Posts Tagged 'St. Theodore the Studite'

“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.

Τι κάνω;

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand the end of week 3 of a new semester has been reached.

I’m having fun with Modern Greek thus far; given that much of what has been covered is stuff that hasn’t changed much from Attic usage (with the exception of pronunciation), I’m having, shall we say, a relaxed time of it. The prof says that he will start getting together with me and the other grad student to pick up the pace a bit, so that we can jump to the fourth semester next term, skipping the 150 and 200 level classes altogether. This doesn’t altogether depress me; the class so far certainly has been hardly anything about which I would lose sleep, but it would also be nice to untether myself enough from the pace needed by a freshman who after three weeks is still struggling to read the alphabet so that I feel like my own time is being spent wisely.

Modern Greek has also opened up a new possibility for me; in my ongoing quest to not have 30+ graduate credits just sitting as an unusable blob on my transcript that won’t transfer anywhere, I’ve brought up the possibility with my Greek teacher of doing a Masters in West European Studies, looking at the Greek diaspora in places like Germany and examining issues of religious identity and so on. He was supportive of the notion, and is reviewing my personal statement. I have to say, I’m not totally in love with the idea, but I’ve got half of the coursework done, I’d be able to finish in about a year, and it is something in which I’m legitimately interested. If I leave IU with a Masters in a field that isn’t directly related to where I go from here, I’ll at least leave here with a Masters (and keep up the pattern started with my undergrad), as opposed to a boatload of credits that nobody will care I have and won’t transfer anywhere.

The demographic makeup of the class is interesting; I’d say it’s about 3/4 Greek-American kids. I can’t tell if they’re trying to (re?)connect with their heritage, shooting for an easy A after years of Greek school growing up, or just want to be able to talk to Yia-Yia.

We use “Greek names” in class. The professor originally suggested Ριχαρδός, which is just “Richard” with a Greek masculine ending added, but thinking about it, I decided to go with a name that had the same meaning rather than the same sound. “Richard Barrett” roughly translates to “King Troublemaker” (I’m not kidding, although it depends on which part of Europe your particular Barretts are from — it can also mean “hatmaker” or “fortress”); in Greek, according to my friend Anna, that can be rendered more-or-less as ο Βασίλης Ταραχοποιός, and thus I am now called in class.

(By the way, Anna has some interesting observations which are perhaps not entirely unrelated to some I have made before. I have a hard time relating fully to either person she describes for various reasons, but have certainly encountered similar people myself. The convert friend sounds like he’s exactly the kind of guy who needs to hear The Divine Liturgy in English. Anyway, her post is, as is typically the case with Anna’s blog, worth reading.)

I have finally started the notes for Hansen and Quinn Unit III; I hope to have them in done in a week or so (once I’ve got a particular writing assignment done this weekend). If you’re waiting for them and have that particular unit staring you in the face in class — well, I’ll do my best.

(And perhaps next week I’ll finish translating the Meyendorff article, too.)

If you recall a rather cryptic post from a couple of weeks ago, I’ll add only that another very interesting (and positive) dimension has emerged from this set of circumstances. More to come once it happens.

A couple of completely random bits —

I bought a treadmill about a month and a half ago, and except for days I’ve been out of town and two somewhat exceptional evenings, I’ve been good and have used it for a half hour every day since it was delivered. I watch episodes from the various series making up the DC Animated Universe; including stretching, I usually manage to watch two episodes in one shot. I started with the second season of Justice League (when it became Justice League Unlimited); since that season ends with what is, effectively, the chronological end of that universe, it seemed only fitting that I move on from there to the show that started it all, the very first season of Batman: The Animated Season. All I can say is, it never ceases to amaze me how good these shows are on an extremely consistent basis — and as much as I think Christian Bale has become the definitive live-action Batman, there is no question in my mind that Kevin Conroy is the definitive Batman of any medium. (You know what I’d love? Bruce Timm and Paul Dini to write the script for the next Christopher Nolan Batman. It’ll never ever happen, but just imagine…)

Anyway, it keeps me excited about exercising. It begs the question what I might do when I’ve burned through them all — but hey, I’ve still got the season box sets for Babylon 5. That’ll keep me busy for a few months once the Timmverse goodness runs out.

After an interesting reference to their singer on a particular celebrity blog I read, out of morbid curiosity I bought the eponymous first studio album by the so-called “Brechtian punk cabaret” act the Dresden Dolls. I’m an Oingo Boingo fan from way back, and this is certainly within that tradition; the artists involved are definitely talented and creative; nonetheless, I can’t quite figure out if it’s my cuppa or not. I may give Amanda Palmer’s solo album a shot and see if that convinces me; at the very least, the companion book sounds intriguing.

OK — have a good weekend. I’m needing to get some sleeping done, some writing done, and some birthday parties done by Monday; let’s hope.

“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.


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