Highlights from Oxford Patristics: Kallistos on Maximus

Many of the papers I went to at the Oxford Patristics Conference a few weeks ago were of high quality — Michele Salzman proving that Prosper was not Leo’s secretary — and thus could not have written the Tome; Bernard Green talking about Leo’s views on Baptism in Letter 16; Paul Parvis talking about water organs in Tertullian; Sara Parvis about the essentially positive view of women in Irenaeus; Samuel Rubenson on the formation and re-formations of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers; and many others.

Not all, I think, will be of particular interest to my readers here.

Kallistos Ware’s paper on St. Maximus the Confessor will, I think; although I am growing hazy on details. The one thing that stood out most and has been flitting through my mind since +Kallistos gave the paper is his discussion of how St. Maximus envisaged our imitation of Christ.

This imitation is not simply a moral imitation as most of us, especially those of us who are fond of St. Thomas à Kempis, may tend to think. No, it goes deeper than that. Our imitation of Christ is, rather than moral, ontological.*

Our imitation of Christ is something that is rooted in our very being. By becoming sharers in His divine life through the sacraments and through prayer, through liturgy and through moral action, we become imitators of his very person. Our character changes accordingly.

I like this idea. It is kind of breathtaking. We are made more and more like him the more we approach him. Our imitation is not simple mimicry. It is a deep and powerful transformational activity that occurs within us. It is not a work that we do or achieve ourselves. Thus we are freed, even here, from works righteousness. It is Christ who transforms us into his imitators.

Thus we go beyond not only mimicry but virtue and morality as the marks of Christianity into something higher and more difficult to imagine, yet deeper, more penetrating.

If we go through imitatio Christi as an ontological reality, that means we are drawn to two things oft-forgotten in contemporary discourse:

  1. Holiness
  2. Deification (theosis)

*Ontological is the adjective derived from ontology the study of being (the -ology of on, ontos). OED for ontology: ‘The science or study of being; that branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature or essence of being or existence.’

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Highlights from Oxford Patristics: The Beards

So it’s been a week since I got back from the Oxford Patristics Conference. This is the first of a few posts of highlights:

The Beards. Now, the photo of +Kallistos is outdated, but +Rowan and Andrew Louth look like that in real life. There were also various Orthodox monks and priests present, all of them with outstanding beards. I wonder what would have happened if +Kallistos’ and +Rowan’s beards collided. Could the space-time continuum have handled it?

Met. Kallistos of Diokleia and Great Britain

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

Andrew Louth

Andrew Louth is the most wizardly of these three. What made him stand out amongst the conference-goers was the fact that, since he was off-duty, he wasn’t in a voluminous black robe. Still in black, though. Not that Patrists need beards, of course, as evidenced by the number of high-quality papers given by female scholars, such as Sarah Coakley and Dame Averil Cameron.

Still, it doesn’t hurt.

As for the Orthodox, the beards are part of a programme of self-abasement. As a growing symbol of one’s vows either as priest or as monk, many Orthodox priests and monks — especially Greek and Cypriot — do not trim their beards or hair. This is also part of the desire to avoid vanity — a physical reminder of humility, that one is nothing, following the same line of thought as Tertullian’s advice back in the 2nd-3rd century.

Out of these three bearded wonders, I only heard +Kallistos. He spoke on St. Maximus. But more on that later ….

Oxford (!!)

Expect no posts this week since I’m at the 16th International Conference on Patristics Studies at the University of Oxford this week. There will be Saint as usual, but only because I’ve already written and scheduled the post for publication. Enjoy life without having to read my pretentious attempts to sound like I know what I’m talking about.