Archive for January, 2008

Thursday and all’s well

To follow are what would normally be inline asides on a blog which uses them. I don’t yet, because I’m not convinced I want to pay for the privilege of editing the CSS, particularly with WordPress’ upgrade to 3GB of free space in the last couple of days. So, bear with me.

I’m waiting right now. Some of you know what I’m waiting for. It is unclear how long I will be waiting. One person who went through this exact same process told me he knew within a couple of weeks; another told me it probably won’t be until the middle of March. I will be happier when I am no longer waiting, regardless of the outcome.

I’m starting to lose a battle against a sore throat. I was in Michigan last weekend with many of our parish’s youth, and between the quite cold weather and being around lots of kidlets, I think I’m set up to come down with something. I always know I’m getting sick because coffee (without which Richard ain’t a happy man, folks) tastes terrible to me when I’m sick; this morning, the coffee wasn’t tasting very good. Sigh.

Now having dipped my toe into three different dead languages over the last couple of years, let me say that one of the gifts of studying a lingua mortua like Latin or Greek is that, without doubt, tons and tons of time and resources have been spent putting together usable materials. This would be as opposed to Syriac, where tons and tons of time and resources, well, haven’t.

For example, one can reasonably expect the following about your standard Greek New Testament:

  • It will have a decent glossary.
  • It will be typeset in a very readable fashion.
  • It will have an apparatus so you know where the text came from.

Whatever one’s disagreements might be regarding the use of the Nestle-Aland critical text, $25.05 for all of the above is a danged good value.

Now, the Syriac New Testament, the ABS edition which is really the only one available, by contrast to the above:

  • doesn’t.
  • isn’t.
  • doesn’t, so you don’t.

Where dictionaries are concerned, you have a bit of a choice: the three-volume Payne-Smith lexicon which is big, expensive, and in Latin; the one-volume Payne-Smith lexicon which is big and moderately expensive; and finally, the much smaller but not much cheaper New Testament lexicon.

So, when reading the New Testament, one way or the other you’re constantly having to look things up in a separate book, and you’re not always sure what you’re looking up because Syriac adds both suffixes AND prefixes to words depending on how they’re used, plus they can go through all kinds of fun changes depending on how they’re prefixed, and, well, the typesetting sucks.

Oh, and the typesetting of the dictionary also sucks. The plates are just old, old, old. You can see what I mean by looking inside the one-volume Payne-Smith on Amazon here. Eventually somebody needs to go through and redo it digitally; I refer anybody to the glossary in the recent `Enbe men Karmo Suryoyo (Bunches of Grapes from the Syriac Vineyard): A Syriac Chrestomathy compiled by Martin Zammit to see what this stuff can and should look like in the age of digital typesetting.

Of course, it’ll still be hella expensive, since there are like forty people in the English-speaking world who care about these things, this being why it won’t happen in my lifetime. If I were a more ambitious and serious Semiticist, maybe I’d entertain the notion of figuring out how to attach myself to such a project and help do it the way it would need to be done, but I’ve no real intention of being that kind of scholar. I am but a beachcomber along the shores of the Semitic ocean, not a deep-sea diver…

…aaaaaaaannnd that was the sound of you (both of you) rolling your eyes simultaneously. Sorry.

At the very least it would be nice to have a standard textbook which isn’t inherently problematic in many respects (both the Coakley and Thackston grammars are, shall we say, no Hansen and Quinn), and/or an English version of the Brockelmann grammar with the chrestomathy (that’s a fancy word which means “reader”), and/or an edition of the Syriac New Testament that is a comparable package to your average Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. I hear rumors of a thing such as the latter being done at Notre Dame, but it also sounds like there’s going to be a thick, expensive volume for each book of the NT the way they’re going about it. Oh well.

Well. That wound up being a bit more than an aside.

I don’t normally talk about politics here, but this whole business about tax rebates–didn’t we do this back in 2001 or thereabouts? And didn’t it, er, not work, exactly? I mean, I’m not going to beat away with a baseball bat a couple of checks for $300 or $600 or however much they are for our household, but this whole thing sort of comes across to me as, “Now, don’t worry, just go buy a Blu-Ray player and a couple of movies, you’ll feel better.” Am I wrong?

Still waiting.

More from Alden Swan

Swan has some interesting things to say on the relationship between post-Reformation church and Modernism, as well as the question of by which authority we not only interpret Scripture, but by which authority we determine the canon of Scripture.

For example:

One of the most irritating qualities of Modernism is the almost essential arrogance that comes from the belief in progress; that is, that “new” is better than “old.” Evangelicalism seems to exhibit the same tendency to believe in theological “progress,” as well as the resulting sense of arrogance in how they deal with past theological positions. While many would argue, especially in the case of fundamentalists, that this is absurd, I think in the “big picture” it makes sense.

With Evangelicalism, there are some basic presumptions that may not be true. One such presumption is that it is an advancement to think of theology almost as a science, being able to break large concepts down into minute detail and argue over the fine points. This scientific approach has, as Webber points out, reduced theology to a set of facts or propositions which can – and must – be believed. This systematic approach appears to have a goal of eradicating any sort of mystery from theology, believing that we can reason our way through our faith. Our faith (as Webber also points out) can then conceivably be conveyed to others in a logical, reasoned way, what we think of a “apologetics.” Evangelicals reason their way to truth, whereas the reformers simply proclaimed it.

To restate one of his points, Christianity is reduced by this approach to an ideology and a philosophy, rather than a means by which the faithful live their lives. By believing we can simply reason our way through our faith, the opposite has been greatly enabled–one can also very easily reason one’s way right out of their faith, too. I recall no examples from Acts or the Epistles of anybody coming to Christianity through a well-reasoned argument. Truth is a Person whom we meet in Christianity, not a set of precepts. To put it another way, it is not the case that the more one knows about God, the closer one is to God.

I would also tweak his last sentence–the reformers proclaimed the truth which they believed they had found while rejecting the truth which they had received. To understand what I mean by this, it is necessary to jettison the baggage most of us have with the word “tradition”, that it means “we do it this way because we’ve always done it this way and we don’t have a better answer than that”, as typified popularly everywhere from Fiddler on the Roof (a humorous example) to the Shirley Jackson short story “The Lottery” (a horrifying example). It is a given that “tradition” is used in both a positive and negative light in Scripture; there is of course the admonition about “traditions of men” but then also there is 2 Thess 2:15, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our epistle” (compare to 2 Tim 1:13–“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus”) and 2 Thess 3:6, a reference to “the tradition which you received from us”. The Greek word here is παράδοσις paradosis, derived from the verb παραδίδωμι paradidomi, “to hand over, to transmit”. So, literally, παράδοσις is “that which is handed down” or “that which is handed over”. “Tradition” is simply the Latinate form of the same word; it is from “traditus”, the perfect passive participle of “tradere”, “to hand over”.

So what was passed down? “The faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). “Delivered” in Greek here is again a form of παραδίδωμι, so this is the faith once “traditioned” to the saints. That faith is “the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42), and the apostles had been told that the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of truth”, “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13), that truth of the which the Church is “the pillar and ground” (1 Tim 3:15).

Tradition, therefore, is the truth, it is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, the Church which is both Body and Bride of Christ, Christ who is Himself the Truth. Tradition is not what we do because we’ve always done it and don’t have a better reason, but rather it is the the faith once “traditioned.”

So, from this perspective, the Reformers rejected that which had been “traditioned” to them while proclaiming what they believed to have been the truth they found, rather than received, by narrowing the list of acceptable sources.

By contrast, what we might generally refer to as “the catholic tradition” proclaims the truth which it receives. I don’t mean for that to sound arrogant (although it inevitably will); rather, that’s what the Greek Orthodox priest to whom Swan was speaking meant when he said that, on the inerrancy of Scripture, “we don’t think that way…we’ve just never questioned it.”

Still, there’s more of a context to his statement than just that, which brings me to Swan’s other piece:

As I think I’ve mentioned before, it is interesting to note that based on what we read in the New Testament, the “Word of God” does not seem limited to anything which was written down, and in fact, seems to speak of oral testimony.

Exactly, per 2 Thess 2:15, as quoted above. This again gets to the heart of the what the priest was saying–the New Testament is a witness to the tradition, to the authority, to the life of the Church already ongoing, not the instruction manual and not the source itself. More specifically, the Gospels and the Epistles are the Truth proclaimed and witnessed to in community–that is, liturgically, since they were written to be read to the assembly when they had gathered. To remove Scripture from this context and try to make it its own discrete source of authority is to obscure its meaning and reduce its authority, not to clarify it.

To relate this to an earlier point, Christianity is not a philosophy derived from a text, it is new life through an encounter with a Person who is the Truth. By being reduced to adherence to a set of precepts found in a text without the continuity of the life of the Church which has been ongoing since Pentecost, Christianity has been severely weakened.

What St. Ignatius wrote to the Philadelphians comes to mind: “When I heard some say, ‘Unless I find it in the official records–in the Gospel I do not believe’; and when I answered them, ‘It is in the Scriptures,’ they retorted: ‘That is just the point at issue.’ But to me the official record is Jesus Christ; the inviolable record is His Cross and His death and His Resurrection and the faith of which He is the Author.” The Scriptures witness to the Faith, not the other way around.

Um, that’s Lisbon

…and speaking of Anthony of Padua, can somebody please get rid of the nonsense in the first paragraph of his Wikipedia entry which somebody apparently thought was funny? Many thanks.

UPDATED, 6:54am 24 January 2008: It’s gone now. Thank you to whoever fixed it.

St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around…

One thing I’m hopeful that Delicious will do for me is cut down on the number of books I lose because I loan them out to somebody and forget who. This is not to offer any rebuke to those to whom I have loaned books and who have forgotten to return them or moved away or whatever; Lord knows I’m guilty of same, probably far more than I’m aware.

That said, if I loaned you my copy of Fr. Andrew Phillips’ Orthodox Christianity and the Old English Church, or you know where to find an actual printed copy, could you please drop me a line at richard_barrett (AT) This one stings more than some others because the copy I had was extraordinarily difficult to find to begin with, and it has been thus far impossible to replace. Yes, I know Fr. Andrew has made it available as a pdf; you’ll notice I linked to it. For the life of me I cannot remember to whom I loaned it, but I must have loaned it to somebody, because I’ve gone through literally every book in the house–it ain’t there, kids. I don’t mind buying another one if that’s what I have to do, I just don’t have a source through which to do so at present.

If you can help, let me know!

Roman fever and so on

This is over a week old now, but this is the first chance I’ve really had to say anything about it.

Please refresh your memory on what I have said before regarding Orthodoxy and anti-Catholicism.

With that in mind, consider this posting, plus all the comments, over at Cathedra Unitatis.

Personal engagement of one’s faith is a really tricky thing. We are well past the days, for good or ill, when you simply were whatever your family was when you were born and you could count on your parents being the same thing, at least nominally, because they would have to be in order to get married. I would never have been born under such a societal expectation, because my parents have wildly divergent religious beliefs, and neither of my parents really are exactly what they were raised. Mom was raised Lutheran and left that in her 30s for Evangelical shores; Dad was raised nothing exactly, but my grandfather apparently believed in God at some level, and Dad, well, doesn’t. Mom had me baptized Lutheran, we were both baptized again by the non-denominational congregation she chose when I was seven, we drifted through Baptist waters briefly when I was a teenager, I received adult confirmation as an Episcopalian, and was received into Orthodox Christianity by chrismation. Call it “church shopping” if you want, for me, or Mom, or Dad. I call it doing the work of figuring out what you believe and taking it seriously. My father is an atheist because he takes very seriously his beliefs about the nature of the universe, and those beliefs make God irrelevant at best, assuming He even exists. My mother became an Evangelical because she became committed to the things which are distinctive to Evangelicals. I was confirmed as an Episcopalian because I found myself having to take seriously the concept of being in continuity with the Christianity of history when it was manifestly obvious to me that mainline American Christianity did not care about that continuity; I left the ECUSA because it was clear to me the ECUSA as a body was no longer actively interested in maintaining that continuity or even passively allowing for it.

Truth be told, however, I suspect a lot of people, if they were honest about it, would ask, “Why bother?” I’ve read opinions before from people who say that apologetics and convert stories are inherently unconvincing to Joe Average because they’re written from a point of view which already takes this stuff far more seriously than most people ever will. It’s extremely unusual, so the argument goes, for the average person to actually engage faith on such a level–more often than not, people will just fall away rather than attempt to go deeper. Maybe that’s true; I don’t know. So, sure–“why bother?” I can’t really speak for either of my parents, but I bother because my belief that Christianity is true compels me to engage it and take it seriously. It is, as I like to say, that simple and that complicated.

Still, it’s all well and good to say, as I have elsewhere, that I became an Orthodox Christian because I believe it is true (or as Fr. Stephen Freeman likes to say, it is the truth in its fullness). That doesn’t alter the cultural reality that the questions I had are, in this country, far more easily and readily answered by Roman Catholicism, or the personal reality that I was already quite far along on my path to Rome before a couple of chance occurrences redirected my steps towards Constantinople. At the time I realized I couldn’t remain an Episcopalian, Orthodoxy wasn’t even a blip on my radar, and all sights were set on the Vatican. Save for a couple of chance occurrences, I could very well have attended Mass at the various churches I visited in Europe last summer as a communicant. (Yes, yes, I know that as far as Rome is concerned, I still can. As far as the bishop under whose jurisdiction I fall is concerned, however, that’s not the case.) People far wiser than myself have chosen to swim the Tiber; others, also far wiser than myself, have chosen to swim the Bosphorus. I cannot argue with or judge either choice, because various factors make it difficult and painful either way. Whenever somebody suggests that Orthodox converts are inherently anti-Catholic or people who just ultimately couldn’t set aside a cultural anti-Catholicism or people who didn’t consider the evidence with enough faith, I want to both laugh and cry.

I said something about a cultural reality in the last paragraph. I have an Orthodox friend who has periodic bouts of what he terms “Roman fever.” He spent a number of years examining the arguments on the Catholic and Orthodox sides, and ultimately found the Catholic argument unconvincing. He spent a bit longer evaluating the Rome vs. Constantinople case than it really took for him to be convinced because, as he says, he didn’t want there to be any historical or theological “gotchas” that could take him by surprise later–and there haven’t been. What there have been, however, are spiritual and cultural “gotchas,” and those have been much harder to deal with. As he says, it gets hardest around the Nativity Fast and Christmas–it occurs to him, as he’s at the Divine Liturgy for the Nativity listening to texts and music that bear zero relation to anything which has been familiar to him, that just down the street at the Roman Catholic parish is a Christmas service that is using the prayers and carols he knows as somebody who is culturally Western, and he begins to wonder if Orthodoxy isn’t, in practice, really some kind of society for the preservation of Byzantine culture. How in the world does the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom have anything to do with the modern world, the here and now? What impact on our culture can these alien externals of icons, incense, chanting, vestments, and so on actually have when it seems like we’re basically ignored by most people as “an ethnic thing”, and converts can go off the deep end in terms of embracing ethnic customs that aren’t really theirs in any kind of an organic sense? The history and theology keep my friend where he is, but not without significant and ongoing cultural pain.

Truth be told, while I haven’t had the same issues adapting to the Byzantine Rite, I’m not unsympathetic to any of this. Those of us in the West who convert to Orthodox Christianity are culturally Western; there is no getting around this, and I don’t agree with those Orthodox who would take a stance which amounts to “all things Western are of the devil.” Despite the differences, Western and Eastern Christianity grew from the same seed, and that common origin is more than evident. (See Fr. Stephen Freeman’s excellent posts which relate to this here, here, and here.) It is the various Western liturgies and chant repertoires which are, even from an Orthodox point of view, the spiritual patrimony of pre-schismatic Western Christendom, not the Byzantine; one can go on and on. From this standpoint, I’m very much in favor of the use of the Gregorian Mass by Western Rite parishes. If you take a look at my CD collection, I’ve got recordings from the St. Gregory Society, Westminster Cathedral, and so on. I’ve got books by the current pope from when he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. I have my own copy of the Liber Usualis. If I can ever get my blogroll to display again, you’ll see I link to many Catholic blogs, all of which I read regularly. Images, incense, chant, and vestments, up until the last generation or two, were universal throughout what I might call “catholic minded” communions–Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, even Lutheran. (In fact, the first time I ever experienced incense in church was at an LCMS service.) That which seems “Byzantine” now perhaps seems so largely because it’s far more rare than it used to be (although it is to be hoped that Summorum Pontificum will in the long run make this less the case).

The truth of the matter is, at the level of externals, traditional Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy aren’t all that dissimilar–with the subsequent irony that this makes the differences which seem minor all the more serious. I’ve got a Roman Catholic friend who has made the comment, “I have to keep reminding myself you’re not Catholic,” to which I’ve replied, “I have to keep reminding myself you’re not Orthodox.” Nonetheless, when he visited my parish, while saying the Divine Liturgy was basically the same as a High Mass, he did not genuflect at the altar; I understood why, and I didn’t expect him to. I don’t genuflect at a Roman Catholic altar, either–not out of spite, not out of any kind of inherent anti-Catholicism, but because whatever anybody else may say, we’re not in communion. I do not claim Rome is “utterly devoid of grace” as some do, but neither can I positively affirm Rome’s Mysteries, any more than I would expect my Roman Catholic friend to affirm ours. That isn’t anti-anything; that’s acknowledging the truth, however painful, of the state that exists between the Patriarchate of Rome and the Patriarchates of Antioch, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Alexandria, Moscow, and so on. If we all believe what we say we believe about Holy Communion (Orthodox and Catholic alike), it can hardly be otherwise. It’s not hostility, it is the tragic reality which must be respected until the reality changes.

So, to relate this back to Cathedra Unitatis’ update, the comments, and my own earlier post…

As with the friend I mentioned earlier (and for all I know, my friend is Cathedra Unitatis, since CU is thus far anonymous), I am sympathetic to the journey he has taken over the last year in the hard task of personally engaging his beliefs, and I find that I would have been unable to judge him either way he went. Do I think CU made the right choice? Yes, I’m Orthodox, so of course I do, but this whole business in the comments of it now becoming an issue of “whose ox is gored” is absurd. There is, apparently, an unfortunate double standard among some on both sides–if you argue in favor of your position, you are being hostile towards my position; if I argue in favor of my position, I am only doing what is my unquestionable duty, and you disagreeing with that only shows how hostile you really are. Maybe that’s unavoidable, and a symptom of how deep the issues actually go; I don’t know, but I know I don’t want to contribute to the problem, and I would hope that none of my fellow Orthodox would either.

I support CU’s current focus on trying to play his own small part in building Christian unity, which is something we should all be doing–with the caveat that unity cannot be based on false pretenses, on a “wishing away” of the genuine differences and issues which need to be worked out. An ecumenism which is based on a wink and a nudge or a papering over of problems is a false ecumenism, and false ecumenism is a cure which is ultimately going to be worse than the disease. Let us embrace each other as brothers, let us mourn together the fact that we may not gather around the same altar at the present moment, let us talk and work together to solve the problems which divide us, but let us not simply pretend those problems don’t exist, and let us not assume our brother wishes us ill because conscience will not let them cross a line–charity demands better of us. There are, without question, Orthodox who are nastily anti-Catholic, and there are also, without question, Catholics who are nastily anti-Orthodox; it is our job to not let those people control the conversation–but it is also our job to be discerning about what is hostility and what is an honest sticking to one’s guns.

The paradox is this–as laypeople, we have to be obedient to our bishops, and as such, we can’t just take it upon ourselves to ignore the question of with whom we are and are not in communion. However, neither can our bishops impose Christian unity from the top down if it is to mean anything–they can only formally recognize a unity which already exists in the hearts of the laypeople. The Council of Florence should have taught us all that. As I’ve said before, I think the key here is to set aside concerns of concelebration and communion and forget about “dialogue”–those are all things about which our bishops need to be doing the worrying. The focus of those of us on the ground should be on cooperation and conversation–the “beer and pizza rule,” as Rod Dreher likes to put it, implying a willingness to lay aside the assumption that the other party intends for us the worst.

Judging each other harshly is a big part of why Christian disunity exists. Let’s not be in the business of repeating the same mistakes.

We seal a dial, she weans a Liam…

I am slowly but surely cramming the Latin verb system back into my head. Today, in class, I realized why I was having trouble distinguishing between second and third conjugation verbs based on the infinitive form: we weren’t using macrons anymore! With saintly patience as though explaining it as though to a four year old, my instructor reminded me that you pretty much have to go to the first principal part to tell the difference without macrons; -eo being the characteristic ending of the first principal part for the second conjugation. And then, of course, for the vowel change in the subjunctive, “we fear a liar.” “He eats caviar.” Or something.

I love being thirty-one and being more-or-less newly at an educational level which, ideally, I would have been at when I was twelve or thirteen.

On the other hand, Syriac was good fun yesterday; we’re reading the Gospel of St. Mark now, and it’s not bad. I do sincerely wish there was an equivalent of the Nestle-Aland critical New Testament for the Peshitta–i.e., with an apparatus and glossary; alas, the UBS edition has none of that, and is extremely hard to read. Sounds like somebody up the road might be working on something like this…? Anybody know?

While I’m thinking about it, anybody know how to get my blogroll displayed using this template?

And yes, I know that my notes for Unit 2 of Hansen & Quinn aren’t posted yet. I’m working on them–the last month or so has just been busier than I would like for such things.

More later.


latin_ms.jpgI’m slowly getting back in oscillationem rerum with Latin. The grammatical concepts are all more or less there, it’s just little things like, oh, vocabulary and the whole freakin’ verb system I have to cram back into my head. Optare, optavisse, optaturus esse, optari, optatus esse, optatum iri… if you see me on the elliptical machine at the gym looking like I’m having a very agitated conversation with myself, I’m reviewing Latin.

Fr. Stephen Freeman has an interesting look at the the word “fullness” and its implications within Orthodox Christianity. It is very much worth reading in its entirety, but a couple of points jump out at me:

Fullness means more than being correct. It is possible to be correct about something, and yet be empty and lifeless. Fullness is correct because it is a true reflection of God and not because it can be measured against the law or a set of rules (or the canons, etc.).

“It is possible to be correct about something, and yet be empty and lifeless.” So true as to not require any comment, only repetition.

Fullness implies a completeness.

The word Fr. Stephen is hinting at without saying is catholic–from κατά + ὅλον kata-holon, “according to the whole.” Catholicity, while a much-debated word, really boils down to the state of lacking nothing. The fullness of our faith, in other words, is where our catholicity is to be found–but this brings us to an irony:

I do know, and have said elsewhere, “Why would anyone want something less than the fullness of the faith?”

The irony here is that the very claim of “the fullness of the faith” is exactly what turns away some who I’ve known. Even if it’s true, so some have said to me, that shouldn’t be anything we care about if we are to preach only Christ, and Him crucified. If you think you’ve got the fullness of the faith, in other words, that’s proof that you don’t.

Isn’t epistemology fun?

Get Religion has a good post on political writers ignoring Roman Catholics. The last line sums it up well:

Yes, there is a longstanding antipathy between intellectuals devoted to the Enlightenment and Catholics devoted to Rome. Yet magazine writers wrote about Catholic voting trends. So why don’t political reporters?

I’m reminded of how in 2004, something of a big deal was made about how the Catholic vote was important enough to the Republicans that Bush paid a visit to the Knights of Columbus. I remember thinking to myself, “Do the Orthodox even have a comparable group for any of the political parties to snub?”

And, well–no, we don’t.

Not yet.

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