the mind of the Scripture. It was not enough simply to quote scriptural words and texts (the “letter”). Rather, the true meaning of Scripture, taken as an integrated whole, had to be grasped and elicited. In the admirable phrase of St. Hilary of Poitiers, “scripturae enim non in legendo sunt, sed in intelligendo.” The phrase was also repeated by St. Jerome. One had to grasp in advance, as it were, the true pattern of scriptural revelation, the great and comprehensive design of God’s redemptive providence (the oeconomia), and this could be done only by an insight of faith. It was by faith that the witness to Christ could be discerned in the Old Testament. It was by faith that the unity of the tetramorphic gospel could be properly ascertained.

Now, this faith was not an arbitrary and subjective insight of individuals; it was the faith of the church, rooted in the apostolic message or kerygma and authenticated by it. Those outside of the church, that is, outside of her living and apostolic tradition, failed to have precisely this basic and overarching message, the very heart of the gospel. With them Scripture was an array of disconnected passages and stories or of proof-texts which they endeavored to arrange and re-arrange according to their own pattern, derived from alien sources. They had “another faith.”
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Something Like a Phenomenology of Crisis and Prayer

Let me say up front that nothing written here is to be understood as paradigmatic. I am simply trying to describe, for my own clarity, these present experiences that are my own and no one else’s. If I speak in generic terms, it is because this is my academic training.

When one’s life is going well, one simply tries to observe regularity of prayer. One might try this or that added prayer. One might shorten or lengthen one’s prayer rule. One might work to emphasize the “spontaneous” or “arrow” prayers that one is given occasion–or takes thought on occasion–to pray. But the orientation, it seems to me, is simply the work of regularity.

Which of course means the development of attention. So why is it that when a crisis emerges, even if such a crisis has populated one’s fears for months–even if one has no illusions as to the origins of such a crisis, however deserved or not, in one’s choices and acts–it is experienced with something like hurt surprise and shock? Hadn’t I been paying attention? Apparently not.

But now the attention is most markedly drawn. The wound hurts and I gravitate toward its central force. And now a most difficult choice is presented to me, a decision about pathways and the sort of life one will lead in light of this present pain. Do I accept it, or do I reject it? To reject it is the “natural” course. Pain wrenches and irritates. It is a fearful thing for we know intuitively I think that the acceptance of pain need not end in its mastery. Pain can consume us. Pain portends death, though of two kinds. One is a death of potential resurrection, the other of a sort of annihilation. And yet rejecting the pain is nothing more than another path of narcotization. We will find our balm in the illusion of control and superstition (if I pray more, work harder, if I somehow do something that will move and obligate God to me . . .), or in anesthetization and addiction (the escape of distractive pursuits and of alcohol and drugs). So the only option that presents a possibility of not just survival but of transfiguration is to accept the pain. To give to it that sort of hospitality that denudes one of just the sort of security I seek against that pain. I do not know if I will be consumed by the pain or outlast it. I have only this one guarantee, if I am in Christ, our man-befriending God will not let me be tempted beyond what I am able to bear but will with such a temptation provide a way of escape.

I cannot say this with any authority, but it seems to me that this verse and its promise of escape does not obviously guarantee an escape from the pain. It is, rather, I think, an escape into Christ, wherein lies the strength I do not have to endure and the faith I yet still lack to believe in the goodness and mercy of God.

So. Against every fiber of my being, I attempt to accept the pain. This acceptance is, of course, not a once and final act. It is a sort of hospitality to one’s enemy that must at times be enacted moment by moment. For I cannot see how it is that one will ever reach a state beyond which it will never be possible to fall. Not prior to the eschaton. I do believe there are saints who attain this dispassion in this life, make no mistake. And perhaps their souls become so fixed in virtue prior to the end that they will never fall. I just do not know how one could ever know that. And the lives of these very saints are full of stories of those who thought they so knew themselves, and yet they fell.

I cannot adequately describe, I do not think, what it is to consciously, often moment by moment, play host to the pain wrought by these crises I encounter. I cannot describe it because I am not sure I am doing it. I think I stand somewhere between the path of rejection and the path of acceptance. I strive only to not reject the pain. I’m not sure I have yet striven to embrace it. But, if I am not mistaken, it is the embrace that is required of me.

I mean by that simply this: All that God has given me is this present moment. If I am not attentive, prayerfully conscious of this moment, I will miss the very presence of God who, I can only claim by sheer faith, by providence allowed this pain. It is here, it is now that God has acted, and I will rejoice in him. It is here, it is now that is the moment of salvation. I must not let my heart be hardened as did they at Massah and Meribah.

Let me try again. It is here, it is now, it is right in this very place that God is. It is by embracing this now, in all its particularity, with as much holy awareness as I can muster and God will work in me, that I embrace the God who dwells in it. By shrinking back, then, I shrink back from him who is my only hope and consolation.

Because there is one thing I know to be true: God ascended the Cross, he descended into hell, he rose from the dead and he ascended into heaven. God became man and dwelt bodily among us. This God as the Incarnate Jesus suffered and was buried. He himself cried the cosmic cry of dereliction, calling out with the voice of the entire creation and all humankind, with the voice of the divine Son who brought us to himself: My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?

These nail-scarred hands are here in this moment if I will but see them, by faith, of course, with a single eye. In grasping the pain that is the center of this very now, this very here, I clasp hands with him who can draw me up from the waters.

A Psalm of David, 68.

Save me, O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul. I am stuck fast in the mire of the deep, and there is no sure standing. I am come into the deeps of the sea, and a tempest hath overwhelmed me. I am grown weary with crying, my throat is become hoarse; from my hoping in my God, mine eyes have failed me. . . . But as for me, with my prayer I cry unto Thee, O Lord; it is time for Thy good pleasure. O God, in the multitude of Thy mercy hearken unto me, in the truth of Thy salvation. Save me from the mire, that I be not stuck therein; let me be delivered from them that hate me and from the deeps of the waters. Let not the tempest of water overwhelm me, nor let the deep swallow me up, nor let the pit shut its mouth upon me. Hearken unto me, O Lord, for Thy mercy is good; according to the multitude of Thy compassions, look upon me. Turn not Thy countenance away from Thy servant, for I am afflicted; quickly hearken unto me. . . .

Of course, this very psalm is a psalm of the Christ, that which Christ himself fulfilled, and so, in him am I rescued from these waters, this mire, this tempest and slick footing.

But saying and doing, and doing and continuing to do are different things, joined only by prayer and the energetic gracious work of God in and on the soul.

Where before prayer was about regularity, now these things for me fall to the side, and prayer becomes the continual cry of intensity. When once one fought to stay attentive in one’s prayers, now one’s attention is too close. Where once the heart fought off boredom, now one is immersed in a single monochromatic though sharp experience. The tears that come are not the grace of repentance, at least not for me, but the anguish of existence in the consequences of sin, not the least of which are one’s own sins.

The struggle now becomes, it seems to me–and I speak here with no authority–not that of attentiveness, but rather the temptation to superstition, to bargaining. One conditions the pain to one’s repentance. Ah, see, Lord, I now know what it is you have had to teach me. Now, let me go free of this. Or, If you punished the sinner, O Lord, who could stand? Or, I am too weak to endure more, please let it end. But this is not much different than the patient telling the surgeon he has cut enough, and anyway, the inflamed appendix can be endured.

No, I think I have come to learn–but to say that I have learned it is a bit much at this point–that only God knows truly how long the endurance of pain will be salvific. And one can be quite surprised at the layers of dead soul that such painful crises can slough away.

And this is all I can say. May the Lord sift the truth from falsehood here. I am not yet host to the pain of these present circumstances. I am not yet delivered. I am simply here. And, I trust by faith alone, so, too is Christ, his Most Holy Mother, St. John, St. Benedict, Blessed Seraphim and all the saints. Who also pray for me.

The Ever-Virgin Mother of God

From Fr. Georges Florovsky’s The Ever-Virgin Mother of God:

The teaching about Virgin Mary

The whole dogmatic teaching about our Lady can be condensed into these two names of hers: the Mother of God (Theotokos) and the Ever-Virgin (aiparthenos). Both names have the formal authority of the Church Universal, an ecumenical authority indeed. The Virgin Birth is plainly attested in the New Testament and has been an integral part of the Catholic tradition ever since. “Incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary” (or “Born of the Virgin Mary”) is a credal phrase. It is not merely a statement of the historical fact. It is precisely a credal statement, a solemn profession of faith. The term “Ever-Virgin” was formally endorsed by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553). And Theotokos is more than a name or an honorific title. It is rather a doctrinal definition-in one word. It has been a touchstone of the true faith and a distinctive mark of Orthodoxy even before the Council of Ephesus (432).

VladimirTheotokos250x379.jpgAlready St. Gregory of Nazianzus warns Cledonius: “if one does not acknowledge Mary as Theotokos, he is estranged from God” (Epist. 101). As a matter of fact, the name was widely used by the Fathers of the fourth century and possibly even, in the third (by Origen, for instance, if we can trust Socrates, Hist. Eccl., VII, 32, and the texts preserved in catenas, e.g. In Lucam Hom. 6 and 7, ed. Rauer, 44. 10 and 50. 9). It was already traditional when it was contested and repudiated by Nestorius and his group. The word does not occur in Scripture, just as the term omousios (consubstantial) does not occur. But surely, neither at Nicaea nor at Ephesus was the Church innovating or imposing a new article of faith. An “unscriptural” word was chosen and used, precisely to voice and to safeguard the traditional belief and common conviction of ages. It is true, of course, that the Third Ecumenical Council was concerned primarily with the Christological dogma and did not formulate any special Mariological doctrine.

But precisely for that very reason it was truly remarkable that a Mariological term should have been selected and put forward as the ultimate test of Christological orthodoxy, to be used, as it were, as a doctrinal shibboleth in the Christological discussion. It was really a key-word to the whole of Christology. “This name,” says St. John of Damascus, “contains the whole mystery of the Incarnation” (De Fide Orth., 3. 12). The motive and the purpose of such a choice are obvious. The Christological doctrine can never be accurately and adequately stated unless a very definite teaching about the Mother of Christ has been included. In fact, all the Mariological doubts and errors of modern times depend in the last resort precisely upon an utter Christological confusion. They reveal a hopeless “conflict in Christology.”

There is no room for the Mother of God in a “reduced Christology.” Protestant theologians simply have nothing to say about her. Yet to ignore the Mother means to misinterpret the Son. On the other hand, the person of the Blessed Virgin can be properly understood and rightly described only in a Christological setting and context. Mariology is to be but a chapter in the treatise on the Incarnation, never to be extended into an independent “treatise.” Not, of course, an optional or occasional chapter, not an appendix. It belongs to the very body of doctrine. The Mystery of the Incarnation includes the Mother of the Incarnate. Sometimes, however, this Christological perspective has been obscured by a devotional exaggeration, by an unbalanced pietism. Piety must always be guided and checked by dogma. Again, there must be a Mariological chapter in the treatise on the Church. But the doctrine of the Church itself is but an “extended Christology,” the doctrine of the “total Christ,” totus Christus, caput et corpus.

The nature of Christ

The name Theotokos stresses the fact that the Child whom Mary bore was not a “simple man,” not a human person, but the only-begotten Son of God, “One of the Holy Trinity,” yet Incarnate. This is obviously the corner-stone of the Orthodox faith. Let us recall the formula of Chalcedon: “Following, then, the holy Fathers, we confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ… before the ages begotten of the Father as to Godhead, but in the last days, for us and for our salvation, the selfsame, born of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, as to Manhood” [the translation is by Dr. Bright]. The whole emphasis is on the absolute identity of the Person: the Same, the Self-same, unus idemque in St. Leo. This implies a twofold generation of the divine Word (but emphaticably not a double Sonship; that would be precisely the Nestorian perversion). There is but one Son: the One born of the Virgin Mary is in the fullest possible sense the Son of God. As St. John of Damascus says, the Holy Virgin did not bear “a common man, but the true God,” yet “not naked, but incarnate.” The Same, who from all eternity is born of the Father, “in these last days” was born of the Virgin, “without any change” (De Fide Orth., 3. 12). There is here no confusion of natures. The “second” is just the Incarnation. No new person came into being when the Son of Mary was conceived and born, but the Eternal Son of God was made man. This constitutes the mystery of the divine Motherhood of the Virgin Mary. For indeed Motherhood is a personal relation, a relation between persons. Now, the Son of Mary was in very truth a divine Person. The name Theotokos is an inevitable sequel to the name Theanthropos, the God-Man. Both stand and fall together.

The doctrine of the Hypostatic Union implies and demands the conception of the divine Motherhood. Most unfortunately, the mystery of the Incarnation has been treated in modern times too often in an utterly abstract manner, as if it were but a metaphysical problem or even a dialectical riddle. One indulges too easily in the dialectics of the Finite and the Infinite, of the Temporal and the Eternal, etc., as if they were but terms of a logical or metaphysical relation. One is then in danger of overlooking and missing the very point: the Incarnation was precisely a mighty deed of the Living God, his most personal intervention into the creaturely existence, indeed, the “coming down” of a divine Person, of God in person. Again, there is a subtle but real docetic flavor in many recent attempts to re-state the traditional faith in modern terms. There is a tendency to overemphasize the divine initiative in the Incarnation to such an extent that the historic life of the Incarnate itself fades out into “the Incognito of the Son of God.” The direct identity of the Jesus of history and the Son of God is explicitly denied. The whole impact of Incarnation is reduced to symbols: the Incarnate Lord is understood rather as an exponent of some august principle or idea (be it the Wrath of God or Love, Anger or Merry, judgement or Forgiveness), than as a living Person. In both cases the personal implications of the Incarnation are overlooked or neglected — I mean, our adoption into true sonship of God in the Incarnate Lord. Now, something very real and ultimate happened with men and to men when the Word of God “was made flesh and dwelt among us,” or rather, “took his abode in our midst” — a very pictorial turn indeed: eskinosen en imin (John 1:14).

An unique relationship

But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal. 3:4). This is a scriptural statement of the same mystery with which the Fathers were wrestling at Chalcedon. Now, what is the full meaning and purpose of this phrase: “born of woman?” Motherhood, in general, is by no means exhausted by the mere fact of a physical procreation. It would be lamentable blindness if we ignored its spiritual aspect. In fact, procreation itself establishes an intimate spiritual relation between the mother and the child. This relation is unique and reciprocal, and its essence is affection or love. Are we entitled to ignore this implication of the fact that our Lord was “born of the Virgin Mary?” Surely, no docetic reduction is permissible in this case, just as it must be avoided anywhere else in Christology. Jesus was (and is) the Eternal God, and yet Incarnate, and Mary was His Mother in the fullest sense. Otherwise the Incarnation would not have been genuine. But this means precisely that for the Incarnate Lord there is one particular human person to whom he is in a very special relation, — in precise terms, one for whom he is not only the Lord and Saviour, but a Son.

GlykophilousaTheotokos266x355.jpgOn the other hand, Mary was the true mother of her Child — the truth of her human maternity is of no less relevance and importance than the mystery of her divine motherhood. But the Child was divine. Yet the spiritual implications of her motherhood could not be diminished by the exceptional character of the case, nor could Jesus fail to be truly human in his filial response to the motherly affection of the one of whom he was born. This is not a vain speculation. It would be impertinent indeed to intrude upon the sacred field of this unparalleled intimacy between the Mother and the divine Child. But it would be even more impertinent to ignore the mystery. In any case, it would have been a very impoverished idea if we regarded the Virgin Mother merely as a physical instrument of our Lord’s taking flesh. Moreover, such a misinterpretation is formally excluded by the explicit teaching of the Church, attested from the earliest date: she was not just a “channel” through which the Heavenly Lord has come, but truly the mother of whom he took his humanity. St. John of Damascus precisely in these very words summarizes the Catholic teaching: he did not come “as through a pipe,” but has assumed of her (eks avtis), a human nature consubstantial to ours (De Fide Orth., 3, 12).

The Divine election

Mary “has found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). She was chosen and ordained to serve in the Mystery of the Incarnation. And by this eternal election or predestination she was in a sense set apart and given an unique privilege and position in the whole of mankind, nay in the whole of creation. She was given a transcendent rank, as it were. She was at once a representative of the human race, and set apart. There is an antinomy here, implied in the divine election. She was set apart. She was put into a unique and unparalleled relation to God, to the Holy Trinity, even before the Incarnation, as the prospective Mother of the Incarnate Lord, just because it was not an ordinary historical happening, but an eventful consummation of the eternal decree of God. She has a unique position even in the divine plan of salvation. Through the Incarnation human nature was to be restored again into the fellowship with God which had been destroyed and abrogated by the Fall. The sacred Humanity of Jesus was to be the bridge over the abyss of sin. Now, this humanity was to be taken of the Virgin Mary. The Incarnation itself was a new beginning in the destiny of man, a beginning of the new humanity.

MP_Directress266x357.jpgIn the Incarnation the “new man” was born, the “Last Adam;” he was truly human, but he was more than a man: “The second man is the Lord from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47). As the Mother of this “Second Man,” Mary herself was participating in the mystery of the redeeming re-creation of the world. Surely, she is to be counted among the redeemed. She was most obviously in need of salvation. Her Son is her Redeemer and Saviour, just as he is the Redeemer of the world. Yet, she is the only human being for whom the Redeemer of the world is also a son, her own child whom she truly bore. Jesus indeed was born “not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13; this verse is related both to the Incarnation and to baptismal regeneration), and yet he is “the fruit of the womb” of Mary. His supernatural birth is the pattern and the font of the new existence, of the new and spiritual birth of all believers, which is nothing else than a participation in his sacred humanity, an adoption into the sonship of God — in the “second man,” in the “last Adam.”

The Mother of the “second man” necessarily had her own and peculiar way into the new life. It is not too much to say that for her the Redemption was, in a sense, anticipated in the fact of the Incarnation itself, — and anticipated in a peculiar and personal manner. “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee” (Luke 1:35). This was a true “theophanic presence” — in the fullness of grace and of the Spirit. The “shadow” is exactly a theophanic symbol. And Mary was truly “full of grace,” gratia plena, keharitomeni. The Annunciation was for her, as it were, an anticipated Pentecost. We are compelled to risk this daring parallelism by the inscrutable logic of the divine election. For indeed we cannot regard the Incarnation merely as a metaphysical miracle which would be unrelated to the personal destiny and existence of the persons involved. Man is never dealt with by God as if he was but a tool in the hands of a master. For man is a living person. By no means could it be merely an “instrumental” grace, when the Virgin was “overshadowed” with the power of the Highest. The unique position of the Virgin Mary is obviously not her own achievement, nor simply a “reward” for her “merits,” — nor even perhaps was the fullness of grace given to her in a “prevision” of her merits and virtue. It was supremely the free gift of God, in the strictest sense — gyatia gratis data. It was an absolute and eternal election, although not unconditional — for it was conditioned by and related to the mystery of the Incarnation. Mary holds her unique position and has a “category of her own” not as a mere Virgin, but as the Virgin-Mother, parthenomitir, as the predestined Mother of the Lord. Her function in the Incarnation is twofold. On the one hand, she secures the continuity of the human race. Her Son is, in virtue of his “second nativity,” the Son of David, the Son of Abraham and of all the “forefathers” (this is emphasized by the genealogies of Jesus, in both versions). . . .

Of course, Jesus the Christ is the only Lord and Saviour. But Mary is his mother. She is the morning star that announces the sunrise, the rise of the true Sol salutis: astir emfenon ton Ilion. She is “the dawn of the mystic day,” (both phrases are from the Akathist hymn). And in a certain sense even the Nativity of our Lady itself belongs to the mystery of salvation. “Thy birth, O Mother of God and Virgin, hath declared joy to all the universe — for from thee arose the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God” (Troparion of the Feast of the Nativity of our Lady). Christian thought moves always in the dimension of personalities, not in the realm of general ideas. It apprehends the mystery of the Incarnation as a mystery of the Mother and the Child. This is the ultimate safeguard against any abstract docetism. It is a safeguard of the evangelical concreteness. The traditional icon of the Blessed Virgin, in the Eastern tradition, is precisely an icon of the Incarnation: the Virgin is always with the Babe. And surely no icon, i.e. no image of the Incarnation, is ever possible without the Virgin Mother.

MP_Annunciation265x357.jpgBe it according to thy word

Again, the Annunciation is “the beginning of our salvation and the revelation of the mystery which is from eternity: the Son of God becometh the Son of the Virgin, and Gabriel proclaimeth good tidings of grace” (Troparion of the Feast of the Annunciation). The divine will has been declared and proclaimed by the archangel. But the Virgin was not silent. She responded to the divine call, responded in humility and faith. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” Divine will is accepted and responded to. And this human response is highly relevant at this point. The obedience of Mary counterbalances the disobedience of Eve. In this sense the Virgin Mary is the Second Eve, as her Son is the Second Adam.

This parallel was drawn quite early. The earliest witness is St. Justin (Dial., 100) and in St. Irenaeus we find already an elaborate conception, organically connected with his basic idea of the recapitulation. “As Eve by the speech of an angel was seduced, so as to flee God, transgressing his word, so also Mary received the good tidings by means of the angel’s speech, so as to bear God within her, being obedient to his word. And, though the one has disobeyed God, yet the other was drawn to obey God; that of the virgin Eve the Virgin Mary might become the advocate. And, as by a virgin the human race had been bound to death, by a virgin it is saved, the balance being preserved, a virgin’s disobedience by a virgin’s obedience” (5, 19, 1). And again: “And so the knot of Eve’s disobedience received its unloosing through the obedience of Mary; for what Eve, a virgin, bound by incredulity, that Mary, a virgin, unloosed by faith” (3, 22, 34 — translation by Cardinal Newman). This conception was traditional, especially in the catechetical teaching, both in the East and in the West. “It is a great sacrament [magnum sacramentum] that, whereas through woman death became our portion, so life was born to us by woman,” says St. Augustine (De Agone Christ., 24, in another place he is simply quoting Irenaeus). “Death by Eve, life by Mary,” declares St. Jerome (Epist. 22: mors per Evam, vita per Mariam). . . .

The Incarnation was indeed a sovereign act of God, but it was a revelation not only of his omnipotent might, but above all of his fatherly love and compassion. There was implied an appeal to human freedom once more, as an appeal to freedom was implied in the act of creation itself, namely in the creation of rational beings. The initiative was of course divine. Yet, as the means of salvation chosen by God was to be an assumption of true human nature by a divine Person, man had to have his active share in the mystery. Mary was voicing this obedient response of man to the redeeming decree of the love divine, and so she was representative of the whole race. She exemplified in her person, as it were, the whole of humanity. This obedient and joyful acceptance of the redeeming purpose of God, so beautifully expressed in the Magnificat, was an act of freedom. Indeed, it was freedom of obedience, not of initiative — and yet a true freedom, freedom of love and adoration, of humility and trust — and freedom of co-operation (cf. St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haeres., 3, 21, 8: “Mary cooperating with the economy”) — this is just what human freedom means. The grace of God can never be simply superadded, mechanically as it were. It has to be received in a free obedience and submission.

An Eve’s descendent too

Mary was chosen and elected to become the Mother of the Incarnate Lord. We must assume that she was fit for that awful office, that she was prepared for her exceptional calling-prepared by God. Can we properly define the nature and character of this preparation? We are facing here the crucial antinomy (to which we have alluded above). The Blessed Virgin was representative of the race, i.e. of the fallen human race, of the “old Adam.” But she was also the second Eve; with her begins the “new generation.” She was set apart by the eternal counsel of God, but this “setting apart” was not to destroy her essential solidarity with the rest of mankind. Can we solve this antinomical mystery in any logical scheme? The Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception, of the Virgin Mary is a noble attempt to suggest such a solution. But this solution is valid only in the context of a particular and highly inadequate doctrine of original sin and does not hold outside this particular setting. Strictly speaking, this “dogma” is an unnecessary complication, and an unfortunate terminology only obscures the undisputable truth of the Catholic belief. The “privileges” of the divine Motherhood do not depend upon a “freedom from original sin.”

PassionTheotokos266x329.jpgThe fullness of grace was truly bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin and her personal purity was preserved by the perpetual assistance of the Spirit. But this was not an abolition of the sin. The sin was destroyed only on the tree of the Cross, and no “exemption” was possible, since it was simply the common and general condition of the whole of human existence. It was not destroyed even by the Incarnation itself, although the Incarnation was the true inauguration of the New Creation. The Incarnation was but the basis and the starting-point of the redemptive work of our Lord. And the “Second Man” himself enters into his full glory through the gate of death. Redemption is a complex act, and we have to distinguish most carefully its moments, although they are supremely integrated in the unique and eternal counsel of God. Being integrated in the eternal plan, in the temporal display they are reflected in each ether and the final consummation is already prefigured and anticipated in all the earlier stages. There was a real progress in the history of the Redemption. Mary had the grace of the Incarnation, as the Mother of the Incarnate, but this was not yet the complete grace, since the Redemption had not yet been accomplished. Yet, her personal purity was possible even in an unredeemed world, or rather in a world that was in process of Redemption. The true theological issue is that of the divine election. The Mother and the Child are inseparably linked in the unique decree of the Incarnation. As an event, the Incarnation is just the turning-point of history, — and the turning-point is inevitably antinomical: it belongs at once to the Old and to the New. The rest is silence. We have to stand in awe and trembling on the threshold of the mystery.

Her personal perfection

The intimate experience of the Mother of the Lord is hidden from us. And nobody was ever able to share this unique experience, by the very nature of the case. It is the mystery of the person. This accounts for the dogmatic reticence of the Church in Mariological doctrine. The Church speaks of her rather in the language of devotional poetry, in the language of antinomical metaphors and images. There is no need, and no reason, to assume that the Blessed Virgin realized at once all the fullness and all the implications of the unique privilege bestowed upon her by the grace of God. There is no need, and no reason, to interpret the “fulness” of grace in a literal sense as including all possible perfections and the whole variety of particular spiritual gifts. It was a fullness for her, she was full of grace. And yet it was a “specialized” fullness, the grace of the Mother of God, of the Virgin Mother, of the “Unwedded Spouse. Indeed, she had her own spiritual way, her own growth in grace. The full meaning of the mystery of salvation was apprehended by her gradually. And she had her own share in the sacrifice of the Cross: “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” (Luke 2:35).

The full light shone forth only in the Resurrection. Up to that point Jesus himself was not yet glorified. And after the Ascension we find the Blessed Virgin among the Twelve, in the center of the growing Church. One point is beyond any doubt. The Blessed Virgin had been always impressed, if this word is suitable here, by the angelic salutation and announcement and by the startling mystery of the virgin birth. How could she not be impressed? Again, the mystery of her experience is hidden from us. But can we really avoid this pious guesswork without betraying the mystery itself? “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Her inner life had to be concentrated on this crucial event of her story. For indeed the mystery of the Incarnation was for her also the mystery of her own personal existence. Her existential situation was unique and peculiar. She had to be adequate to the unprecedented dignity of this situation. This is perhaps the very essence of her particular dignity, which is described as her “Ever-Virginity.” She is the Virgin. Now virginity is not simply a bodily status or a physical feature as such. Above all it is a spiritual and inner attitude, and apart from that a bodily status would be altogether meaningless. The title of Ever-Virgin means surely much more than merely a “physiological” statement. It does not refer only to the Virgin Birth. It does not imply only an exclusion of any later marital intercourse (which would be utterly inconceivable if we really believe in the Virgin Birth and in the Divinity of Jesus). It excludes first of all any “erotic” involvement, any sensual and selfish desires or passions, any dissipation of the heart and mind. The bodily integrity or incorruption is but an outward sign of the internal purity. The main point is precisely the purity of the heart, that indispensable condition of “seeing God.”

This is the freedom from passions, the true apathia, which has been commonly described as the essence of the spiritual life. Freedom from passions and “desires,” epithimia — imperviability to evil thoughts, as St. John of Damascus puts it. Her soul was governed by God only, it was supremely attached to him. All her desire was directed towards things worthy of desire and affection (St. John says: tetammeni, attracted, gravitating). She had no passion, thymon. She ever preserved virginity in mind, and soul, and body (Homil. 1, in Nativitatem B.V Mariae 9 and 5, Migne, Ser. Gr. XCVI, 676 A and 668 C). It was an undisturbed orientation of the whole personal life towards God, a complete self-dedication. To be truly a “handmaid of the Lord” means precisely to be ever-virgin, and not to have any fleshly preoccupations. Spiritual virginity is sinlessness, but not yet “perfection,” and not freedom from temptations. But even our Lord himself was in a sense liable to temptations and was actually tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

Our Lady perhaps had her temptations too, but has overcome them in her steady faithfulness to God’s calling. Even an ordinary motherly love culminates in a spiritual identification with the child, which implies so often sacrifice and self-denial. Nothing less can be assumed in the case of Mary; her Child was to be great and to be called the “Son of the Highest” (Luke 1:32). Obviously, he was one who “should have come,” the Messiah (Luke 7:19). This is openly professed by Mary in the Magnificat, a song of Messianic praise and thanksgiving. Mary could not fail to realize all this, if only dimly for a time and gradually, as she pondered all the glorious promises in her heart. This was the only conceivable way for her. She had to be absorbed by this single thought, in an obedient faithfulness to the Lord who “hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden” and “hath done for her great things.” This is precisely the way in which St. Paul described the state and the privilege of virginity: “the unmarried woman, and the virgin, thinks about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy in body and in spirit” (1 Cor. 7:34). The climax of this virginal aspiration is the holiness of the Virgin Mother all-pure and undefiled.

The Mother of all us

. . . It is widely agreed that the ultimate considerations which determine a true estimate of all particular points of the Christian tradition are doctrinal. No purely historical arguments, whether from antiquity or from silence, are ever decisive. They are subject to a further theological scrutiny and revision in the perspective of the total Christian faith, taken as a whole. The ultimate question is simply this: does one really keep the faith of the Bible and of the Church, does one accept and recite the Catholic Creed exactly in that sense in which it had been drafted and supposed to be taken and understood, does one really believe in the truth of the Incarnation?

. . . Fortunately, a Catholic theologian is not left alone with logic and erudition. He is led by the faith; credo ut intelligam. Faith illuminates the reason. And erudition, the memory of the past, is quickened in the continuous experience of the Church.

A Catholic theologian is guided by the teaching authority of the Church, by its living tradition. But above all, he himself lives in the Church, which is the Body of Christ. The mystery of the Incarnation is still, as it were, continuously enacted in the Church, and its “implications” are revealed and disclosed in devotional experience and in sacramental participation. In the Communion of Saints, which is the true Church Universal and Catholic, the mystery of the New Humanity is disclosed as a new existential situation. And in this perspective and living context of the Mystical Body of Christ the person of the Blessed Virgin Mother appears in full light and full glory. The Church now contemplates her in the state of perfection. She is now seen as inseparably united with her Son, who “sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” For her the final consummation of life has already come-in an anticipation. “Thou art passed over into Life, who art the Mother of Life,” acknowledges the Church, “Neither grave nor death had power over the Mother of God… for the Mother of Life hath been brought into Life by him who dwelt in her ever-virgin womb” (Troparion and Kontakion for the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary).

TheotokosOrans264x428.jpgAgain, it is not so much a heavenly reward for her purity and virtue, as an “implication” of her sublime office, of her being the Mother of God, the Theotokos. The Church Triumphant is above all the worshipping Church, her existence is a living participation in Christ’s office of intercession and his redeeming love. Incorporation into Christ, which is the essence of the Church and of the whole Christian existence, is first of all an incorporation into his sacrificial love for mankind. And here there is a special place for her who is united with the Redeemer in the unique intimacy of motherly affection and devotion. The Mother of God is truly the common mother of all living, of the whole Christian race, born or reborn in the Spirit and truth. An affectionate identification with the child, which is the spiritual essence of motherhood, is here consummated in its ultimate perfection. The Church does not dogmatize much about these mysteries of her own existence. For the mystery of Mary is precisely the mystery of the Church. Mater Ecclesia and Virgo Alater, both are birthgivers of the New Life. And both are orantes.

The Church invites the faithful and helps them to grow spiritually into these mysteries of faith which are as well the mysteries of their own existence and spiritual destiny. In the Church they learn to contemplate and to adore the living Christ together with the whole assembly and Church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven (Heb. 12:23). And in this glorious assembly they discern the eminent person of the Virgin Mother of the Lord and Redeemer, full of grace and love, of charity and compassion — “More honorable than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, who without spot didst bear the Eternal Word.” In the light of this contemplation and in the spirit of faith the theologian must fulfill his office of interpreting to believers and to those who seek the truth the overwhelming mystery of the Incarnation. This mystery is still symbolized, as it was in the age of the Fathers, by a single and glorious name: Mary Theotokos, the Mother of God Incarnate.

Why Protestants Converting to Orthodoxy Are Not Doing the Same Thing as Protestants Practicing Private Interpretation

Doug Wilson, classical education advocate, writes about an evangelical convert to Orthodoxy:

I recently heard a very nice gentleman give his testimony about his pilgrimage from various forms of evangelical Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy. He was obviously sincere, intelligent, well-read, and spiritually hungry for God, but I was really concerned about the central hinge in his argument. . . .

After his talk, I presented my question to him in several different ways, and he did not seem to understand my question at first. But as we talked, he appeared to get what I was pursuing, but was still not able to answer the question. This was unfortunate because it is a question that everyone has to answer, and not just evangelical Protestants.

It goes like this. The problem he faced as an evangelical was caused by the various and contradictory doctrinal “grids” he had adopted over the course of his life, and at the end of the day he realized that all he had was a “just me and my Bible” approach. He didn’t have “just the Bible” (what he thought was the doctrine of sola Scriptura), which sounded reliable, but rather he had the Bible and his own private understanding of it. So in his hunger for something outside himself, he began to read the early church fathers, and was bowled over by what he read. From this fascination with the church of the first millennium (which he did not think existed anymore), he finally came across Eastern Orthodoxy and identified it with what he had been reading.

But notice what happened. He moved from recognizing that private interpretation of the epistle of Romans was “inadequate,” but then fully trusted himself to his private interpreation of Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, et al. He read these men and thought he had a reasonable idea of what the early church was like, and it was all done with “just me and Ignatius.” . . .

When this gentleman had read the early fathers, he had taken them in a particular way. But just about every church father he mentioned I had also read and had come away with a different interpretation that he had. And the Roman Catholics have scholars who are no slouches when it comes to patristics, but they have a different take, a third one. This can be multiplied many times over. During the Reformation, the most notable patristic scholars in Europe were the Reformers, not the Roman Catholics. That emphasis is part of what the Reformers meant by ad fontes, back to the sources.

Now if we are not to trust the Bible because of “all the interpretations,” it seems that it would follow that we are not to trust the church fathers either — because there are so many interpretations. We are not to trust church history because there are so many interpretations. We have RC church historians, Mennonite church historians, Reformed church historians, and Baptist church historians. If the argument is sound, then we ought not to trust church history.

Okay, so we need an interpretive community. Fine. Which one? And who decides which one? At the end of the day, the searcher has to trust his own judgment when he is determining which interpretive community to trust. We have RCs, EOs, confessional Presbyterians, Copts, Armenian Orthodox, Byzantine Rite, Lutherans, and on and on, over the horizon. In other words, despite the effots to make it appear otherwise, no one of these communions is privileged when it comes to the basic hermenuetuical issues. These communions are not outside the interpretive clamor. They are not “above the fray.” And the individual, in the presence of the God who will judge the hearts of men, is the one who has to decide.

To which the estimable Perry Robinson responds over on this thread:

Wilson is utterly confused. The question isn’t epistemic. It isn’t how canI know what the Bible means, but rather, how can I know what the Bible means with a specific and appropriate level of obligation? I cannot produce such obligation and neither can a group of people together making a decision. We lack something to produce formal theological statements sufficient to bind the conscience. So Protestants can get the interpretation right but still lack something that is requisite to produce binding and hence unrevisable theological statements.

Consequently, the Catholic or Orthodox Christian just isn’t in the same boat. Granted that in picking Catholicism or Orthodoxy he uses his private judgment to KNOW the facts. What matters there are arguments. That is what makes one scholar better than another-if the arguments are good or not. But in the realm of doctrine and its consequent ability to bind the conscience, that goes far beyond the level of obligation of mere knowledge, because I am bound there even if I don’t know it to be true, agree with it or understand it. The level of normativity increases with doctrine, which is why meeting the conditions on knowledge is something lots of people can do, but meeting the conditions on doctrine is something only someone divinely authorized can do.

Growing up, I always felt that I was obligated to believe the Creed, even if I didn’t understand it. Even when argueing with the local Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was 14 and they could best me, I still l would not give up because I was bound by the church to believe the Trinity even if I didn’t understand it. And I think most lay people function this way, even in Protestant circles, even though on Protestant principles they aren’t entittled to.

And continues here (link added):

The Most Excellent Pontificator wrote,

“If a Church cannot, in the name of the Holy Trinity, bind the conscience, mind, and heart of its members, then there is nothing else for us but private judgment. ”

That’s it. For Protestants everything is at the level of knowledge and nothing at the level doctrine. Everything is a matter of knowing with respect to theology. Doctrine just is nothing more for Protestants than an object, the access to which only requires that the conditions on knowledge be met because it is as a formal entity, a purely human creation. And nothing that is a human creation can bind the conscience and finally adjudicate disputes.

See also Perry’s comments on ecclesial infallibility and the ensuing comments following the post.

A Few Remarks about Studying for Logic

[Note: I will be passing this out to my logic class this week. Our logic class meets on Monday nights, and our textbooks are Kelley’s The Art of Reasoning, and the companion book of analytical readings by Hicks and Kelley.]

I had the benefit of a public school education that taught me how to learn and how to study. In sixth grade we were taught how to use the library for research, how to take notes, how to cite sources, and, ultimately, how to write a research paper. This was reinforced throughout my junior and senior high years. So, when I embarked on my undergraduate education, I was ready. I may not have always exercised the discipline I needed to learn and to study, but I knew how to do it. Given my personal experience, I have for some time assumed that students on coming to college either already know how to study or find out how to study by utilizing campus resources (such as the learning center or their academic advisor). But as I have taught more classes, I have found that that assumption is very rarely true.

So, I have decided to provide a general methodology of study for this class (but which can be slightly adapted as needed and applied to any class). But be forewarned: there is no such thing as “easy” learning. Anyone selling you on that is simply not mentally sound or is out to take your money. Learning and study are hard work. Even those who are “gifted” for academic study have to work to study and to learn. If you think that you can simply read the chapter once, before class, and copy the answers to the practice quizzes, and just write down some quick answers to any Hicks and Kelley question AND get an A, or even a B, in the class, you are chasing an illusion. Even if you have some basic familiarity with critical reasoning, unless you’ve done some work in logic before, you will have to work hard in this class to get an above average grade of B or an excellent grade of A. If you are not prepared to invest one to two hours per class hour a week outside of class in study and reading, then you should not expect a grade higher than a C.

My suggestion for study is generally as follows:

Give yourself a break on Tuesday, the day after class, and don’t do any logic homework. If you’ve been following my study suggestions, your mind needs a break from logic. Use Tuesday to work on other classes or to read other matters that interest you, or to go to a movie, take a walk in the park, or engage in spirited recreation. Enjoy time with your family and friends.

On Wednesday read through the chapter twice, underlining/highlighting passages that are main points of the chapter or are unclear to you–but don’t take any extensive notes at this point. Just read through the chapter twice and make some marks to call your attention to important or unclear passages. Also, don’t do any of the practice quizzes yet. This should take you perhaps about an hour. (1 hour)

On Thursday, go through the text again, this time going slowly and taking as extensive notes as you need to understand the text. Once again highlight anything that is unclear to you. I would suggest that an hour of doing this, perhaps an hour and a half, would be sufficient. Once again, do not do the practice quizzes. Anything that is still unclear to you, send me an email about and I’ll try to clarify it. (1 to 1 ½ hours)

On Friday take up the textbook again and this time work through the practice quizzes. Go through each quiz one at a time, checking your answers against the key in the back. Note each incorrect answer, but don’t spend any time on trying to understand your error yet. After you’ve worked through all the practice quizzes, go back through and note where you have incorrect answers. If you understand your error, you very likely don’t need to do much more study on that particular item, since it may have simply been a misunderstanding of the question or just a simple forgetting or a simple mistake. Nonetheless, if you understand your error, it was still an error and so you will want to do some light review of that item to make sure you understand it. For those errors that you do not understand why they are errors, go back through the text and see if you can get a better understanding of why you made the mistake you did. If you are still unclear, email me. This process on Friday should take about an hour. (1 hour)

On Saturday, then, read through the text again, focusing on the areas in which you made mistakes on the practice quiz or about which you are still unclear. If I haven’t clarified those issues in an email, make a special note to bring the matter up in class. This should take maybe a half hour or an hour. (½ to 1 hour)

On Sunday, if there are no Hicks and Kelley readings assigned, don’t do anything with regard to logic. Let the study you have been doing over the previous few days “simmer” in your subconscious. If you do have Hicks and Kelley readings, read over the text once, work through the questions by referring back to the text. This is to be “light” work, a way to reinforce the chapter you’ve studied. It should take only about an hour. Especially if you do not have any Hicks and Kelley questions, make sure to enjoy the day free of studying for this class. Read inspiring texts. Listen to classical music. Spend some time enjoying whatever weather the day brings. Always make the effort to spend large and generous amounts of time with your loved ones. If you have to work, work diligently and be respectful of your co-workers and customers. Listen to conversations carefully. Classroom study is not a separate part of your life, and what happens in your life outside of class impacts your “classroom life.” Be at peace outside of class and your class time and study time will improve. (If Hicks and Kelley are assigned: 1 hour)

On Monday, the day of class, do a light review. Skim through the chapter headings, the portions of the chapter you underlined. Review items you’ve memorized. Go over your practice quizzes lightly. Don’t take much more than a half-hour doing this. Reserve all questions about matters that are unclear for class time. (½ hour)

All told, you are looking at about five or six hours of study outside class. I’ve seen various guidelines about how much time to study per class hour, but my own experience and the experience of students I have spoken with is that you should invest one to two hours per class time outside of class, or, in our case, 3-6 hours of study.

I recognize that many in the class, perhaps yourself included, have full-time jobs, families, are taking other classes, and so on, and the expectation that one take 3-6 hours of study time outside of class seems impossible, or at least impractical. Here each situation will differ, but clear, open and honest communications with family members and house mates about your school obligations, if possible talking with your employer/supervisor, and just the hard work of personal time management–all these will help in carving out those hours.

If I can be of further assistance, let me know.

The Continuing Intercessions of St. John the Wonderworker

Yesterday I posted a large excerpt from a life of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco on my blog, and linked to several posts describing instances of answers to St. John’s intercessions for me and my family beginning in spring 2004.

I have to confess of late that I have been very despairing of any answers to our prayers for a positive resolution to our present circumstances. I have prayed many times with many tears, but the heavens have seemed shut to us. My wife and I have sought out many opportunities for jobs and housing, only to have no tangible return on our efforts thus far. Intellectually, I know that St. John is praying for us and our Lord is carrying out his loving will for us, but in the heart, where my faith resides, it was difficult–no it felt impossible–to believe that. But despite all that, I still try to offer myself to God and I still offer my prayers to the Most Holy Trinity and ask the intercessions of the Theotokos and of St. John.

Well, God condescended to my weak faith and granted me a peek behind the veil as it were, to see that he is, indeed, at work, and to draw me to deeper faith in his love and care for us.

Last night, while praying the Akathist to our holy hierarch John, our phone rang. It was after ten o’clock, and we never receive phone calls that late, not even from family–unless there’s an emergency. The phone rang just as I had finished praying the following from the akathist:

All who have trusted in thy help in desperate circumstances and adversities have found deliverance, O bold intercessor before the Throne of God. Therefore, we too do place our hope in thee to protect us in dangers by thy prayers before God as we call out to thee:
Rejoice, thou who didst stop the powers of nature from doing harm to thy flock.
Rejoice, thou who providest by thy prayer for all in need.
Rejoice, inexhaustible bread for the hungry.
Rejoice, abundant wealth for those who live in poverty.
Rejoice, consolation for those in sorrow.
Rejoice, quick uplifting for those Who have fallen.
Rejoice, O holy Hierarch John, wonderworker of the latter times.

It wasn’t perhaps appropriate to interrupt my prayers for a telephone call, but I did anyway. On the phone was my dad. He was on the way home from second shift at the refinery and was asking about our current circumstances. I told him where things stood. He told me that he was going to put a month’s rent in our account at the credit union tomorrow (that is, today).

Now, a month’s rent doesn’t exactly wipe the slate clean, but it sure does bring some daylight to a dark situation.

You may guess that my gratitude to God, the Theotokos, St. John, and, of course, my father, runs deep. And I cannot but think, rightly or wrongly, that the juxtaposition of the timing of my praying those specific lines from the akathist prayers and one answer to those prayers was somehow divinely arranged for the strengthening of my faith.