Early Lenten Thoughts

I stand on the edge of the first Sunday of Great Lent, the so called “Triumph of Orthodoxy”, and I still feel the crush of acedia but I try to stay with it and ride it out because, when push comes to shove I don’t believe I could ever truly walk away from Christianity no matter what.  Despite all my intellectual wanderings into the riches of Islam or Zen Buddhism the reality on the ground is that something happened that sultry summer day so many years ago that shattered my Buddhism and brought me face to face with Jesus Christ that cannot be erased or covered over with anything else. I have often told people (and quite sincerely) that while I may doubt Roman Catholicism and walk away I could never doubt Christ. This is still how I feel even when in my imagination I can find myself praying towards Mecca 5 times a day as a devout Muslim in some Moroccan oasis or sitting Zazen with a shaven head in some some picturesque setting right out of a Basho or Ryokan Haiku. I have that ability to appreciate and learn from others, and even to entertain certain ideas in my mind without actually taking them up. This is a bit dangerous for some, in fact, I don’t recommend it at all to those who aren’t prepared to suffer for it in some way.

I’ve kept up the use of the Julian Calendar and Old Orthodox Prayerbook along with the Jesus Prayer and I’ve found a rhythm that works. Sometimes there’s a part of me that misses the Benedictine Office, but I was warned by someone I trust not to jump around haphazardly, but instead to stick to something over time. Heck this is usually the advice I myself give; I better live up to it!

On another note I finally picked up Father Peter Alban Heers book The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II, a book I’ve been dying to read for a long time but as of yet have not made time for it. Thus far it is a tour de force, a seemingly devastating critique  of modern Roman Catholic Ecclesiology and more confirmation for me of just how far Rome fell over the centuries. I don’t like to think that my baptism was not grace filled but after reading this I can entertain the possibility that it might not have been, even though it was triple immersion. Thank God I have that ability that I mentioned above where I can hold certain ideas without necessarily fully assenting to them! I’m not totally convinced Father Heers reading is correct yet but I’m open to it, and thus far it’s pretty convincing.

I’m also slowly wending my way through the Study Koran, and thoroughly  enjoying it for it’s spiritual depth and sheer breadth of information. I like how pretty much every verse is filled up with mostly spiritual commentary, giving the non Muslim or Muslim reader a glimpse into how various practicing Muslims interpret the given verse. It’s kind of like the Islamic version of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, that is to say the commentary is less academic than it is spiritual. As a guy who enjoys learning about how a given community understands things, as in “lex orandi, lex credendi”, this is refreshing. It actually allows me to really get an appreciation for the richness of the Muslim tradition outside the headlines and beyond the polemics.

I really enjoyed reading the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden and how profoundly different and fascinating that narrative is from the Christian. Iblis (Satan) is thought to be a Jinn, that is to say another race of beings not exactly human nor angelic, and all of man was said to have made a covenant with God somehow before being born, making Islam a sort of primordial religion. It’s thought provoking.

As a final note, reading about Islam has really made me want to dive into what we Christians actually mean by the Trinity. What IS our Trinitarian Theology? Obviously I believe that God is Trinity, but I have always struggled with how, and what that means. I am trying to read more about it, mostly from the Eastern perspective.. Maybe, just maybe it’s all just a mystery, and we can do no better than to simply accept it on Faith, and meditate on it the way St. Andrei Rublev meditated on it when he painted his famous icon.  I’ve always been a bit leery of those who think that our powers of reason can accurately set down in writing exactly how God operates. So much of ANY religion is downright mysterious when it all comes down to it.


10 thoughts on “Early Lenten Thoughts

  1. I’ve read, and am now slowly and sporadically re-reading, Ecclesiological Renovation. It is a book that demands – and I hope will get – a substantive Catholic response, because it makes arguments that are very powerful on their face. Its central argument, that a peculiar Western theology of baptism is intimately connected with the wrong kind of ecumenism, certainly seems to be borne out in Pope Francis’s rehabilitation of Martin Luther et al., and all the talk about how our “common baptism is more important than anything that divides us,” assuming that everyone’s already essentially in the Church, some just don’t know it yet. It seems to go against all of Christian history and obviate the very notions of schism and heresy.

    • I put off reading that book for the last few years because I had a hunch that it would be powerful and have consequences for my own baptism.

      I was struck by the same passages he quotes from Ratzingers “Theological Highlights of Vatican II” where the goal was literally to do away with the traditional boundaries of the Church.

      The strength in Father Heers book is precisely in his well traced out and devastating critique at Roman Catholic ecclesiology and how Rome even departed from Augustine during the time of the Jansenist crisis. I too would love a well thought out, well researched Catholic response but as of yet ( as far as I know) it does not exist. After reading this I cannot imagine there could possibly be a responsethat defends the Roman view since Rome seems to have abandoned and changed even her own view from the time of Pius XII—something every right thinking traditionalist can see.

      I found it interesting that at the end of the book the author refers to Vatican II as a ” new reformation “. Hieromonk Gabriel Bunge ( an ex Catholic monk) also used similar terms in one of his interviews. His use of that famous statement of Khomiakov is illuminating as well, that in some ways Rome was the first Protestantism.

      At any rate, thanks for the comment. I will also reread this book every now and than, as it demands a more thorough read.

      Finally, I’m now seriously wondering about whether my Catholic baptism was real or not. I did receive a triple immersion baptism, but if Heers take on this IS the patristic consensus than I don’t think it’s possible to say I’m actually baptized. This would necessitate me trying to speak to the local Greek Orthodox priest about baptizing me– something he discourages. He usually only receives converts via Chrismation in cases like mine.

      • Something of a follow-up/post-script: I recently picked up and am currently reading Fr. Louis Bouyer’s “The Church of God: Body of Christ and Temple of the Spirit,” originally published in French in 1970. It’s a book in two parts. A very interesting holistic historical survey of ecclesiological developments in Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism, followed by a lengthy exposition and defense of the “communio” ecclesiology laid out in Lumen Gentium. I strongly recommend it.

      • I appreciate that, I will definitely look up that book. I hope all is well for you this Easter season. As of now I’ve basically been convinced of Orthodoxy, although I’m always open to changing my mind. I’m still hoping there is someone who can write an erudite and we’ll thought out response to Father Heers book.

      • Two key things kept me from ultimately jumping ship and defecting from Rome, pace Fr. Heers’ informative read:

        1. His hard-Cyprianite ecclesiology might sound airtight on paper, but it is not, in fact, believed and lived out in the pleroma of his own communion (that is, in most of the Orthodox churches). When a Heersian Orthodox is confronted with this fact, they usually only respond with an infinite regression of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

        2. In order for the Orthodox churches to be justified in their continued schism on account of the Roman Church being allegedly heretical, they would have to demonstrate with authoritative consensus what the exact Latin errors are that are incompatible with patristic Orthodox Catholic Christianity. But:

        a. No such authoritative consensus exists on the Orthodox side. Ask 10 Orthodox, and they’ll give you 20 different (often mutually contradictory) reasons for why Rome is wrong.

        b. The Latin teachings on all of the major differences that might form at least a de facto consensus (take the filioque, the primacy of the Roman See, or purgatory) can be and have been interpreted in ways that are compatible with Orthodox Christianity, and their essence can be traced back much earlier than any semblance of schism. If something was orthodox 1,500 years ago, it cannot have become heterodox a thousand years later.

        On the other hand, Rome is VERY clear as to what the Orthodox Churches and sacraments are, and what these Churches would need to do in order to reestablish full sacramental communion with the Holy See (i.e. not much, merely — to paraphrase Pope Benedict XVI — continue being themselves while merely dropping the inconsistent, misinformed cacophony of anti-Roman prejudice). The Roman stance seems to me much more Catholic (in the full creedal, Una Sancta sense of the word) than what the Orthodox churches has so far put forth.

        (Note: not saying the above to start an argument, merely laid out why Fr Heers ultimately didn’t convince.)

      • Those are interesting things to consider Tom. I appreciate your input. I must admit that I agree with you about Heers. The Catholic parallel ( sort of) of this is Father Cekada’s Work of Human Hands where he basically uses strict scholastic style logic and his own strict reading of ore conciliar canon law and theology to make the case that the new Mass and even the new Rite of Episcopal Conscration are fruitless and invalid. It sounds airtight on paper…but…it seems somewhat like Heers and his Cyprianite Baptismal theology.

        One thing I cannot wrap my head around is that Heers does make a strong case that at least in terms of exclusive ecclesiology and the boundaries of the Church Rome and Orthodoxy were fairly rigorous up till recently. I’m not entirely convinced as of yet that The whole ” full and partial communion” idea is actually found in early Christianity, although I’m open to reading that book you mentioned that touches upon ecclesiology.

        I actually enjoy these discussions so feel free.I learn a lot from getting different perspectives.

      • I appreciate that link. I will have to check out that essay of DBH, I’d be interested. It’s funny but after reading that essay and the book His Broken Body ( an irenic look at Rome and Orthodoxy through Orthodox eyes) I can’t help but feel similiar, although I’m still on the fence about fully returning to the RCC at this point.

        It seems like we are not alone out there, those of us who dig deep and find that the arguments in favor of either communion without the other are somewhat wanting.

      • I appreciate you tipping me off to that essay, as I finally read it and find much to agree with in terms of content. It’s rare that someone can articulate the issues without excessive polemics, and frustrating that so many in BOTH Rome and Orthodoxy often say some of the dumbest, most ignorant things about the other. I touched on this in a recent post when I mentioned learning about Islam. How many people REALLY take the time to wrestle with issues of difference on a level that is both fair and sustained, and without polemic? It’s as rare as hens teeth as the saying goes!

        As for Hart, I get what he is saying, but I still have some questions about reunion. What would Orthodox do about the other 14 Councils Rome considers Ecumenical? What guarantee do Orthodox have that once reunion were in place some Vatican hierarchs or some pope won’t try to force bad reforms?

        Personally I do not pray the Creed with the Filioque, but I am not about to say that the Filioque is heretical. I just believe that it was never part of the early Creed–especially amongst the East–and thus I see no reason to pray it. Those more learned than I in the delicacies and depths of Trinitarian Theology seem to think this issue of the Filioque need not be divisive so I try not to make it a huge issue.

        On the matter of Purgatory I agree with Hart. I like things to be a bit mysterious so I do not think much of the concept, although I pray regularly for the dead. I don’t think Purgatory ought to be an issue.

        I’ve never much had much to say about either the Assumption or the Immaculate Conception. I don’t see why either must be divisive. I find it tragic that St John of Damascus’ rich text in the breviary about the Dormition was expunged from Matins and Pius XII’s Ineffabilis Deus was put in it’s place in the Breviary, but that’s not a matter of division.

        One thing I want to know is why Hart became Orthodox instead of Catholic, or why did he stay Orthodox?

        On a final note, there IS one somewhat strange thing about Rome that vexes me, and that is the Council of Constance. It seems to me (and I am open to correction) that this Council pretty much undermined appeals to ultramontanism in ways that only a handful have explored.

        Thanks for the article.

      • DBH is here: http://fatherdavidbirdosb.blogspot.com/2012/05/myth-of-schism-by-david-bentley-hart.html

        I too have come to be “convinced of Orthodoxy,” as you put it. When I go to an Orthodox church now, I cannot but experience truth embodied in right worship. And it pains me that they would not allow me to partake of the one Chalice (though I obviously respect canonical guidelines).

        When this realization first kicked in, at first I thought it meant I needed to jump ship and abandon the Roman Catholic Church. I presumed “Orthodoxy right = Catholicism wrong.”

        But later I realized that “Orthodoxy is right” cannot automatically mean “Catholicism is wrong,” precisely because the Roman Church has always taught, both pre- and post-Schism, “Yes, Orthodoxy is right, and we are Orthodox — our customs and liturgical expression may be different from those of Byzantium, but we profess and express the same Orthodox Catholic Faith. Furthermore, we accept as legitimate all historical expressions — liturgical, theological, ascetic — of the same Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Faith, including yours.”

        The burden of proof is on those insisting on separation on the Eastern side to prove *definitively,* and with both the theological precision and the authoritativeness worthy of the first seven Ecumenical Councils they claim to uphold (no room for pseudo-mystical fuzziness, demurring, or vague talk about “phronemas” here), that the Church of Rome teaches heresy, and if so, its precise nature and what *exactly* Rome would have to do, or to abandon, to become Orthodox again. They have, to date (1,000, 800, 600 years into the schism, however you want to date it), not done so, and I don’t think they ever will or can.

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