St. Photius and the Nativity of the Theotokos

Thus, while each holy festival both affords the enjoyment of common gifts and lights up its peculiar glow of grace, the present feast honouring the birth of the Virgin Mother of God easily carries off the glittering prize of seniority against every competitor. For, just as we know the root to be the cause of the branches, the stem, the fruit and the flower, though it is for the sake of the fruit that the care and labour are expanded on the others, and without the root none of the rest grows up, so without the Virgin’s feast none of the those that sprang out of it would appear. For the resurrection was because of the death; and the death because of the crucifixion; and the crucifixion because Lazarus came up from the gates of Hell on the fourth day, because the blind saw, and the paralytic ran carrying the bed on which he had lain, and because of the rest of those wondrous deeds (this is not the time to enumerate them all) for which the Jewish people [τὸ Ιουδαίων ἔθνος] ought to have sent up glory and chanted praise, but were instead inflamed to envy, on account of which they perpetrated the Saviour’s murder to their own destruction. And this because Christ, having submitted to baptism, and having released men from their error, taught the knowledge of God in deed and word. The baptism was because of the nativity; and Christ’s nativity, to put it briefly and aptly, was because of the Virgin’s nativity, by which were are being renovated, and which we have been deemed worthy to celebrate. Thus the Virgin’s feast, in fulfilling the function of the root, the source, the foundation (I know not how to put it in a more appropriate way), takes on with good reason the ornament of all those other feasts, and it is conspicuous with many great boons, and recognized as the day of universal salvation [παγκοσμίου σωτηρίας].

Source: The Homilies of Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, ed. and trans. Cyril Mango, (Cambridge: Harvard, 1958), p. 165 (Homily IX.2). It can be found in PG 102:547, where it is listed as “Homily I” instead.

St. Photius’s homily on the Nativity of the Theotokos seems to have been his most popular. It is found in more manuscripts than any of his others. This is not without reason. The homily is excellent, especially the passage I’ve quoted, with the exception where he ascribes Christ’s murder to “the Jewish people,” which led them “to their own destruction.” I think St. Photius speaks this way because he has in mind the destruction of Jerusalem. Just as the destruction fell on the Jews as a whole, so its cause is attributed to them as a whole, even though this is obviously false. The condemnation of the Jews here only extends to that generation, and not to all time. This, anyway, is true of Eusebius in his Church History, 3.5.3, and I see no reason not to extend it to Photius. All this is, admittedly, speculation, and I think it’s necessary to read all of Photius’s work before I can make a confident judgment about his understanding of the Jewish people. In any case, it remains a tragic expression due to the later evils that such ways of speaking would give rise to.

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Authenticity of ‘De anathemate’

Upon further investigation into the beautiful homily attributed to St. John Chrysostom that I translated a while back (the one against anathematizing others), I have discovered that its authorship has been more contested by current scholars than I had thought. I was content with the fact that a Chrysostom translator for the CUA Fathers of the Church series had accepted it as genuine. But, I’ve just discovered, other authorities hesitate. According to Wendy Mayer in her book The Homilies of St John Chrysostom (at least what I could glean from Google Books’ snippet view), the homily is “now no longer assigned to Chrysostom” (p. 75). It is listed in the Repertorium pseudochrysostomicum (no. 448), and Lampe attributes it to St. Flavian I of Antioch. Perhaps Lampe is following the argument of Cavallera, who attributes it to Flavian based on two passages that imply it was preached by a bishop of Antioch. Firstly, in the second section of the homily: “Do you know what a holy man once said, who, before us received the διαδοχῆς of the apostles and was judged worthy of martyrdom?” The man referred to is St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was a bishop of that city, with διαδοχῆς meaning something like ‘heritage’ or ‘inheritance’ or perhaps ‘succession.’ Secondly, in the fourth section:

Do we not make public supplications for the ignorance of the people? Are we not obliged to pray for our enemies, for those who hurt us and persecute us? Right now I am fulfilling a duty of my ministry in exhorting you; χειροτονία is not a source of pride, it gives no right to despotism: we have all received the same Spirit, we who are called to the title of adopted sons: those to whom the Father has given power, have it only to serve their brothers according to their power.

On this Cavallera comments:

This allusion to the liturgy that he celebrates and to the χειροτονία which he received is clear after the preceding passage. We are not dealing with the ordination of a mere priest but rather of a bishop, to which the word χειροτονία especially applies in Christian usage. Priestly ordination is more commonly designated by the term προχειρίζω (cf. S. Jo. Chrys. Sermo cum presbyter ordinatus, PG 47, 693).

After concluding his argument that a bishop of Antioch had written the homily, Cavallera adds arguments for why the date of the homily must be such that it falls under the episcopate of Flavian. Earlier authors offered stylistic arguments for why the work could not belong to John Chrysostom. All of these arguments I am unable to evaluate, due to my very poor knowledge of Greek and the works of St. John Chrysostom.

If anyone has access to the whole Wendy Mayer book, I would enjoy seeing her full evaluation of the homily’s authorship. Also I would enjoy seeing anything on it from Sever J. Voicu, who seems to be the expert on pseudo-Chrysostom. In any case, even if the sermon is not by St. John Chrysostom, this is certainly no reason to doubt the truth of its message, especially given that, granting the wrong attribution, there is good reason to suspect it is actually by another saint, namely Flavian of Antioch.

Ss. Alexander, John, and Paul, Patriarchs of Constantinople

Today is the feast-day of three patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexander, John, and Paul. St. Paul was the patriarch from 687-693 and presided over the Council in Trullo. St. John is thought to be the patriarch from 562-577. St. Alexander was patriarch during the Arian controversy, and is perhaps best known for his presence in the story of Arius’s death (source):

When Arius had deceitfully professed allegiance to the Council of Nicaea, Saint Alexander, knowing his guile, refused to receive him into communion; Arius’ powerful partisans threatened that they would use force to bring Arius into the communion of the Church the following day. Saint Alexander prayed fervently that God might spare the Church; and as Arius was in a privy place relieving nature, his bowels gushed forth with an effusion of blood, and the arch-heresiarch died the death of Judas.

However, it would be a mistake to conclude that the Church takes pleasure in the death of Arius. St. Athanasius relates essentially the same account in his letter to Serapion, but gives this note on it:

Such has been the end of Arius: and Eusebius and his fellows, overwhelmed with shame, buried their accomplice, while the blessed Alexander, amidst the rejoicings of the Church, celebrated the Communion with piety and orthodoxy, praying with all the brethren, and greatly glorifying God, not as exulting in his death (God forbid!), for ‘it is appointed unto all men once to die’ (Heb. 9:27), but because this thing had been shown forth in a manner transcending human judgments. For the Lord Himself judging between the threats of Eusebius and his fellows, and the prayer of Alexander, condemned the Arian heresy, showing it to be unworthy of communion with the Church, and making manifest to all, that although it receive the support of the Emperor and of all mankind, yet it was condemned by the Church herself.

Links

  • Tikhon Alexander Pino has recently uploaded a critical appreciation of the legacy of St. Gregory Palamas among the 20th century ‘neo-Palamites.’
  • The opening of a hospital by the Romanian Orthodox Church.
  • The Mayweather-McGregor fight finally took place. The sensational event brought to my attention some interesting perspectives on boxing: the first from The Hedgehog Review (2015) about the personal benefits of boxing and physical competition, and the second from Sports Illustrated (1962) about moral theology and professional boxing:

    Among these characteristics there is the element of a career involving a whole series of fights with cumulative effects. There is the admitted effort of most professionals to win by a KO—or at least a TKO—rather than by decision. There is the medical report of injury, particularly to the brain. There is the synthetic notion of courage wherein confession of injury followed by retirement from a fight invites derision by a crowd that enjoys a beating, clamors for the kill and lustily boos evasive tactics. There are the undeniable benefits that boxing has brought to the lives of many individuals. There are television contracts which create severe scheduling demands; there are boxing commissions and control groups. Finally, there is a specific set of rules. Professional boxing involves more and longer rounds, lighter gloves and sometimes different scoring criteria. These are the things the moralist attempts to evoke with the phrase professional boxing as it is today.

  • At Pemptousia, Abbess Thekla gives an interview on the history of Orthodoxy in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Links

  • The Russian Orthodox Church is finally nearing the completion of its catechism. You can read a draft (but only in Russian) here. The first three parts of the draft are open to comment by theologians, but the last three parts are not. The final part of the draft part (part VI) defends Orthodox ecumenism. An article from an anti-ecumenist website is also available.
  • Elizabeth Bruenig has a post on St. Augustine.
  • Fr. Christiaan Kappes has a new paper expanding on St. Mark of Ephesus’s understanding of the papacy:
  • Eugenikos’ vision can be gleaned from his opusculum: Latins’ Dissension with Roman Solutions [on the Pope] (c. 1437), as from works and speeches: (i.) Despite high honors and canonically recognized apellate power, from Chalcedon to Trullo, popes (e.g., Honorius) have personally erred in the past, (ii.) It is true that pope Agatho professed inerrancy of the Petrine see at the Sixth Synod, but this must be relegated to the faith of Peter and the Church (not a personal charism), (iii). prohibitive canons at Chalcedon on additions to the Creed are correctly interpreted by the Greeks as shown by Pope John VIII’s Photian synod, (iv.) A pope that reverses papally and dogmatically ratified canons goes against the patristic consensus (πατερικὸν φρόνημα), (v.) Such an act introduces ecclesiastical dissension and innovation (καινοτομία), (vi.) Papal decrees (jurisdiction) for the universal church may never violate subsidiarity, (vii.) Orthodox must dutifully resist and oppose a pope (as Honorius).

  • It appears that in addition to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, the New Jerusalem Bible is also receiving a significant update.
  • ‘To reduce gender biases, acknowledge them,’ writes Debbie Chachra on the James Damore Google fiasco: “I have lost patience with arguments from people who think they are saying ‘what everyone is too afraid to say’ without recognizing that they are simply repeating what women like me have heard throughout our lives.” Outside of these sharp words, a very gracious article.

St. Jerome and the Jews

Recently anti-Semitism has become revitalized, and it is sad to see some Orthodox Christians on board, using the Fathers of the Church as support (despite condemnations by the Serbian bishops, former Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow, and Patriarch Bartholomew). A thorough and honest study of the Fathers will, I hope, show that, no matter how one-sided their views on Judaism may have been, they cannot be used to such an end.

St. Jerome is often cited as an anti-Jewish Church Father. In his fight with St. Augustine over the interpretation of Galatians 2:14, he comes across as far more hostile to Judaism. Furthermore, in Letter 84.3, he – defending himself from the accusation he had studied too much under Jews – says: “If it is expedient to hate any men and to loath any race, I have a strange dislike to those of the circumcision. For up to the present day they persecute our Lord Jesus Christ in the synagogues of Satan. Yet can anyone find fault with me for having had a Jew as a teacher?”

Samuel Krauss has an almost comprehensive study of Jerome’s references to Judaism in The Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. 6, no. 2, January 1894, pp. 225-261. Most of the references that he documents are negative, including complaints about Palestinian Jews’ wealth, and that they charged Christians more for lessons (though, this should not be understood as a specifically Jewish thing: from personal experience, I can attest that to this day it is still common for Christian and Muslim Levantine Arabs to charge foreigners higher prices). It should not be forgotten that Jerome was friendly with his Jewish tutors, some of whom even were educated in the New Testament and explained it to Christians (Commentary on Isaiah 11:1).

On p. 229 of the Jewish Quarterly Review article, Krauss mentions a couple more positive remarks. The most remarkable comes from Jerome’s commentary on Hosea 3:1 (“And the Lord said to me: Go yet again, and love a woman beloved of her friend, and an adulteress: as the Lord loves the children of Israel, and they look to strange gods, and love the husks of grapes”):

Let it be noted that the adulterous woman signifies the Jews of the present time, who, far from God, from knowledge of the Scriptures, and from the grace of the Holy Spirit, are loved by the Lord, Who expectat (waits for/expects) the salvation of all, and opens the doors to the penitent, and nonetheless these people love useless things, the traditions of men, and their ‘deuterosis’ fantasies [i.e., their Torah traditions], having no longer grapes, nor wine, nor a press full of must, but old husks which have been discarded (PL 25:842).

Overall it is a negative comment, but still noteworthy that he says God still loves the Jews, and waits for the salvation of all. I am not sure if he means all the Jews, or all of humankind. I figure it is the former, and perhaps he is referring to Romans 11:26, which was commonly interpreted by the Fathers as referring to the salvation of the Jews (at least in the last days). The takeaway is that one of the most anti-Jewish fathers, Jerome, while never letting Jews ‘off the hook’ for sticking to the Old Covenant, nevertheless states that God stills love them.

St. John Chrysostom, 1st Homily after His Return from Exile

Below is St. John Chrysostom’s first homily after his return from exile (Sermo post reditum ab exsilio 1). I have roughly translated it from two French sources: this one, and this one. The original French translators in fact used two difference sources for the homily: the first one translated this version of the homily, and the second translated this version. There are quite a few differences in phrasing, and some differences which are somewhat more substantial; notably, in the first version, Galatians 3:28 is cited after Chrysostom says “men and women rivaled one another,” whereas in the second, the citation is preceded by “I address myself to both men and women.” Additionally, the first version ends with the doxology given below, whereas the second uses a Trinitarian doxology. I have followed the first version except where the French gave me trouble. Emilio Bonfiglio has examined Chrysostom’s homilies on his exile (both before the exile and after his return) and decided that only this homily, and part of his first homily before the exile, are genuine. He also examines the two versions of this homily, but I do not have access to his works, so I have not read what he says about them.

1. What to say and and where to begin? Blessed be God! It is what I told you when I left, it is what I say to return on my return; but I had not stopped repeating it in exile. You recall that I cited the example of Job and I cried with him: “Blessed be the name of the Lord unto ages of ages!” (Job 1:21). This is the token I left with you, and this is my hymn of gratitude: “Blessed be the name of the Lord unto ages of ages!” The events changed, the cry of soul glorifying God remains always the same. I gave thanks when I was exiled, and on return I give thanks still. Yes, the events are quite different; but the winter and the summer have one goal, the fecundity of the earth. Blessed be God who permitted my removal; blessed be God who returned me to you; blessed be God who unleashes the storm; blessed be God who dissipates it and gives us back serenity! If I speak thus, it is to teach you to bless the Lord ceaselessly. If you are happy, bless Him, and you will keep your happiness. If you are in misfortune, bless Him, and your misfortune will end. In the midst of prosperity, Job thanked Him; but he praised Him no less when he fell into poverty. He was not greedy before, he was not a blasphemer after: everything changed, except his soul. The calm does not dull the vigor of the pilot, nor does the storm overcome it. Blessed, then, is God, both when I was separated from you and when I return to you. It is His providence with disposes all things. Moreover, one may separate me from you in body, but never in thought.

See the magnificent results of the intrigues of our enemies. They have given new life to your zeal, inflamed your love, they have given me countless friends; before, I was loved only by my own, but today I have the sympathy of the Jews themselves. My enemies thought to tear me from my spiritual family, but they have joined me to strangers. But we owe them no thanks; thanks is due to God alone, who used their malice to our glory. The Jews crucified our Lord, and the world was saved by this sacrifice; but it is not to the Jews, but to the Crucified I give thanks. May they thus open their eyes to the divine light, and see the peace and the honor that their intrigues have given us. Before all this, the church alone was full; now the public square has become the church. From over there to here is but one soul. With no one to impose silence on your gathering, all saw your profound silence, all were plunged in compunction. Some sang psalms, other encouraged them. Today the circus is open, yet no one is found there. The whole city came in torrents to the church. Your voice is like a river spurting up to the heavens, a testimony to the love you have for your father. Your prayers are more radiant to me than a diadem. The men and the women rivaled one another: “In Christ Jesus, there is no male or female” (Galatians 3:28). How can I tell you the power of the Lord? You know well the truth of what I am saying: when one bears temptations, one draws great fruit.

2. This is why I have brought you in the temple of the Apostles; exiled, we have drawn near to those who were exiled. We have been encompassed by intrigues, they too were victims of them. We have come near to Timothy, that new Paul. We have drawn near to those holy bodies, which bear the marks of Christ. Never fear trials if you have a generous heart; such is how the saints have been crowned. A great tribulation outside, a far greater peace inside. May you not be spared by trials! The pastor rejoices in the work that he bears for his sheep. What shall I say? Where shall I throw the divine seed? I see no free place. Where shall I carry out my work? The vineyard is full. Where to build? The temple is completed; the nave is full, my nets are tearing because of the abundance of fish. What shall I do? But it is not the time for work. I exhort you, not because you need it, but to testify to the profound love I have for you. There is every where the crops in all their richness. So many sheep, and not a single wolf; such a harvest and nowhere a thorn; such a flourishing vineyard, and not a fox. These pernicious beasts have been overcome, the wolves have disappeared. And who put them to flight? It was not the shepherd, not me; it was you, the sheep.

O generosity of my flock! In the absence of your shepherd, it has put the wolves to flight! O beauty, or rather, O chastity of the wife! In the absence of the husband, she kept adulterers at bay. This is how she has let shine her true beauty; this is how she has let her wisdom shine. And how have you chased away adulterers? Without doubt because you love your husband. But how? By the greatness of your chastity. I took up no arms, I seized neither sword nor dagger, I only showed them my beauty, and their eyes could not bear the brilliance. Where are they now? In disarray. Where are we? In joy. The emperors are with us; with us are the men invested with power. What more can I say? What else can I add? “May the Lord add blessings upon you: upon you, and upon your children” (Ps. 115:14); may the heart of His love open up to your trust. I will stop here, giving thanks again, for all things, to the goodness of God, to Whom be glory unto ages of ages. Amen.