1 June 2014

COUNCILS: some undervalued councils

What a long time ago it seems ... when our beloved Pope Emeritus began to write about Liturgy. Do you remember the reaction which followed? It was as if a gang of yobs had broken into a meeting of deeply religious and proper Maiden Aunts, and had started shouting very naughty words. The pursed lips ... the frozen atmosphere of disapproval ... that was how the liturgical establishment responded. "But he's not a liturgist!!!" they cried, if ever they ventured to unpurse their frigid lips. They meant that he was not one of them; had attended none of their conventions; had written no little articles in their house journals; had rampaged through no diocese laying waste the sanctuaries; had hurled no reliquaries, no baroque vestments, upon bonfires; had destroyed no traditions of sacred chant.

And I'm sure you have The Spirit of the Liturgy upon your bookshelves. Have you recently reread the chapter on images? The Cardinal Prefect writes: "The Church of the West ... must achieve a real reception of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II, which affirmed the fundamental importance and theological status of the image in the Church." Indeed, in the decades after the iconoclasm which, totally without mandate, followed Vatican II, it was Nicaea II, not Vatican II, which should have been the bedside reading of bishops and of diocesan directors of Liturgy.

But that chapter has something even more remarkable in it. "The Western Church does not need to subject herself to all of the individual norms concerning images that were developed at the councils and synods of the East, coming to some kind of conclusion  in 1551 at the Council of Moskow, the Council of the Hundred Canons. Nevertheless, she should regard the fundamental lines of this theology of the image in the Church as normative for her". Can you think of another example of a Roman Pontiff holding up for acceptance "as normative" the "fundamental lines" of conciliar doctrinal developments within 'post-schism' [I use Robert Taft's term] Orthodoxy? Calling his fellow Latins to go to school in Byzantium? If you want an ecumenism which is one, not of Gesture but of Substance, Ratzinger is your man.

Taking this approach further, I have found myself wondering whether Latin Catholics should discern, in the Synod of Bethlehem, authoritative teaching preserved in unbroken traditions of Separated Particular Churches; and ... I am aware that I am sticking my neck out here ... whether the "fundamental lines" of the teaching on Theosis by the 'Palamite' councils of the fourteenth century, elucidating the the doctrine of S Athanasius, of the Cappadocians, of S Symeon the New Theologian, of S Gregory Palamas himself, deserve to be taken seriously in the West. (It is good to see Palamas' name on the calendars of Particular Churches which are in peace and communion with the See of S Peter. Does S Thomas Aquinas appear in any Orthodox Calendars?)


fr. Thomas said...

I can't agree that it is good to see Gregory Palamite's name on any Catholic calendar. The great Catholic Byzantinist Martin Jugie summarises things thus: "Systema theologicum Gregorii Palamae in theologiae byzantinae historia ut aliquid prorsus novum et illatenus inauditum sine controversia nobis apparet. Nihil tale docuerunt neque Ecclesiae patres, neque theologi posteriores."

Palamas denies the simplicity of God, inventing 'uncreated energies' really distinct from the divine essence. Concerning this, Jugie writes: "Haereticum est enim, aut saltem haeresi proximum aliam in Deo ponere realem distinctionem praeter eam quae personas divinas inter se dinstinguit, siquidem 'in divinis omnia unum sunt, ubi non obviat realtionis oppositio' {Decretum pro Iacobitis}. Iuxta concilium Vaticanum, 'Deus est substantia spiritualis omnino simplex'."

Far from continuing the teaching of St Athanasius on divinisation, he effetively denies divinisation: according to him, the divine essence, being wholly unknowable even in heaven, cannot be participated in.

fr. Thomas said...

Excuse typos - should be Palamas not Palamite in line 1 and effectively not effetively at the end.

Dr. Adam DeVille said...

As far as I know, Aquinas appears in no Orthodox calendars (unlike Augustine), but he has recently come in for a very promising re-evaluation (and a concomitant re-evaluation of Palamas also) at the hands of Marcus Plested, as noted here: http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot.ca/2013/02/marcus-plested-on-orthodoxy-and-aquinas.html.

As for the treatment of Palamas at the hands of Jugie, this should in no way be relied upon as accurate. Jugie was notoriously polemical and tendentious in his treatment of the East, his disdain sometimes not even barely hidden. As Jaroslav Pelikan rather archly put it, the tragedy of Jugie was that he knew so much and understood so little.

JD said...

St Basil himself spoke of an essence/energies distinction; it's not just a creation of Gregory Palamas. He is well worth reading and meditating on.

Joshua said...

I have to hand a Canon, in Greek with Latin translation, in honour of St Thomas Aquinas by John Plousiadenos, later Joseph, Bishop of Methone (Modon) (1429?-1500).

Here is the first Ode:

Theologiæ illustrem magistrum celebrare cupiens, quam impotens verbis te, Christe, oro verba sapientiæ spires mihi, ut eum digne ornem carminibus, lætisque concentibus!

Sicut stella ex occasu refulsit ecclesiæ Christi musicus olor atque subtilis magister, Thomas beatissimus, Aquinas [græce fere ingeniosus] nomine, ad quem convenientes clamemus: salve, orbis magister!

Myrrha bene olens atque jucunda manavit ex honorabili sepulchro, in quo auguste jacet sanctissimum legiferumque corpus tuum, sacerrime pater, pietatis magister et impietatis adversarie.

Theotokion. Inexplicabiliter Deum concepisti, Virgo-Mater casta, absque semine eum super rationem peperisti, virgo permanens sicut eras ante partum et in pariendo maculæ omnino expers: qua de causa Dei genitricem te veneramur.

Unknown said...

I would be inclined to agree about Palamas,if Palamas means 'real distinction' the way the Thomists take the term. It might be compatible with the Scotist formal distinction.

Fr. Cappas has posted a few articles on his academia.edu page which include some criticism of Jugie's interpretations.