Posts Tagged 'french'

“The image of Christ according to Theodore the Studite” by Fr. John Meyendorff (part 2 of 2)

I didn’t intend for it to take me over five months to translate the second half of this, but here we are. I have a nice long French article to read for a course this semester (70 pages or so, I think), so finishing this particular project seemed like a prudent refresher.

By the way, I don’t claim perfection by any means, and there were some passages here that had me tearing my hair out for a couple of hours. If there are any portions where you’re scratching your head thinking, “There’s no way that’s what the French says,” let me know and maybe you can help. I’d post a pdf of the original for comparison purposes, but I’m uncertain of the propriety of doing so.

Anyway, here’s part one if you want to remind yourself where our intrepid heroes were back in August. And now, finally, part two:

It is with Theodore Studite that one finds a constructive synthesis of these arguments and a truly creative solution of the problem of veneration of images.

Theodore notices first of all that the Chalcedonian and post-Chalcedonian Christology do not solely consider in Christ the existence of two natures, but also a hypostasis or “person”[1]: it is the doctrine of the hypostatic union which makes possible the image of the God-man. “Any picture,” he writes, “is a picture of a hypostasis and not of a nature”[2].

The humanity of Christ itself, per Theodore, is an individual humanity. This point was not always apparent with certain Byzantine authors of the sixth and seventh centuries who considered foremost Christ as the Word, having only human “characteristics.” With Theodore, the concept of the humanity of Christ is far more concrete:

Christ was not simply an ordinary man (ψιλὸς ἄνθρωπος) (he writes); and it is not orthodox either to say that he had accepted an individual among men (τόν τινα τῶν ἀνθρώπων), but the unity, the totality of the nature (human): it is necessary to say, however, that this whole nature was contemplated in an individual manner (ἐν ἀτόμῳ) – for otherwise how could it have been seen? –, in a manner which made it visible and circumscribable… which allowed him to eat and drink…[3]

Resolutely Aristotelian, Theodore refutes the position of the Iconoclasts whereby the humanity of Christ would have been “indescribable” (ἀχαρακτήριστος), because it was “man in general” (καθόλου ἄνθρωπος) as “New Adam.” In Christ, the humanity was not an “ideal” humanity. An ideal humanity is not, moreover, an abstraction; to deny to Christ a concrete and individual humanity therefore amounts to regarding him only as God. “The humanity [of Christ],” he wrote, “does not exist as it does in Peter and Paul”; if human nature was not a reality contemplated “intellectually,” the experience of Thomas, placing his finger in the wound of Jesus, would have been impossible.

The very name of Jesus makes him distinct, through his hypostatic natures, compared with other men.[4]

“An undescribable Christ would also be Incorporeal: and yet, Isaiah (VIII, 3) designates him as a male being (ἄρσην τεχθείς) and only the shapes of the body make man and woman distinct”[5].

Fully individualized in the human plan, the unique Person of Jesus was, however, no other than the pre-existing hypostasis of the Word, Son of God. The post-Chalcedonian Christological system is, in effect, inconceivable if one does not admit the real difference between the concepts of “nature” (or “essence”) and “hypostasis.” If the term “hypostasis” designates a simple “internal relationship” with the divine nature, in the Thomist sense, it would be inconceivable to say, as Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Fifth [Ecumenical] Council (553) did, that “the Word suffered in the flesh”: this expression necessarily meant that the divine nature itself was subdued in the Passion. And yet, the “Theopaschite” formulae, as well as the term Theotokos applied to Mary, became to Byzantium, in the fifth and sixth centuries, a criterion of orthodoxy: one could and should say that the Word truly suffered and that Mary had been truly Mother of God, not that the Divine nature, common to the Father, Son, and the Spirit, had been given birth to by a woman or would be dead in the human way, but because the hypostasis of the Word became fully the center, the source, [and] the conscience of the human life of Jesus. The hypostasis, [that is,] personal existence, is not therefore defined by the “nature” which it “hypostasizes,” but it is that [hypostasis], on the contrary, which gives existence to each “individual nature.” Thus, the humanity of Jesus was able to be fully “human” without having a human hypostasis: the post-Chalcedonian christology means thus a totally personalist concept of the hypostasis[6]. This concept sets up the keystone of the iconology of Theodore.

The image is, for him, distinct, concerning the essence, compared with its Prototype. Whose essence is made the image of Christ – [be it] wood, colors [or] mosaic – is in effect different from the [essence] of the Model. But, concerning the hypostasis, the image and the model are not as one[7]. The icon of Christ is thus the image of the very hypostasis of the Word incarnate – the hypostasis of the Logos in his human existence – without being, in any way, an image of the indescribable and invisible Divinity.

It is thus as Theodore comments on the Byzantine tradition of writing on the cruciform nimbus surrounding the face of Christ the letters ὤν which are the Greek translation of the holy Tetragrammaton of the Hebrews, YHWH (cf. Ex. III, 14): Jesus is truly the personal God of the Bible, he appeared in the flesh, made visible through the authentically human traits of the Son of Mary[8]. It is thus impossible, according to Theodore the Studite, to write on the icons of Christ such impersonal terms as “Divinity,” “Lordship” or “Royalty”, which indicate the divine nature, common to the Father, Son, and the Spirit: only the inscription ὁ ὤν, “the one who is,” and not ὀντότης, “the being,” are suitable for the image of the Person of the Word incarnate[9].


* *

These few brief remarks do not in any way pretend to be an analysis of the Christological problem in its entirety, in the manner which it has put itself in Byzantium during the period of the Iconoclast dispute. The mind of Theodore would deserve for itself a whole monograph. Our aim, in this collection devoted to a Master who contributed so much to making understandable the problems of Byzantine art, and in particular that of the Iconoclast period, was solely to bring attention to the importance of the personality of Theodore in the purely theological development of iconology. He is known above all as one of the grand lawmakers of Eastern monasticism, as a hymnographer, as a man of action, as a personal enemy of Iconoclast emperors, and also of all those who, like the patriach Nicephorus, were tending to adopt in the life of the Church and the State a politics of “economy”; the abbot of Studium merits also our attention as a rigorous theologian. It is not only his zeal for the faith and his contempt for compromise which made to triumph the party of Iconodules in Byzantium, but also the decisive contribution which he achieved in making to a properly doctrinal problem, posed by the veneration of images.

New York. John Meyendorff.

[1] Two authors have briefly noticed the originality of Theodore on this exact point: N. Grossu, Prepodobny Theodor Studit, Kiev, 1907, p. 204, and V. Grumel, “L’iconologie de saint Théodore Studite,” in Échos d’Orient, XX, 1921, p. 258.

[2] Antirrh. III, col. 405 A.

[3] Antirrh. I, col. 332 D-333 A.

[4] Antirrh. III, col. 396 C-397 A.

[5] Ibid., col. 409 C.

[6] On this concept of hypostasis see in particular V. Lossky, Théologie Mystique de L’Église d’Orient, Paris, Aubier, 1944, pp. 52-53.

[7] Διαφορότης οὐκ ἐπὶ τῆς ποστάσεως, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὸν τῆς οὐσίας λόγον, Ep. 212, P.G., 99, col. 1640; cf. also Antirrh. III, 1, 34, col. 405.

[8] Antirrh. III, col. 400 D-401.

[9] Lettre à Nancratius, II, 67, col. 1296 AB; cf. also Antirrh. III, col. 420 D.


“The image of Christ according to Theodore the Studite” by Fr. John Meyendorff (part 1 of 2)

This was my final project for the French reading knowledge class I took this summer. It is a short essay Fr. John Meyendorff wrote for a book entitled Synthronon: Art et Archéologie de la fin de l’Antiquité et du Moyen Age (Paris: Libraire C. Klincksieck, 1968). I’ve seen it cited before, but to the best of my knowledge it has never been translated into English. This is the first half; the second half is forthcoming. Numbered footnotes are Meyendorff’s; cross notes are mine (usually a comment, for the sake of the instructor, as to why I chose to translate something the way I did, in at least one occasion in response to his remarks on an early draft).

Nowhere other than in Byzantium has the problem of Christian art sparked off a purely theological debate. The Christian, and non-Christian, philosophers often discussed the religious implications of art and, conversely, were able to establish that the religious sentiment is inseparable from an aesthetic experience. In Byzantium, however, during the course of the long Iconoclast controversy, the problem acquired straightaway a whole other dimension and effort of thought and of expression which the adversaries of images, as well as their defenders, provided, and which left a deep mark on Byzantine art. For the Byzantine, the icon became at the time a confession of faith and a quasi-sacramental presence, and “the Christian doctrine was left enriched by the Iconoclast crisis.”[1]

The debate concerned, first of all, the very nature of the “image.” The cultural, psychological, and social elements which contributed, within Christianity, to the formation of an “iconoclast” tradition and an “iconodule” tradition, in the centuries which preceded the crisis, were resolved through a philosophical problem: was the image a suitable representation of the prototype, “consubstantial” with it, or, by contrast, was it only a crude form, only fitting to distract the intellect and to divert its natural enthusiasm towards the Invisible? But this philosophical problem itself depended on a precondition: the nature of the Protoype. If, for a Jew and a Muslim, God is essentially invisible and one could not therefore make an image of Him, is it the same for a Christian who believes that “the Word became flesh”?

Thus it is that, from the third century, until the age when the problem of religious images began to be debated between the Neo-Platonists Celsus and Porphyry on one side, and, on the other side, the Christian apologists who attacked pagan idolatry, the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation of the Word found itself at the center of the debate. Accused of idolatry by the Christians, the Neo-Platonists proceeded to the counterattack:

If some Greeks (writes Porphyry) are so weak of mind as to believe that gods live inside of idols, their thought remains rather more pure than the thought of these (Christians) who believe that the Divine entered the bosom of the Virgin Mary, became a fetus, was begotten and wrapped in linens, full of blood, of tissue, of bile and of things even more base.[2]

The contemptuous tone set aside, the argument of Porphyry was not lacking in gravity: if the Christian faith was founded on the historic fact of the Incarnation, there was no longer a question for the Christians of despising matter. Consequently, a recent historian was able to write:

There came a moment, between the third and the fifth centuries, when the Christians adopted (in the problem of images) the pagan arguments.[3]

Certainly not in order to restore idolatry, but in order to say that the images, within Christianity, were genuinely able to be suitable to the Prototype, since the Object of Christian worship is the Word Incarnate, a visible and circumscribable reality.

From the beginning of the Iconoclast quarrel itself, the Orthodox recalled this argument. Germanus, patriarch of Constantinople, writes, for example:

This is in memory eternal of the life in the flesh of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of his passion, of his salvific death and of the redemption for the world which resulted, that we have received the tradition of the depiction of his human body, that is to say his visible theophany, understanding well that by it we glorify the humiliation of God the Word.[4]

The Iconoclasts responded by elaborating their own Christological argument: Christ is at once God and man; he possesses, therefore, two natures, which the Council of Chalcedon (451) declared to be united “without mixture, without transformation, without division, without separation”; in rendering the image of Christ, does the iconographer depict the humanity of Christ? But then he “separates” the humanity from the Divinity and becomes guilty of Nestorianism. Does he represent at once the two natures? If such is his claim, it is not possible to avoid saying that he represents “God” himself, he who is inconceivable.[5] The union of the two natures makes, therefore, according to the iconoclasts, a “suitable” image of Christ impossible.

This iconoclast Christology necessitated a response from the orthodox side. This response would be worked out by theologians from the beginning of the ninth century, the patriarch Nicephorus and Saint Theodore the Studite. While continuing the debate regarding the notion of the “image” and the educational value of Christian art, they developed the argument which, for them, was certainly decisive: Jesus was truly man, visible, therefore “circumscribable” (περιγραπτός), and the Council of Chalcedon, while defining the union of the natures, had specified that “each of them (the natures) retained its proper manner of being.”[6] Being circumscribable constitutes a character proper to humanity: no man could be deprived of it without ceasing to be man; thus, according to Theodore the Studite, “Christ would not be Christ, if he could not be depicted.”[7] This new insistence regarding the fully real humanity of Jesus certainly contributed to the turnaround of the dominant tendency for Byzantium, since the age of Justinian, to favor exclusively the Alexandrian Christology and to exclude the Antiochene heritage, in which it had something eminently positive: the vision of the Christ-Man.

[1] A. Grabar, L’Iconoclasme Byzantin. Dossier Archéologique, Paris, 1957, p. 5.

[2] Against the Christians, fragment 77, ed. A. Harnack, in Abhandlungen der Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin, 1916, p. 93.

[3] P. J. Alexander, The Patriarch Nicephorus, Oxford, 1958, p. 33.

See following note.

[4] De Haeresibus et synodis, P. G. 98, col. 80 A. In one his first articles devoted to iconoclasm, G. Ostrogorsky drew attention to the central character of the Christological argument, “Soedinenie voprose o sviatykh ikonah s khristologicheskoi dogmatikoi”, in Seminarium Kondakovianum, I, 1927, pp. 35-48.

[5] Mansi, Collectio Conciliorum, XIII, col. 252 AB; 256 AB; for a recent analysis of the arguments of the iconoclast council of 754, see M. Anastos, “The argument for iconoclasm as presented by the iconoclastic council of 754”, in Late Classical and Medieval Studies in Honor of A. M. Friend, Jr., Princeton, 1955, pp. 177-188.

The French word Meyendorff uses, descriptible, is translated in most dictionaries as “describable” or “representable”; as he is using the word to translate the Greek word περιγραπτός, a technical term in the Iconoclastic controversy for which the proper English translation is “circumscribable,” I have translated the Greek term in both instances of descriptible rather than translating Meyendorff’s translation.

[6] Mansi, Collectio, VII, col. 116.

[7]Χριστὸς οὐ Χριστὸς εἰ μῂ ἐγγράφοιτο, Antirrh. III, 1, P. G., 99, col. 389.

Consulting this author’s works in English on similar topics, “Christ-Man” is a term used a number of times, and it appears unlikely that “Man-Christ” is what he intends here. See, for example, Meyendorff, Living Tradition, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975, p. 180.

Breaking radio silence…

Blogging has been quite inconsistent over the last six weeks, but I doubt that the two of you out there who check in regularly have lost much sleep over that. Bottom line is that I have worn my temporary bachelorhood neither well nor gladly, and it’s been difficult to motivate myself to do things like this. The good news is that Flesh of My Flesh gets home on Thursday; the bad news is that I’m going to have to move the books I’m reading off of her side of the bed now.

A brief update on Cappella Romana’s The Divine Liturgy in English: you can now pre-order it from their website, and there is also an absolutely gorgeous pdf of of the liner notes. I’d also bookmark this page for the future. Noting that the ship date for online orders is one week from today, I’m looking very much forward to posting a review of this sometime by the end of the next week.

My French class has been a good opportunity to formally review some things with this language, and to have a chance to start getting a bit of a sense of what kind of scholarship is out there in French in my areas of interest. As it works out, I’ll be translating a short article by Fr. John Meyendorff for my final project — it’s called “The Image of Christ According to Theodore the Studite.”

Along related lines, I have decided to swap out Coptic for Modern Greek this fall. Ultimately, I have a tough time making a case for Coptic in terms of being directly related to my areas of interest; if I were more interested in early monasticism or gnosticism or such things, that would be one thing — and if it were actually going to be fulfill a degree requirement (which, in the alternate universe where I was admitted to the M.A. program here, it does), that would be something too.

But I’m not, and it isn’t. I may keep the textbook for purposes of picking through it later if I ever figure out how to motivate myself independently; we’ll see.

By contrast, I can make a much better case for Modern Greek being directly related to my interests. There is scholarship in Modern Greek, it will be a good thing to be able to speak if I’m ever fortunate enough to be able to travel for research reasons, and in the more likely scenario that someday we’re at a church where Greek is the primary language of the people. Also, it is at least strongly related to something with which I already have some familiarity, so I won’t be starting over completely from scratch.

And, finally, a 12:20-1:10 timeslot is simply a heck of a lot easier for an 8-5 working man to manage than 8:00-9:15. Y’know, practical matters like that have to intervene at some point.

On a matter completely unrelated to academic or ecclesiastical pursuits — through a stroke of absolute dumb luck, I am going to have, shall we say, a rather early dark (k)night, and I’m expecting it to be cool to the (i)max. I’ll have more to say about this Wednesday morning, I expect.

Finally (for now), I’ll note that my stock has risen some in the last couple of months. If only I could figure out which ATM machine I’m supposed to use to get access to this…

My blog is worth $4,516.32.
How much is your blog worth?

Qu’est-ce que je fais?

Brief check-in —

Many thanks to all of you who visited because of Eirenikon‘s links to my Fellowship of Ss. Alban and Sergius write-ups; I hope you stay for awhile.

My French reading class started last Friday. I’m finding that the Latin and the Greek I’ve had in the four years since the last time I set foot in a French classroom is helping immensely; I’ve likely forgotten far more than I realize, but so far so good regardless. (I doubt very sincerely that Syriac is helping my French in the least.) We have two translation projects in the class; one which will be a text the instructor provides, and the other which will be a text of our own choosing — the idea is that we read a piece of scholarship (or a piece of a piece — three pages maximum) in our own fields. As it works out, there’s an article Fr. John Meyendorff wrote called “Byzance: l’image du Christ d’après Théodore Studite,” and it’s exactly three pages long. Sounds like a winner to me.

Reading-wise — well, there’s a pile of books on my wife’s side of the bed (and yes, I mean on her side of the bed; it keeps me from getting used to taking up the whole mattress in her absence), and it contains some of the following:

  • The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian, Bp. Hilarion Alfeyev. Yes, still.
  • Sunday Matins in the Byzantine Cathedral Rite, Alexander Lingas. Yes, still (and I have, alas, confirmation from the publisher that this will not be released on 28 June, as I suspected, and they frankly have no idea when it will be published, characterizing it only as “severely delayed”).
  • The Glory of the Lord, Vol. 1: Seeing the Form, Hans Urs von Balthasar. I will note the following fun statistics about this particular book: it is volume one of seven, this volume alone is six hundred pages plus, and the “introduction” is over a hundred pages. I’m reading this because somebody made the professional suggestion that my interests in particular will ultimately be a lot more marketable if I can tie Balthasar in somehow. What I will say for now is that I really hope that I’m not someday told that I can’t claim to have read this unless I’ve done so in German; it’s going slowly enough in English.
  • The Church of the Triune God: The Cyprus Agreed Statement of the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue.
  • An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, St. John of Damascus (as found in the Schaff-edited Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers series).
  • A Patristic Greek Reader, Rodney Whitacre.
  • Hands of the Saddlemaker, Fr. Nicholas Samaras. I wound up at Fr. Samaras’ (as he prefers to be called) parish for Divine Liturgy the last day I was in New York for the Fellowship conference; this is a good story which I will tell later.

I also have various and sundry writing projects happening, scholarly and otherwise, some of which I might actually complete before the entropic cessation of the universe’s existence. My notes and answer key for Hansen & Quinn unit 3 I might even have done more quickly than that.

I hope to be able to distill the Fellowship experience into a magazine aricle; Prof. William Tighe is already doing the write-up for Touchstone, but we’ll see.

…and that’s the news from Lake Wifebegone, where the air conditioner is always on, the kitchen table is always messy, and the house always feels empty.


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