Sunday, May 29, 2011

After the Likeness

God made us in His image and after His likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). Already this confession acknowledges that there is in humanity from the moment of creation both similarity and dissimilarity to God, for we are “in” His image, but we are “after” His likeness. The word “after” can be understood to mean “in pursuit of” or “moving towards” or “following.” God created us in a state of growing in likeness to God – in an eternal ascent of our created nature toward the uncreated Lord. Our likeness to God is not and cannot become an absolute likeness to the essence of the One-Who-Is, but is rather an ongoing process of deepening union with God – of becoming an ever-clearer divine image.

Necessarily, we must understand the likeness of humanity to God in tension with God’s absolute transcendence. Dynamically, mysteriously, “man, this mortal, passible, short-lived being [is] the image of that nature which is immortal, pure, and everlasting,” as St. Gregory of Nyssa writes in his work On the Making of Man. It is difficult to understand how the one could image the other.

11th century mosaic icon of St. Gregory of Nyssa
God is not passible and does not change, but is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13: 8). According to Gregory, “Human nature is the mean between” divine nature and animal nature – between a purely spiritual nature and a purely bodily nature. Humanity, precisely in its mutability – which is a characteristic of its flesh, as opposed to a purely spiritual or angelic nature incapable of change – has the opportunity to recover from its separation from God and to unite, with and by grace, itself with God. Passible – i.e. impassioned or subject to the passions – as we know we are, we must change (μετάνοια) and grow toward impassibility or dispassion (ἀπάθεια) to recapitulate our likeness to God.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Lord is Coming Soon.

In light of the imminent beginning of the end, I thought I would share some recent thoughts about the coming (παρουσία, parousia) of the Lord as it is described in the writings of St. Paul.

A central eschatological event for Paul is the parousia, the coming of the Lord. “Parousia” becomes in the New Testament a technical term for the future coming of the Lord – every non-Pauline use of the term parousia in the New Testament refers to this specifically – but at first, for Paul, its meaning is more fluid.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Clerical Asceticism

This historiated initial contains a bust portrait of a haloed figure, probably intended to be St. Gregory the Great, carrying a cross and a book. It appears in the Saint Petersburg Bede (Saint Petersburg, National Library of Russia, lat. Q. v. I. 18), which is famous for containing the earliest such initial in European illumination.
St. Gregory the Great was first a monk and, in some respects, this remained his ideal, yet he was a monk who willingly submitted to the decision of Pope Pelagius II to pluck him from his monastery so that he could serve in the ordained ministry. His own willing response to this became a model of his ministerial ideal expressed in his Book of Pastoral Rule (PR), in which he sought a life of balance between asceticism and serving others in the world. For Gregory, a cleric, like a monk, must have ascetic experience, must embrace suffering and adversity, must struggle to overcome passions and vice, and must become dispassionate and virtuous. Gregory’s advice in these areas is of enduring value in the present age. “How he may please the Lord,” (1Cor 7:32) must always be the cleric’s first concern and the cleric is one called by the Lord to a balance of withdrawal from the world and service to those in it. It seems that, for Gregory, one of “the things of this world” that should not distract the cleric from his vocation is concern for “how he may please his wife” (1Cor 7:33). One aspect of his balance of asceticism with service is his advocacy of clerical continence. Though not addressed directly in the Book of Pastoral Rule, his opinion on the matter is clear enough. Elsewhere, (Epistles I, 44 and IV, 36) he promotes a rule of clerical continence and within this text he speaks negatively of sexual desire (PR III, 27). Even here he seeks a balance however and refers to the state of marriage as “most honorable” (PR III, 27). Further, he makes much use of bridal imagery in his descriptions of clerical life. This too is in keeping with the monastic tradition, which often makes similar use of this imagery.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Obey your bishop.

Sometimes, that is a joy. Other times, it is painful or even questionable. At all times, it is what St. Ignatius of Antioch would want you to do.
St. Ignatius of Antioch demonstrating how much it meant for him to be a bishop. He is wearing an omophorion, which, being made of wool and worn around the shoulders, symbolizes that he is a shepherd to his flock. He is also being torn apart by lions.

He regards the role of the bishop (επίσκοπος, which means “overseer”) as greatly significant for the unity of the Christian communities to whom he was writing. The unifying, even divinizing, role of the bishop, along with the presbyters and the deacons, is a major theme of six out of the seven epistles of Ignatius. Yet, even as he constantly speaks of the bishops with exultant tones, he admires in them silence and meekness, and as a bishop himself, he gives an example of humility. The great importance of the bishop for Ignatius can scarcely be overstated. Though, even while he points this out, he would have them avoid self-importance.

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