Meditating Four Quartets: Little Gidding (II/4)

But, as the passage now presents no hindrance / To the spirit unappeased and peregrine / Between two worlds become much like each other, / So I find words I never thought to speak / In streets I never thought I should revisit / When I left my body on a distant shore.

Strangers yet not strangers, poet-present walking with poet-past—or is it poet-past walking with poet-future? Temporal disjunctions have fallen away. A night of terror has brought about this numinous still point between night and dawn, death and life, “at this intersection time / Of meeting nowhere, no before and after.” In such a moment truths may be spoken and revelations received.

Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us / To purify the dialect of the tribe / And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight, / Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age.

Thomas Howard describes these lines to be “one of the most titanic lines ever spoken about poetry” (Dove Descending, p. 134.) I confess I quickly passed over them when I first read the poem, missing altogether their significance. I have always preferred prose over poetry, except perhaps when reading The Iliad. I deem this a defect in my personality and experi­ence of the world. One of the critical and essential tasks of the poet, Howard tells us, is to purify, break, and remake language that it might become, in the present moment (and it is always the present moment), a revelation of truth and beauty:

Contrary to popular misconception, poetry, far from being a bedecking of language, is a forcing of language through a purifying crucible under the most extreme rigors. In fact, Eliot has Dante [the compound ghost] say something even more drastic than that: language itself requires this fierce treatment if it is not to turn to mere dross. Language, in other words, depends on the poets. If we think this is fanciful, we may ask ourselves where the English language would be without Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth. (p. 134).

Recall Eliot’s reflections on poetry in “East Coker.” Every poem, he tells us, is “a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate / with shabby equipment always deteriorating.” And in “Burnt Norton” he speaks of the fragility of language:

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.

We need the poet more than we know, more now than we know. The ideologues and demagogues, the hucksters and twitterers, have captured our speech. On their lips our words have become lies and half-truths that corrupt our minds and darken our hearts and imaginations. The poet, if he is a true poet, seeks “to purify the dialect of the tribe,” to liberate it from its captivity to the principalities and powers that it may once again fulfill its divinely-given purpose. Howard writes: “The job of the poet is never to hail us with new information. That is the job of textbooks, newspapers, and lectures. Poetry always submits to what is and, at best, succeeds only insofar as it vivifies that which is and opens our eyes yet again to what is already ‘there'” (p. 89).

The slippage and inadequacy of language is felt less acutely by the prose writer, “for the simple reason that poetry demands above all an almost hydraulic compression of language  that obtains quite differently when it comes to the work of the prose writer” (p. 86). The prose writer can make his sentences and paragraphs as long or short as he wants, can choose any words that he wants. He is limited only by skill, thesaurus, and grammatical convention. But the poetic form, even when it is no particular form (as in free verse), forces the poet to a deeper level of creativity, a reshaping of language itself.

St Gregory of Nazianzus is acclaimed “Theologian” by the Orthodox Church because he gave to the Church his Five Theological Orations; but he also spoke the same truths, perhaps even more powerfully, in his theological verse:

Soul, why delay? Sing also the Spirit’s glory,
and don’t separate in speech what the nature did not leave out.
Let us quake before the great Spirit, who is my God, who’s made me know God,
who is God there above, and who forms God here:
almighty, imparting manifold gifts, him whom the holy choir hymns,
who brings life to those in heaven and on earth, and is enthroned on high,
coming from the Father, the divine force, self-commandeered;
he is not a Child (for there is one worthy Child of the One who’s best),
nor is he outside the unseen Godhead, but of identical honor.

In the Nazianzen theologian, poet, saint are inseparable.

St Thomas Aquinas explored the mystery of transubstantiation in his Summa Theologiae. His formulation served as the basis for the Tridentine definition of the eucharistic conver­sion yet has also been a point of contention not only within the Western Church but also between East and West. Thomas’s hymns, however, may be of more enduring value to the eucharistic faith of the Church. Of that which the scholastic theologian haltingly speaks the poet may sing:

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at Thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Scholars today pump out books upon books on theology, but most are inconsequential and will be quickly forgotten after their fifteen minutes in the sun. They are inconsequential not because the they are not sophisticated and clever but because they are written by men and women who have neither the soul nor linguistic gifts of the poet. Words and more words, yet the Word remains unspoken. And as far as us bloggers … well, those who cannot publish, blog.

In his 31st hymn on faith, St Ephrem the Syrian, whom the Church has honored with the title “Harp of the Spirit,” sings of God the divine poet and his garment of words:In his 31st hymn on faith, St Ephrem the Syrian, whom the Church has honored with the title “Harp of the Spirit,” sings of God the divine poet and his garment of words:

Let us give thanks to God
Who clothed Himself in the names of the body’s various parts:
Scriptures refers to His “ears”
to teach us that He listens to us;
it speaks of His “eyes,”
to show that He sees us.
It was just the names of such things
that he put on,
and although—in His true being
there is no wrath or regret—
yet He put on these names
because of our weakness.

Blessed is He who has appeared to our human race under so many metaphors.

We should realize that,
had He not put on the names
of such things,
it would not have been possible for Him
to speak with us humans.
By means of what belongs to us did He draw close to us:
He clothed Himself in language,
so that He might clothe us
in His mode of life.
He asked for our form and put this on,
and then, as a father with his children,
He spoke with our childish state.

Blessed is He who has appeared to our human race under so many metaphors.

It is our metaphors that He put on—
though He did not literally do so;
He then took them off—without actually doing so:
when wearing them, He was at the same time stripped of them.
He puts on one when it is beneficial,
then strips it off in exchange for another;
the fact that He strips off
and puts on all sorts of metaphors
tells us that the metaphor
does not apply to his true Being:
because that Being is hidden,
He has depicted it by means of what is visible.

Blessed is He who has appeared to our human race under so many metaphors.

In one place He was like an Old Man
and the Ancient of Days,
then again, He became like a Hero,
a valiant Warrior.
For the purposes of judgment He was an Old Man,
but for conflict he was Valiant.
In one place He was delaying;
elsewhere, having run,
He became weary.
In one place He was asleep,
in another, in need:
by every means did He weary Himself so as to gain us.

Blessed is He who has appeared to our human race under so many metaphors.

For this is the Good One,
who could have forced us to please Him,
without any trouble to Himself;
but instead He toiled by every means
so that we might act pleasingly to Him of our own free will,
that we might depict our beauty
with the colors
that our own free will had gathered;
whereas, if He had adorned us,
that we would have resembled
a portrait that someone else had painted,
adorning it with his own colors.

Blessed is He who has appeared to our human race under so many metaphors.

Pray that God will raise up new harps of the Spirit.


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“The story of Life imparted its voice into the apostolic group”

The disciples saw that the Slaughtered One was not there in the tomb
and they believed that He had risen,
and they became confirmed in the things revealed.
They saw the covering of borrowed garments placed aside by Him,
and they had perceived that He had clothed himself in glory and manly power.
They saw the resurrection and they became confirmed on account of its effects;
and they clothed themselves in power
so that they might become mouth-pieces for His proclamation.
They saw that the region of death had been trodden under foot
at the Resurrection of the dead.
Then they returned to become witnesses in the world about the resurrection.
They saw that birthpangs had struck Sheol and it gave birth to Life
and they accepted upon themselves to become advocates of the Truth to the new world.
They returned from the tomb with confidence to their companions
while the proclamation about His victory was resounding within them.
The lambs spoke about the Shepherd together with their brethren
saying, “He has risen up with power”; let us have no fear of the robbers.
Consolation rose up among the disciples and it made them joyful,
because they were confirmed in the Resurrection of the Slaughtered Master.
The story of Life imparted its voice into the apostolic group.
The tidings of death were put out by the Resurrection that was proclaimed.
The Resurrection of the Son set the peoples free from error.
Blessed is the Slaughtered One who gave us life through His crucifixion.

St Jacob of Sarug

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C. S. Lewis and the Fall: Must Death Always be Evil?

“For God is life, and the privation of life is death,” writes St Basil the Great. “Therefore Adam prepared death for himself through his withdrawal from God, in accord with what is written, ‘Behold, those who remove themselves from you are destroyed’ [Ps 72.27]. Thus God did not create death, but we brought it upon ourselves by a wicked intention” (Homily Explaining that God is Not the Cause of Evil 7). Here is a basic truth of the Christian revelation: death is evil and God is not its cause. But how do we explicate this truth in light of what we now know about the development of life on our planet? Animals were living and dying millions of years before the first human beings appeared. The Church has traditionally taught that the presence of death in the animal kingdom is a consequence of the Adamic Fall, yet given present scientific knowledge—knowledge that was unavailable to the inspired biblical writers and the Church Fathers—this teaching requires reconsideration and nuancing.

Must we think of physical death as inherently evil and productive of evil?

During Bright Week I re-read C. S. Lewis’s wonderful space travel fantasy Out of the Silent Planet. I do not know how many times I have read this novel (perhaps two or three), but it’s been well over a decade since I last read it. In the story the protagonist, Dr Elwin Ransom, is abducted by two men and transported in a spaceship to the planet Malacandra (Mars).

Malacandra is inhabited by three species possessing rational consciousness—hrossa, séroni, and pfifltriggi. Each species differs from the others in significant and interesting ways: the hrossa are farmers and poets; the séroni are intellectuals and inventors; the pfifltriggi are engineers, miners, and artists. Each lives peaceably with members of its own species, as well as with the other two, under the global governance of a mysterious being known as Oyarsa, who speaks in the name and authority of Maleldil, the Creator of the universe. Oyarsa in fact belongs to a class of immortal beings called eldila (sg. eldil). The eldila dwell in the heavens yet are able, without leaving their place in the heavens, to appear to and communicate with the inhabitants of the planet. Violence, war, and crime are unheard of in Malacandra. The three races do not envy the natu­ral gifts and wealth of others but instead appreciate and benefit from their diversity.

Ransom is taken in by a community of hrossa and begins to learn their language and customs. He is surprised by their natural monogamy and continence. In a converstion with Hyoi, the first hross with whom he becomes acquainted, Ransom asks about “love in a bent life.” Hyoi expresses surprise: “How could the life of a hnau [rational being] be bent?”

“Do you say, Hyoi, that there are no bent hrossa?”

Hyoi reflected. “I have heard,” he said at last, “of something like what you mean. It is said that sometimes here and there a cub of certain age gets strange twists in him. I have heard of one that wanted to eat earth; there might, perhaps, be somewhere a hross likewise that wanted to have the years of love prolonged. I have not heard of it, but it might be. I have heard of something stranger. There is a poem about a hross who lived long ago, in another handramit, who saw things all made two—two suns in the sky, two heads on a neck; and last of all they say that he fell into such a frenzy that he desired two mates. I do not ask you to believe it, but that is the story: that he loved two hressni.”

Ransom eventually realizes that the three rational species are unfallen and live in unperturbed communion with Maleldil and with each other. Unlike human beings, they are not intrinsically “bent.” They have not inherited disordered desires and passions. Yet they are mortal. They die at their appointed time and do not fear it. Not only do they acknowledge and accept their personal mortality, but they also know that their races and planet will not endure forever. As a wise sorn tells Ransom: “But a world is not made to last for ever, much less a race; that is not Maleldil’s way.” In the postscript Ransom describes the funeral ceremony of the hrossa that he witnessed. It was time for three hrossa to go to Meldilorn, the island home of the Oyarsa, to die:

For in that world, except for some few whom the hnakra gets, no one dies before his time. All live out the full span allotted to their kind, and a death which is as predictable as a birth with us. The whole village has known has known that those three will die this year, this month; it was an easy guess that they would die even this week. And now they are off, to receive the last counsel of Oyarsa, to die, and to be by him ‘unbodied.’ The corpses, as corpses, will exist only for a few minutes: there are no coffins in Malacandra, no sextons, churchyards, or undertakers. The valley is solemn at their departure, but I see no signs of passionate grief. They do not doubt their immortality, and friends of the same generation are not torn apart. You leave the world, as you entered it, with the ‘men of your own years.’ Death is not preceded by dread nor followed by corruption.

But all is not tranquil on Malacandra. One predatory species exists, the hnéraki, a dangerous aquatic species that seems to be a cross between a shark and a crocodile—perhaps something like the Kronosaurus of the early Cretaceous period. Whereas Ransom sees the hnéraki as evidence that Maleldil has created evil, the hrossa view it quite differently. They rejoice in the hunt and honor the hnéraki as their adversary, as Hyoi explains:

“I long to kill this hnakra as he also longs to kill me. I hope that my ship will be the first and I first in my ship with my straight spear when the black jaws snap. And if he kills me, my people will mourn and my brothers will desire still more to kill him. They they will not wish that there were no hnéraki; nor do I. How can I make you understand, when you do not understand the poets? The hnakra is our enemy, but he is also our beloved. We feel in our hearts his joy as he looks down from the mountain of water in the north where he was born; we leap with him when he jumps down the falls; and when winter comes, and the lake smokes higher than our heads, it is with his eyes that we see it and know that his roaming time is come. We hang images of him in our houses, and the sign of all the hrossa is a hnakra. In him the spirit of the valley lives; and our young play at being hnéraki as soon as they can splash in the shallow.”

“And then he kills them?”

“Not often them. The hrossa would be bent hrossa if they let him get so near. Long before he had come down so far we should have sought him out. No, Hmān, it is not a few deaths roving the world around him that make a hnau miserable. It is a bent hnau that would blacken the world. And I say also this. I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were no danger in the lakes.”

Yet there is a joy greater than the killing of the hnakra, Hyoi tells Ransom: “Death itself in the day I drink it and go to Maleldil.” Clearly this is a very different understanding, and experience, of death. Even violence takes on a different meaning:

The hrossa, like the other rational species, have no fear of death, but the mortal danger associated with the pursuit of the hnakra seems to heighten the joys of life on this side of the grave. In this instance we are asked to consider a form of violence between man and beast that originates not from fear or indifference but from a primordial bond that transcends the division between rational and irrational animals and manifests their mutual respect and common destiny as finite beings. … It is difficult to sort out the various strands of the hunting scene and its seemingly conflicting implications. The main difficulty is that the unfallen rational hrossa are engaged in a form of violence that cannot be dismissed as the consequence of an unnatural rupture of creation’s original order. Translated into terrestrial terms, the relation­ship between hrossa and hnakra elicits memories (or fantasies) of an ancient kinship between man and beast that acknowledges our common animal ancestry and a shared instinct for mutual challenge. (Sanford Schwartz, C. S. Lewis on the Final Frontier, pp. 38-39)

In Meldilorn Ransom learns that each of the planets of the Solar System are governed by an eldil. The Oyarsa (oyarsa=title of rulership) explains that the Oyéresu once freely conversed with each other in the heavens; but there came a time when the Oyarsa of Earth (let us call him by his proper Thulcandrian name, Lucifer) became bent and reached out beyond his domain to the mortal races of Malacandra. He sought to make them as humans beings are now—“wise enough to see the death of their kind approaching but not wise enough to endure it.” Oyarsa cured many of those whose minds had been corrupted by Lucifer. Those he could not cure he unbodied. Here seems to be the key difference between humanity and the races of Malacandra: human beings have been taught by Lucifer to fear death, thus leading to “murder and rebellion.” “The weakest of my people,” Oyarsa tells the evil Weston, “does not fear death. It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end. If you were subjects of Maleldil you would have peace.” One might appropriately describe the narrative of Out of the Silent Planet as the curing of Ransom’s fear.

Can the story of Malacandra assist us with the question: “Must death always be evil?” Might we envision the possibility of an unfallen universe in which death has a constructive, per­haps even deifying, role? In The Problem of Pain Lewis proposes that animal suffering and death may in some mysterious way be tied up with the angelic Fall:

The origin of animal suffering could be traced, by earlier generations, to the Fall of man—the whole world was infected by the uncreating rebellion of Adam. This is now impossible, for we have good reason to believe that animals existed long before men. Carnivorousness, with all that it entails, is older than humanity. Now it is impossible at this point not to remember a certain sacred story which, though never included in the creeds, has been widely believed in the Church and seems to be implied in several Dominical, Pauline, and Johannine utterances—I mean the story that man was not the first creature to rebel against the Creator, but that some older and mightier being long since became apostate and is now the emperor of darkness and (significantly) the Lord of this world. …

It seems to me, therefore, a reasonable supposition, that some mighty created power had already been at work for ill on the material universe, or the solar system, or, at least, the planet Earth, before ever man came on the scene: and that when man fell, someone had, indeed, tempted him. This hypothesis is not introduced as a general “explanation of evil”: it only gives a wider application to the principle that evil comes from the abuse of free-will. If there is such a power, as I myself believe, it may well have corrupted the animal creation before man appeared. The intrinsic evil of the animal world lies in the fact that animals, or some animals, live by destroying each other. That plants do the same I will not admit to be an evil. The Satanic corruption of the beasts would therefore be analogous, in one respect, with the Satanic corruption of man. For one result of man’s fall was that his animality fell back from the humanity into which it had been taken up but which could no longer rule it. In the same way, animality may have been encouraged to slip back into behaviour proper to vegetables. It is, of course, true that the immense mortality occasioned by the fact that many beasts live on beasts is balanced, in nature, by an immense birth-rate, and it might seem, that if all animals had been herbivorous and healthy, they would mostly starve as a result of their own multiplication. But I take the fecundity and the death-rate to be correlative phenomena. There was, perhaps, no necessity for such an excess of the sexual impulse: the Lord of this world thought of it as a response to carnivorousness—a double scheme for securing the maximum amount of torture. If it offends less, you may say that the “life-force” is corrupted, where I say that living creatures were corrupted by an evil angelic being. We mean the same thing: but I find it easier to believe in a myth of gods and demons than in one of hypostatised abstract nouns. And after all, our mythology may be much nearer to literal truth, than we suppose. Let us not forget that Our Lord, on one occasion, attributes human disease not to God’s wrath, nor to nature, but quite explicitly to Satan. (chap. 9)

Bethany Sollerider, however, does not find the appeal to a Satanic corruption of the animal kingdom persuasive. “If suffering and carnivorousness were unnecessary to evolution’s path towards creating humans,” she writes, “then Lewis’s argument could work. But the scientific evidence seems to point towards it being impossible that evolution’s natural process should have developed creatures like humans without our ancestors having been meat eaters.” In the absence of predation, human beings not only would not have survived in the world, but they would not have developed the kind of brain capable of advanced cognition. Sollerider concludes: “If suffering and carnivorousness were unnecessary to evolution’s path towards creating humans, then Lewis’s argument could work. But the scientific evidence seems to point towards it being impossible that evolution’s natural process should have developed creatures like humans without our ancestors having been meat eaters.”

I return to my original question: Must death always be evil?

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In Defense of Conciliar Christology: A Response to Mark DelCogliano

by Timothy Pawl, Ph.D.

I’d like to thank Fr. Kimel for hosting this exchange, and Mark for his characteristically insightful comments on my book. Also, I’d like to thank Paul Gavrilyuk who, as Mark said, originally hosted our exchange at an Interdisciplinary Colloquium. As Mark notes, he and I are colleagues at the University of St. Thomas (MN). We are also friends. I’ve discussed theology a fair bit with Mark over the past few years, and I’ve never left a conversation as ignorant as I entered it. I should note here, lest I be misread, that my original reply to Mark was tongue-in-cheek, as were his original comments. Some of that same playfulness comes through in these blog posts.

An autobiographical point as a segue into responding to Mark’s comments. In Defense of Conciliar Christology began as an invited talk at an annual philosophy of religion conference. I planned to write a brief paper noting some problems with contemporary philosophical understand­ings of the incarnation. That talk ballooned into a paper, then an overly long paper, then a planned series of articles, and finally, this book. What I found in my reading was that there are a lot of people, both philosophers and theolo­gians, both now and in Christian history, who raise philosophical objections to the coherence of traditional Christology. My goal in this book is to show those objections unsound. In that sense, my project is defensive. I don’t attempt to argue that the Christology of the councils is true, or even possibly true. Rather, my goal is to show that folks haven’t yet given good philosophical reason for thinking it to be false.

I count six critiques raised by Mark: first, I overly esteem Leo and his Tome; second, I appeal to medievals for definitions and not patristics; third, I stack the deck; fourth, I give a Nestorian account; fifth, what I call Conciliar Christology isn’t even a thing; sixth, my account removes paradox at great detriment to the Christology of the fathers. I’ll consider these in order.

First, do I over-esteem Leo? How much esteem is too much? I’ll allow my esteem to be tempered by the conciliar fathers, the vast majority of whom were easterners, who at Chalcedon write,

To these it has suitably added, against false believers and for the establishment of orthodox doctrines, the letter of the primate of greatest and older Rome, the most blessed and most saintly Archbishop Leo, written to the sainted Archbishop Flavian to put down Eutyches’s evil-mindedness, because it is in agreement with great Peter’s confession and represents a support we have in common. (Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner, 85)

Or 3rd Constantinople, which writes:

it approves … the Tome of the all-holy and most blessed Leo, pope of the same elder Rome, which was sent to Flavian, who is among the saints, and which that synod called a pillar of right belief. (Tanner, 126-7)

I’m happy to moderate my esteem in him and his work to the degree these eastern conciliar fathers did: he is all-holy and blessed, most-holy and most-blessed, and his work is in agreement with Great Peter’s confession and a pillar of right belief. If I come off in the book as esteeming the man or his works more than this, I repent of it now.

Second, Mark says I appeal to medievals more than the patristics, and the Latins more than the Greeks, in my definitions of the relevant terms. Norman Tanner made this same point in a review of my book for the Heythrop Journal. I think this is a fair point. I do rely on Latin medievals more than Greek patristics in my work. But note well: my goal is merely to show a way in which one can interpret the councils from within the tradition, and on which they are not incoherent in their teachings on Christ. I trust that following the likes of Aquinas on such definitions is not, in itself, a way of veering dangerously outside the acceptable bounds of tradition. Moreover, while I do rely more on Latin medievals, the patristic Greeks don’t go unmined, as Mark notes. I discuss John of Damascus’s views of the proper definition of “hypostasis” at least as much as Aquinas’s. I also cite patristic era eastern authors, such as Emperor Justinian, Cyril of Alexandria, and many experts on such thinkers, such as our own colleague Stephen Hipp at the St. Paul Seminary and Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev in an attempt to show the sympathy such thinkers would have for the medieval-inspired definitions I eventually employ. Provided that the definitions I eventually employ are not prohibited by the eastern Fathers in concert (and the case would have to be made not only that my definitions are faulty, but the definitions of many medieval western councils and authors whom I cite as well), I don’t see that my reliance on the medievals vitiates my goal.

Third, have I stacked the deck? I don’t think so. Recall the dialectic. Someone says to me, “that stuff you believe is incoherent.” The job I have taken up is replying. In doing so, I’m allowed to revise and clarify. That’s not stacking the deck; that’s part of an adequate response. I suppose it is true that if I were to provide revised definitions that were straightforwardly incompatible with theological or historical usage, that would be a problem. On that front, I’m happy to see that Mark claims that I acquitted myself well theologically and historically.

Fourth, is my answer Nestorian? I have a section on that topic in the last section before the book’s conclusion (Ch9; SectV). Mark says, “Thus for the Fathers it is the person of Christ that must be the subject of experi­ences, not one or the other nature.” Depend­ing on what we mean by “subject of experi­ences,” I have different things to say here. If we mean the psychological subject of experi­ences, the guy who experiences things, then I agree with both parts of Mark’s claim: Christ, and not a nature, is the subject of psycholog­ical experiences. But if we mean merely the thing which stuff happens to, or the thing we can linguistically predicate of, then I deny his second part. It is true that Christ is the subject of experiences (he hung on the cross), but it is also true that the same is aptly said of the human nature: the human nature hung on the cross.

In the previously-mentioned section of my book, I rely on the definition of Nestorianism given by that great eastern Father, St. John of Damascus. He says Nestorians believe that the Word and the humanity exist by themselves, that the ignoble attributes are said of the humanity alone, and the noble attributes said of the Word alone. My view isn’t Nestorian in that sense. For while I say, following Leo in his Tome, that the human nature was causally affected, while it hung and bled, that is not said of the human nature alone, it is said of the human nature and the Word himself.

Perhaps someone will reply that, even still, while my view isn’t explicitly Nestorian on the Damascene’s definition, it is still, nevertheless, Nestorian to say such things as “was causally affected,” “hung,” or “was pierced” of the human nature. Persons, not natures, hang, get pierced, or are affected.

To that reply, I note that I’m saying no more than the councils themselves say. For all-holy Leo says in his pillar of right belief, in agreement with Peter’s great confession, that the human nature “hung, pierced with nails, on the wood of the cross” (Tanner, 81). Third Constantinople says that “each nature wills and performs the things that are proper to it in communion with the other” (Tanner, 129). What of Cyril, the great opponent of Nestorius? Would he view my predication of the predicates both of the human nature and of the person of the Word as beyond the pale? According to Cyril (on Christopher Bellitto’s reading, which some of you are better placed to evaluate than I am), “Jesus’s human nature suffered because it is human and therefore capable of suffering.” Likewise, another scholar, Herbert Relton, writes that Cyril “assigned to his human nature the hunger, the thirst, the suffering, the dying.” Khaled Anatolios provides evidence that Athanasius likewise predicated such ignoble predicates of both the Word and his human nature. Thus, if my view, which has me saying some ignoble predicates both of the person and of the nature is Nestorian, then so is Athanasius’s, Cyril’s, Leo’s, and the councils that explicitly accepted Leo’s Tome. Insofar as we have reason to think that Cyril – Cyril! – isn’t a Nestorian, we have reason to think that my view is not, too.

Fifth, is Conciliar Christology a thing? Well, Mark has been reading theology since I was a pre-teen, and he’s never seen the concept, let alone the term. I can see how the term eluded him. I thought I was making it up at first, but Google Scholar tells me it was used a handful of times prior to my stipulation of its meaning in this context. But the concept itself – the concept of all the stuff the councils officially taught about Christ back when the church wasn’t in east-west schism – that concept is new to him? Kallistos Ware wrote, in 1964, that “the Councils defined once and for all the Church’s teaching upon the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith – the Trinity and the Incarnation.” Isn’t he writing here about Conciliar Christology and Conciliar Trinitarian Theology? There are a lot of books dedicated to the history and theology of the first seven councils. When they discuss the Christology of those councils, isn’t it precisely Conciliar Christology that they are discussing?

Mark notes that Conciliar Christology is a simplification, or a reduction, or a distortion…of what exactly? Of, it appears, a “full understanding of the Christological legacy of the early Church.” Well, sure: if one were to present Conciliar Christology as if it were the full Christological legacy of the early church, that would be a simplification and reduction. But why think anyone was trying to do that? I agree wholeheartedly with Mark that Christ is a “who” that we encounter in the sacraments. Christ is a person we adore, and rightly so. The Christian God we worship is not merely the God of Classical Theism. Let my “Amen!” resound to these claims! I never claimed that Conciliar Christology is the fullness of expression of patristic Christology. But I do think that what I’ve called Conciliar Christology is a necessary condition for any viable Christology based on the teachings of the first seven councils. If the objectors can show it to be incoherent, then, they have shown that no Christology based on those councils, patristic or otherwise, is coherent.

Finally, even if Mark is right and Conciliar Christology is not a thing, and no one in the history of the world has ever stopped to consider the ecumenical councils of the undivided church, and whether what they teach about Christ is internally consistent – if no one has ever stopped to ask whether the Christology defined once and for all, allegedly unrevisable and protected from error by the Holy Spirit, harbors an alleged contradiction – well, is being the first to do so such a very bad thing?

Sixth, have I wronged the paradox that is necessary to Christology? Perhaps Mark and I mean different things by paradox. To claim that something is a paradox is to claim two things: first, that it appears contradictory; second, that it isn’t contradictory. Perhaps you disagree. Perhaps you think that something can be both a paradox and contradictory. Even so, in this context we shouldn’t allow the paradox to be contradictory, since no logical contradiction (i.e., claim of the form P is true and P is false) is true, and as I assume for argument’s sake in the book, and something Mark and I both affirm, the Christian story is true. Paradox in a case of commitment to the truth is a case of seeing something as appearing but not being logically contradictory.

Here, Mark tells us that paradox is needful. It is “the only way” to convey the truth, it is “the best way” to affirm what happened in the incarnation. And so on. To remove the paradox is problematic. And he thinks I’ve removed it. I think it is the other way around, though: it is Mark who has removed the paradox (I’ve been told that theologians appreciate provocation in their talks; I’m trying to play along here).

To have reason to think something a paradox, you need reason to think it both appears but isn’t contradictory. Now, everyone – Christian and atheist alike – will find the appearance of logical contradiction in the passages I cite in the book. Is the teaching really contradictory? Well, there are those who have provided logical arguments to the conclusion that it is contradictory. If so, then it isn’t a paradox after all. How does one go about answering such charges? I see no other way than by considering their arguments and attempting to show that they are unsound. How does one go about giving evidence that the alleged paradox is not contradictory? I say you try to show a way of understanding the terms and statements that doesn’t imply a contradiction. How else? But then, to retain the paradoxical nature of the claims, we need some reason for thinking it is not contradictory, and I see nothing in what Mark says that could provide that. In short, to be paradoxical but true, it has to appear logically contradictory, but not in fact be logically contradictory. My book is an attempt to show that latter part.

From my perspective, there are people giving carefully constructed, logical arguments in good faith, which attempt to show that the paradox is more than paradox, it is inconsistency. A proper response to such people isn’t reassertion of the paradox and its importance. The proper response is considering the arguments they give. If the Holy Spirit has protected these councils from error, as the Orthodox and Catholics both profess, then there is a fault somewhere in the argument. We do a service to the objector and ourselves if we meet their arguments in the same manner in which they are given, with careful logic.

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Dr Pawl is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He works on metaphysics and philosophical theology. In metaphysics he works on truthmaker theory, modality, and free will. In philosophical theology, he has published on transubstantiation, Christology, and divine immutability. Some places where his work has appeared include: The Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Faith and Philosophy, and Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion. With Dr Gloria Frost he leads the Classical Theism Project.

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“The Lord knew his disciples bore within their hearts a wound so deep …”

My dear people, you, like myself, are well aware that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the one physician capable of bringing us eternal healing and salvation. We know, too, that it was in order to accomplish this that he took upon himself the weakness of our human nature, otherwise that weakness would have remained with us for ever. He equipped himself with a human body liable to death, so that in and through that body he might conquer death itself. And though, as the apostle tells us, it was his human weakness that made it possible for him to be crucified, it was his divine power that enabled him to return to life. The same apostle says: “He will never die again, neither will death have any further her hold upon him.”

All this you already know and believe, and also the consequences flowing from it; we can be sure that the miracles he wrought while he lived among us were meant to encourage us to accept gifts from him that should never pass away nor have an end. Thus he gave back sight to blind eyes that would shortly be closed again in death; he raised Lazarus from the dead only for him to die again. His bodily cures, indeed, were never meant to last for ever, even though at the end of time he is to give the body itself life everlasting.

But because “seeing is believing,” he used those visible wonders to build up people’s faith in even greater marvels that could not be seen.

Let no one then be found to say that since Christ Jesus our Lord no longer works such miracles among us, the Church was better off in its early days. On the contrary, in one recorded testament, the same Lord sets those who have never seen and yet believe before those who believe only because they see. Indeed, so great was the disciples’ weakness at that time, that when they saw the Lord they found it necessary to touch him before they could believe he had really risen from the dead. They were unable to believe the testimony of their own eyes, until they had handled his body and explored his recent wounds with their fingers. Only after this was done could that most hesitant of all his disciples exclaim: “My Lord and my God!” Thus it was by his wounds that Christ, who had so often healed the manifold wounds of others, came to be recognized himself.

Now we may ask: could not the Lord have risen with a body from which all marks of wounds had been erased? No doubt he could have; but he knew his disciples bore within their hearts a wound so deep that the only way to cure it was to retain the scars of his own wounds in his body.

And when that confession: “My Lord and my God!” was uttered, what was his answer to it? “You believe,” he said, “because you have seen me; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

And who, my brothers and sisters, are those if not ourselves and those who are to follow after us?

When, later on, the Lord had departed from human sight and faith had had time to strike roots into people’s hearts, those who believed in him made their act of faith without seeing him in whom they made it. The faith of such believers is highly meritorious, for it springs from a devoted heart rather than from an exploring hand.

St Augustine of Hippo

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Paschal Homily by Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, O.P.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, a warm welcome to all who join the Dominican friars on this Easter Sunday morning as we rejoice in the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.

The eyes of all this morning are fixed on the face of risen Christ: Mary Magdalen’s, the disciples’, ours, and those of the whole Church. What about his Holy Mother’s? The fifth century Latin poet Sedulius, in his Paschale carmen, imagines that it was to the Blessed Virgin Mary that the Risen Christ first appeared: “Before her eyes the Lord first stood / And presented himself openly in the light, so that his good mother, / Spreading abroad the news of his great miracles, the one who was / The way by which he once came to us, might also signal his return” (V, 361-64). Pope St. John Paul II thought there might be something to this: “The Blessed Virgin too was probably a privileged witness of Christ’s Resurrection, completing in this way her participation in all the essential moments of the paschal mystery” (General Audience, 21 May 1997). We don’t have to take a position on this disputed question to imagine an early appearance of Christ to his Holy Mother, to hear the news of his Resurrection from her lips, and to contemplate his face through her eyes.

From the very first moment of Christ’s conception, the “eyes of her heart were already turned to him” and thereafter her “gaze, ever filled with adoration and wonder, would never leave him” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae §10). “No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary”. Why? Because “in a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness.”

The Regina coeli invokes precisely Mary’s divine maternity to identify the Risen One: Quia quem meruisti portare, Alleluia / Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia. Who has risen from the dead? The one whom she merited to bear. The “gaze of sorrow” of the Stabat Mater is now “transformed into a gaze radiant with the joy of the Resurrection” because it is from the face of the one formed in her womb that the glory of the resurrection now blazes forth.

At Christmas we sang:

O that birth forever blessed,
When the Virgin full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed his sacred face,
Evermore and evermore.

(Prudentius, Of the Father’s Love Begotten)

On the morning of the Resurrection, gazing at the face of her Risen Son, Mary can still see the sacred face of her infant son as he lay in her arms on the night of his birth. So can we, as she draws us into the depths of these mysteries. A pious Jewish maiden, Mary would have been familiar with the whole array of prophecy and tradition that foretold the identity and mission of the child who was to become the Savior of the world. She knew that “He comes to make his blessings flow / Far as the curse is found” (Isaac Watts, Joy to the World). She would have known the texts we heard at the Easter Vigil that recall the whole complex web of prefiguration and typology that render Paschal Mystery intelligible to the eyes of faith. Christ endured every kind of suffering in those who prefigured him: “In Abel he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die, … sacrificed in the Passover lamb, persecuted in David, dishonored in the prophets” (Melito of Sardis, Easter Homily). Discerning all this from the beginning, with the passing years Mary came to an ever deeper knowledge of the saving mission that would climax in the Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection of her Son.

Surely she must have felt some premonition of the future ordeal of the Passion in the very chill and hardship of the circumstances surrounding his birth when “Earth stood hard as iron, / Water like a stone” (Rossetti and Holtz, In the Bleak Mid-winter). The tradition of Christmas song demonstrates an uncanny intuition of Mary’s prophetic sense of what the future would hold for her Son.

After his death Jesus lay in Mary’s arms again when she received his body as he was taken down from the cross. Perhaps she participated in the preparation of his body for burial. As the Gospel of St. John records, Joseph of Arimathea was assisted by Nicodemus who brought aloes and myrrh, according to Jewish custom, to be folded into the white linen burial cloth. Not swaddling clothes this time, but a burial cloth instead. Perhaps at that moment Mary recalled the visit of the Wise Men from the East, the prefigured meaning of whose precious aromatic gifts could now be recognized. “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume / Breathes a life of gathering gloom; / Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, / Sealed in the stone cold tomb” (John Henry Hopkins, We Three Kings of Orient Are).

In Mary’s gaze, the face of the infant Christ blends with the face of the suffering Christ and the face of the Risen Christ. Sharing this morning in Mary’s contemplative gaze and devoutly imagining her Easter witness, we learn to celebrate the mysteries of Christ in the present tense, for their deepest meanings coexist with and interpenetrate one another. No surprise then that the feast of the Nativity should come to mind in the midst of our celebration of the Paschal Mystery.

For to hear the message of the Resurrection from Mary’s lips, as it were, is to contemplate the full sweep of the passio Christi—from Bethlehem to Golgotha, and beyond to the right hand of the Father—to learn the meaning of these mysteries for the Church and for ourselves under her tutelage, and not only to learn about them but to receive through her intercession the powerful grace they impart. Expert in the mysteries of Christ, Mary never fails to turn our eyes to what is most important for us to see and grasp there, and “to be open to the grace which Christ won for us by the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §13).

The Resurrection of Christ is in a real sense the fulfillment of the Annunciation when Mary’s fiat opened the way to our redemption, and her own. The body of our risen Lord—the same body he offered in sacrifice on the cross—was the body he received from Mary in the womb. What is more, Easter has made her what we hope to be as well. “Welcoming the risen Jesus, Mary is … a sign and anticipation of humanity which hopes to achieve its fulfilment through the resurrection of the dead” (Pope St. John Paul II, General Audience, 21 May 1997). Our Lady is the first one to share in the resurrection of her Son, the first fruits, as it were, of Easter: assumed into heaven and now reigning as Queen of Heaven, she anticipates the resurrection of our bodies and the life of bliss to come. How easy it is to imagine with Sedulius that she who was “the way by which he once came to us, might also signal his return.”

At Easter, we call on Mary to rejoice—Regina coeli, laetare—thus “prolonging in time the ‘rejoice’ that the Angel addressed to her at the Annunciation” (Pope St. John Paul II, General Audience, 21 May 1997). While the (probably Franciscan) author of this wonderful antiphon is unknown, there is a beautiful legend that Pope St. Gregory the Great—as he followed barefoot in procession with St. Luke’s icon of Mary—heard angels singing the first lines, and added what would become the antiphon’s concluding line: “Ora pro nobis Deum, Alleluia.”

Queen of heaven, rejoice, and pray for us to God. May God grant that through the interces­sion of the Blessed Virgin Mary we who this Easter morning have heard the news of the Resurrection from her lips and “who in this season have received the grace to imitate [her] devoutly in contemplating the Passion of Christ … cling more firmly each day to your Only Begotten Son and come at last to the fullness of his grace. Amen.”

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection
Dominican House of Studies
16 April 2017

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Archbishop Joseph Augustine DiNoia is a Dominican friar and respected Roman Catholic theologian. He presently serves as Assistant (Adjunct) Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Before his move to the Vatican in 2002, he taught theology for twenty years at the Dominican House of Studies and served as editor of the theological journal The Thomist. He is also author of The Diversity of Religions.

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“Like Jonah, son of the Hebrews, He dived down into the whirlpool”

The Mighty One was struck and the sufferings made Him sleep on Golgotha
and for three days the sleep overcame Him on account of the wounds.
And having laid aside His burden of pains in Sheol,
He rose up and despoiling the luxuriating Sheol and went from it.
He deceived death and was there three days in its dwelling place;
and when He laid waste all its treasures, He left it and went out.
He had been wearied by the scourging which He received from the judge,
and He entered and had taken rest in the abode of the dead
and pulled it down and came out.
While He was was redeeming the captives He was smitten by the persecutors,
and He reached death but did not become too weak for redeeming.
The sharpened sword met Him on Golgotha
and it made Him sleep heavily by its blow.
Death mixed for Him the cup to drink in the crucifixion.
He drank it to show that even in death He cannot be powerless.
For two days the Mighty One rested among the dead
but on the third day He conquered the region and went out of it.
Like Jonah, son of the Hebrews, He dived down into the whirlpool.
He explored it in two days and arose from it on the third day.
He descended and drew out Adam who had sunk down into the depth of Sheol.
The superb image came out from corruption with its Lord.
On Golgotha the great Saviour was smitten by the lance,
and He failed in strength on Cross, but at the resurrection He conquered corruption.
Ambushes surrounded Him to snatch away the captives from Him
and He was dragged away but He did not leave it without redemption.
In three days He subdued His wounds so that they might be healed,
and with victory the Redeemer returned from the place of sufferings.

St Jacob of Sarug

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