31 July 2006

How Christ Saves

Excerpt from "Passions & Theosis in St Maximos the Confessor" (a paper written for a D.Min. class)

The salvation of mankind results from Christ (in His hypostatic union of passible human nature within the divine nature) exercising his free choice by not succumbing to the “liability to passions.” He became sin because He was capable of transgressing God’s commandment, truly suffered temptation, and experienced all the urges of corrupted human passions. “For it was in human passibility that the power of sin and death, the tyranny of sin connected with pleasure, and the oppression associated with pain, all began.”[1] Yet He who became sin knew, or committed, no sin because He willfully and freely chose to restrain the passions, resist temptation and refrain from transgression. In Christ, this restraint of passions is redemptive, as is forthrightly manifest when He suffered, was crucified and died. This one event, above all others, is the poignant recapitulation of Christ’s willed free choice in order to restore human nature. Yet the Lord’s Passion is “not a penalty exacted for that principle of pleasure, like other human beings, but rather a death specifically directed against that principle.”[2] For this reason, Christ “erase[s] the just finality which human nature encounters in death, since his own end did not have, as the cause of its existence, the illicit pleasure on account of which he came and which he subjected to his righteous punishment.”[3] Christ’s passion, then, is a true offering not to pay for the debt incurred by Adam’s willful sin, but to free mankind from passions. In a liturgical context, St. Maximos offers this summary:

By it [Christ’s incarnation] he freed human nature which had been enslaved by corruption, betrayed through its own fault to death because of sin, tyrannically dominated by the devil. He redeemed all its debt as if he were liable even thought he was not liable but sinless, and brought us back again to the original grace of his kingdom by giving himself as a ransom for us. And in exchange for our destructive passions he gives us his life-giving Passion as a salutary cure which saves the whole world.[4]

St Maximos argues, then, that by His willful free choice Christ overcomes the consequences of Adam’s sin; that is, the “liability to passions” which is imbedded in with the passible human nature. In doing so, Christ, in His person, restores human nature so that it might be what it was created to be—a nature capable of being deified.

For having given our human nature impassibility through his Passion, remission through his toils, and eternal life through his death, he restored that nature again, renewing the habitudes of human nature by his own deprivations in the flesh and granting to human nature through his own incarnation the supernatural grace of deification.[5]

In another place, St. Maximos declares that, by assuming passibility wits its “liability to passion,” Christ was able to renew our nature; “or better yet, he created our nature anew, and returned it to its primordial dignity of incorruptibility through his holy flesh.”[6] This results in the gift of deification “which he could not possibly have failed to bestow since he was himself God incarnate, indwelling the flesh in the same manner that the soul indwells the body, that is, thoroughly interpenetrating it in a union without confusion.”[7]

[1] Paul M. Blowers and Robert Louis Wilken, trans., On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: St Maximus the Confessor (Crestwood NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003), 134. (From Ad Thalassium 42)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] George C. Berthold, Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 198. (From Mystagogia 8)

[5] Blowers, 135. (From Ad Thalassium 61)

[6] Blowers, 83. (From Ambiguum 42)

[7] Ibid.

28 July 2006

Book Tag

Okay, I'll play along.

1. One book that changed your life:
Ceremony and Celebration - Paul H D Lange (yes, you can blame him)

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
The Hammer of God - Bo Geirtz

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
Monastic Diurnal - lightweight, has everything I need

4. One book that made you laugh:
I watch my humor

5. One book that made you cry:
I watch my tear-jerkers

6. One book that you wish had been written:
Dies Irae: A Novel about Irises

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
Sein und Zeit

8. One book you’re currently reading:
On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: St Maximos the Confessor

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Beginning to Pray

10. Tag others.
Pr Petersen, Chris Jones, Fr Marco Vervoorst, Byzantine Dixie (I just love the nom de plume), Dr William Tighe (if he doesn't have a blog, he should!)

On Lutherans Becoming X

In the latest issue (vol 9 no 3) of De Trinitate, the Newsletter of the Society of the Holy Trinity, Rev Dr Frank C Senn, the STS Senior, comments on the departure of Lutheran clergy to either the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church. His focus is on those in the Society who have left including Phillip Max Johnson, the previous STS Senior (and Paul V Abbee, a former STS Dean and a classmate of mine at CTS). However, he also comments briefly on the departures of non-STS members Jaroslav Pelikan (of blessed memory), Richard John Neuhaus and Leonard Klein.

Senn notes that Neuhaus and Klein (among others)

developed a view of Lutheranism as a reform movement in the Catholic Church of the West. That was exciting, but I think finally misleading.

I think Senn is absolutely correct. If Lutheranism is nothing more than a "confessing movement within the Church Catholic" (a phrase, if memory serves, that A C Piepkorn employed), then it is either the worst form of schism (a selectively communing "church within a church") or it is an admission that, apart from self-invented concordants between local communities, there really is no trans-parochial entity called "church."

Senn continues by stating that one tempting reaction to these departures is to "[look] for deficiencies in Rome or other communions to justify why we are not making this journey" (empahsis added). Let me add that another temptation is to wring our hands wondering about by-gone years (a temptation I've been accused of indulging). Several months ago, Carl E Braaten offered a healthier avenue by asking, in an open letter, not "What's wrong with them" but "What's wrong with us." This, however, can lead to a third and fourth temptation. The third is to say, "Things are getting better" (which, on a lighter note, brings this to mind). And the fourth is to suggest the formation of a new church or another version of a "church-within-a-church."

Predictably, Senior Senn urges his charges not to despair but to remain true to the confession to which they have pledged themselves. He reminds them that "It's not always pleasant to remain in place and contend for the truth of the gospel or to champion the great tradition in our congregations and denominations." These are words to which any faithful churchman, regardless of his communion, would say a hearty "Amen."

Bolstering his argument with the stern warning of a good father, Dr Senn makes this blunt statement:

Short cuts to Rome [or elsewhere, I would add] may be tempting and personally satisfying, but it is pastorally irresponsible to abandon congregations and colleagues, and it is ecumenically irresponsible to give up the painstaking work of moving whole communities toward fellowship with each other.

Again, these are words that, in most circumstances, are true. However, the latter "irresponsibility" assumes that the "work of moving whole communities" is best accomplished within some sort of bureaucratic, centralized structure and not one local parish at a time. This is a point that could be disputed. The former "irresponsibility" assumes that the abandoner is doing so for less than pure motives.

There are many "less than pure motives" that are possible; namely, the desire to run from the cross, pride, greed, etc. The most insidious of these "less than pure motives" is found in the statement, "By becoming x, I became a better Lutheran." Frankly, I once favored that logic, but now I grow increasily impatient with it. For it suggests that joining another communion is little more than a "hop," and that one's not really giving up anything but simply "completing" himself. It also belies an untenable notion of truth; namely, that there is no sure body of truth located in one place (i.e., a true visible church), but that the Lutherans have a bit that helps complete the defiencies of x. Finally, in ecclesial terms, this argument partakes of the false primacy of the invisible church by suggesting that, in the end, communions matter--but only as "communities" and not as assemblies of rightly prayed dogma.

By using the phrase "less than pure motives" I have, of course, raised the question, "What would be pure motives for abandoning one's congregation?" I can think of only one: the Pastor (or layman) has come to the conclusion that he no longer is of the same faith as those with whom he is in communion. In other words, the person who leaves his communion does so with pure motives because he can articulate at least the material (if not also the formal) deficiencies in the confession to which he has pledged himself. I would further add that it is not enough to articulate those deficiencies in terms of doctrinal formulae or propostions which are wrongly stated; more than that, he must articulate the material liturgical deficiencies in his present communion. (Notice, not how doctrinal formulae are poorly prayed, but how the liturgy has helped inform the deficient doctrinal formulae.)

To be sure, it is not always charitable or helpful to articulate those deficiencies publicly; and, I would think, it is certainly pastorally irresponsible to do so to the congregation he may be leaving. But this does not absolve the person from being able to do so--perhaps, if only, to his incoming superior.

In this regard, the title and nuanced argument that Fr Richard John Neuhaus made at Concordia Theological Seminary some years ago (published later in First Things) is very instructive. Neuhaus does not write about "How I Became the Lutheran I Always Should Have Been," but "How I Beame the Catholic I Was." Simply put, his argument is that the Roman Church made up for the deficiencies he found in Lutheranism.

On the whole, then, I resonate with Dr Senn's pastoral letter to the members of STS. However, I offer this caveat:

It is pastorally irresponsible for a man to remain in his parish and in communion with his colleagues when he is capable of articulating serious deficiencies in their common confession; that is, when he can no longer pray the same dogma as they pray.

27 July 2006

Tribute to Jaroslav Pelikan

In yesterday's mail was my issue of First Things. The last piece in the "Opinion" section is what I deem a fine tribute to Jaroslav Pelikan by Robert Louis Wilken. Both grew up in the LCMS. Pelikan died in the Orthodox communion, and Wilken is Roman Catholic.

Wilken's tribute begins with a scene from the vigil at the Three Heirarchs' Chapel of St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary prior to the "Divine Service for the Funeral of a Layman During the Forty Days of Pascha." It concludes with a reminiscence of his last converastion with Pelikan while listening to Bach's B-Minor Mass. In between is a fond eulogy commenting on the major highlights of Pelikan's contributions to church history.

Two sentences in that eulogy stand out for me.

[Pelikan's] historical study had convinced him that the most faithful bearer of the apostolic faith was the great tradition of thought and practice as expounded by the orthodox Church Fathers.

Pelikan knew, and his scholarship demonstrated, what many Christian theologians and Church leaders have forgotten, that over the Church's long history, the orthodox and catholic form of Christian faith, what the Church "believes, teaches and confessions on the basis of the Word of God" [from Pelikan's introduction to The Christian Tradition] has been the most biblical, the most coherent, the most enduring, the most adaptable, and, yes, the most true.

Unfortunately, I cannot provide a link to this tribute. But I commend you to get the August/September 2006 issue and read the whole thing for yourself.

Sermon or Homily?

I recently acquired volume 17 of The Fathers of the Church. The volume is entitled "Saint Peter Chrysologus: Selected Sermons and Saint Valerian: Homilies." The title already suggests a distinction which has plagued laymen, seminarists, and preachers for some time; namely, what is the difference between a sermon and a homily?

George E. Ganss, the translator (who presumably writes the introduction), offers this explanation:

In the Western Church, the sermon (sermo) and homily (homilia) were often interchangable. They seem to be so used in the titles of the printed collections which have come down to us: "Sermons of St. Peter Chrysologus" and "Homilies of St. Valerian."

However, since the time of Origen (186-254 or 255), a distinction has been current between loÃgoß (sermo, discourse, sermon) and oJmiÃlia (homilia, homily). The term sermon is generally used to designate an artisitic production, and homily to denote an informal discourse. A sermon generally develops some definite theme; a homily explains or comments on a passage of Scripture. The sermon usually deals with a doctrinal or moral subject, and is more likely to contain a structural form of introduction, body and conclusion such as textbooks of rhetoric advocate. The homily is more likely to lack structural form, and move or even digress wherever the text leads the preacher. Generally, its purpose is to explain the literal meaning of the Scriptural passage, point out moral or ascetical applications, and perhaps develop accommodated or allegorical meanings.

If we should follow this terminology, we could well reverse the titles which appear on our current Latin editions. Most of St. Peter's discourses are homilies giving a running commentary on a passage (lectio) of Scripture. St. Valerian's discourses usually take their departure from one verse of such a passage, but their nature is far more that of sermons treating a definite theme.

26 July 2006

Closed Communion: The Unspoken Truth

As is my usual custom, I celebrated Holy Mass this morning. It is the Feast of St Anne and, not unexpectedly, few were in attendance. The few there I know very well--in fact, it was my family.

With small and intimate participants, it is easy to believe that this is all one is in communion with at that particular time. That belief can simultaneously generate despair ("Where are the others") and hope ("There is no doubt about these"). However, the belief is false.

The faith is that, regardless of the number, whenever Holy Eucharist is offered, the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven is also present. Unseen, but truly present. This few deny.

The truth that is often overlooked or even denied is that, regardless of the number, whenever Holy Mass is celebrated, fellowship is announced and consumated with that assembly and all those of that particular communion. This truth obtains despite all objections--vociferous, academic or otherwise. That is the unspoken truth of those who (rightly) practice "closed communion."

Admittedly, this unspoken truth doesn't sit well among those who, holding to the false primacy of the invisible church, wish to practice (or, in fact, do practice) some form of "selective fellowship" (whether the selection exceeds or restricts the agreed upon boundaries.) Such a bane this beast is to catholic ecclesiology! It effectively constitutes every pastor as a bishop by his own design, and every congregation its own synod.

The unspoken truth of "closed communion" also does not sit well with those who are convinced that, at every Divine Liturgy, they declare communion with heretics and heterodox. At some point, they must admit that they violate their conscience every time they celebrate (or even receive) Holy Communion.

For such, however, the last oration in today's Mass must be their fervent prayer:

We beseech Thee, O Lord our God, that by the intercession of blessed Anne, whom Thou didst choose to bring forth the Mother of Thy Son: we, whom Thou hast quickened with these heavenly sacraments, may be found worthy to attain to everlasting salvation, through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son Our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

The Plan of Salvation

The plan was for [Christ] to mingle, without change on his part, with human nature by true hypostatic union[;] to unite human nature to himself while remaining immutable, so that he might become a man, as he alone knew how, and so that he might deify humanity in union with himself. (Ad Thalassium 21)

[So] by his gracious condescension God became man and is called man for the sake of man and[,] by exchanging his condition for ours[,] revealed the power that evelates man to God through his love for God, and brings God down to man because of his love for man. By this blessed inversion, man is made God by divinization and God is made man by hominization. For the Word of God and God will always and in all things to accomplish the mystery of his embodiment. (Ambiguum 7)

St Maximos the Confessor in On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ.

25 July 2006

Another Melancholy Lament

What storm at sea was ever so savage as this tempest of the Churches? It has moved every boundary established by the Fathers; every foundation, every established bulwark of doctrine has been shaken. Everything still remaining afloat is shaken by unsound teaching and thrown back into the abyss.

We attack one another; we are overthrown by one another. If the enemy does not strike us first we are wounded by our comrade; if he is wounded and falls, he is trampled by his fellow soldier. Although we are united in our hatred of common foes, no sooner do they retreat, and we find enemies in each other. Who could even list all the casualties? Some have fallen in battle with the enemy; some have been treacherously betrayed by their allies; others are the victims of their leaders' incompetence. Entire churches are dashed and shattered on the sunken reefs of subtle heresy, while other enemies of the Spirit of salvation have seized the helm and made shipwreck of the faith. ...

A darkness full of gloom and misery has descended on the Churches: the lights of the world, established by God to enlighten the souls of the people, have been exiled. The terror of universal destruction already hangs over us, yet they continue enjoying their rivalries, ignoring any sense of danger. Private enemies are more important to these men [than] the struggle of an entire people; they prefer the glory of subduing their opponents to securing the common welfare, and they love the immediate delights of worldly honor more than the rewards awaiting us in the age to come.

So all men alike, depending on how much power each one has, rush upon each other with murderous hands. They fight against each other with harsh words; they nearly fill the Church with the meaningless cries and unintelligible shouts of their incessant clamor. They continually pervert the teachings of true religion, sometimes by adding to them, and other times by reducing them. ... Inspired scripture is meaningless to mediate between [them], nor can apostolic tradition offer them terms of reconciliation.

One honest word and your friendship with them is finished; one disagreement with their opinions is sufficient pretext for a quarrel. No oath is so effective for holding a conspiracy together as common fellowship in error.

Every man is a theologian; it does not matter that his soul is covered with more blemishes than can be counted. The result is that these innovators find an abundance of men to join their factions. So ambitious, self-elected men divide the government of the Churches among themselves, and reject the authority of the Holy Spirit. The ordinances of the Gospel have been thrown into confusion everywhere for lack of discipline... The result of this lust for power is that wild anarchy prevails among the people...since every man in his arrogant delusion thinks that it is more his business to give orders to others than to obey anyone himself.

Since no human voice is powerful enough to be heard in such an uproar, I reckon that silence is more profitable than words. If the words of the Preacher are true: "The words of the wise are heard in quiet," then with the present state of affairs, any discussion of them at all is scarcely appropriate. ...

The love of many has grown cold; concord among brothers is no more; the very name of unity is ignored; Christian compassion or sympathetic tears cannot be found anywhere. Thre is no one to welcome someone weak in faith, but mutual hatred blazes so fiercely among brothers that a neighbors' fall brings them more joy than their own household's success. ...

Those who judge the erring are merciless and bitter, while those judging the upright are unfair and hostile. This evil is so firmly rooted in us that we have become more brutish than the beasts: At least they herd together with their own kindred, but we reserve our most savage warfare for the members of our own household.

These are the reasons I should have kept quiet, but love pulled me in the opposite direction, the love that is not self-seeking, but desires to conquer every obstacle put in her way by time and circumstance. I learned from the example of the children in Babylon that when there is no one to support the cause of true religion, we must accomplish our duties alone. They sang a hymn to God from the midst of the flames, not thinking of the multitudes who rejected the truth, but content to have each other, though there were only three of them.

Therefore the cloud of our enemies does not dismay us, but we place our trust in the Spirit's help, and boldly proclaim the truth.

These are the closing words of St Basil's De Spiritu Sancto as translated by David Anderson. For me, they ring as true today as they did more than 1600 years ago.

St Maximos: The Dual Aspect in Christ's Human Nature

How is it that Christ became sin, yet without sinning? For St Maximos the Confessor the answer is quite easy: Christ, the New Adam, exercised his free choice by not giving into His passions. Adam, on the other hand, exercised his free choice by giving into his passion and so "spurned this deifying, divine, and immaterial birth when he preferred what was delectable and obvious to his senses."

Yet this raises another question. How did Christ not inevitably follow Adam? The Sunday school answer is, "He is God." True enough. But He is also fully human--yet without sin. And there's the catch. He became sin, yet without sin. Theologically (and philosophically) quite a bit of nuancing is necessary (and not just of the word "sin") in order to unpack this statement.

St Maximos begins by distinguishing between creaturely origin (geÃnesiß) on account of creation, and human birth (geÃnnhsiß) on account of Adam’s transgression. For St Maximos, the former corresponds to creation in the image of God (kat= eijkoÃna qeou`; Gen 1.27) while the latter corresponds to coming in the likeness of men (ejn oJmoiwÃmati ajnqrwÃpwn; Phil 2.7). According to His geÃnesiß, Christ took on human nature “in terms of the ‘vital inbreathing’ of man” (cf Gen 2.7) and therefore was a creature in the divine image. According to His geÃnnhsiß, Christ “voluntarily assumed the likeness of corruptible humanity” and therefore “willingly allowed himself to be made subject virtually to the same natural passions as us yet without sin.”

According to the axiom of St Gregory the Theologian (“what is not assumed is not healed, and what is united to God is saved”), the use of the word “virtually” is quite problematic. However, St Maximos does not mean that Christ nearly, or only in appearance, assumed human passions but that Christ assumed the “liability to passions” without assuming sinfulness. Using a careful juxtaposition, the Confessor explains what seems to be his understanding of the dual aspect in Christ's human nature.

[H]e is doubly identified by the two parts [in the human nature] of which he is constituted: he has perfectly become the New Adam, while bearing in himself the first Adam, and he is both of these at once, without diminution. For, in being formed as a human being, he condescended to what was by law the creaturely origin [geÃnesiß] of Adam prior to his fall, and so assumed in his human nature impeccability through the divine “inbreathing,” but not incorruptibility. On the other hand, when, in his voluntary abasement, he underwent the human birth [geÃnnhsiß] punitively instituted after the fall, he assumed the natural liability to passions but not sinfulness. He became the New Adam by assuming a sinless creaturely origin [geÃnesiß] and yet submitting to a passible birth [geÃnnhsiß]. Perfectly combining the two parts in himself in a reciprocal relation, he effectively rectified the deficiency of the one with the extreme of the other, and vice versa, by causing his birth amid dishonor to save and renew his honorable creaturely origin and, conversely, by making his creaturely origin sustain and preserve his birth.

What Am I Afraid Of?

Truthfully, many things. The death of my wife, the loss of my eye sight, the denial of the Faith by any one of my children (biological and spiritual), and any other number of things.

However, the question was recently raised as a comment on another blog, and the referent was my disallowance of comments on this blog. It is presumed that I don't allow them out of fear. Perhaps.

But my conscious intention was not to allow comments because I don't have the time to give them the attention they deserve. If someone takes the time to read what I write, and then write a comment, I feel I should give that comment the courtesy of a response. (I admit--I am awful at this even for the few who take the extra effort to email me directly.) So I have turned off the comment feature because, due to any number of factors, I simply have not had the time.

I also turned off the comment feature because, in a few cases, the interest was not to discuss or debate meaningfully the ideas presented, but to post a diatribe sometimes coupled with insinuation of evil motive. These I don't fear. But I simply will not take the time for these sorts of comments. Moreover, I also think it is spiritually unhealthy (for me and those so tempted) to permit the opportunity.

The result is that I write when I wish; and I opine about those liturgical and theological topics that interest me; and I do so not expecting anyone to read, but pleased when they do and flattered when it leads to a conversation elsewhere.

Commenting on My Melancholy Reflection

At Beggers All, Jon Ledetroit has lent a sympathetic ear to my previous post. With only a few diversions, his post has allowed me to explain some of my thinking via the comments. The conversation may interest you.

23 July 2006

Reflections on an Anniversary

On this day in 1995 I was installed as the Fifth Pastor of Zion Church. So it's an anniversary of sorts.

I must admit that, personally, it is a rather bittersweet anniversary. What is sweet is way Zion has embraced me--and I them. It is better than I could have imagined when (with no little trepidation) I moved my family to Detroit eleven years ago. Zion's kindness, love, affection, longsuffering, and generosity seemingly knows no limits.

Our relationship is as it should be--familial. Since the beginning, they have honored me by calling me "Father," and never once have they been taken aback when I have addressed them as "my beloved" or "my little children." Even in the midst of the few squabbles (which, truly, have been few and far between), that mutual love has never dissipated. I have tried hard to show them the same respect they have consistently shown me, and fear that I have failed to live up to the standard they have set.

This is the sweet, and for it they will ever be the parish I will always love.

But in this life, with the sweet often comes the bitter. What has been most bitter has nothing whatsoever to do with Zion or the people of Zion. Rather, it has to do with where Zion lives and swims.

From our vantage point, we have seen the continued disintegration of both the city we call home and the synod we call our own. Both have disintegrated in ways I could not have envisioned or even imagined 11 years ago. For, when I moved here, it seemed that Detroit was in a renaissance and the LCMS was returning to faithfulness.

Regrettably, Detroit is no longer in a renaissance. Despite much talk and some good efforts, while the downtown looks better, the neigbhorhoods have gotten much worse. The biggest decline is in basic city services--the most basic being police protection. The reasons for decline are too numerous and too complex to list, but surely it is not helped by selling the city's future and soul to casinos coupled with a mentality of impoverishment and a governmental structure that, by its very nature, resists neighborhood improvement.

More devastating than the decline of city is the ruination of the LCMS. Like modern day Detroit, the LCMS has always been structurally unstable. It began as a coalition between two disparate groups in the attempt to revive confessional Lutheranism. On the one side were the Saxons, led by C. F. W. Walther, which attempted a repristination of the era known as "Lutheran Orthodoxy." On the other side were the Bavarians, sent by J. K. Wilhelm Löhe, which attempted a return to a liturgical confessionalism. In the intervening years, both groups have been overrun by what their leaders feared--American evangelical pragmatism. In the LCMS, this has resulted in a Lutheranism that has deserted any pretense to its catholic heritage, is essentially antinomian, and liturigically adheres quite ferociously to adiaphronism. Most devastating of all, however, is the abandonment of any meaningful ecclesiology.

Through the years, under the influence of her Pastors, Zion has manfully attempted to be a paragon of what a Lutheran congregation should be. In the process, it has attracted a small gaggle of admirers and an even smaller collection of imitators. Zion has also fended off any number of detractors and critics ("confessionals" or otherwise) who have been all too willing to attack or disparage its efforts. And so Zion has become little more than a symbol of what could be and, realistically, has devolved into an "experiment."

All of that was managable while the LCMS retained some semblance of liturgical integrity (or, at least, what passes for "liturgical integrity" in post-reformation "confessional" Lutheranism). However, the LCMS long since lost any such semblance and, predictably, the result has been an increasingly downward spiral into least-common-denominator protestantism. For Zion this means that, while it remains faithful as a parish and (one hopes) has grown in its catholic understanding, it has effectively become more and more isolated while remaining in fellowship with those who either wish its demise or tolerate its "eccentricities." The practical result is that very few members of Zion ever go elsewhere within the LCMS (either when they move or when they vacation), and if they do so out of loyalty, they feel deprived if not cheated.

These observations could be passed off as nothing more than the disappointments of a parish priest who struggles with bearing the cross were it not for the fact that he and his parish remain in communion with those who have, at the least, abandoned their heritage or, at the most, slidden into heresy. For unlike Detroit, the problems in the LCMS have declined beyond matters of discipline and basic services. At least, that's how it looks as this priest ruminates on this day--which makes the anniversary ever so bittersweet.

19 July 2006

Defining a Church Father

To some, a "church father" is a commentator (ancient or otherwise) whose commentaries they prefer. To others, the appellation "church father" defines those (orthodox or not) who lived within a certain era. To still others, a "church father" is one who reflects, to a greater degree, the church's "tradition" (depending, subsequently, on one's understanding of "tradition").

In Ambigua 7, St Maximos the Confessor offers what I find to be one of the better definitions of "church father." He designates them as "our fathers who are wise from hearing the Scriptures read in the divine mysteries."

This definition does not suffer from the limtations of "favorites" (favorite era, favorite comments, favorite theology). Rather, it places our definition squarely within the locus of tradition; namely, the Divine Liturgy or Holy Mass, where dogma is lived in prayer. St Maximos' definition also has the advantage of reminding us that piety by attention to the Divine Liturgy is the distinguishing mark of a saint--which a "church father" should be.

01 July 2006

The Pope & Liturgical Reform?

A reader of this blog recently pointed me to this blog. It is "dedicated to promoting the New Liturgical Movement called for by Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI in all the sacred arts and in the unity of legitimate liturgical diversity." New Liturgical Movement, as you can gather, actually refers to the restoration of the older liturgical movement as indicated by the title of the book (Reform of the Reform?) by a Fr. Thomas Kocik, one of the blog contributors.

I've not yet had the opporunity to read through many of its posts, but I shall. What I found most intriguing, thus far, is this contribution from Thursday. It seems to dovetail with this news item from another reader of this blog.

My hopes for the current are bouyed by such things.