Wednesday, 25 August 2010

More on the Byzantine Catholic Forum Discussion of Our Post on the Jesus Prayer

After we wrote our post on the response of the Byzantine Catholic Forum to our original post on the Jesus Prayer in the Eastern Rite Catholic Church, we followed the further discussion on the thread on the Byzantine Catholic Forum and decided after what we thought was a wonderful, balanced post by Fr. Kimel to post a reply by means of an email.  Then Fr. Kimel replied with a very hard-line post refuting us.  We submitted another email containing our response to Fr. Kimel to Mr. John Vernoski, the Administrator of the Byzantine Catholic Forum Web Site.  Although Mr. Vernoski was kind enough to print our first email and even to engage in an email exchange with us, he seems to have refused to print this last email.  Instead he has printed a rather dogmatic personal ‘refutation’ of our position that supports Fr. Kimel.  Here is the email that aggravated Mr. Vernoski, and perhaps whomever he consulted:
Dear Mr. Vernoski:
Here is my last remark for the thread.  I will not be posting anything else.  It is a waste of time.
Start here:
We would like to close our contribution to the Byzantine Catholic Forum with these remarks:
Fr Kimel takes a rather hard-line approach to preserve the flock it seems.
He writes:
Here is the critical weakness of Orthodox Monk's argument. Orthodox Monk apparently believes that because Pius X and Benedict XVI strongly commended the theology of Thomas Aquinas that therefore it functions as the infallible touchstone for Catholic reflection. But of course, anyone who is acquainted with Catholic theology knows this is not the case. Thomas Aquinas will always have a special place within Catholic theology, but neither his philosophical principles nor his theological arguments are beyond debate and question. Just ask the Franciscans. Just ask just about any modern Catholic philosopher or theologian.
The Pope in question is Pius XI and the reference to Aquinas is a Papal Encyclical, STUDIORUM DUCEM (On St. Thomas Aquinas), issued in 1923.  It is too long to quote even in part.  It can be found here:
Popes have consistently taught over the centuries (see the Encyclical) that Thomism is a normative expression of Roman Catholic theology.  The Encyclical was establishing, inter alia, that Thomism determine  the course of studies in Roman Catholic seminaries [actually it refers to the then new provision of canon law that establishes that Thomism define the course of studies in the seminaries].  Perhaps one can argue that the Encyclical was not an infallible document.  But, guys, you're getting into an area where the only thing you're going to accept is another Vatican Council. Read Lumen Gentium on Vatican I and then Vatican I about the immediate ordinary jurisdiction of the Pope and his pastoral authority.  He's not the President of the United States; he's the Pope.
Fr. Kimel says:
Regarding Barlaam and Aquinas, all that needs to be said is that Barlaam was not a Thomist. His relationship to Western scholasticism is debatable. The dispute between Barlaam and Palamas was an inter-Eastern dispute, a dispute between two Orthodox students of Dionysius the Areopagite.
Here is what the last Pope said.  He's on the road to canonization, guys:
The hesychast controversy marked another distinctive moment in Eastern theology. In the East, hesychasm means a method of prayer characterized by a deep tranquillity of the spirit, which is engaged in constant contemplation of God by invoking the name of Jesus. There was no lack of tension with the Catholic viewpoint on certain aspects of this practice. However, we should acknowledge the good intentions which guided the defense of this spiritual method, that is, to emphasize the concrete possibility that man is given to unite himself with the Triune God in the intimacy of his heart, in that deep union of grace which Eastern theology likes to describe with the particularly powerful term of "theosis", "divinization".
(This is the allocution of John Paul II referenced in our original post.  Emphasis added.)
This is hardly an unreserved endorsement of Hesychasm.
Fr. Kimel thinks that Barlaam wasn't arguing from a Catholic point of view.  It would take too long to refute that.  But wasn't one of Barlaam's major arguments a denial of the notion that there could be a difference between energy and essence?  Is this not a Thomist position?  Pope John Paul II didn't have Fr. Kimel's subtlety and seems to suggest that Hesychasm had issues with Catholic doctrine.  So how was this merely an intra-Orthodox dispute?  Based merely on differing interpretations of Dionysius?  Moreover, Fr. Kimel, how is it that Barlaam ended a Roman Catholic bishop?
(Update: 26/08/10:  It seems that Fr. Kimel is rehearsing the arguments of the late Dr. John Meyendorff concerning the nature of the conflict between Barlaam and Palamas.  A refutation of this line of argumentation by the late Dr. John Romanides, quite persuasive, can be found in two parts as follows: part I and part IIDr. Romanides does not see Barlaam as a Thomist, true, but he does see Barlaam as very much inserted into Latin theology.  However, the refusal to accept a distinction between essence and energy, and the assertion that only the essence  of God is uncreated and only that is knowable after death, all grace known in this life being created, is certainly a Thomist position.)
My only argument to you people is that you be consistent with your own Catholicism.
Orthodox Monk
We would encourage all our readers to go to the thread on the Byzantine Catholic Forum, to read all the posts carefully and to draw their own conclusions.  However, we should respond to a remark of Mr. Vernoski:
Regarding the silliness of anyone concluding that St. Gregory Palamas is not a saint in the Catholic Church because one does not have a proper quote from a pope specifically stating this, anyone making such a conclusion must also state that both Catholicism and Orthodoxy don't really consider the Twelve Apostles to be saints, that they give them only titles of honor because one can't find on a Google search a link to each Church's formal declaration of sainthood for them (an a reaffirming statement by each succeeding pope, patriarch and bishop). And, of course, this is the same for all saints.
Actually, Mr. Vernoski, things aren’t quite as fluid as all that.  There is an official list of saints of the Roman Catholic Church called the New Roman Martyrology.  You can actually buy a copy from your bookseller.  It’s published by the Vatican.  It’s an official Vatican document.  It lists all the saints of the Roman Catholic Church.  Now we admit that we haven’t checked who’s on it.  We’ll leave that to you.
(Update 26/8/10: But the even more fundamental issue is whether the theology recognized by the Catholic magisterium as normative accepts Hesychasm.  That’s not a trivial matter in conscience.  But if you are merely pretend praying, who cares?  The issue arises if you want to pray in the soul.  Then it matters what you believe.  But this is impossible to understand if you are merely pretend praying.)
For the record, here is our own contribution that was published on the thread on the Byzantine Catholic Forum:

Some Comments on this Thread from Orthodox Monk

We would like to thank the Byzantine Catholic Forum for accepting to post our response to the comments in this thread, a response that we are sending by email.  In reading over the posts on this thread, we were struck by a number of issues to which we would like to respond.  Let us take them one-by-one.
A number of posters have taken the position that as Eastern Rite Catholics they are bound only by the ecumenical councils, the first seven, that are accepted by the Orthodox.  Our understanding of this matter is that all Catholics, whether Roman or Eastern Rite, are bound by all the councils recognized by the Holy See as ecumenical.
Here is what Lumen Gentium saysThis is also called The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church.  It is a document of Vatican II:
But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The supreme power in the universal Church, which this college enjoys, is exercised in a solemn way in an ecumenical council. A council is never ecumenical unless it is confirmed or at least accepted as such by the successor of Peter; and it is prerogative of the Roman Pontiff to convoke these councils, to preside over them and to confirm them.(29*) This same collegiate power can be exercised together with the pope by the bishops living in all parts of the world, provided that the head of the college calls them to collegiate action, or at least approves of or freely accepts the united action of the scattered bishops, so that it is thereby made a collegiate act.
(Chapter III On The Hierarchical Structure Of The Church And In Particular On The Episcopate.  Emphasis added.  All excerpts are taken from translations found on the official Vatican Web Site.)
Now the assertion that the Roman Pontiff must approve a council for it to be considered ecumenical evidently arises out of a situation in the middle ages where a council met in Basel, we believe, and tried to force things on the Roman Church.  The emphasis on acceptance by a Pope for a council to be considered ecumenical responds to this perceived danger.  However, it also seems reasonable to infer from the above that what is also intended is the notion that if the Roman Pontiff says a council is ecumenical, it is.  That is, the list of ecumenical councils promulgated by the Roman Church is binding on all Catholics, whether Roman or Eastern Rite.  This is a matter of formal promulgation.  It isn’t something said off the cuff in a meeting.  The councils considered ecumenical by the Roman Pontiff can be found in any of the standard Roman Catholic collections of councils.  Hence, we understand that all Catholics, whether Roman or Eastern Rite, are bound by all the councils recognized as such by the Vatican, including Vatican I and II.  Now of course it would be necessary to confirm this with a Professor of Dogmatic Theology at a recognized Catholic university—say, Notre Dame.
Let us look here at the issue of the authority of Rome.  Because of our understanding of the binding nature of all ecumenical councils recognized as such by the Roman Pontiff, we understand that all Catholics, whether Roman or Eastern Rite, are bound by the contents of Lumen Gentium.  This passage concerns the primacy of the Roman Pontiff and the magisterium:
This Sacred Council [i.e. Vatican II], following closely in the footsteps of the First Vatican Council, with that Council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father;(136) and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion.(1*) And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful.           
(Chapter III On The Hierarchical Structure Of The Church And In Particular On The Episcopate.  Emphasis added.)
This second passage refers to the role within this framework of the individual Churches, including the Eastern Rite Churches:
In virtue of this catholicity [of the Church] each individual part contributes through its special gifts to the good of the other parts and of the whole Church. Through the common sharing of gifts and through the common effort to attain fullness in unity, the whole and each of the parts receive increase. Not only, then, is the people of God made up of different peoples but in its inner structure also it is composed of various ranks. This diversity among its members arises either by reason of their duties, as is the case with those who exercise the sacred ministry for the good of their brethren, or by reason of their condition and state of life, as is the case with those many who enter the religious state and, tending toward holiness by a narrower path, stimulate their brethren by their example. Moreover, within the Church particular Churches hold a rightful place; these Churches retain their own traditions, without in any way opposing the primacy of the Chair of Peter, which presides over the whole assembly of charity (11*) and protects legitimate differences, while at the same time assuring that such differences do not hinder unity but rather contribute toward it. Between all the parts of the Church there remains a bond of close communion whereby they share spiritual riches, apostolic workers and temporal resources. For the members of the people of God are called to share these goods in common, and of each of the Churches the words of the Apostle hold good: "According to the gift that each has received, administer it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God".(123)
(Chapter II, On the People of God, Emphasis added.)
Now, converts to Orthodoxy from Protestantism, we believe that this is saying that nothing in an Eastern Church that joins to Rome can legitimately be retained which stands in serious dogmatic contradiction to positions of the Church of Rome.  Correct us if we are wrong.  However, if it were otherwise, why would reunion with the Orthodox Churches be so difficult?
If we go to the Decree On The Catholic Churches Of The Eastern Rite Orientalium Ecclesiarum, we find this:
2. The Holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government and who, combining together into various groups which are held together by a hierarchy, form separate Churches or Rites. Between these there exists an admirable bond of union, such that the variety within the Church in no way harms its unity; rather it manifests it, for it is the mind of the Catholic Church that each individual Church or Rite should retain its traditions whole and entire and likewise that it should adapt its way of life to the different needs of time and place.(2)
3. These individual Churches, whether of the East or the West, although they differ somewhat among themselves in rite (to use the current phrase), that is, in liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, and spiritual heritage, are, nevertheless, each as much as the others, entrusted to the pastoral government of the Roman Pontiff, the divinely appointed successor of St. Peter in primacy over the universal Church. They are consequently of equal dignity, so that none of them is superior to the others as regards rite and they enjoy the same rights and are under the same obligations, also in respect of preaching the Gospel to the whole world (cf. Mark 16, 15) under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff.
Hence, what the Eastern Rite Catholic Church retains when it comes into union with Rome is its rite, defined here as ‘liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, and spiritual heritage’.
However, this passage from Lumen Gentium might be important:
By divine Providence it has come about that various churches, established in various places by the apostles and their successors, have in the course of time coalesced into several groups, organically united, which, preserving the unity of faith and the unique divine constitution of the universal Church, enjoy their own discipline, their own liturgical usage, and their own theological and spiritual heritage. Some of these churches, notably the ancient patriarchal churches, as parent-stocks of the Faith, so to speak, have begotten others as daughter churches, with which they are connected down to our own time by a close bond of charity in their sacramental life and in their mutual respect for their rights and duties.(37*)
(Chapter III On The Hierarchical Structure Of The Church And In Particular On The Episcopate)
Now the issue, clearly, is whether an element of ‘liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, and [theological and] spiritual heritage’ that stood in contradiction to a dogmatic position taught ex cathedra or even otherwise by the Roman Pontiff could be retained.  It is here that the Hesychast controversy enters in.  For as we pointed out, Thomism was around the turn of the 20th Century declared an authoritative exposition of the Catholic faith.  But the argument of Barlaam against St Gregory Palamas was a Thomist argument.  And Pope John-Paul II was a neo-Thomist, so his remarks on Hesychasm have to be read in that light.
A number of members of the Byzantine Catholic Forum submitted comments to the posts on our blog that we did not post.  One person taxed us harshly in an ad hominem attack.  When we asked for more reasoned arguments she sent us an article in broken English by someone who had published it on ‘Suite 101’, a paid Wikipedia.  One of her arguments was that we did not grasp that there was a Hesychasm of the West because our definition of Hesychasm was too narrow.  Given that another poster has claimed that the Jesus Prayer had no intrinsic connection to Hesychasm, implying that Hesychasm was some sort of mind-expanding yoga, we are simultaneously being attacked for being too narrow about Hesychasm and, it seems, too broad.
So let us look at what Hesychasm is.  As we pointed out on our blog, there is a historical evolution, broadly summarized by the Philokalia, that might be called the Hesychastic tradition of the Orthodox Church.  When we look at the matter historically, we are necessarily grounded in historical specificity.  That means that the claim that there is a Hesychasm of the West just won’t wash.  There is a mysticism of the West; that we don’t deny, without passing judgement on its validity one way or another.  However, Western mysticism is just not historical Hesychasm.  To see this all you have to do is read St Diadochos of Photiki and St John of the Ladder.  These authors speak of certain techniques.  Certain strategies of what a Westerner might call contemplation.  They also speak of grace.  They have a certain anthropology that underlies their conception of the mystical journey.  St. John of the Ladder speaks of restraining the immaterial mind within the material body.  He also speaks of the Jesus Prayer.  It seems that he intends that the mind be brought into the heart practising the Jesus Prayer and that there the Hesychast practise a mental ascesis of the rejection of tempting thoughts.  Now without saying that the Westerner does not have contemplation, no one in the West has ever practised what these authors are discussing.  Western contemplation is different, even when it is apophatic.  The author that comes closest is St. John Cassian.  And indeed certain aspects of the Hesychast tradition entered into the concrete Western traditions through St. John Cassian.  But by the time we get to the Carmelites or the Carthusians, there is no longer any great similarity between Hesychasm and Western mystical traditions.  This is the sort of historical fact that someone might study in graduate school.
Now Fr. Kimel in his very balanced discussion raises the question as to whether a Carmelite or Carthusian might practise Hesychasm without the theological apparatus of St. Gregory Palamas.  First of all, the distinction between essence and energy (or ‘action’ or ‘activity’) is already found in the Cappadocian Fathers in the 4th Century.  It is not an innovation of St Gregory Palamas.  Next, the Carmelites and the Carthusians have their own mystical traditions which are in harmony with the teachings of the Roman Pontiff.  Why would they want to try out something new that might not be in harmony?  What we were arguing in our blog post is that to the extent that there is a different underlying anthropology and theology of grace in the method you are using (Hesychasm) from what you believe (Thomism, neo-Thomism, etc.) you are going to create a tension (or worse) in your spiritual practice.  If you are a Westerner, why would you bother?  Do one or the other.  If you are an Eastern Rite Catholic, there is very great room for personal confusion or worse.  And we pointed out what we thought were the three options that faced the Eastern Rite Catholic faced with the possibility of choosing to practise Hesychasm or not.

1 comment:

  1. Orthodoxy has a stronger sense of tradition and consistency. Catholicism these days has become in practice much the way the Anglican communion is or was, with all sorts of differing contradictory factions competeing to "take over". Even the official teachings of the Church are often open to interpretation. There is a failure to practice what is preached to too great an extent.

    The questions Orthodox monk asks are important ones to be asked. No one on the byzantine forum was capable of giving sound answers because their churches are but small impoverished indian reservations on the huge "latin wild west territory". Therefore they want to end the discussion altogether because it is too painful to admit that they are captive to us, the latins like myself. The questions orthodox monk answers have to be answered by one from the latin tradition and or latin hierarchy because it is the Latin church that continues to keep its byzantine rite "particular churches" in captivity by it's own centralizing theology, as well as overwhelming power and influence. (also perpetuated in through popular western culture.)

    Therefore Orthodox monk, while I do not have answers for you, I do applaud you for speaking about the giant elephant in the room that is frequently ignored, and a topic I once asked a byzantine (papal) catholic monk myself, only to receive the same uncertain response you have been handed.

    I am a traditional Catholic. And I dub Orthodox monk as the one who makes the most sense. I will add however that John Romanides does have an overly biased view against the Latin Catholic Church quite frequently. I admire him in certain ways, but I also see that his view of original sin, for example as he claims it was and is taught by latins is not the opposite approach of ancestral sin that many orthodox lately claim it to be. So I'd point out that Fr John Romanides did have flaws to his arguments, sometimes serious ones.

    The byzantineforum is a great place, it can help answer some questions, but other harder questions will have to be up to the "joint theological dialogue" and the holy spirit. Unless that is they are part of ecumenist heresy, depending on whatever one believes.

    Asking questions is always good if they are humble and with holy intention. The giving of answers is the hard part.

    Christus resurrexit.

    "Come ye people, to the holy and immortal mystery, and the offering we must make. With fear and faith, let us draw near; with hearts made clean by repentance, let us partake of the Gifts. For the Lamb of God is set forth to the Father, a sacrifice for us. Let us worship only Him, let us give glory to Him, crying with the angels: alleluia." (translation of venite , antiphona cum plebs communicet in 11th c winchester troper)