Including Every Detail

W. P. Witcutt was a 20th-century Anglican convert to Catholicism, who was granted an exemption to begin studying at seminary shortly after conversion. Around the 1940s he reverted back to Anglican and lived out the rest of his life as a high-church Anglican priest. Here is a passage from his account of his conversion and re-conversion:

I began to study the Roman Catholic system, and it at once attracted me. Here was an intellectual scheme moulded and shaped, it seemed, to include every detail. One had only to make an act of faith and one was settled, intellectually, for life. No more questions need be asked. To a youngster who could not trust his own judgement this was very satisfactory.

Source: Witcutt, W. P., Return to Reality. London, 1954: SPCK. pp. 15-16.

I think a lot of his criticisms of scholasticism are over-the-top (although the scholasticism of that time was not very healthy), but personally speaking, I think desire for certainty does in fact motivate a lot of conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism/Orthodoxy (why people think Orthodoxy guarantees certainty is anyone’s guess, but the feeling is there). And certainly scholasticism can seem appealing because, superficially at least, it looks like it has an answer to every question.


Interesting Detail about St. Nektarios of Aegina

Orthodox theologians undoubtedly most appreciated Augustine’s sacramental theology. St Nektarios of Aegina (1846-1920), who published a new edition of the Kekragarion of Voulgaris, was in favour of Augustine’s teaching about the validity of the sacraments of schismatics and heretics, and therefore he insisted on this approach of economy (oikonomia) to the Western Church, rather than the approach of ‘strictness’ (akribeia) according to which the non-Orthodox sacraments are null and void. For such an attitude, Nektarios has been accused by some ultra-conservative Orthodox circle of being latinophron kai oikoumenistes (‘Latin-minded and ecumenist’).

Source: Vladimir Cvetković, The Reception of Augustine in the Orthodox Church (since 1453), in: Karla Pollmann et alii (eds), The Oxford Guide to the Historical Reception of Augustine, Oxford: OUP 2013, vol. 3, p. 1484.

Ss. Nikolaj, Justin, and Serbian Orthodoxy on Ecumenism

I thought this was an interesting view coming from a Serbian Orthodox bishop:

On one hand, one observes among these three authors [Nikolaj Velimirović, Justin Popović, bishop Athanasius Yetvić] the absence of a deep and documented reading of Western theology; but on the other hand, the impression prevails that such a reading would serve only to confirm an opinion already formed among these Orthodox authors. However, this opinion was formed under the influence of the Russian critique of Western culture, as well as of Western theology. Such a conclusion obliges us to define this point as an imperfection, and as the source of a certain “vulnerability” in their synthesis, paradigm, and proposition. In fact, if their critique of Western theology was established with the aid of the “pre-existing” attitude of Russian Orthodox theologians instead of following upon a personal and direct approach with Western theologians themselves, then such a critique should be considered with a certain reserve. In simple terms, if the approach had been different from the methodological point of view, then the polemical aspect of their theology would have been deeper and more solidly grounded. And perhaps the results would in part have been different.

The words are from Bp. Maksim Vasiljević in a 2011 article in Istina. I myself do not have a copy of the full article, I only found this passage from Julija Vidović’s article on how Ss. Nikolaj and Justin viewed ecumenism. It’s really a worthwhile article, at the very least because it dispels notions that they were deranged zealots:

In a testimony on Saint Justin, Irenaeus (Bulovic), one of his faithful disciples and one of the most active representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the ecumenical dialogue of our times, noted: “I feel that voices like that of Father Justin, often harsh and critical, have ensured that the course of events should not take a different direction. Father Justin, this is how I understand it now, after raising this issue with him often, never criticized the idea of dialogue, witness and love. He was himself an extremely open person. But he criticized the ideology of ecumenism, considered as a variant of the ‘new Christianity’, as an ecclesiological heresy. He felt it as a dangerous heresy and he even forged a new term, now widely used, that of the ‘pan- heresy’. But unfortunately in our times, men and groups who most often refer to this term are, as to their position, both theological and spiritual, well below of that of Justin Popovic.

There’s a lot more in that article, even in just the footnotes. For example, I didn’t know that St. Nikolaj knew (and on certain points agreed with) Fr. Georges Florovsky. I will also have to get my hands on the Istina article.


After I missed the last two weeks’ posts:

  • Some reasonable takes on the Trump victory: from Mark Cuban’s twitter, and from Van Jones on CNN (unfortunately it cuts off the end where he says both the Democrats and the GOP have problems they have to look at).
  • At Semiduplex, there is a post containing a little-known speech from Pius XII, which concerns whether it is moral to remove functioning body parts for the sake of the health of the entire person.
  • The philosopher of science John D. Norton has a series of webpages called Einstein for Everyone. It is written with such great research that it clears up many common misconceptions about Einstein’s theories.
  • Eric Scerri shares his philosophy of science (h/t Whewell’s Ghost – lots of interesting stuff there!). Scerri likens the development of science to natural selection. While I appreciate the focus he gives to lesser-known scientists, this part of the article puzzles me: “But I reject any notion of teleology in my version. Science is not heading towards some objective “Truth” and here I agree with Thomas Kuhn who always insisted on this point.” I have a hard time seeing how one can deny that science is out to discover truth. This also conflicts with the fact that natural selection has as its end certain goods, as De Koninck shows here, so it would seem that his own model suggests that science has as its end a good (such as truth).
  • Managing mental illness in certain parts of Africa. I first learned about this from a presentation by a pharmacist who worked in Uganda for a few months, which included a photo of a bearded man tied up to a pole because of his mental health problems. It reminds me of the Gerasene demoniac: “And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones” (Mark 5:2-5).

And so, isolating themselves in the “deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth”, to quote St. Paul, and having chosen unbroken silence, they set themselves to the task of uncovering in a positive, exact fashion, the original causes of the passions and eradicating them […] Just as those interested in physiology determine bodily properties by means of countless instruments and after numerous experiments, chemical analyses, and multifarious tests, in similar fashion these men of God experienced countless temptations, carried out trials and experiments over numerous years (for it could take these men up to fifty years to test a single principle), and discovered, by the illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit, the depths of moral philosophy, refining these virtues out of their respective excesses and deficiencies.

St. Nikodemos seems to show good knowledge of the study of physiology!

Velimirović-Stepinac Controversy

Recently it seems like there has been a controversy in Serbia over the Roman Catholic cardinal Aloysius Stepinac (+1960), whose canonization process has been delayed due to some grievances expressed by Orthodox Serbian hierarchs to Rome. This led to the Roman Catholic archbishop of Belgrade, Stanislav Hočevar, remarking in a newspaper interview, “We know, for example, that even the Serbian public was not of a single mind about the canonization of bishop Nikolaj Velimirović, but he was nevertheless made a saint without deeper consideration of these complaints.” This, and perhaps some of his other comments made in the interview (which doesn’t seem to be able in full in English) provoked a reaction from Orthodox hierarchs.

The response of the Holy Synod of Serbia can be found in English here. In addition, I decided to translate, from a French translation of the Serbian, remarks made by the bishop of Valjevo. The notes in square brackets are from the French translator. I do not myself know enough to judge the situation (any suitable judge, of course, would need to know Serbian). I will say though that, for me, St. Nikolaj was a great writer and pious Christian, who seems to have been too taken in with certain ideas prevalent in his time (such as excessive Slavophilism, as well as anti-Semitism). It should be added, contrary to what Archbishop Hočevar said, that the Patriarch of Serbia in the 1990s, Pavle, did at first try to slow the canonization of Velimirović because he did not want his comments to be a source of controversy and excessive nationalism.

Following the declarations of the Roman Catholic archbishop of Belgrade, Stanislav Hočevar, concerning St. Nikolaj of Žiča, published in the Serbian daily newspaper “Politika”, Mgr. Milutin, bishop of Valjevo (the diocese containing the relics of the saint), has published the following communiqué:

“Little children, let us not love in words and with the tongue, but in actions and with truth” (1 John 3:18).

Profoundly affected by the attempt – which unfortunately is not the first – to place in doubt the figure and the works of the holy bishop Nikolaj Velimirović, we have the duty and necessity to express ourselves on this publicly. One week has already passed (which is amply sufficient to disavow or confirm what was said) since the Roman Catholic archbishop of Belgrade Stanislav Hočevar, in the interview accorded to the newspaper “Politika”, has, applying the method known as “inciting doubt” (without mentioning any facts), tried to diminish the holiness of the bishop Nikolaj Velimirović. The attempt was subtle, but as with every insinuation made in bad faith, it is sterile and a failure. Lacking all evidence to support his positions, Mgr. Hočevar thought up an interesting idea: why, in the difficulty off raising one [Cardinal Stepinac], do we not attempt to lower and contest the other [St. Nikolaj of Žiča]? This idea is not at all new, but is beneath the rank and the position of Mgr. the archbishop. We feel the necessity, as guardian of the relics of the holy bishop Nikolaj, to transmit the experience of his holiness and of his miracles. He was and will remain a luminary of theology, of the faith and of the life of the Orthodox Church and of the Serbian people. His ascetic life, his pastoral work, his confession of the faith, his sufferings and his love of neighbor do not need a “defense” or “proofs”. In particular, all that all that does not need a defense against affirmations made malevolently. The saints, as is well known, after their passage into the heavenly Kingdom, do not cease to accomplish works of love and of charity. The best example of this is the holy bishop Nikolaj and the good things that he accomplishes for those who venerate and glorify him. It clearly comes out in the interview of Mgr. Hočevar that he has not himself had the occasion (after his last declaration, the reason for it is evident) to come among the people of Valjevo and to observe whether or not there is a unanimity in the opinion of the Serbian people about the holy bishop Nikolaj. It would be sufficient for Mgr. Hočevar to only hear of the ceremony of the changing of the ornaments of the holy relics in 2013 or for him to see the affluence of people of God in the valley of Lelić to glorify the spiritual giant. The voice of the people of God is the best “commission” to give the seal of holiness, and the orthodox people of the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church profoundly feel the full-of-grace magnetism of the bishop Nikolaj, glorifying him as “the bishop of all the people”. Also, no ounce of malevolent doubt can sully his holy life. On the contrary, such declarations and allegations seem only to incite us to guard even more the treasure that we have in the holy bishop Nikolaj and encourages us to prayer to attain his love and greatness. After all that has been said by Mgr. Hočevar, there remains an inevitable question: is his declaration in the spirit of dialogue, for which he lobbies so much? Is this an example of true and sincere love to which we are called? We deeply believe that this is not the case, as another modern-day saint, St. Justin of Ćelije teaches and warns us: “there is no truth without love, nor love without truth”. It is edifying on this occasion to recall the words of St. Justin concerning another great hierarch of our time, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky +1936), which we can very rightly apply to the holy bishop Nikolaj: “This luminous hierarch and divine sage is before us, and we after him. He is the guide, and we his disciples. He the great Orthodox hierarch in gentleness and humility, and we after him, small, miserable, dust and ashes.”

+Bishop Milutin of Valjevo

Peace Full and Eternal

When, therefore, death shall be swallowed up in victory, these things will not be there; and there shall be peace – peace full and eternal. We shall be in a kind of city. Brethren, when I speak of that City, and especially when scandals grow great here, I just cannot bring myself to stop. . .

St. Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 84.10.