- Reading Scripture
There are indeed many ways in which Scripture is read, and there is also great deal of debate about this, both on a general level and also within scholarly circles. But there is a certain feature of the reading of Scripture which is absolutely fundamental to the Christian tradition, from the initial proclamation of the gospel to the creeds propounded by the Councils. This is so important that Paul repeats it twice within a single sentence: ‘I delivered to you, as of first importance, what I also received, that Christ died in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried and rose on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures’ (1 Cor. 15:3–4). The Scriptures here are what we (somewhat misleadingly) call the ‘Old Testament’; and it is by reference to these same Scriptures that the Creed of Nicaea also states that Christ died and rose ‘in accordance with the Scriptures’. It is these Scriptures that provided the framework, the terms, the imagery, and the language by which the Apostles and Evangelists understood and proclaimed the revelation of God in Christ. They were and still are (even now we have the writings of the New Testament) the primary Scriptures of the Christian tradition (they are, after all, appealed to as the Scripture by the NT texts themselves), the primary texts by which we are led into the revelation of God in Christ.
Yet, proclaiming Christ ‘in accordance with the Scriptures’ in turn means that the Scriptures are read by Christians in a different manner than they were before the encounter with Christ. Continue Reading…
- Between Rigorism and Relativism: The Givenness of Tradition
Tradition is the central problematic of modern Orthodox theology. We are a Church that takes tradition seriously. Where disagreements arise these tend to revolve around questions of fidelity to tradition. What does it mean to be faithful to the tradition of the Church? Just how free may we be with relation to the tradition of the Church? I suggest that there are two main errors to avoid when tackling this controverted question – rigorism and relativism. Tradition, I argue, should be embraced in its totality and not selectively discarded or selectively defended.
Tradition is as much a verb as a noun, denoting the process of transmission (or handing over) as much as that which is handed over. Tradition is the mode in which the whole experience of the Church is handed over in lived history. It is the living continuum of faith comprising scripture, the achievements of the Fathers and the councils, sacraments and liturgy, iconography and canons, feasts and fasts, theology and prayer, and much more. Ultimately, it is a way of life – the life in Christ. But how do we discern what constitutes properly traditional theology? The road to such discernment, I suggest, lies between rigorism and relativism. Continue Reading…
- Can Saints Be Wrong? A Palamite Perspective
What kind of authority does the experience of the saints have? Can those who are close to God be wrong in assessing the world or in their understanding of other people’s lives? Looking at the lives of the saints, do we find a notion of infallibility at work? In today’s Orthodoxy, St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), a monk at Mount Athos and later Archbishop of Thessaloniki, belongs among the most frequently cited saints, so let us have a look at what he says on the subject.
St. Gregory Palamas is best known for his defense of the hesychast monks who were given the gift of unceasing prayer and a direct vision of God. He shared monasteries and even hermitages with them, learned ascetic practices from them, grew under their spiritual direction. In other words, Palamas had a long-term experience of a daily contact with those of whom he would say that the gift of grace transformed them into the likeness of God. But he also experienced that these people had their convictions which remained even after the transforming spiritual experience had arrived.
To use an example, St. Theoliptos of Philadelphia was a firm opponent of the Council of Lyons and of reunion with the Roman Catholic Church. Palamas did not see such a conviction as a consequence of the closeness to God. Rather, it belonged to the realm in which human faculties such as reason, emotions, or will operated. While this has not been a view unanimously agreed upon by the Fathers, for Palamas there was no direct continuity between the human faculties and divine illumination, not even when the human faculties were used in contemplation. Continue Reading…
- I Am a Traditionalist; Therefore, I Am
Amidst the culture wars, the word “traditionalist” has gained currency and has been co-opted in a variety of ways. Broadly, it is a self-naming mostly by those who identify as religious and are seemingly faithful to their religious tradition in the face of attacks either against religion in general or by others within their religious tradition who challenge various givens of that tradition. For the Orthodox Christian crowd, a very simple example would suffice: a self-named traditionalist would typically oppose the ordination of women to the diaconate, while a non-traditionalist—usually called, pejoratively, a liberal—might challenge the givenness of the non-ordination of women.
An extension of “traditionalist” is “traditional values,” which has come to mean a very select set of “values” related to gender and sexuality. “Traditional values” has very recently become a transnational slogan, which cuts across the East-West divide, since there are Westerners (American Evangelicals) making alliances with Easterners (Russian Orthodox actors) in order to advance “traditional values” through established national and international legal structures.
The meaning of “traditional values” has been further amplified with the neologism: “Orthodox morality.” I say neologism, because never in the history of Christianity—at least Orthodox Christianity—has the word “Orthodox” functioned as an adjective for “morality.” Never. This neologism has a very non-traditionalist—dare I say, modern—ring to it. It may appeal to those attracted to a version of the so-called “Benedict Option,” but this Donatist logic of purity was condemned a long time ago by the Church.
My thesis is very simple: the use of the word “traditionalist” and its derivative forms (“Orthodox morality,” “traditional values”) is philosophically untenable, i.e., it’s wrong. (more…)