Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Christmas Nail

This is pretty cool, from the blog by Sister-in-Christ Cha. It's a healthy reminder that this Christmastide is no escape from the harsh realities of life.

I remember a Christmas card that showed a nicely drawn (roof-less) stable scene, but it was drawn in such a way that the bright moon caused the rafters of the stable to form a cross lying right across the baby in the manger. And the recent observance of the Slaughter of the Innocents reminds all with eyes to see and ears to hear of the lengths to which the world will go to deny Christ a place.

Perhaps we ought all get nails/spikes to hang on our trees!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Another Good Man Dies

I have learned that Fr. Dietrich Reinhart, OSB, the President of St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, died of lung and brain cancer a very few months after being diagnosed with the stuff. Fr. Dietrich (he chose this as his name to honor Dietrich Bonhoeffer!) was kind and very upbeat man. A historian by training, he was well aware of the importance of linking the history of the past to the history-in-the-making. And he seemed to be very effective with potential donors.

You may read a short obituary here.

May his memory be eternal.

And may the Lord grant him eternal rest andlet perpetual light to shine on him.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Communion of Saints

Consider this a reflection in line with my self-designation as a Lutheran-rite Orthodox (since so many of you find this an oxymoron!).

The Newsletter for the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology is out, and if features the banquet speech from the Center's last conference. (At our conferences, you get wonderful and inspiring scholarship not just in the talks, but over food, too!) This year's speaker was the Center Board's Chair, Robert Wilken, the highly respected and esteemed patristics and early Church history prof at the University of Virginia. He spoke on the communion of saints -- "Communion cum Santis," he entitled it.

It is Robert's contention (I never ever believed that I'd be in a position to call Robert Wilken by his first name!) that the "communio sanctorum" of the Creed ought to be more accurately translated as "communion with the saints" than as "communion of saints." He says:

That seems to have been the original sense. In the Passion of Perpetua and Felicity, the author, possibly Tertullian, says that he has written an account of their martyrdom so that those who were not eyewitness can learn of them and "have fellowship with the holy martyrs (cum sanctis martyribus) and through them with the Lord Jesus Christ."

For Tertullian the martyrs were the saints -- extraordinary witnesses to Christ. The oiriginal sense of the phrase in the creed is not the fellowship of the living but the company of the departed. The saints are the honored dead in Christ.
If you listen with half an ear, you can hear Robert's complaint against the common Lutheran reading of the creed, which puts "holy catholic Church" is apposition to "the communion of saints." One grammar-noting professor of mine once pointed out that, in the Apostles' Creed, there should be semi-colons separating most of the items on the list in the Third Article, but that those two phrases ought be connected by a comma so that their identity is graphically displayed. But if Robert's reading is correct, and I find that he usually is (except when, in The Spirit of Early Christianity, he overlooked Ephrem to name Prudentius as the first Christian poet to be self-consciously a poet), then serial commas can separate/connect all phrases in the Apostles' Creed.

Here's Robert again:

We affirm with all Christians the close bond that exists between the Church of the present and the holy men and women of past generations, a bond that link[s] us to the apostles. The continuity of the Church over time is sustained not so much by theology [oh dear, say good Lutherans] as by persons [is he going sub rosa for apostolic succession of persons?] as the Church is built, according to St. Paul in Ephesians, not on the apostles' doctrine but on the "foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. . ." (Eph. 2.20).
There's lots more that I won't quote, and I encourage you to get on the Center's mailing list to get your own copy. (I can probably dig up a precious few if someone wants one, but why not sign up for all our mailings? We won't tax your patience or mailbox with scads of paper.) It was a really lovely talk, meditation, lecture, and homily all in one.

And it highlights one aspect of the Faith that calls for a reformation in the Reformation tradition. Lamentably two of the most prominent Lutheran promoters of such reasonable and faithful respect for those-who-have-confessed-before did not remain Lutheran: Jaroslav Pelikan (of blessed memory, who put Robert onto this) went to the OCA and Robert is a serious and devout Roman Catholic. It is important for us Lutherans and Protestants to re-learn and re-claim what we have lost. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is not just universal in the sense of "synchronic" unity; it is also universal in the sense of "diachronic" unity -- that is, communion through time.

This Advent is a time to reflect seriously on what "coming" we await: It is the final, for-all return of him whose birth we shortly hymn. But it is also the final coming of that which has also already appeared -- viz., the communion with all the saints of God; the reunion face-to-face that we celebrate in spirit and in fact now. Just as Christ will come in bodily form to fulfill the promise of his 1st Century body, so the Body of Christ will be granted its fullness.

Thank you Robert for helping to make that clear.

Friday, December 12, 2008

R.I.P. Avery Cardinal Dulles

The American Roman Catholic Church -- well, just say the Church catholic -- has lost a great scholar and advocate. Avery Cardinal Dulles has died at the age of 90. Here is an obituary.

May his memory be eternal. And may the Lord grant him eternal rest and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

In Remembrance of Alexander Schmemann

Fr. Alexander Schmemann (may his memory be eternal) died on 13 December 1983. His writings and example, more than any other I venture, are responsible for my attraction to Orthodoxy, and I honor him and his memory. He coined the term "winter pascha" for the winter fast preceding Theophany, as is recounted in Thomas Hopko's book about the fast, The Winter Pascha. It is meet, right, and salutary that we remember this man by re-reading some of his words -- words that helpfully move all Christians to a proper celebration of the Nativity and Epiphany of the Son of God and to a proper sense of what it means to be the Church:

The purpose of Christianity is not to help people by reconciling them with death, but to reveal the Truth about life and death in order that people may be saved by this Truth. . . . If the purpose of Christianity were to take away from man the fear of death, to reconcile him with death, there would be no need for Christianity, for other religions have done this, indeed better than Christianity.

The Church is the entrance into the risen life of Christ; it is communion in life eternal, "joy and peace in the Holy Spirit." And it is the expectation of the "day without evening" of the Kingdom; not of any "other world," but of the fulfillment of all things and all life in Christ. In Him death itself has become an act of life, for He has filled it with Himself, with His love and light. In Him "all things are yours; whether ... the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (1 Cor 3:21-23). And if I make this new life mine, mine this hunger and thirst for the Kingdom, Christ is Life, then my very death will be an act of communion with Life. For neither life nor death can separate us from the love of Christ. I do not know when and how the fulfillment will come. I do not know when all things will be consummated in Christ. I know nothing about the "whens" and "hows." But I know that in Christ this great Passage, the Pascha of the world has begun, that the light of the world to come:" comes to us in the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit, for Christ is risen and Life reigneth.

Finally I know that it is this faith and this certitude that fill with joyful meaning the worlds of St. Paul which we read each time we celebrate the "passage" of a brother, his falling asleep in Christ:

"For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thess 4:16-17).

Thus, Fr. Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World, pp. 99, 106.

Amen. Amen. Amen.