Not very important

October 29, 2007

I was in Ottawa last week, to look into employment possibilities. It was the first time I’d actually been to a Canadian city, and I was favorably impressed. It gave me some sense of what the United States might have looked like if the separation from Britain hadn’t occurred. Given that we seem to be moving towards a form of absolute monarchy anyway, maybe the separation wasn’t really worth all the trouble. (I payed a brief visit to Canada ten years ago, but that was entirely by accident: a plane on which I was flying from Vienna to New York made an emergency stop at Goose Bay, Labrador, and in the process blew two tires. We were bused to a nearby restaurant and treated to a free meal while we waited twelve hours for another plane to arrive from the United States, to take us the rest of the way.)

I probably would do well to avoid political discussion altogether for a considerable time. The subject depresses me terribly, and I am aware (or should be) that I don’t really have all that much to say about it. It would lead me into consideration of all sorts of things about which I had better not speak, like, e.g., the possibility that the World Trade Center was brought down by timed explosives. Also, I really do need to return to the original purpose for which this blog was started, which was to provoke myself to write about John Bekkos.

This is one of those weeks when, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, my heart is very heavy. Maybe it is the deferred effect of autumn.

I wake up on a Thursday
to another balmy day.
The people on the radio
are saying it’s okay.
They get to walk in shirtsleeves
and to lounge upon the beach.
I wish they’d pay attention
to what scientists now teach.

It’s well into October
and the autumn hasn’t come.
The trees have not turned colors.
The insects loudly hum.
And loud-mouthed propagandists
sing, “To hell with bugs and trees!
We have a native, divine right
to drive our SUV’s.”

I’d like to think that everything
were as it was before,
when weather wasn’t politics
and oil wasn’t war.
I’d like to think that subterfuge
and ignorance would cease.
But visions of a burning world
disturb my inner peace.

The mind a mill

October 15, 2007

St. Caesarius of Arles (c. 470 – 542), Sermo VIII.4. Latin text in Dom Germanus Morin, ed., Sancti Caesarii Arelatensis sermones…, pars prima, 2nd ed. (Turnhout: Brepols, 1953) [= Corpus Christianorum, series latina, vol. 103], p. 44.

Now consider what I am going to say, since it has to do with the matter about which we are speaking. Our mind seems to bear a resemblance to those millstones, which are continually turned by the force of running waters. In the same way as these stones cannot be inactive, so likewise human minds are never entirely at rest — while, nevertheless, what it is we choose to work on, whether with those mills of stone or with our own minds, stands, with God’s help, in our own power. Just as, if you put wheat into that granite mill, it grinds wheatmeal, and if you put in chaff, or dirt, or thorns, it doubtless turns this, too, into flour, so also in the mill of our mind, which cannot remain inactive, if we put in holy and upright thoughts, we grind a kind of spiritual wheat, with which we prepare a banquet for Christ, who deigns to abide and take supper with us. If, on the other hand, we grind indolent, unedifying thoughts, like chaff, if we grind thoughts tending to quarrels and greed or to wickedness, we are preparing a flour as it were of thorns and brambles, a food by which the devil is fed; if, again, we think something from motives of lust or wanton dissipation, we are providing ourselves with a food made of dirt or sludge. But let everyone know this thing, that whatever he chooses to grind in the mill of his heart in this world, he will carry with him as his food later in the world to come. And, for this reason, let everyone examine his own conscience, and if he recognizes that his mind is forever saddled with thoughts of pride or of greed or of wantonness, let him act swiftly to cast out what is bad, and to think constantly what is holy and pleasing to God.

I ask this question, not because I pretend to know the answer to it, but because it is, for me, a genuine question. If I knew the answer to it, it would presumably make the act of voting much simpler for me than it has been for many years. I would know how to think about things which weigh upon my mind and cause my head to ache — about democracy, about war, about oil, about Islam, about the State of Israel, about the Church, about the future of this country…. I would know how to differentiate clearly between political good and political evil, simply by referring all things to the political philosophy of Jesus Christ. Did Jesus have, and does Jesus now have, a political philosophy, one that offers some guidance to those living at the present time, trying to make sense of their lives and of a world that appears increasingly as though it were standing at the brink of an apocalyptic catastrophe?

Since I don’t, in fact, know the answer to this question, and since the attempt to answer it would only lead me into long theoretical meanderings, and perhaps into tirades of which I would later be embarrassed, I think it best for me to leave my question here as a question, and let others try to answer it. But let me be a little more precise about what I am asking. I am not asking whether or not Jesus possessed political wisdom — as he is the Wisdom of God, that goes without saying. I am asking whether Jesus’ more-than-political wisdom can be expressed, at least partly, in the human terms of a political philosophy, so that those of us who attempt to follow his teaching may know how to act in the political sphere, and know how to differentiate between the false and the true — in particular, between false and true representations of Jesus himself.

For there are many political Jesuses. There is Jesus the pacifist (John Howard Yoder). There is Jesus the warrior-king (Fr. Alexander Webster). There is Jesus the laissez-faire capitalist (Michael Novak). There is Jesus the revolutionary socialist (Gustavo Gutierrez). There is Jesus who blesses imperial order (Eusebius of Caesarea, Dante Alighieri, etc.), and there is Jesus for whom empire is, at best, a scarcely redeemable outpost of the kingdom of darkness (St. Augustine). There is Jesus the Zionist (Edward Irving, most Neoconservatives). There is Jesus the anti-Semite, or at least, the militant anti-Zionist (Fr. Denis Fahey, Fr. Charles Coughlin, virtually the whole Arab world). There is Jesus the papal absolutist (Augustinus Triumphus, Joseph de Maistre, Opus Dei). There is Jesus the conciliarist (Nicholas of Cusa, Vatican II). There is Jesus for whom Rome remains the Whore of Babylon (the monks of Esphigmenou). There is Jesus the red-blooded American (Hollywood). There is Jesus the Slavophile (Dostoevsky). There is Jesus the apolitical liturgist (Fr. Alexander Schmemann). There is Jesus the trendy social reformer (contemporary Episcopalianism). There is Jesus the solitary individual (Kierkegaard). There is Jesus the personalist (Pope John Paul II). There is Jesus the environmentalist (Patriarch Bartholomew, Al Gore). There is Jesus the communal ontologist (Metropolitan John Zizioulas). There are many other political Jesuses besides those here mentioned. It seems to me that, while some of these political images of Jesus can co-exist with each other, not all of them can be simultaneously true.

Some points which I think need to be taken into account in any assessment of Jesus as a political thinker are as follows:

(1) Jesus is Lord. That confession had political overtones when it was made in the Roman Empire in the first century A.D., and it carries political overtones now. It implies that Jesus, who judges the living and the dead, judges also nations, societies, economies, governments, businesses, churches, schools, and every human enterprise. To translate it roughly into American English, “Jesus is Boss.” He is the demanding employer who pays his workers as he sees fit, and he expects results (Mt 25:14-30).

(2) Jesus is Messiah. He is the “anointed one,” the one upon whom the Holy Spirit abides (Mt 3:13-17; John 1:33), the promised son of the Davidic house (cf. 2 Sam ch. 7). Israel is his own proper inheritance. St. Paul says that “Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Rom 15:8f.). Anti-Semitism is a symptom of residual paganism in the human heart (Rom 11:18).

(3) Jesus preaches a kingdom. He speaks of it as “the kingdom of God,” “the kingdom of heaven,” “my Father’s kingdom.” He depicts this kingdom in many ways, often through parables. He frequently represents life in the kingdom in terms of a feast, to which people are invited, though many refuse to come. He also says that his kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36), nor is it ordered in the way the kingdoms of the world are (Mt 20:26; Mk 10:43).

(4) The kingdom Jesus preaches is in opposition to another kingdom. There is a “strong man,” whose house Jesus enters, and whose goods he despoils (Mt 12:29; Mk 3:27). The works of healing Jesus performs are usually represented as the casting out of demons which have taken abode in people and subjected them to slavery in various ways (cf. Mt 8:28-34; Lk 13:16). There is something called “the gates of hell” (Mt 16:18), in revolt against God and in everlasting opposition to Jesus and his kingdom. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

(5) Jesus appoints twelve men to be his apostles, to preach the kingdom of God, and to them, he says, it shall be given “to sit on twelve thrones, judging the tribes of Israel” (Mt 19:28; Lk 22:30). Jesus has human feeling; he calls his disciples his “friends” (Jn 15:15). He evidently remembers favors people show towards him (Lk 23:43); he also, evidently, remembers acts of spite, though he is capable of forgiving them (Lk 23:34).

(6) As Jesus understands himself to be the Father’s ambassador, so he understands his apostles to be his own ambassadors to other people. “Peace be unto you; as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (Jn 20:21). The acts of mercy or spite shown to Jesus’ followers, even to the least of them, Jesus accounts as acts of mercy or spite done to himself (Mt 25:40). These acts of mercy or spite enter into account in Jesus’ judgment of the living and the dead.

(7) To one of his disciples, Jesus gives the name “Rock”; he says he will build his church upon this rock, and he gives to this disciple “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 16:16-18). In the language of “keys,” and of “opening and shutting,” there is an echo of Isaiah ch. 22, which speaks of a servant named Shebna, who is thrust out of his office of treasurer of the house of David, and of one Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who is clothed with this office in Shebna’s place. “And the key of the house of David,” it says, “I will lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (Isaiah 22:22). This is testimony, if any were needed, that Jesus understands himself as the legitimate heir to the Davidic throne. It is also testimony that Jesus grants to Peter some sort of governing, judicial authority over, or within, his Church. (Cf. Mt 24:45-51.)

(8) I also think that this passage, Matthew 16:16-18, needs to be read in connection with the Book of Daniel. When Jesus calls his friend Simon “Rock,” he is giving him a name that already carries a heavy biblical significance. In Daniel ch. 2, King Nebuchadnezzar dreams a dream in which he sees an immense statue, reaching up into the sky, with a golden head, silver shoulders, brass belly, iron legs, and feet of mixed iron and clay. Only Daniel is able to interpret the dream; he tells the king that the dream-image of a statue represents a succession of empires. “Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (Dan 2:34-35). The stone cut out without hands is, in one sense, Jesus himself, born of a virgin. In another sense, the stone is the kingdom Jesus is preaching: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Dan 2:44). There can be no doubt that Jesus sees himself, and the kingdom he is preaching, in connection with this stone (cf. Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10; Lk 20:17). But this makes all the more significant the fact that Jesus gives his friend, who confesses him, the name “Rock.” It is as though, in return for Peter’s confession of Jesus’ divine identity, Jesus gives to Peter a new identity, partaking of that very invincibility belonging to Jesus himself. (Cf. Lk 22:32.)

(9) Peter’s identity is not unambiguous (cf. Mt 16:23: “Get thee behind me, Satan”). Among other things, he denies Jesus during his passion, although he repents of this, and Jesus later confirms him in his office (Mt 26:69-75; Jn 21:15-17). In any case, the fact that Jesus appoints this man as “Rock” says something about Jesus’ political thinking. Given the connection between the “rock” image and the image of the stone that smashes the political idol of universal empire, one would be forced to say that, far from being a deluded man who died in despair upon finding that the imminent kingdom he had preached didn’t come (one of the more pathetic tales of twentieth-century biblical scholarship), Jesus knew exactly what he was doing: he knew that he was founding a Church, and that it would have to stand against the floods of hell for a very long time. He doubtless also knew that the Church that he was founding would face internal disputes. Anyone who questions whether Jesus claimed to be the Messiah (only biblical critics, grown fat and fatuous with tenure, do) has to reckon with the undisputed facts that Jesus chose twelve men to be his disciples and gave one of them the name Peter; these facts cannot be explained otherwise than in the way the New Testament itself explains them: that Jesus accepted the titles “Christ,” “Son of God,” “King of Israel,” though he understood these titles differently than most people around him did; that he knew himself to be the promised Redeemer of Israel; that he sent men to preach his coming to the twelve tribes; that he knowingly and willingly founded a new covenant and a new community in his own blood, and appointed over this community shepherds, to govern it until his return; and that, for the sake of the unity of this new community, in the event that disagreements should arise among these shepherds, he appointed one of the shepherds as Rock, a name which more properly applies to Jesus himself (cf. 1 Cor 3:11).

I do not think that, in saying all this, I have gotten very far towards describing a “political philosophy of Jesus.” There is much that I have scarcely mentioned here, e.g., Jesus’ attitude to the Mosaic law, his commandment to love one’s enemies, the question of the poor, paying taxes to Caesar, and so on. As mentioned already, I don’t claim to know the answer to the question, “Did Jesus have a political philosophy?” I have only tried to outline some of the points that seem to me necessary to keep in mind when one begins to try to answer that question. And as for the question of what relevance any of this has for the problems people face in trying to live a Christian life amidst the growing political darkness of the twenty-first century, I have not said anything at all.

John Bekkos’s dream

October 6, 2007

The historian George Pachymeres reports the following dream in the context of events of the patriarchate of Nikephoros II, who was Patriarch of Constantinople during the year 1260. Bekkos’s dream thus probably occurred sometime around that year, when Bekkos was about 35 years old, and the emperor Michael VIII, newly victorious over the Latins at the Battle of Pelagonia, was making preparations for his assault upon the Latin-held Constantinople.

George Pachymeres, De Michaele Palaeologo, II 19; Bekker, ed., p. 121; Failler, ed., vol. I, p. 171; PG 143, 558A-559A.

One might have wondered then at the operation of Justice; for it could not have been thought that the death of so many church dignitaries would have happened by mere chance. About ten of them, in fact, died within the space of nine months,* men greatly revered and of high position. There is a story that is told about this, from someone who, before they died, saw them in a dream: this was that John Bekkos, who later, after being chartophylax, served as patriarch, then suffered many grievous troubles, as the narrative will relate at the proper time. As for the dream that he saw, he declared it thus: it seemed to him that he saw the archons crossing a level plain on horseback. After making a long journey, they stopped at the bank of a great and terrible river that flowed on by. Then they began to cross it in the order in which they were going to encounter death: first this one, next that one, then the rest in turn; they didn’t cross it by twos or by threes, but each one went in by himself. As then he who saw these things stood and beheld in astonishment, wondering how he himself should get across, he heard a voice that came to him from somewhere: “Why are you anxious about this? Now is not the time for you to cross this river. There is indeed a time when you yourself will have to cross it; but, for now, go forth safe and sound: you are being kept in store for a day of importance.” This is how, some years later, he who had seen the dream reported it, and those of us who heard it were amazed. But as for him (who, quite apart from this, was a lover of truth), he added an oath to confirm the things he spoke, in his wonderment at the effective and ineluctable power of Providence.
___________

*This is Failler’s reading. Bekker reads, “many men died in the space of nineteen months.”

Gregoras on Bekkos

October 3, 2007

Nicephorus Gregoras. Byzantine History, Book V, ch. 2, § 5. PG 148, 268 B-C.

“At that time there was a chartophylax of the Great Church named Bekkos, a most sagacious man, well-trained in oratory and letters, and in possession of so many natural gifts, that no one of that time could equal him. For, in respect of goodness of bodily stature, and in the gravity and kindliness of his face, and in magnificence, and in eloquence of speech, and in quickness of movement, and in many other respects, but especially in the wealth of his understanding and its acuteness towards whatever subject he applied it — in all of these respects nature supplied him with things most excellent, so that, to emperors and rulers and to all wise men, he was the revered and shining topic of general conversation. When he had nobly taken a stand against the imperial decree, the emperor sought in every way, both by himself and by means of the learned men of that time, through rational demonstrations and arguments of law, to persuade him to subscribe to it. But, confounding, so to speak, every rumor by the vigor of his mind and tongue, he unravelled their arguments, as though they were some Penelope’s web. For in Hellenic learning there were some men back then who had an advantage of him; but in acuteness of nature and in facility of speech and in training in ecclesiastical doctrines, they all appeared, in comparison with him, like children beside a man.”

The God of measure

October 2, 2007

ἡμεῖς δὲ οὐχὶ εἰς τὰ ἄμετρα καυχησόμεθα ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὸ μέτρον τοῦ κανόνος οὗ ἐμέρισεν ἡμῖν ὁ θεὸς μέτρου, ἐφικέσθαι ἄχρι καὶ ὑμῶν.
(2 Cor 10: 13)

Last month I was reading this text in Greek, and it stood out for me as saying something I’d not heard before. St. Paul, rhetorically playing on different forms of the word μέτρον, seemed to be saying something, not only about his relations with the Corinthian church, but about “the God of measure.” I wrote down, “this verse must have been a favorite of St. Gregory the Theologian. Does anyone preach these days on this phrase, ὁ θεὸς μέτρου, the God of measure, or of moderation?”

Later I saw why no one preaches on “the God of measure”: because that is not how the verse is translated in all the standard translations.

Vulgate: “Nos autem non in immensum gloriabimur, sed secundum mensuram regulae, qua mensus est nobis Deus, mensuram pertingendi usque ad vos.” (Note that Jerome’s text probably reads ἐμέτρισεν, not ἐμέρισεν.)

AV (KJV): “But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you.”

RSV: “But we will not boast beyond limit, but will keep to the limits God has apportioned us, to reach even to you.”

To put it as simply as I can, I took μέτρου (measure) as modifying θεὸς (God), not as referring back to the relative pronoun οὗ and to the noun κανόνος, the “rule” which, St. Paul says, “God has apportioned us.” I am aware that this relative pronoun and this noun are in the same case, number, and gender as μέτρου, and that this grammatical identification could imply a semantic identification as well, which is how Jerome and the King James translators read the verse (with the RSV it is not clear, the word μέτρου seems to drop out entirely). But, while that semantic identification is possible, the sentence is structured in such a way as to make it unnecessary and, I think, not entirely likely.

For one thing, the standard translation takes μέτρου as the grammatical subject of the infinitive ἐφικέσθαι in the clause that follows it. In Greek, the subject of an infinitive is generally in the accusative case; μέτρου is genitive.

For another thing, if one takes μέτρου as standing in apposition to the word κανόνος which appears earlier in the sentence, one should bear in mind that κανόνος already modifies the word μέτρον. So, if the standard translation is correct, St. Paul is speaking here about the measure of a measure, a lexical involution which serves no visible purpose.

Thirdly, the standard translation is not necessitated by the requirements of grammar. It is not the case that, if one takes μέτρου as modifying θεὸς, the infinitive in the next clause is left without a subject. The infinitive ἐφικέσθαι can be read as completing the thought of the finite verb ἐμέρισεν; that is, indeed, how the RSV seems to read it.

Fourthly, the translation I am proposing interprets Paul’s rhetorical elaboration on the word μέτρον in this sentence as serving a theologically significant purpose, one which agrees with his thought elsewhere (cf. 1 Cor 14:33, “For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints”); the standard translation, by contrast, sees Paul as expending all this rhetorical energy merely to defend his rights as a fundraiser.

If St. Paul is in fact speaking here of “the God of measure,” what does he mean by this phrase?

One of William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell says: “Bring out number, weight and measure in a year of dearth.” My sense is that William Blake is a good interpreter of hell, but a bad interpreter of the mind of St. Paul.

For Paul, the God who “laid the foundations of the earth,” who “laid the measures thereof” and “stretched the line upon it” (Job 38: 4f.), has also laid the foundations and measures of the Church and of human society. Paul is enough of a Greek to take to heart the old proverb, πᾶν μέτρον ἄριστον, not easily translatable, but essentially meaning that, in all things, measure, or moderation, is what is best, and consequently that lack of measure, or immoderation, is bad and leads to destruction. Paul is not saying that God can be measured (cf. Rom 11:13); he is saying that God measures us, and that it is good for us to accept the measure God gives us and not to waste our time measuring ourselves against each other: “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Cor 10:12). There are those in Corinth who, on the basis of their self-comparisons, think that Paul’s apostolic authority does not extend to them; Paul is warning them that they are wrong, and perhaps hinting that there is writing for them on the wall; like Belshazzar at his feast, they are weighed in the balances, and found wanting (Dan 5:25-28).

A common modern reading of St. Paul sees him as the preacher of absolute subjectivity; it takes the Pauline radicality of faith to imply the autonomy of the individual relative to any community and its responsibilities. I think this is a serious misreading of St. Paul. When Paul calls God a God of measure, when he says that God is not a God of confusion, but of peace, he is pointing out to his readers that faith does not transport the believer somehow miraculously into a transcendent state where other people do not matter. The believer’s freedom in Jesus Christ is a freedom for others, not (as so often it is interpreted) a freedom from others. The believer is free to serve, following in this Christ himself, “who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil 2: 6f.). Paul does radically insist upon the believers’ freedom from others when what others teach goes against the truth of the gospel, as in the case of those who would make circumcision a condition of membership in Christ. But it is simply a mistake to conclude from this that Paul’s theological vision is individualistic: he is radically communitarian.

I think one sees something of this same communitarian vision in the man whom the Eastern Church names, among the fathers, the “Theologian” par excellence, St. Gregory of Nazianzus. St. Gregory is not simply a propounder of mystical flights. Over and over again he preaches on the right order of the Christian community, and the ever-present need for Christians to submit to one another in love; “On Peace” is the title of three of his orations (numbers 6, 22, and 23), and his oration 32, “On Moderation in Theological Discussions,” could equally bear this title. His resignation during the Council of Constantinople of 381 in response to the objections of Western and Alexandrian delegates, who claimed that he could not serve as bishop of Constantinople since he had already been consecrated bishop of Sasima, shows that this concern for the good of the community was not something he merely preached; it was also what he practiced, to his own hurt (see esp. oration 42, his “Last Farewell” to the assembled bishops at Constantinople, and his poem 2.1.11, On his own life).

One of the best books available on St. Gregory was written in French a little over a half a century ago: Jean Plagnieux, Saint Grégoire de Nazianze, Théologien (Paris 1951). Plagnieux devotes a long and interesting chapter (pp. 213-260) to “the sense of measure” in Gregory’s works. The chapter is divided into three sections: (1) “La modération, sauvegarde de la communauté”; (2) “Le juste milieu de la vérité”; (3) “L’expression harmonieuse de la vérité.” Here are some of the things Plagnieux says:

(p. 214) “The sense of measure (μετριότης) is, without doubt, the characteristic feature of St. Gregory’s thought; it is the very spirit of his theology. St. Gregory keeps returning to it indefatigably. It is his glory to have succeeded in giving so high a profile to a virtue which appears not to lend itself to such a thing.”

(p. 215) “Thus, μετριότης, the quality of measuredness, is fundamental to Gregory’s temperament; it is, with him, a virtue of the heart no less than of the mind; and, in a word, it is like the subtle grace, the melody we might say, that remains with the artist in all of his theological creations.”

(p. 225) “The activity deployed by Gregory at the service of peace has unity in faith directly in view. As opposed to Basil, the man of government, and Gregory of Nyssa, the mystic and metaphysician, Gregory, in all his apostolate, remains essentially a theologian, that is to say, preoccupied with doctrine and with unity. Administration, even of the ecclesiastical kind, hardly interests him; by contrast, he is attracted to contemplation; but, when it comes to fixing him in a decision either to take on everything or to renounce everything, it is enough that there be a danger against the integrity of the faith or a chance to restore concord among believers.”

(ibid.) “One cannot overemphasize the point that moderation, itself, pertains to a theological order. It is not constituted of dextrous handlings and expedients and, in a word, of mediocrity; rather, it is inspired by a very elevated view of human possibilities and divine co-workings: it depends upon intelligence.

“Gregory’s doctrinal μετριότης appears to us, at first, in his effort not to go beyond the measure of what is human. He means in this way to respect the laws of the universe. This is not opportunism or resignation. He takes as his model the divine ‘economy’: he knows that every step of progress for the human being requires liberty and demands that time be allotted….”

(pp. 226 f.) “Gregory does not resign himself to being separated from the human race: he is the enemy of sects, and of private chapels, too. In contrast to so many ancient and modern heresies, he refuses to make Christianity into a religion of the pure and of a small number: he does not refuse the company of sinners, for whom the universal Church remains forever, in his eyes, Mother and Teacher.”

(p. 227) “But considerations about man cannot be a determining element in matters of doctrine: the theologian is inspired essentially by the thought of God, and it is from that that Gregory acquires his sense of measure and of reserve.”

(p. 228) “Heresy thinks it can measure the Infinite, i.e., measure itself alongside God. Before being an error, this is an impiety, arising from arrogance (ἀσέβεια — θρασύτης).”

(ibid.) “Doctrinal in its origins, Gregory’s moderation is no less doctrinal in the end which it pursues: peace, the sum of Gregory’s aspirations, must be understood in the strong sense, the theological sense; it is unity in the truth. In working for its victory, Gregory spares no combat and brooks no compromise on a single article of the Creed.

“It remains that ‘irenicism’ is the keynote of his theological apostolate, the positive form of his moderation: peace is the sacred dream of this man’s life. It is for him that which Lady Poverty was for St. Francis of Assisi. Gregory dedicated to it three of his most moving orations. In certain passages, one might think one was hearing strophes of a hymn to peace: order, beauty, harmony, love are its vesture; it is a reflection of the Trinity.”

And so on. Plagnieux has, I think, laid his finger here upon a truth which no one who claims fidelity to the fathers (let alone, to Christ) ought to forget. I fear that many students of the fathers, past and present, have in fact forgotten it.

While I am not a theologian, I have to say that John Bekkos, whatever one thinks about his specific interpretations of this or that text of the fathers, has understood something about St. Gregory the Theologian — and, arguably, something about Christ and his Church — that his opponents have not. Bekkos loves peace, and he reads the fathers as men who love peace and who are aware of the infinite capacity of the human intellect to delude itself and to destroy its own peace upon barren and flimsy pretexts. Bekkos supposes that St. Gregory, who taught that the Father is sole cause, and St. Augustine, who taught that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, actually agree with each other. That is to say that, after having examined a considerable body of patristic evidence, he concludes that the Latin Christian tradition is orthodox, and expresses what the Greek tradition does although using other words. Some may think that these opinions of his are heterodox and immoderate and against the right measure of theology. For my own part, I don’t see it. For my own part, it seems to me that the Christian God, the consubstantial Trinity, is a God of measure; I think Bekkos worships him; I wish others would, too.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46 other followers