Went and saw the movie 300 with my friends, Tripp and Trish, and Justin and Mae, and Sarah.  They had reconstituted the Justice League of Nerdy Geeks (or is it Needy Gerks, I can’t remember) for an outing to the movies, but unfortunately I did not get the email till I got home (can’t access Yahoo mail at work).  And Anna and I were going out to see a rental property and weren’t going to be done in time to make the originally proposed movie time.

So I called Tripp to let him know I wasn’t going to be able to make it.  But then I found out they had changed the movie time, and Anna generously encouraged me to go out on a last-minute get-together with my friends.  She dropped me off, and away we went.

What can I say?  The movie is just brilliant.  It’s about the comic book, but there’s just enough real history to keep it connected to the actual account (loved several of the quotes that come from the retellings of the battle).  The visual effects are just stunnning and, as far as I could tell, absolutely seamless.  Victor Davis Hanson is right: the move definitely captures the spirit of the historical event.  And the acting in the movie is just great–utterly convincing.  You really feel (despite whatever historical inaccuracies there are: like bronze shields) like you’re back there taking on the decadent Persians.

Color me a prude, but the love scene between Leonidas and Gorgo seemed useless (as, contrarily, the suggested/off screen rape of Gorgo by Theron, which did play an integral part in the plot).  And some of the scenes in Xerxes’ camp seemed a bit overdone in suggesting the decadence of the Persians.

Conversely, however, and perhaps revelant of my own inconsistency, the violence seemed about right.  Sure some of it was Crouching-Tiger-Hidden-Dragon spectacle.   And if you see one slow-motion severed limb scene, you’ve seen ’em all.  Of course, that’s just fantasy.  One generally did not get either the force or have the requisite sharpness of blade to hack through thigh-bone or vertebra.  Finger or wrist, maybe.  By accident.  But severed head with razor-clean edges?  Pure comic book/Hollywood make-believe.  Still the initial phalanx scene was, I think, pretty accurate.  That was classical Greek warfare: pushing, jabbing, and killing.  And that was how Greek warriors defended themselves against arrows, by crouching under their shields.

More importantly, however, the true spirit was captured.  There is a bunch of bravado in warfare.  But there was also enough glimpses of poignancy–Leonidas knowing that he wasn’t going to ever see Gorgo again, Captain grieving his son–to keep it real.  And to fight against the “security” of tyranny is, well, our history.

Go see 300.  I’ll be purchasing the DVD when it comes out.

Photios (the Lesser [wink]) on the Divine Persons-Essence Distinction and Orthodoxy

Photios may object to my posting his reply (as opposed to a polished paper) in a comment thread on Dr. L’s site, but he summarizes quite nicely I think the Orthodox understanding of Person and essence:

Are you clear, from an Orthodox perspective, that there is no divine essence abstraced from person? That the divine nature is the content of the person and that it is concrete only in enhypostatization? That is, nature only has existence in a person. To continue on this line, what various scholastic authors have setup in abstracting a concept of a divine essence prior to consideration of persons, in which it (i.e. the divine essence) only truly subsists, is (again from an Orthodox perspective) no divine essence at all. In that respect, I would agree with many of the heavy-handed a-theist type arguments that are leveled at the “proofs” for the existence of God.

Having said that, I believe it is misleading to construe Palamas’ view of divine essence as a mere universal, “or as an abstraction from reality,” since Palamas would never analyze a concept of divine essence apart from Persons, and vice versa, which is why Lossky says, “There is neither an impersonal substance nor non-consubstantial persons. The one nature and the three hypostases are presented simultaneously to our understanding, with neither prior to the other. The origin of the hypostases is not impersonal, since it is referred to the person of the Father; but it is unthinkable apart from their common possession of the same essence, the “divinity in division undivided.” St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 31, 14; P.G. 36, col. 148D. Otherwise we should have Three Divine Individuals, Three Gods bound together by an abstract idea of Godhead. On the other hand, since consubstantiality is the non-hypostatic identity of the Three, in that they have (or rather are) a common essence, the unity of the three hypostases is inconceivable apart from the monarchy of the Father, who is the principle of the common possession of the same one essence.”

The Fatherhood Chronicles CX

The Power of the Cross

I am reminded of my daughters’ mortality these past several days as they struggle with colds and illnesses.  While we’ve taken them to see the doctor, and they’ve gotten some antibiotics, I also sign the cross on and over them each night.  Last night, when I got home from teaching logic, they were already in bed asleep.  As I made my way to bed myself, I signed the cross over them as they slept, giving my fatherly blessing and praying for their healing.  This morning, Delaina awoke early, seeing the light on in the office, and called for me.  I rocked her back to sleep, and as I did so, signed the cross over her.

Many, myself once included long ago, view the making of the sign of the cross as mere superstition, something one does in vampire movies.  But the signing of the cross on oneself is an ancient symbol and practice, as Tertullian writes, at the beginning of the third century:

At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign.

For the signing of the cross invokes its power, the power by which Christ destroyed our mortality.  By signing on them the symbol of our Lord’s passion, how by death he destroyed death, I am praying for them, that the death in them might be overcome in the Lord’s death.  When they are baptized in the name of the Trinity and chrismated with the Holy Oil, this cross will be signed on them again, and in this sacrament they will know the Resurrection of the Lord.

For now, I mark them as Christ’s and invoke his healing protection.

Benedict Seraphim Replies (He Says in the Third Person)

Dr. Michael Liccione’s ecumenical project has recently centered on a couple of things: that the filioque can be retained within Orthodox norms, and that the Roman Catholic understanding of the development of doctrine (DD) can be mapped on to Orthodox theological understandings without contradiction. He argues the latter thusly .

In terms of authentic DD, as Dr. Liccione defines it, we must be clear: he distinguishes between dogma and doctrine. That is to say, there is no development in the faith (dogma) but only in its articulation, expression and understanding (doctrine). Dr. L writes:

[Fr Dr Andrew] Louth insists that development of doctrine is “not an acceptable category in Orthodox theology,” so that, presumably, authentic development would not be either. In context, it is clearly a Newmanesque account of development, using predominantly organic metaphors, that is being rejected; yet even on that account, authentic development consists not in addition to the deposit of faith but rather in ever-greater articulation and understanding of what is already given in the deposit.

Dr. Liccione goes on to criticize Fr. Andrew (in the article Dr. L is examining) for inconsistently rejecting a Newmanesque organic growth, but then employing at least the schema of such a growth for his own (Fr. Andrew’s) account of what it is the Orthodox Church has done over the centuries with regard to responding to the various heresies.

Dr. L continues:

If, as is granted all around, authentic DD does not consist in addition to the truth contained in the deposit of faith, then it can consist only in new articulation of the material, as distinct from the formal, content of the truth fully given in the faith-once-delivered. New articulations that are authentic thus served, and would serve, as the recovery and revitalization of which Louth speaks. And that is what “deepens our understanding of the Scriptures,” [here Dr. L is citing Fr Andrew] something whose possibility and desirability both the Fathers and Louth take for granted. In achieving that, we do not “surpass” Scripture and the Fathers in the sense of discovering more truth than they together did. We surpass them when, taking Scriptures and their interpretations of it as points of departure we formalize the same material content they did, but in ways that exhibit it ever more fully. Now unless that augmented the Church’s understanding in ways in which mere repetition of canonical and patristic writings would not, there would be no point in doing it. But there’s always been such a point. And that, as far as I can tell, I just the kind of authentic DD that Newman and Vatican II advocate.

Now, as a concrete example of authentic DD, Dr. Liccione has, of late, affirmed that absolute divine simplicity (ADS) is authentic DD on Roman Catholic terms, and that the Orthodox-dogmatized essence/energies distinction (EE) is also such an example. After all,

We do not find the [essence/energies] distinction in so many words before St. Basil in the fourth century; under the spur of the Barlaamite controversy, it was only dogmatized by the Orthodox Church in the 14th century, and in the more specific sense that St. Gregory gave to the words. But it is inarguably implicit in much that the Church has always believed.

In light of the above, the helpful work of Perry Robinson and Photios Jones over at Energetic Procession is illuminative. They have provided citations from various of the Church Fathers on the essence/energies distinction, among them the likes of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Basil the Great, and St. Athanasios, among others. (For what it’s worth, they also have several posts on absolute divine simplicity.)

Dr. Liccione is careful in his verbiage: “we do not find the distinction in so many words” and “it is inarguably implicit in much that the Church has always believed” and so forth. One begins to wonder, then, what does Dr. L mean by “development of doctrine.” If it is not a development of the dogma, and if the new articulations must be something more than restatement of previous verbiage, then it must be that one of the essential qualities of DD is that is demonstrates an increased understanding of former doctrine.

This, however, is untenable, since it presumes that the Apostles, whom Christ promised the Holy Spirit to lead into all truth, somehow had a deficient understanding compared to us who come later.  I would be surprised if Dr. L really wants to argue that. 

Returning to Dr. L’s earlier post:

Two issues stand out: in what sense is there such a thing as authentic development of doctrine (‘DD’ for short); and whether those distinctively Catholic doctrines which have developed over time are compatible with what both sides profess in common, thus meeting what is rightly assumed to be a necessary condition of authenticity.

Now one of Dr. Liccione’s beginning presuppositions here (i.e., that “distinctively Catholic doctrines . . . are compatible with what both sides profess in common”) is the backbone to his argument. In other words, if “distinctively Catholic doctrines” do not, after all, prove “compatible with what both sides profess in common” then those distinctively Catholic doctrines that are incompatible and that he affirms are authentic instances of development of doctrine are not, in fact, authentic. That is to say, if compatibility is the irreducible quality of authenticity in terms of development of doctrine, then it simply remains to refute the compatibility to also refute the authenticity. Or, at least, in the narrow limits of this particular argument. Authenticity might be argued another way (papal infallibility or what have you), but it cannot be predicated upon compatibility if such does not exist.

Now, Dr. L contends that ADS is an authentic instance of DD, on Roman Catholic terms, and that since EE agrees, he asserts, with ADS, and since EE is only implicit pre-the Cappadocians and the fourteenth century, then EE must also be an instance of authentic DD, and given the compatibility, he claims, between ADS and EE, then Orthodox ought not shy away from DD. And presumably by accepting DD, this can pave the way to other more troublesome (for Orthodox) doctrines, such as papal supreme jurisdiction and papal infallibility.

Now such Orthodox internet worthies as the aforementioned Perry and Photios have done yeoman’s work in demonstrating the incompatibility of Thomistic ADS with Palamite EE. My own philosophical training is in ancient philosophy, not medieval (whether scholastic or Byzantine), and so while I might be able to discuss the arguments as arguments, I don’t have the training to discuss the particularities of the evidence brought forth. As a nonspecialist in medieval philosophy, and without disguising my Orthodox proclivities, I have to give the upperhand to Perry and Photios.

Let’s just say that the compatibility for which Dr. Liccione argues is not persuasive. And therefore I do not yet think it has been demonstrated.

Which is fine, for Dr. L returns the sentiment in a recent comment.

The issue in this thread is whether the Orthodox dogma of EED is compatible with the Catholic dogma of ADS. I have argued that it is, and I’ve never seen a remotely persuasive argument that it isn’t. Yet most Orthodox who care about matters such as this seem to go on assuming that it isn’t. That’s the sort of attitude which Catholics such as James find so frustrating.

I have had the same reaction as he over the filioque issue, whose details I do not wish to discuss in this thread, having already done so in posts and threads devoted to that purpose. I have labored long and hard to demonstrate, logically, that the filioque as dogmatically defined by the councils of Lyons and Florence is compatible with affirming the monarchy of the Father. No refutation of that claim has been seriously attempted in the ensuing discussions.

(For what it’s worth, Photios gives his own rejoinder.)

So Dr L assumes a bit more than is proper to assume; i.e., that he has made his case for compatibility between ADS and EE, and therefore that the Orthodox EE is an instance, just like ADS, of authentic DD. And since he has failed, Orthodox cannot follow him on his ecumenical direction since it would take them from what they are.

Dr. Liccione concludes the post lastly herein under consideration with some evident frustration:

It’s a shame that Louth and some of his colleagues seem so averse to that. There’s enough in what he’s willing to allow, it seems t me, to comprise what the Catholic Church would consider authentic DD that does not constitute addition to the deposit of faith. I would prefer not to think that he and others reject the idea of authentic DD all the same merely because the Catholic Church affirms it.

No doubt he is frustrated. As an Orthodox I share in a mirror of that frustration. He makes assumptions about the Orthodox position that just aren’t true, and then argues from those false premises. His argument may be valid, but it isn’t sound. This is the Orthodox complaint.

But I hope he keeps trying, because it is a worthy project.

Dr. Liccione Replies

Quite frankly I was rather surprised not only that Dr. Liccione actually replied so quickly to my post from earlier this afternoon, but even that he replied at all in his: Essence/energies: a reply to Benedict Seraphim. After all, this blog is a little-visited backwater of the blogosphere, and well, I figured he would figure such a reply would be a waste of his time and energies. I’ve only recently actually commented on his blog, so it’s not like I’m one to be taken notice of, such as a Perry or a Photios. And, given the gist of his reply, it’s even more of a mystery why he bothered at all.

All that said, however, he did me the courtesy of a response, and in his response it is clear that my earlier post left some things to be desired in terms of clarity. So here I will attempt to rectify that, and to further defend a bit what I said.

Dr. L characterizes my post as follows:

Benedict’s reaction is predictably negative, though not—to give him credit—nasty, which is what as I’ve become accustomed to from certain other quarters. His critique is two-pronged: ecclesiological and theological (where ‘theological’ means ‘pertaining to the doctrine about God’ as distinct from about the Church). Unfortunately, neither prong engages my actual argument.

As to the predictability of my negativity to his proposal Michael is unclear. Does he mean that it is predictably negative because in my replies to his original post I held to a negative appraisal of his proposal? Or, as is more likely, does he posit the predictability on the fact that like the other Orthodox who’ve responded to his proposal I’ve approached it negatively? Perhaps there’s something to the pervasively negative Orthodox response that Dr. Liccione is receiving? Could it be something more than just the purported pugnacity of online Orthodox? After all, if even the ever-irenic Fr. Stephen Freeman reacts in concert with the negativity of his co-religionists, then maybe there’s something to the negativity?

I, for one, think there is. Which is what my earlier post was intended to convey.

In any case, though I only meant to highlight that the differing ecclesiologies of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches play into this debate–which differing ecclesiologies Dr. Liccione himself affirms–I did not intend to attempt a substantive critique of Dr. Michael’s proposal from said ecclesiological differences. It appears that Dr. Liccione and I simply differ over the extent to which Orthodox view the schism between Rome and the other ancient Patriarchates: as wholly pervasive and fundamental (thus the Mt. Athos reference) or as something much more ephemeral. He then caricatures the Bp Kallistos proverb–We know where the Church is, but not where it isn’t–as being inherently unable to say that Rome is not the church; after all if we can’t say where the Church isn’t, then we can’t say Rome, er, is there. But while Bp Kallistos’ proverbial expression is oft-utilized, particularly in apologetic or non-Orthodox Christian missional contexts, one doubts that even Bp Kallistos himself meant it as a full expression of Orthodox ecclesiology. Fr Stephen–who Dr. Liccione quotes as espousing the agnostic view–can speak for himself, but I hardly think the good Father would himself espouse the proverbial expression as a full statement of Orthodox ecclesiology.

Yes, it is true that you can get just about as many “Orthodox ecclesiologies” as there are online Orthodox, but that is hardly pertinent to Dr. Liccione’s implication that Orthodox ecclesiology is incoherent, or that the differing Orthodox views are fundamentally instead of superficially different. But in any case, this is beside the point: Whether or not Orthodoxy has a systematically unified ecclesiology (I think it does, but I do not think such an ecclesiology is had by way of systematic theologizing, but rather by unified liturgical askesis), Dr. L concedes the difference. He just doesn’t concede that that difference makes any difference on the DD front.

But it’s my critique from the theological vantage point where I can now see I was most confusing. I do too often invoke Dr. L’s name as the proponent for the position I critique, and that, in fairness to his two posts, is not the primary argument he makes in his post. He is right to call me on that infelicitous move. I do also invoke the names of frequent combox interlocutors to Dr. L’s site, and rather than his two posts, I had in mind, in making my critique, the comments of his co-religionists. I’ll leave it to Dr. L, or Jonathon Prejean, Michael Sullivan among others to assess whether my critique fits their own comments, and we can, perhaps, address that at another time.

That said, however, I do not think that my criticism is far of the mark to what Dr. Liccione is arguing, or at least what he has said that he is arguing in this most recent post replying to my earlier one. I’ll cite him on this point:

I was quite explicit that I was speaking about dogmas: Orthodox and Catholic dogmas. The notion of absolute divine simplicity (ADS) has been dogmatized by the Catholic Church; the essence/energies distinction, as expounded by St. Gregory Palamas, has been dogmatized by the Orthodox Church. St. Gregory also argued that God is simple. His considered position is not quite the same as that of, say, St. Thomas Aquinas; but his conclusion is quite similar to the dogma formally defined by the Catholic Church. Therefore, my attempt to harmonize the dogmas of EED and ADS in no way depends, as Benedict would have it, on any “presupposition” that natural theology has “authority over revealed theology,” a presupposition that no orthodox Catholic would dare make. It depends on analysis of the meaning and purport of the two dogmas in question. My argument was that the two are logically compatible, true, and instances of authentic DD.

Now, when you compare the comments in the comboxes to the two earlier posts of Dr. L’s that I link, I see little to disabuse me of my criticism. The Roman Catholic interlocutors critique the Orthodox essence/energies distinction from the standpoint of natural theology. Whether or not they intend to make the claim that natural theology trumps revealed theology, when the Orthodox commenters affirm again and again that their theology begins first with revelation, and when such Roman Catholic commenters critique the Orthodox metaphysic because it does not map on to reality, what else is one to think?

That said, let us look again at what Dr. L says above. Absolute divine simplicity is RC dogma. Essence/energies distinction is Orthodox dogma. St. Gregory Palamas (who espoused the essence/energies distinction) “also argued that God is simple.” (Note, by the way: the link to the St. Gregory cite is from my other blog. Don’t know if Dr. L knew this or not. But it’s interesting.) So, given this, one might get the impression that all that separates us on these points is some intransigent Orthodox. But Dr. L is honest enough to continue (emphasis added): “His [St. Gregory’s] considered position is not quite the same as that of, say, St. Thomas Aquinas; but his conclusion is quite similar to the dogma formally defined by the Catholic Church.”

Quite similar/not quite the same is precisely the gulf of difference I’m noting.  And, indeed, though I will quickly admit to abject ignorance of St. Thomas, I’ve read both St. Thomas and St. Gregory enough to know that they do not come to divine simplicity by the same route (or methodology), and, I’m persuaded, are radically different, even irreconcilably so, on ADS and EE.

Now, Dr. Liccione might well object to my putting arguments in his, er, blog, that are not his.  Guilty. I should have been more clear.  But I do not think he has falsified my critique.  Rather, my read of his latest is that he affirms it, albeit by way of the back door.

Now, as Dr. L and others can readily see from my blog here, I’m hardly as intelligent and educated as they.  I certainly don’t have the chops to keep up with them in diablogical debate.  I’m pretty much a redneck Kansan and Orthodox catechumen.  I can find my way around an argument, and, on odd Tuesdays and Saturdays can sometimes, if the planets are aligned, make an argument myself.   I’m happy to continue clarifying and responding as the need arises, but if they’re looking for a battle of the big boys, this boy is just a piker who enjoys some good debate.

I again thank Dr. L for his courteous response and hope he feels just as well done by from me.

The DD Dog That Just Don’t Hunt, or Why the DD Ecumenical Overture Doesn’t Work

In a previous post, I referenced the first installment of Dr. Michael Liccione’s two-part post on the development of doctrine and how, in his view, Roman Catholics and Orthodox can find common ground on this matter without, he thinks, giving up their distinctives.

Well, several days ago, Dr. L followed up with his second post on doctrinal development and RC-Orthodox ecumenism. (For what it’s worth, Jonathon Prejean has a post criticizing an argument by Mr. Jargon that touches on the issues Dr. L addresses. And Brandon Watson also touches on the essence/energies distinction, asserting its ultimate notionality.)

Dr. L begins his post thus:

In a previous post I briefly argued that there is hardly any substantive difference between the Catholic understanding of authentic development of doctrine, as expressed by Vatican II, and a fairly typical account of DD given by a mainstream Orthodox author.

Dr. L and his fellow Roman Catholics lament the intransigence of the Orthodox who just don’t seem to want to “play nice.” When reading the comboxes of these and similar posts in the blogosphere, it’s clear that the Roman Catholic commenters scratch their heads. In their view, they’re offering the Orthodox the opportunity to keep their particular convictions but also to reunite with one of the ancient patriarchates and to end the millennium-long schism.

But there are two fundamental misunderstandings at work here, one related to ecclesiology and one related to theology.

With regard to ecclesiology, the Roman Catholics, such as Dr. Liccione and others, view the Orthodox as separated brethren. Indeed, if Orthodox bishops would permit their faithful to commune in Roman Catholic Eucharists, the Roman Catholic would oblige them. For the Roman Catholics, the matter is more formal than it is material. But the Orthodox do not hold this same ecclesiological view: they understand Rome to be in material separation from the Church, with certain doctrinal heresies as well as the, to Orthodox, overreach of papal jurisdictional primacy. So there is more at work here, for Orthodox, than coming to a meeting of the minds. Roman Catholics don’t “get it” of course, since a) they do not believe they are in heresy on certain doctrinal matters, and b) they read the patristic witness about the patriarch of Rome in lights favorable to their views. (On that last point, so do Orthodox. The issue is not that of reading in a favorable light, but which light is the truth.)

But I don’t want to get in to the ecclesiology, since Mr. Jargon at NeoChalcedonian, among others, is doing a nice job of that.

The other, to me more pertinent issue, is that of theology. Dr. Liccione asserts his both/and scenario from a particular vantage point: that of natural theology. This may not be quite so clear from the post itself, but in the related links and the comboxes it’s clear that two things are going on: a) if Orthodox would only understand the doctrinal issues from the standpoint of natural theology, as the Roman Catholics do, all would be well, and b) Orthodox theology itself doesn’t stand up, so the Roman Catholic commenters claim, to natural theological critiques, and therefore is itself problematic (and thus a good reason to jettison it).

In other words, what Dr. L is implicitly asking, even if this is not his intention, is for Orthodox to cease doing theology in the way Orthodox do theology and to start doing theology the way Roman Catholics do theology. Or, to say it another way, what we have is a tautology: since Rome is right, Rome must therefore be right. Now commenters like Dr. L, Jonathon Prejean and others will object to this accusation of such a vicious circle. After all, they claim, what we have made are substantive arguments. And I agree, they have.

What they have not done, however, is justify their starting presuppositions. And that’s where the trouble begins. Orthodox begin with different theological first principles than do the Roman Catholic commenters here referenced. And to object that Orthodox do not make cogent arguments is primarily to say that Orthodox do not make arguments that start from the same point.

Now, strictly speaking, one does not, nor can, rationally justify one’s first principles. There is a certain strength to the ancient skeptical “Agrippan modes.” To avoid the infinite regress of justification, one has to admit a certain sort of circularity. That is to say, one has to start somewhere. So one posits one’s first principles. From there, as Aristotle, among other thinkers, notes, one then “justifies” such first principles, such asserted presuppositions, by way of coherence. Are the articulations and derivative arguments from such presuppositions sound? And, do they map on to reality as best we know it?

Jonathon, among others, would argue that Orthodox metaphysics does not “map on” to reality. This, of course, begs several questions, not the least of which is the circularity of an argument that utilizes “reality” as both the starting point and measurement of views that do not operate within that paradigm. Why does natural theology have the capacity to judge “Orthodox metaphysics” in a way that he, and others, reject “Orthodox metaphysics” can judge natural theology. And how would one ever be able to know that one’s conception of what one takes as “natural divinity” is an accurate representation and explication of such a reality? If both Rome and Orthodoxy agree that God’s essence (i.e., his nature) is inscrutable, doesn’t a “natural theology” somehow ultimately and essentially come up short?

I certainly affirm the goodness of Dr. Liccione’s intentions, and those of his colleagues, who are pursuing, to the best of their ability, the union they believe is warranted between the two churches, Rome and the Orthodox. And I can sympathize with their reaction: they’re attempting to offer union with what they think preserves Orthodox doctrinal integrity, only to be rebuffed.

But what I think they fail to understand is that it’s not just a matter of Orthodox not wanting to change how they practice their theology, or not wanting to give up a certain metaphysical view, it’s that Orthodox don’t accept the starting presuppositions to begin with (i.e., that natural theology has any sort of authority over revealed theology, or that revealed theology must be consonant with natural theology). In other words, it’s asking Orthodox to not be Orthodox.

And as they say where I come from, that dog don’t hunt.

Bow Your Heads Unto the Lord, Ye Catechumens

Due to circumstance and illness, since our family entered the catechumenate on the afternoon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we’ve not been at the Divine Liturgy as a whole family at All Saints. My wife and daughters spent a bit more than two weeks with family and upon their return the girls brought home some Oklahoma illnesses. So today was the first day we’ve had together as a family back home at our parish. So today, after the sermon, we together went forward for the prayers of the catechumens.

Pray unto the Lord, ye catechumens.

Lord, have mercy.

Ye faithful, pray ye for the catechumens, that the Lord may have mercy upon them.

Lord, have mercy.

That He may teach them the word of truth;

Lord, have mercy.

That He may reveal to them the Gospel of righteousness.

Lord, have mercy.

That He may unite them unto His Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church;

Lord, have mercy.

Save them, have mercy upon them, preserve them, and protect them, O God, by Thy grace.

Lord, have mercy.

Bow your heads unto the Lord, ye catechumens.

To Thee, O Lord.

Priest (in a low voice):
O Lord, our God, Who dwellest on high and regardest the humble of heart; Who hast sent forth as the salvation of mankind Thine Only-begotten Son and God, our Lord Jesus Christ; look down upon Thy servants, the catechumens, who have bowed their necks before Thee; make them worthy in due season of the laver of regeneration. Unite them to thy Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church, and number them with Thy chosen flock.

That they also with us may glorify Thy most honorable and majestic Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

I can still very much recall our first worship together as a family at All Saints, which happened to be my birthday in 2003. Today we have added our little Delaina to that threesome. It feels so very good to be that much closer to home. May the Lord have mercy on us.

As the prayer states, we are going to be united to his Church, and our union with Christ made secure. We are even now being taught, and how much there is to learn. But the culmination will be that of glorifying the Holy Trinity. Forever. This is our destiny, what we are made for.

And pray for us, the catechumens.

Herodotus’ Account of the Battle at the Pass of Thermopylae

For you 300 fans (whose ranks I hope to join soon once I see the flick), the account of the Battle at the Pass of Thermopylae.  From Herodotus’ The Persian Wars (Bk VII.201-234)

[7.201] King Xerxes pitched his camp in the region of Malis called Trachinia, while on their side the Greeks occupied the straits. These straits the Greeks in general call Thermopylae (the Hot Gates); but the natives, and those who dwell in the neighbourhood, call them Pylae (the Gates). Here then the two armies took their stand; the one master of all the region lying north of Trachis, the other of the country extending southward of that place to the verge of the continent.

[7.202] The Greeks who at this spot awaited the coming of Xerxes were the following:- From Sparta, three hundred men-at-arms; from Arcadia, a thousand Tegeans and Mantineans, five hundred of each people; a hundred and twenty Orchomenians, from the Arcadian Orchomenus; and a thousand from other cities: from Corinth, four hundred men; from Phlius, two hundred; and from Mycenae eighty. Such was the number from the Peloponnese. There were also present, from Boeotia, seven hundred Thespians and four hundred Thebans.

[7.203] Besides these troops, the Locrians of Opus and the Phocians had obeyed the call of their countrymen, and sent, the former all the force they had, the latter a thousand men. For envoys had gone from the Greeks at Thermopylae among the Locrians and Phocians, to call on them for assistance, and to say – “They were themselves but the vanguard of the host, sent to precede the main body, which might every day be expected to follow them. The sea was in good keeping, watched by the Athenians, the Eginetans, and the rest of the fleet. There was no cause why they should fear; for after all the invader was not a god but a man; and there never had been, and never would be, a man who was not liable to misfortunes from the very day of his birth, and those misfortunes greater in proportion to his own greatness. The assailant therefore, being only a mortal, must needs fall from his glory.” Thus urged, the Locrians and the Phocians had come with their troops to Trachis.

[7.204] The various nations had each captains of their own under whom they served; but the one to whom all especially looked up, and who had the command of the entire force, was the Lacedaemonian, Leonidas. Now Leonidas was the son of Anaxandridas, who was the son of Leo, who was the son of Eurycratidas, who was the son of Anaxander, who was the son of Eurycrates, who was the son of Polydorus, who was the son of Alcamenes, who was the son of Telecles, who was the son of Archelaus, who was the son of Agesilaus, who was the son of Doryssus, who was the son of Labotas, who was the son of Echestratus, who was the son of Agis, who was the son of Eurysthenes, who was the son of Aristodemus, who was the son of Aristomachus, who was the son of Cleodaeus, who was the son of Hyllus, who was the son of Hercules.

Leonidas had come to be king of Sparta quite unexpectedly.

[7.205] Having two elder brothers, Cleomenes and Dorieus, he had no thought of ever mounting the throne. However, when Cleomenes died without male offspring, as Dorieus was likewise deceased, having perished in Sicily, the crown fell to Leonidas, who was older than Cleombrotus, the youngest of the sons of Anaxandridas, and, moreover, was married to the daughter of Cleomenes. He had now come to Thermopylae, accompanied by the three hundred men which the law assigned him, whom he had himself chosen from among the citizens, and who were all of them fathers with sons living. On his way he had taken the troops from Thebes, whose number I have already mentioned, and who were under the command of Leontiades the son of Eurymachus. The reason why he made a point of taking troops from Thebes, and Thebes only, was that the Thebans were strongly suspected of being well inclined to the Medes. Leonidas therefore called on them to come with him to the war, wishing to see whether they would comply with his demand, or openly refuse, and disclaim the Greek alliance. They, however, though their wishes leant the other way, nevertheless sent the men.

[7.206] The force with Leonidas was sent forward by the Spartans in advance of their main body, that the sight of them might encourage the allies to fight, and hinder them from going over to the Medes, as it was likely they might have done had they seen that Sparta was backward. They intended presently, when they had celebrated the Carneian festival, which was what now kept them at home, to leave a garrison in Sparta, and hasten in full force to join the army. The rest of the allies also intended to act similarly; for it happened that the Olympic festival fell exactly at this same period. None of them looked to see the contest at Thermopylae decided so speedily; wherefore they were content to send forward a mere advanced guard. Such accordingly were the intentions of the allies.

Continue reading “Herodotus’ Account of the Battle at the Pass of Thermopylae”

Classicist Victor Davis Hanson on the Movie “300”

VDH’s Private Papers::History and the Movie “300”

300, of course, makes plenty of allowance for popular tastes, changing and expanding the story to meet the protocols of the comic book genre. The film was not shot on location outdoors, but in a studio using the so-called “digital backlot” technique of sometimes placing the actors against blue screens. The resulting realism is not that of the sun-soaked cliffs above the blue Aegean — Thermopylae remains spectacularly beautiful today — but of the eerie etchings of the comic book.

The Spartans fight bare-chested without armor, in the “heroic nude” manner that ancient Greek vase-painters portrayed Greek hoplites, their muscles bulging as if they were contemporary comic book action heroes. Again, following the Miller comic, artistic license is made with the original story — the traitor Ephialtes is as deformed in body as he is in character; King Xerxes is not bearded and perched on a distant throne, but bald, huge, perhaps sexually ambiguous, and often right on the battlefield. The Persians bring with them exotic beasts like a rhinoceros and elephant, and the leader of the Immortals fights Leonidas in a duel (which the Greeks knew as monomachia). Shields are metal rather than wood with bronze veneers, and swords sometimes look futuristic rather than ancient.

Again, purists must remember that 300 seeks to bring a comic book, not Herodotus, to the screen. Yet, despite the need to adhere to the conventions of Frank Miller’s graphics and plot — every bit as formalized as the protocols of classical Athenian drama or Japanese Kabuki theater — the main story from our ancient Greek historians is still there: Leonidas, against domestic opposition, insists on sending an immediate advance party northward on a suicide mission to rouse the Greeks and allow them time to unite a defense. Once at Thermopylae, he adopts the defenses to the narrow pass between high cliffs and the sea far below. The Greeks fight both en masse in the phalanx and at times range beyond as solo warriors. They are finally betrayed by Ephialtes, forcing Leonidas to dismiss his allies — and leaving his own 300 to the fate of dying under a sea of arrows.

But most importantly, 300 preserves the spirit of the Thermopylae story. The Spartans, quoting lines known from Herodotus and themes from the lyric poets, profess unswerving loyalty to a free Greece. They will never kow-tow to the Persians, preferring to die on their feet than live on their knees.

If critics think that 300 reduces and simplifies the meaning of Thermopylae into freedom versus tyranny, they should reread carefully ancient accounts and then blame Herodotus, Plutarch, and Diodorus — who long ago boasted that Greek freedom was on trial against Persian autocracy, free men in superior fashion dying for their liberty, their enslaved enemies being whipped to enslave others.