John of Damascus, Martin Luther, and Monstrances (Pt 2)

Where does Part 1 land me?

I am a self-professing Anglican who currently worships at a Reformed church. I have found, for a long time, that I tend fall in line with the 39 Articles of Religion. However, ever since I worshipped at a Tridentine Mass, things have been moving in … different directions; and the Orthodox have not really moved those directions back towards low-church Protestantism.

I remember the day I started to make a mental break with the 39 Articles for the first time. It was at St. Thomas’ Church in Toronto (aka Smokey Tom’s), and we were worshipping in Latin according to the Use of Sarum. You can read some of my thoughts from that event here and here. Various un-Reformation things occurred besides not worshipping in a language such as the people understandeth (vs. Article 24). They also bowed to the Sacrament (vs. Article 28). There were prayers to saints (vs. Article 22). But, dangnabbit, it was beautiful!

And so I reconsidered how tightly we should hold to the Articles of Religion, even though I tend to see adherence to the Tradition as the safest way to avoid falling into the Pit of Heresy. I am still of a mind that Article 24 is of great importance for regular Sunday worship. But some of these others … I am becoming ‘iffy’ or noncommittal or ‘agnostic’ as to whether they are as important for faith as once I thought.

Furthermore, regarding avoiding the Pit of Heresy, for a long time many Anglicans, from the Welseys onward if not earlier, have not held to Article 16, ‘Of Predestination and Election.’ As well, many others go against Article 37 that embraces Just War Theory. And I’m not sure how long certain Anglo-Catholics have been bowing before monstrances and invoking saints, but certainly longer than I’ve been alive. So there seems to be a grand tradition of ignoring inconvenient Articles of Religion. Nonetheless … nonetheless …

Back to John of Damascus, Martin Luther, and Monstrances, then.

First, I have been having my Eucharistic thought-life shaped by the Fathers for  a while now, and this year many of my patterns for thinking have been if not challenged by the Fathers, nuanced and immersed in the Fathers due to my own immersion in them, from Justin to Leo, Ignatius to Chrysostom, Severus to Maximus to John of Damascus.

Second, I have actually been reading the ipsissima verba of Reformers, and Luther with greater pleasure than the Reformed side (inevitable, I guess).

And once a week(ish), I step through a little black door with a bronze Russian cross on it, light a candle, then kiss an icon of Christ Pantokrator, and icon of the BVM, and an icon of St. Andrew. I cross myself numerous times and bow whenever the incense comes by.

These things stand in the trajectory of my life post-Latin Mass.

I am now able to comfortably kiss objects, having soaked in the teachings of St. John of Damascus. There is no Article of Religion against this. However, he has made it easier for me to bow to the Eucharistic elements. We have seen this in the last post; given that I have moved to a Lutheran understanding of the Eucharist, this is even easier for me.

Thus, Articles of Religion I am non-committal on as of now:

  • Article 17: Of Predestination and Election: This is a long-standing issue of mine; I dance back and forth re predestination/free will. And St. Augustine only confused the matter.
  • Article 22: Of Purgatory, thus: ‘Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques … is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.’
  • Article 25: Of the Sacraments, thus: ‘The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about …‘ While I believe that chiefly, they are best used in … use … I am not so hard-core re not gazing upon or carrying them about.
  • Article 28: Of the Lord’s Supper is a trickier one, because the entire first paragraph is precisely what Luther has demonstrated to me, and I’ve never believed transubstantiation no matter what Innocent III says. But I do not wish to go so far as to say, ‘The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner.’ This makes me think of one man, and his name starts with Z. It also reiterates the bit I’m unsure of from Article 25 against reserve sacrament, carrying it about, lifting it up, worshipping it.
  • Article 27: Of the Civil Magistrates, thus: ‘It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars.’ I’m not sure if I’m entirely comfortable with this, but I’m willing to let it stand at present.

The upshot is, at one level, that it’s not 1563 or 1662 anymore. Issues of praxis that were very important to the English reformers are less important today. But this is a foundational document. How can we say that we are within the Anglican tradition if we start pulling out Articles of Religion willy-nilly because people like me have grown iffy in our compliance with them?

I ask because this makes me some sort of monster, a creature with no nature proper to itself but which may fit in with nature as a whole (cf. John Philoponus, In Phys.). There are people who are uncomfortable with the Nicene Creed because they claim it’s just a lot of Hellenistic philosophy (vs. Article 8). There are people who think science has proven miracles — including the Resurrection — false (vs. Article 4). Some think the Holy Trinity not actually scriptural (vs. Article 1). Some are actual Pelagians (vs. Article 9). Many believe in a real free-will (vs. Articles 10 & 17). I know of some who believe in Purgatory, icons, relics, invocations of saints (vs. Article 22). Some engage in Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament (vs. Article 28).

There is no body of thought or persons that says which Articles of Religion are ‘essential’. Anyone who has tried keeps getting censured by the voices of the official bodies of the Anglican Communion or their local Provinces. What makes an Anglican? Whatever you please?

But whatever it is, am I it anymore?

Spyridon

The Council of Nikaia, St. Sozomen's Church, Galata, Cyprus. My photo.

Re-post from 2008.

The Kypriot shepherd (wearing the beehive hat in the right-hand group, close to Konstantinos) walked down from his place near the top of the stands of overseers. Konstantinos watched a man who deigned to wear a straw hat, an old green tunic, and a worn, grey traveller’s cloak who considered himself worthy to debate Aurelios, the well-trained and learned Arian philosopher who had studied philosophy at Athenai and Alexandreia. Gelassios, head overseer of Kypros, had nodded his approval. The Lord moves in mysterious ways, it would seem.

As he approached Aurelios,* he fingered the knots of his prayer rope, each knot signifying a prayer his heart was calling forth to God above, to God in His threeness, His threeness in its oneness.

Spyridon bowed to Aurelios. Aurelios, right eyebrow raised, bowed in return.

“Good afternoon, shepherd,” Aurelios began.

“Good afternoon, philosopher,” returned Spyridon. “God’s holy blessings upon you.” He fingered his prayer rope.

“So, you believe that the Anointed Jesus, the Word, the Son of God, is eternal?”

“Yes.”

And then it began. It began as it always, inevitably (almost tiresomely so, to Spyridon) did, with Proverbs 8:22, as though this were a stepping-off point. His counterargument was swift and simple, to the effect that Wisdom in Proverbs need not necessarily be considered to be the same person as the Word of Holy Iohannes. He also noted that perhaps this was the wrong place to start.**

“What,” he asked Aurelios, “does our Lord and Saviour Jesus the Anointed say about Himself?”

They went through the Scriptures themselves, Spyridon noting that in interpreting the written Word, its plainest sense is to be favoured to one that involves philosophical leaps and entanglements. Is it not plainer to simply take Jesus at His word, that He and the Father are one, that if you have seen Him, you have seen the Father?

Nevertheless, as they discussed these texts (How is it logical for Holy Iohannes to call the Word God if the Word is not God?), Spyridon knew that Aurelios was having trouble being convinced, and that he was starting to pull out his own prooftexts and the philosophy of Platon and Sokrates.

And so they moved from Scripture, with which Spyridon was intimately acquainted, to a discussion of substance — ousia — and hypostasis and the uses of language. Spyridon, rather than speeding up the spinning of the prayer rope actually slowed it down. This was not because he was suddenly less concerned with his prayers, but more. He took his time as he passed over each knot, Lord Jesus the Anointed, have mercy on me.

And he made each response, meeting Aurelios’ challenges. What he did not know was that as the debate continued, as he answered Aurelios calmly and slowly, as Aurelios became more and more notably fervent, as all this happened — his face started to glow.***

Aurelios, naturally, noticed it first and stumbled in mid-statement, “Yet if . . . Jesus is called the first . . . born of creation . . .” with an astonished pause before he continued, “how can he rightly be called Creator?”

Spyridon answered that if everything that has been created was created through Him, how can He himself be part of creation? At that moment, Nikolaos noticed the glowing and held his book of the Good News close to his breast, closed his eyes and entered the mansion of his spirit where he interceded mightily for Spyridon.

At length, Spyridon countered every argument put forth by Aurelios, his facing shining like a light in the midst of the assembly.

“I admit that you have outargued me,” said Aurelios. “Yet I still cannot accept what you say. It feels like blasphemy to say that God the Father shares His divine nature with another.”

Spyridon smiled, a twinkling, brilliant smile. From somewhere in his traveller’s cloak he pulled out a terracotta tile.

“Aurelios, stop doubting and believe!” he declared, clenching the tile in his fist.

And then Spyridon the Wonderworker did it. Flame spurted from the top of his fist. Water ran out the bottom. He held forth his palm to Aurelios, showing him the red earth therein.

“Three can be one, Aurelios.”

“I believe, I believe,” said Aurelios falling to his knees. “Oh Lord, save me from my unbelief!”

*The name “Aurelios” is fake; I don’t know the name of the philosopher St. Spyridon debated. It is not a reference to Marcus Aurelius, however; it is a reference to the fact that a lot of people in late antiquity had the Roman family name “Aurelius” (as previously discussed here).

**In all likelihood, Spyridon would have equated with the Wisdom with the Word; the standard answer was that of Athanasius, that Pr. 8:22 was about the Incarnation. Spyridon here is uttering my modern idea, not an ancient one.

***This happened to St. Seraphim of Sarov and Evelyn Underhill; I do not know if it happened to St. Spyridon, but it could have at some point.

Saint of the Week: St. Spyridon

I just returned from Cyprus, and one of the saints who figures largely in the church dedications of the island is St. Spyridon, one of the Fathers who made the journey to Nicaea in 325.

You can always tell St. Spyridon when you see him on a church wall (as on the exterior of St. Sozomen’s Church in Galata, Cyprus [my photo to the left]) because of his beehive hat. Spyridon was a literal shepherd before he became a spiritual shepherd (in Latin, that would be pastor). As a sign of his humble origins, he is always shown wearing this traditional Cypriot headgear.

The image to the left is from a large fresco of the Council of Nicaea (the whole thing is viewable here). It’s hard to tell because I didn’t have a good angle to take the photo (I took it from a good distance below the image), but Spyridon is pictured performing a miracle that tradition relates concerning his actions at Nicaea.

He is clutching in his fist a tile. Out of the top of the tile comes a flame, from the bottom drips water, and soil remains in his hand. This threefold nature of the tile was a refutation of Arius, showing how three things could share a single essence, an object lesson in the Holy Trinity.

Because what we have from the histories is brief, allow me to quote Socrates Scholasticus in full (from CCEL):

With respect to Spyridon, so great was his sanctity while a shepherd, that he was thought worthy of being made a Pastor of men: and having been assigned the bishopric of one of the cities in Cyprus named Trimithus, on account of his extreme humility he continued to feed his sheep during his incumbency of the bishopric. Many extraordinary things are related of him: I shall however record but one or two, lest I should seem to wander from my subject. Once about midnight, thieves having clandestinely entered his sheepfold attempted to carry off some of the sheep. But God who protected the shepherd preserved his sheep also; for the thieves were by an invisible power bound to the folds. At daybreak, when he came to the sheep and found the men with their hands tied behind them, he understood what was done: and after having prayed he liberated the thieves, earnestly admonishing and exhorting them to support themselves by honest labor, and not to take anything unjustly. He then gave them a ram, and sent them away, humorously adding, ‘that ye may not appear to have watched all night in vain.’ This is one of the miracles in connection with Spyridon. Another was of this kind. He had a virgin daughter named Irene, who was a partaker of her father’s piety. An acquaintance entrusted to her keeping an ornament of considerable value: she, to guard it more securely, hid what had been deposited with her in the ground, and not long afterwards died. Subsequently the owner of the property came to claim it; and not finding the virgin, he began an excited conversation with the father, at times accusing him of an attempt to defraud him, and then again beseeching him to restore the deposit. The old man, regarding this person’s loss as his own misfortune, went to the tomb of his daughter, and called upon God to show him before its proper season the promised resurrection. Nor was he disappointed in his hope: for the virgin again reviving appeared to her father, and having pointed out to him the spot where she had hidden the ornament, she once more departed. Such characters as these adorned the churches in the time of the emperor Constantine. These details I obtained from many inhabitants of Cyprus. I have also found a treatise composed in Latin by the presbyter Rufinus, from which I have collected these and some other things which will be hereafter adduced.

What I like about the story of St. Spyridon is the fact that he was made a presbyter for all the right reasons — it wasn’t because he had a clear singing voice for the liturgy, or because he was the only literate man in the village, or because he had the right educational credentials but because of holiness of life. He was so holy and had such spiritual authority that, although a simple shepherd, the people knew that he was the right man for the job.

This is a stark contrast with the lawyers and aristocrats who fill the clergy elsewhere in fourth century! It is a stark contrast to today where we are more concerned with one having the right training than we are with whether one is actually a spiritual leader. Perhaps seminaries and bishops should take the life of St. Spyridon to heart when they are seeking out and evaluating postulants for ordination. Imagine if we had a whole generation of clergy chosen for the holiness of their lives! We might even see spiritual fruit as a result!

Remember as well: God chooses the simple. Few of us are Origens — and he was branded a heretic post-mortem — but by the grace of Christ, many can be Spyridons.