You know your Isidore is ‘Pseudo-‘ when …

Hincmar of Reims

So I’m in Florence right now. In case you missed that. And for those who were envying the Cypriot weather, the buckets of rain falling from the heavens today as I shivered from San Lorenzo to the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze will make you less envious.

At the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale this afternoon, I was perusing a manuscript containing a large swath of papal letters from Clement I (d. 97) to Leo I (d. 461), with a few items from Constantine and Athanasius thrown in for good measure. I didn’t spend any time determining the veracity of the Constantinian and Athanasian documents. However, there was a clue that not all of these documents were above board. Some of the letters began with the phrase:

seruus seruorum Dei

Now, you’re probably thinking, ‘Isn’t “servant of the servants of God” how all popes start letters?’ And you’d be almost right — it’s how most popes after Gregory I start most of their letters.

Wait. Gregory I?

Wasn’t he pope from 590-604?

He sure was.

Of course, I knew there would be forgeries in this manuscript (see below). However, it can be difficult sometimes to spot a papal forgery. You see, popes all write the same. This is partly because of the extreme conservativism inherent with the office — the Pope’s job is largely to maintain the tradition, but also to interpret it for a new generation. They tended to repeat one another, for one thing. If another pope had said it, the current pope will repeat his official ruling on a subject.

However, they also all write the same because eventually they aren’t writing much at all. The papal chancery is. I mean, they’re composing the letters and overseeing the content, but notarii do the actual writing by some point in the 600s, and probably earlier. We even have a seventh-century papal chancery style guide.

But there are ways to tell. Like ‘seruus seruorum Dei‘ turning up in a pre-Gregorian papal letter. Or early popes who obsess about primates and chorepiscopi. Or a letter from a pope like Leo I or Gregory I, who actually does have his own style, that isn’t in his own style.

But how did I know to expect forgeries?

Well, I knew that this manuscript is from a body of canon-law literature ascribed to ‘Isidorus Mercator’, affectionately known as ‘Pseudo-Isidore’. That ‘Pseudo-‘ on the front is a dead giveaway!

The Pseudo-Isidorian canonical collections, which encompass canons from church councils as well as papal letters from as early as possible — and even earlier (forgeries!) — up to Gregory the Great. The collection is a clever mixture of genuine and false material, alongside genuine material that has been modified to suit the Pseudo-Isidorian forgers.

They emerged in 844 (if I remember correctly) in the context of the later Carolingian wars wherein a number of bishops (esp. Hincmar of Reims) got themselves mixed up in things and wanted to limit the power of the secular authorities over them as well as of their own metropolitan bishops. So the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries were contrived. What makes them intriguing is the fact that they include so much genuine material, and are therefore of great importance to the transmission of authentic canon law material.

And I got to spend some time with Pseudo-Isidore today. I’ll go visit him again on Wednesday; tomorrow, I’m returning to Collectio Vaticana at the chilly Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.

The Scandal of the Incarnation’s Particularity (and the perils of academic theology)

Council of Chalcedon
Council of Chalcedon

The other day, I came across Towards a Feminist Christology by Julie Hopkins on the new books table in the Divinity library here. In an of itself, I don’t suppose feminist theology is any worse than any other particular vision of theology. The problems arise when people, rather critiquing theology or doing theology from a feminist perspective, seek to create a theology that is inherently feminist and that solves feminist problems.

Theology is thinking about God, and therefore transcends all barriers. The job of the theologian is to find the Truth and communicate it. But academic theology can often go astray seeking instead to apply philosophy to Christian issues or sociology to the Almighty or calling Christian philosophy theology or confusing anthropology with theology. Academia may, in fact, be the least hospitable environment for true theology to thrive because of the drive to create new things and publish them on a regular basis.

And so Hopkins challenges, in a mere six pages (I think), the Chalcedonian Definition (my translation here) of Christ’s dual nature, reducing it to, ‘fully god, fully man.’ Her first critique is that this is a decidedly sexist vision of the Incarnate Christ. I suppose it would be, if that were what the Fathers at Chalcedon actually said.

In fact, what the Chalcedonian Definition says in the criticised phrase is, theon aléthós kai anthrópon aléthós — truly God and truly a human being. We can always ask ourselves if ancient authors, when they wrote anthrópos or homo meant ‘human being regardless of gender’ or if they were often thinking of ‘male men’, but the word anthrópos refers to a human being of either gender. And throughout the Chalcedonian Definition itself, all the terms used to refer to Christ’s human nature are derived from anthrópos, not anér, the word for ‘man.’

Leo’s Tomus ad Flavianum is similar, using homo, basically the Latin equivalent of anthrópos.

Thus, the Chalcedonian Definition is not sexist.

I should probably stop there, but Hopkins did not (alas). Citing some other feminist theologians as well as Patristics scholar Frances Young, she maintains that the Fathers compromised the Gospel with Platonic dualism, thus leading to the tortured Christological debates of the fourth and fifth centuries. Whether the Fathers did compromise, to what extent, and why are all debatable issues.

What I can say is this, even without the question of dualism arising or the concern about impassibility, the question of how on earth a man could be God would have been a thorny question, and it would have arisen through the centuries of meditative exposition of the Scriptures anyway — so something like the Chalcedonian Definition would have been formed (although some people are leaning towards the position that, without Leo’s orchestration of Chalcedon, the formulation would have been more conservative Cyrillian [Mono-/Miaphysite] than Leo’s Augustinian vision).

Nonetheless, even dispensing with ideas that proclaim the weakness of the Church’s credal statements from Nicaea to Chalcedon — tainted by pagan philosophy as the appear to be — Hopkins brings up a decidedly modern (postmodern? contemporary? I dunno) concern. How can we discuss the Incarnation of the divine in the feminine?

My response: In short, we cannot.

Annunciation to the BVM, observe the Holy Spirit descending
Annunciation to the BVM

The Incarnation of the Divine Person as Jesus Christ is an unrepeatable historical event with cosmic significance. The actual Incarnation is the taking-on of human flesh by the Almighty. All human flesh is gendered. All human flesh is particular. In order for Christ to save all of us, he had to be one of us. The general significance of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and reigning in glory, comes from the particularity.

Jesus is not embodied humanity in some general way, although some Unitarian website I saw about a year ago thought that’s what Chalcedon teaches. He is a particular human — a man. And he lived and wrought wonders and taught great things, things recorded for us in the Gospels. He died a criminal’s death and rose the Victorious Saviour. He ascended into Heaven.

By living a ‘normal’ human life, Jesus recapitulated the Garden. He reversed the curse through obedience to the Father.

If somehow one were to argue that Incarnation is necessary from General or Natural Revelation (or whatever you call it), one could say that the Divine Being could become Incarnate in a woman. However, those things that make true, Christian theology Christian are the revelation and the tradition that inform us that when the Divine Person became flesh, it was as the Man, Jesus of Nazareth.

Yet God became man that man might become God, right? (Theosis, as some call it.)

Well, then. Think on this, if you wish to see the Divine in the human plane of the feminine.

After 40 days living His resurrected life amongst the Apostles, the God-Man Jesus returned to Heaven. As a result, his particularity can become general. Whereas before he was only with certain followers at certain places and certain times, now Jesus, God Himself, can be with any followers at any places and any times. With all of us at once. He has promised to be with us in a special way through communion, but I think we can find Him elsewhere.

And when we find Christ, God, Trinity, we can find union with the Divine in a way that is so intimate that the Scriptures — our first point of reference in doing true theology — can only describe it as being like a marriage. We have all become Christ’s bride.

The Divine Persons are not feminine. They transcend gender as a Trinity. However, their transcendence of gender makes them equally available to all. Therefore, we need not worry over the Incarnation of God in the feminine. God came as a man, but can return to any of us at any time, whether male or female.

Infinity of God, Infinity of Love (Leo the Great)

In one of his Lenten sermons (Sermon 48.3), Pope St. Leo the Great says:

If God is love, charity should have no end since divinity can be closed off by no boundary.

Si enim dilectio Deus est, nullum habere debet terminum charitas, quia nullo potest claudi fine Divinitas. (PL 54.300)

Throughout his sermons, for Lent, for the November collections, for Advent, Leo calls the people of Rome to exercise charity. This call, though — this call is beyond the usual declarations that if you truly love Jesus, you will give to the poor (cf. Mt. 25). Almsgiving can always have a limit — 10%, perhaps?

But caritas, charity — well, this is more than almsgiving (although our view of things today has reduced it to thus, with our ‘registered charities’ and ‘charity shops’). This word is frequently used in Latin versions of the Bible to render the Greek word agape.

Caritas, agape, charity. This is the love for the unlovely. Unlike affection, eros, friendship, and such, this love is not necessarily motivated by anything within the beloved (cf. CS Lewis’ The Four Loves). This is the love we are to have for enemies — it is the love God had for us when were still his enemies, a love he displayed through his death on the cross.

God is love.

God is infinite and unbounded.

Love, caritas, is to be infinite and unbounded.

We are to love our enemies to the point of death. Leo’s call here implies that we are to devote our lives entirely to God out of sheer love for Him (cf. Bernard On Loving God), and, if taken alongside his many high ethical and ascetic discourses, we are to act out that love through acts of mercy and forgiveness of our enemies. We are to give to the poor not just a tithe but to keep giving until we see them raised up and able to fend for themselves. We are to forgive and interact with our enemies until we can call them friends. We are to shower kindness upon pagans until they become Christians and join us at the sacramental feast.

What might it mean for you to love infinitely today?

It’s not every day that people blog about Leo the Great

I know full well that people don’t blog about Leo every day because I get a Google Alert for ‘Leo the Great’. And usually, when people do, it’s at Christmastide, and they’re just posting a big chunk of Leo’s text as the blog post. However, there was  real, live blog post about Pope St. Leo I in my inbox today! And I even liked it. I hope you will too. It’s at the blog Biltrix, and it’s about the importance of our Lord’s Resurrection appearances for the faith of the Apostles and for ourselves today.

Development of ‘Fathers’ of the Church 1: The Catena

A Gathering of the Holy Fathers

One of the developments in Christian thought we see in the fifth and sixth centuries is the concept of  ‘Church Father’. This development is one reason why D H Williams draws his ‘suspicious Protestants’ to the patristic period as it existed specifically before AD 500 — these are the writers who are considered by later writers (the later Fathers themselves!) as Fathers of the Church.

The Council of Chalcedon provides us with one of our early examples of this growing concept when it drafts its Definitio Fidei, which it introduces with the words, ‘Following the holy fathers,’ ie. of Nicaea, Constantinople I, and Ephesus I. These men themselves shall be calledSancti Patres in due course.

Other evidence for this growing perception of Fathers of the Church in the fifth century is found in the appearance of testimonia in writings in the disputes of the day. Testimonia are passages from previous writers one gathers together in a series (either a catena — lit. a chain — or a florilegium — lit. a gathering of flowers) appended to the end of a work or sometimes as the whole work itself. They are gathered together to add weight to one’s own position. An example of this is Theodoret of Cyrrhus, who appended testimonia to one of his letters.

Another early example is Leo the Great who appended Testimonia to his so-called ‘Second’ Tome, Ep. 165, to Emperor Leo I, seeking to demonstrate the validity of his two-nature christology. Leo includes passages from Hilary of Poitiers, Athanasius, Ambrose, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Theophilus of Alexandria (via Jerome), Cyril of Alexandria, and Gregory of Nazianzus in his patristic testimonia. The inclusion of these testimonia is, no doubt, part of Leo’s own growing awareness that his own authority and argumentation were not ending the crisis he’d hoped to resolve at Chalcedon. He turned to his forebears in the faith, to authoritative authors to bolster his position.

Testimonia patrum as either florilegia appended to ‘original’ works or as catenae that comprised the entirety of a work really got rolling in the sixth century. An example of theology that was entirely rooted in patristic catenae is found in Leontius of Byzantium, who wrote his own discourses on Christology principally through the lens of previous writers.

The process really got moving, however, as biblical commentaries. Both East and West in the sixth century began an original endeavour of creative editing that produced an endless variety of comments and combinations on the text of Holy Scripture. Each editor, using either earlier catenae or his own extensive reading, would produce a commentary on the Bible full of short snapshots from the Fathers on the passage at hand (kind of like IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture).

These were not merely editorial technique, however. One can quote only what one chooses. One can purposefully misquote. One can accidentally misquote. One can splice two quotations together. Furthermore, the successors of one such anthologiser can simply add more quotations without doing damage to the text (it happens thus with Leo, Ep. 165 that some manuscripts have more passages than others).

What a patristic catena on a passage of Scripture can provide its creator is a comprehensive view that pretends to take into account all of the data. When done well, as in Bede, it can provide us with a single theological vision. It also creates for its readers the illusion of a consensus Patrum. ‘This,’ thinks the reader of a catena on Gen 6, ‘is what the Fathers thought!’

As the same Fathers are resorted to time and again in these anthologies, the thought of the Byzantine and medieval worlds is not always as divided as some would have you believe. As well, these people keep turning up again and again. They hold pride of place as the medieval and Byzantine Christians seek to interpret their Bibles in a faithful way that is true to their tradition and heritage.

In the East, this reading and rereading of the same Fathers means that by the age of Justinian, it not earlier, the Mono/Miaphysites and the Greek/Syriac Chalcedonians have almost the same way of thinking, just different words. They have read and reread Athanasius, Cyril, the Cappadocians, et al., time and time again as they seek to uncover the truth about the nature(s) of Jesus, and both sides have constructed catenae of testimonia from the Fathers to prove the other side wrong.

I believe that the patristic catena is one of the main reasons that East and West; Latin, Greek, Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian; Chalcedonian, Anti-Chalcedonian, and ‘Nestorian’; monks and bishops, all have a fairly similar grouping of Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and pre-Chalcedonian Fathers. For 1000 years they were reading quotations from these same people, all strung together, as they sought to interpret Scripture and theology.  These people are the common patrimony of all Christians, everywhere. They are the Fathers.

Christmas with Pope Leo

Merry Christmas, one and all! Here are some bits from St. Leo the Great himself, translated by yours truly. Originally published in PRINT, the magazine of Little Trinity Anglican Church, Toronto.

Sermon 26, Christmas 450

Latin ed. Chavasse, CCSL 138, pp. 125f.

Indeed, on all days and at all times, dearly beloved, the birth of our Lord and Saviour from his Mother the Virgin comes before the souls of the faithful while meditating upon divine things, and the mind, raised up to confessing its creator, whether it is turned to the groan of supplication, or in the exultation of praise, or in the giving of sacrifice[—while all this transpires—]nothing more frequently and nothing more faithfully attaches to the spiritual insight than this: God, the Son of God, begotten from the co-eternal Father, was indeed also born from a human birth. But no day brings this nativity to be worshipped in heaven and on earth to us more than today, and with a new light also shining in the elements, it brings total clarity of the miraculous mystery in to our senses. For not only in memory but also in a certain way into view the conversation of the Angel Gabriel with amazed Mary returns, as does the conception from the Holy Spirit as wondrously promised as believed, the Author of the world is brought forth in a virginal womb, and he who established all natures, is made the son of her whom he created. Today the Word of God appeared garbed in flesh, and that which had never been visible to human eyes began even to be tangible to hands. Today the shepherds learned from angelic voices that the Saviour was born in the substance of our flesh and spirit, and today the form of evangelisation was prearranged amongst the superintendents of the Lord’s flocks, so that we also may say with the host of the heavenly army: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of goodwill (Luke 2:14).

 Tome of Leo (Ep. 28, June 13, 449)

Latin ed. Schwartz, ACO 2.2.1 pp. 26f.

 Or perhaps he [Eutyches] thought that the Lord Jesus Christ is not of our nature, since the angel sent to Blessed Mary said, ‘The Holy Spirit will come over you, and the power of the Most High will shadow you and, on account of that the holy one who will be born, will be called the Son of God,’ (Luke 1:35) with the result that, since he had been conceived of the virgin by the divine working, the flesh of the one conceived was not from the nature of the one conceiving? But that begetting—singularly marvellous and marvellously singular—is not to be so understood that through the newness of the creation the characteristics of the humanity are removed.

The Holy Spirit gave fertility to the Virgin, but the truth of his body was taken from her body, and while the Wisdom of God was building itself a home, ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,’ (John 1:14) that is to say, in that flesh which he took from a human being and which he quickened with the spirit of rational life.

Therefore, as the characteristics of each nature are preserved and come together into one person, humility is taken up by majesty, infirmity by strength, mortality by eternity, and an inviolable nature is united with a passible one for the restoration owed to our condition, so that, since it was fitting for our cure, ‘the one and the same mediator of God and human beings, the human being Christ Jesus’ (1 Timothy 2:5) both could die from the one aspect and could not die from the other. Thus, true God was born in the whole and perfect nature of a true human being, entire in his own characteristics, entire in ours.

 Sermon 70:3, April 2, 443

Latin ed. Chavasse, CCSL 138, pp. 428f.

 For it seemed illogical and irrational to accept with the mind that the inviolate Virgin begat the Creator of all natures in the substance of a true human being, that the Son of God, equal to the Father, who filled everything and contained all things, permitted himself to be seized by the hands of raging men, to be condemned by a trial of hostile men, and, after dishonours from shameful men, to be affixed to a cross. But in all these things at the same time are the lowliness of humanity and the loftiness of Divinity, nor does the plan of mercy hide away the majesty of the merciful one, since it came from the ineffable power that while true man is in inviolable God, and true God is in passible flesh, glory would be bestowed upon human through injury, incorruption through humiliation, life through death. For unless the Word were made flesh (cf. John 1:14), and so sturdy a unity existed between the two natures, that the brief time of death itself could not break the assumed [nature] from the assuming one, mortality would never have been strong enough to return to eternity. But unique aid was present to us in Christ, so that the condition of death would not remain in the passible nature, which the impassible nature had received, and through that which could not die, that which was dead could be raised up.

 Leonine Sacramentary (Attributed to but not by Leo)

Latin ed. Feltoe, p. 159

 O God, Who both marvellously established the dignity of human substance and more marvellously reformed it, make it, we beseech Thee through Jesus Christ Thy Son, that we become sharers in the Divinity of Him Who judged it worthy to become a participant in our humanity. Through Jesus Christ our Lord Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

The path to orthodoxy involves ‘great peril to walk’

The Council of Nicaea, St. Sozomen's Church, Galata, Cyprus

Orthodoxy, that reasoned attempt to maintain in its whole the Apostolic Tradition as found in Scripture and the living life of the Church, is a narrow road, as we read in Leo the Great, Sermon 25:

Not only on works of virtue, not only on observance of the commandments lies that ‘narrow and difficult way leading to life,’ (Mt 7:14) but — along with these — on the path of faith. It involves great peril to walk, without stumbling, down the one path of sound doctrine among the dubious opinions of the unlearned and falsehoods which have the appearance of truth. It involves great labor and great peril to avoid every risk of deception when from all around snares of error set themselves in the way. (Trans. Agnes Josephine Conway and Jane Patricia Freeland for the ‘Fathers of the Church’ series)

To tread a path so perilous, how could it be naught but exciting, naught but thrilling, naught but a romance (in the mediaeval sense of the word). So thought G K Chesterton in his work Orthodoxy:

This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. …

To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect. (In context at The Chesterton Society)

These images of the persistence of Orthodoxy fit well with what I was reading earlier today in D. H. Williams,* who argues — for ‘Free Church’ evangelicals (i.e. Baptist types) — that the Tradition of the faith is not opposed to Scripture as many think, but that Tradition and Scripture co-inhere, for Scripture informs Tradition and was formed in the same period as the Tradition.

Through the decades, centuries, millennia, the Church has responded to crises of belief from within and from without. She responded to the challenges presented her by pagans and Jews, by Gnostics and Marcionites, by Donatists and Meletians, by Arians & Pneumatomachi, Appolinarians & Eutychians, by Manichaeans and Cathars. At each turn in this road fraught with peril, she saw what lay ahead and through prayerful consideration and reasoned examination, she determined which of the paths ahead of her was the narrow road that leads to Christ.

Thus, Tradition is not only not opposed to Scripture, it is not dead. It is the living deposit of faith coming from the Apostles through the historic Church to our hands. We are entrusted with this faith, these truths, and must communicate them to our own age, responding to the dangers along the trail, both within the Church and out.

And as we do so in this reeling, rollicking ride, may we always truth in love (one without the other is neither).

*D. H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants, 34-39. He draws on concepts of tradition from Alisdair MacIntyre.

Advent is here!

Our Advent Wreath in Toronto

Yesterday morning, I was at St. Michael and All Saints, my local Anglo-Catholic church, singing ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,’ and ‘Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,’ and praying the familiar prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. The vestments and hangings were the traditional deep, rich purple I am accustomed to; the priest lit a candle on the Advent wreath and prayed a prayer. His preaching reminded us that even when we feel like God is far away and has turned his face from us, He is ever near us, as He demonstrated most potently in His coming as Christ and will demonstrate again in the promised return of Christ.

Yesterday afternoon, J and I joined some friends at the opening of the Nativity scene in St. Andrew’s Square here in Edinburgh. To celebrate this event, a gospel choir sang some carols, Cardinal O’Brien prayed a prayer, the Sisters of Charity were there in their saris and wimples collecting money for the poor.

It was dark well before the event was finished (sundown is now before 4:00 PM in Edinburgh). We all went to the German Christmas Market in Princes St. Gardens and learned from a real German which food is really good and worth buying. I tried Heisse Liebe for the first time — mulled wine with a shot of rum in it. Very tasty. All Edinburgh was and is alight with Christmas lights strung from trees, the lit-up Ferris Wheel in full spin, the decorations hanging from lamp-posts, the Norwegian Pine shining proudly on the Mound in front of New College.

J and I went home where we lit our own Advent wreath for the first time. We prayed prayers and did readings that I had written/compiled, including a passage from JP2 about Advent from the Mosaic Holy Bible and the BCP Collect for Advent I. Tonight we shall light the wreath again, remembering the hope Christ is in the darkness of this transitory life. Our reading shall be a passage from the Nativity Sermon out of the Book of Homilies.

I’m still looking for passages to fill up most of the days of weeks 2-4 of Advent, so if you have any Advent readings you think I should do, pass them along!

My work has been taking on a decidedly Advently turn, itself. Besides the endless quest for manuscripts, I have just finished Leo’s sermons for the December fast and am now ready to move on to the Nativity Sermons.

And so Advent has begun. We look ahead with excitement and anticipation for what is the biggest holiday of our culture, and as Christians we remember daily at this time that birth ‘singularly wonderful and wonderfully singular’ (Leo’s Tome) in time of the timeless, eternal God Who comes to us to show us His great love as much now as in Bethlehem, as much in the darkness of our pain as in the sorrow of Good Friday.

Maranatha!