Pope Question: You say ‘Roman Bishop’ and ‘Pope’ – what do you mean?

4 08 2015

pope clipartI was explaining to someone my upcoming research project into the sources of the earliest collections of papal letters recently, and this question came up. It’s actually a very good question, because it helps clarify what the person with whom you are speaking actually means by the terms. There is a certain kind of Roman Catholic, for example, who would say that not only are ‘Bishop of Rome’ and ‘Pope’ synonymous, the office of the Bishop of Rome has pretty much always been invested with the same authority and whatnot.

My answer was that, for my research, I use the terms interchangeably. However, it is more that I mean ‘Roman Bishop/Bishop of Rome’ when I say ‘Pope’ than that I mean ‘Pope’ when I say ‘Roman Bishop/Bishop of Rome’. That is, I am conscious of a development in the office of the Roman Bishop and his role in ecclesiastical polity that means that ‘Pope’ Siricius (d. 399) and ‘Pope’ Innocent III (d. 1216) and ‘Pope’ Francis do not all have exactly the same job or role in the wider church.

John Moorhead’s 2015 book, The Popes and the Church of Rome in Late Antiquity takes the same tack, although Moorhead eschews the adjective ‘papal’ and noun ‘papacy’, with good reason. I choose not to because they are short words and everyone knows what they mean; instead, I frame my use of pope-related words at the beginning of my work so people know what is going on. Calling Leo ‘Pope’ is perfectly legitimate; therefore, talking of his papacy makes a lot of sense to me — although I can also see Moorhead’s perspective, trying to avoid clouding the issue of how the Roman Bishop’s role developed.

What is a ‘pope’? A ‘pope’ is a papa in Latin — a father. The term is used in the fifth century of bishops beyond the Bishop of Rome, although eventually it becomes restricted to said bishop in its usage. I am fairly certain no one ever legislated the term ‘pope’. It is also used in Eastern churches; hence the current Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church. At St Sozomen’s Church, Galata, Cyprus, it is painted in a fresco on the exterior of the building; the fresco is of the Council of Nicaea, and the poor fifteenth- (sixteenth-?) century artist knew neither Pope Sylvester’s name nor the fact that he wasn’t even there, so simply painted ‘Papa Romis’ over his head.

It is a title of honour, originally used to esteem the person and activity of spiritual direction of the bishop. Therefore, even though Bishops of Rome in the late 300s and 400s were not the same sort of Pope as Innocent III, they are still Popes — and they still claim a primacy of honour. And Pope Leo the Great, in fact, even claims that all clerical ministry descends from Peter, and therefore Rome.

How the pope, in his role of Bishop of Rome, Metropolitan of Suburbicarian Italy, and holder of a primacy of honour, Patriarch of the western church, comes to be invested with universal jurisdiction and appoints all bishops is a different story. But to call someone ‘pope’ need not imply said jurisdiction or vision of the papal role.

Dispassion: Jesus & Superman (also John Climacus)

29 07 2015

Dispassion (Gk apatheia) is one of the harder aspects of traditional Christian spirituality to sell today. I know that I have a hard time with it, and when I first heard John Michael Talbot sing, ‘Prayer is the state of dispassion’, I was greatly concerned.

At first glance, this term, whether applied to humans striving for perfection or to the already perfect Jesus/God, seems to be promoting not feeling anything, living life with a lack of emotion. And, certainly, there are times when spiritual writers sound like that’s just what they want — no laughter, no tears, no swellings of emotional feeling of any type at any point.

This past Sunday morning, my friend Cory was preaching about Matthew 8:23-27, where Jesus calms the storm:

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (NIV)

Having just finished John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent, whose second-last step is ‘Dispassion’, I couldn’t help but be struck that Jesus here is, in fact, an example of dispassion. The wind stirs, the waves rise, the rain batters from above. ‘But Jesus was sleeping.’

Jesus knows where true power lies. He can command the wind and waves to stop at any time. Therefore, he can sleep through a storm because he is not afraid of its power. One greater than the storm is here.

Jesus is chill. In it’s earliest meaning, this is what is meant to be ‘cool’ — that bad stuff doesn’t faze you, that you can handle it and be level. When great stuff comes, you don’t get too wound up, either, because you know that the great things in this temporal existence are fleeting, anyway.

A similar point was recently made about Superman, in this article by Joshua Rivera for Business Insider article a friend posted on Facebook, ‘Why Is It So Hard to Get Superman Right in Movies?‘ The quotation that sprang to mind as I mulled on Jesus in the boat this past Sunday is this one:

There’s a great anecdote that legendary comics writer Grant Morrison — the man responsible for one of the best Superman stories in recent memory, 2005’s “All-Star Superman” — tells about Superman in his memoir “Supergods.” In the memoir, he mentions the inspiration for his story — he was at a convention, and he saw a handsome man in a Superman costume just sitting down and relaxing on a stoop.

That was Morrison’s epiphany: The most powerful man alive wouldn’t be tortured but instead would be the friendliest, most relaxed person you ever saw.

Now, Superman is fictional, and none of us is ever going to be as big as Jesus. Superman can fly, shoot lasers out of his eyes, use X-ray vision, lift really heavy stuff, and is impervious to bullets. Jesus is God in the flesh; in His time on earth, He walked on water, turned water into wine, rose people from the dead, healed the sick, cast out demons, calms storms with a word, and then rose from the dead Himself.

None of us is likely ever to do the sorts of things Superman does in Action Comics, although by the grace of God I think some may do the sorts of things Jesus does in the Gospels. Either way, we are not as likely to be as chill as either Jesus or Morrison’s Superman.

John Climacus’ descriptions of dispassion and how we attain it are not exactly encouraging — unless you want to spend your whole life seeking to purified of all sin and become immersed in virtues. He writes:

If complete enslavement to passion is indicated by the fact that one quickly submits to whatever the demons have sown in us, I take it then that a mark of holy dispassion is to be able to say unambiguously: “I did not recognize the evil one as he slipped away from me” (Ps. 100:4), nor did I know the time of his coming, the reasons for it, nor how he went. I am completely unaware of such matters because I am and will ever be wholly united with God. (Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 29, trans. Luibheid & Russell, p. 284)

I’ve blogged about the passions before, so I won’t detain us long on them. But it is freedom from the disordered desires of human life that dispassion refers to. The dispassionate person is not a soulless shell with no emotion. Rather, freed (by the grace of God) from being battered all day by his or her passions, the dispassionate can see clearly, can know truly what truth and good are, what falsehood and evil are. And can live accordingly.

All of this, as the best of the spiritual guides remind us (Climacus, Cassian, Theophan the Recluse among others), is by God’s grace alone. But, typically, God brings us to such a place only through the experiences and activities of life. As G. K. Chesterton said, ‘One cannot grow a beard in a fit of passion.’ I’ve a feeling that dispassion — or, as Cassian circumlocutes is, purity of heart — is the same way.

We worship God because He is worthy of worship

26 07 2015

I recently found Robin Mark’s book Warrior Poets of the 21st Century in a bin of free books outside one of Edinburgh’s used bookshops, and I started reading it today. It’s an easy read, and says some useful things to help us orient our minds concerning worship. Well, the first 60 pages, anyway. In chapters 3 and 4, Mark (of ‘Days of Elijah’ and Revival in Belfast fame) identifies four reasons why we should worship God:

  1. It’s what we were made for.
  2. It’s what this world is all about.
  3. It’s because of the ownership of God.
  4. It’s because it’s for our own good and the communities around us. (see p. 60 for list)

I am not going to dispute Mark’s four reasons for worshipping God. They are all good reasons, if you ask me. There is a fifth that hasn’t emerged in the book yet — maybe it will in the pages to come. This fifth reason strikes me as the most important reason of all:

  • It’s because God is worthy of it.

This question goes to the heart of Who God is and the foundations of our relationship to Him. Many critics of the Judaeo-Christian theology of God and worship criticise the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because only a selfish, narcissistic jerk would require worship. The argument that He made us to worship Him doesn’t really address this concern — what kind of a self-absorbed person creates something in order to be worshipped by it?

The first thing to set in order concerning many of the misotheist arguments is that God is not a man. In this instance, not even not male — not human. The Divinity is completely different from human beings. When we say He is transcendent, that’s what we’re getting at. He is not just a man only bigger; that would be a god, like Jupiter, the sort of divine being we invent. The God of the Bible is holy because He is wholly other. His thoughts are as far from ours as the heavens are from the earth. Earth is his footstool, heaven his throne. His ways are not our ways.

God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent.

He is everywhere, this immanence being part of his transcendence.

Trinity KnotThe Christian conception of God, through prayer, worship, and searching of the Scriptures, has discovered the unfathomable truth that God is a Trinity of persons who, in the philosophical and theological language with which we feebly try and express the inexpressible, exist in perfect unity because they have a single substance. God is one and three at the same time. This is, indeed, not strictly logical by the rules of creation — but somehow it makes sense, and helps the world make sense.

If you want a good sense of what sort of God we’re dealing with and why He ought to be worshipped, I recommend A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy.

So. Thus God. God is not one of us. He is above and beyond all of creation.

By the nature of worship, God is worthy of it.

Since I’m a bit obsessed with the Oxford English Dictionary, here’s the etymology of ‘worship’, which first appears c. AD 888:

Old English weorðscipe , later wurð- , wyrð- , northern worðscipe , < weorð worth adj. + -scipe -ship suffix. The formation is peculiar to English.

Worth + ship = worship. -ship, if you’re curious, is defined thus:

1. Added to adj[ective]s. and pa[st]. p[artici]ples. to denote the state or condition of being so-and-so.
2. Added to n[oun]s. to denote the state or condition of being what is expressed by the n[oun].

By 1200, the noun has become the verb, whose current (2015) primary definition in the OED is:

To honour or revere as a supernatural being or power, or as a holy thing; to regard or approach with veneration; to adore with appropriate acts, rites, or ceremonies.

In worship, we are honouring God as He is worthy. At a certain level, this is simply basic manners, isn’t it? I mean, we are expected to treat other humans as they are worthy of being treated. So we honour our parents, treat waiters and waitresses with basic respect, do as our bosses tell us, obey laws, are respectful to judges, and so forth.

If God, then, is as I’ve described (and so much more, so much better!), how could we not worship him? It strikes me that worship is simply the basic response we have in relation to the Divine Person(s).

Thomas Tallis: Spem in Alium

22 07 2015

Tallis’ most famous work, most famously recorded by the Tallis Scholars:

The text (from ChoralWiki):

Spem in alium nunquam habui præter in te, Deus Israel:
qui irasceris et propitius eris,
et omnia peccata hominum in tribulatione dimittis.
Domine Deus, Creator cæli et terræ,
respice humilitatem nostram.

In English (my Englishing):

I have never placed my hope in another but you, God of Israel,
you who although you are angered even will be gracious,
and will put away all the sins of men in suffering.
Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth,
Look upon our lowliness.

From the Sarum use of the Roman Rite, based upon Judith 8:19 and 6:19.

Beauty in a world of darkness (Tallis & Black Mirror)

21 07 2015

Yesterday morning, I decided to watch the first episode of the Channel 4 programme Black Mirror at the recommendation of a friend. There is a synopsis here on IMDB. I felt kind of dead inside afterwards. This is, of course, part of the point of TV shows like Black Mirror — to hold up a mirror of the darkness of the insane, twisted world we live in. And I understand that. And maybe — maybe — we even need that sometimes. When we become too complacent with living with the darkness and forgetting to kick at it until it bleeds daylight. When we accept brokenness as ‘normal’ and the depraved and misguided as acceptable.

Yesterday just after lunch I went out, and I turned my phone’s radio to BBC Radio 3, where they were broadcasting live the lunchtime Proms. It was Thomas Tallis. When Tallis died, William Byrd said, ‘Tallis has died, and music has died with him.’ I’ve expressed my delight in Renaissance music here before, specifically in relation to Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts. Well, I found myself quickly and easily caught up in Tallis’s music. I hope that this is what the heavenly choirs sing, because there is little music in this world more beautiful. It made my heart sing. I was happy and transported to another realm. Seriously. If I were alive in the 1500s, I would have a very hard time swallowing Heinrich Bullinger’s distaste for Renaissance music. I’m not sure I could ever be Reformed in that sense.

As I listened to Tallis, I thought about Black Mirror. In the episode I watched, the Prime Minister was forced into a horrible situation that involved committing a lewd act on television. One of the fictional commentators on the show said that this was the first truly great piece of art of the 21st century. Obviously fictional, but this is the sort of dark, shocking thing ‘real’ art seems to want these days.

Tallis, on the other hand. Well, Tallis is obviously after something else. Something bigger and better. The sixteenth century is not all glorious light and beauty. It’s not all the chapel at Hampton Court Palace or the art in Venice’s Accademia. It’s not all St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s not all Cranmer’s Prayer Book or Shakespeare’s plays. It is also disease and death and filth and squalor and war and uncertainty and treason and changing political regimes and changing religious regimes and all the usual dirt and muck and sorrow and darkness of the world.

Tallis does not stoop down into the muck, pick up a handful of it, and compose music of dissonance and cacophony that reflects that. He does not put the sh*t of England on display (and yes, it must be that crude word to gain full force) and call it ‘art’. Instead, he raises his eyes to the heavens, to the rolling spheres. He looks to the beauty of God’s creation and man’s artistry. And he makes something that is fitting to the majesty of the Creator God — something that can raise us up beyond the muck and mire.

The world is an uncertain place today, just as it was in the days of Tallis. But I prefer Tallis’ approach, the approach of redemptive beauty. He puts the texts of Scripture and the liturgy to stunning, inescapably beautiful music. With Tallis, I am able to rise above the dirty filth of the Internet age. With Tallis, I can encounter the sublime. This is a great and terrible good. It is not escape, but rather refuge and solace.

The music of Tallis, the art of Michelangelo, the poetry of Donne, the sermons of Andrewes — these are moments of glistening beauty that strike us at our hearts, shot straight from the bow of the Renaissance. And they are moments that are there to help us survive the disease and uncertainty and sorrow and pain and woe and terror that beset us every day, whether in the news or on the internet or down the street or across the stairway or in our own homes.

Rethinking the Rethinking of Transcendence

16 07 2015


A defence of the traditional ways of looking at God that takes seriously the Church Fathers’ own commitment to Scripture.

‘The oppositional contrast between the “God of the Bible” and the “Hellenistic God of the Church Fathers” simply will not do. ‘

Originally posted on Eclectic Orthodoxy:

In his recent article “Rethinking Transcendence,” Greg Boyd invites us to reconsider our understanding of divinity in light of God’s self-revelation in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ:

Consider, would it ever occur to anyone to think that God is “above” experiencing things sequentially, or that God is “above” experiencing any kind of change, if they anchored all their reflections about God in the Word who became flesh (Jn 1:14) and who then offered himself up on our behalf? And would it ever occur to anyone to imagine that God is “above” being affected by others and “above” experiencing passionate emotions or suffering if their thinking about God was consistently oriented around the one who suffered humiliation and death at the hands of wicked humans and fallen powers? I, for one, do not see how. The revelation of God on the cross runs directly counter to the divine attributes…

View original 952 more words

‘Sins are to be regarded with hatred, not men’ (musings on Cadfael and Leo the Great)

13 07 2015

I recently read the Brother Cadfael mystery novel The Raven in the Foregate by Ellis Peters. Set at Christmastide 1141, in this novel, the people of the Foregate — the parish area just outside the abbey of Sts Peter and Paul and the town of Shrewsbury — get a new priest after their old priest, Father Adam, passed away. Fr Adam had been a kind and indulgent man, aware of the weakness of the human spirit and always ready to welcome a penitent sinner.

The new priest, Father Ailnoth, was an entirely different species of priest. Ailnoth had hitherto been a bishop’s clerk and knew little of the ways of parish life, the faults and foibles of ordinary people, their sins large and small. In his first few weeks, he strikes young boys with his staff for playing ball games against the wall of his house; he refuses to baptise a sickly infant on the spot because he is in the middle of praying the office — the infant dies, and he refuses to bury it in the churchyard because it was unbaptised (!!); he alleges that a man in his service was villein, not free; he drives away from him a young woman of the Foregate who slept with a lot of men, but would inevitably feel compunction for a spell and repent before, eventually, turning to the company of whatever man next asked. She, in fact, was found drowned after he refused to hear her confession. Oh, Ailnoth also accused the baker of his measure being short.

In sum, a strong and unbending man of mighty will with little care for the dignity of others. A man with a sense of his own virtue so strong it blotted out his compassion on those weaker than him.

Vainglory, according to Cassian, Evagrius, and Climacus, is a sin reserved for the virtuous.

It can harden the heart, as it did Father Ailnoth.

Father Ailnoth reminded me of a historical event that Leo the Great discusses in letter 167.

This letter was sent to Rusticus, Bishop of Narbonne, in the second half of the 450s, and is most read and recopied for the series of questions the Roman Bishop answers for his Gallic colleague. In the preface of the epistle, however, Leo address some more specific concerns of Rusticus’. The first of these had to do with two Narbonnais presbyters who had been tried by local ecclesiastical and secular men of rank, and found guilty for being overzealous in their duties of reproving sinners (in this case, adulterers). Leo encourages Rusticus not to be too hard on them, ‘since they have of their own accord removed themselves from the disputes they had begun’. He reminds his Gallic colleague that spiritual medicine should be applied to heal, writing:

you should act mildly with those who in their zeal for chaste behaviour seem to have exceeded the limit in vengeance. One should not let the Devil, who has deceived adulterers, rejoice in the punishers of adultery.

All of this unseemly business has left Bishop Rusticus wishing to retire. Leo proceeds to reprove him for this desire, and in the midst of this he puts forth one of his pithy statements, one that has always stuck with me:

Odio habeantur peccata, non homines.

That is:

Sins are to held in hatred, not men.

You could say ‘people’ or ‘human persons’ for ‘homines’, but ‘men’ is so nice and short, it keeps the saying pithy. Besides, etymologically ‘man’ has the same gender inclusive overtones as ‘homo, hominis’.

Father Ailnoth with his own unbending vision of virtue seems to have forgotten this adage of Leo’s (which was certainly known in England by 1141 through Lanfranc’s canonical collection of the 1070s). To the modern ear, Leo may often sound harsh and unbending, but I believe that he is flexible as a pastor — he will not bend on what he believes the truth is, but the penitent sinner or heretic is always welcome back into the catholic fold if he or she gives proof of a true change of heart and/or mind.

Father Ailnoth was not so flexible.

We should keep these examples in mind as we go into the world today and interact with a culture that in many areas does not live up to traditional, biblical standards of morality and ethics — whether we speak of such standards from a more ‘right’ or more ‘left’ position.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 743 other followers