• Clare Coffey writes on the opioid epidemic, rightly pointing out the tendency to save people drowning in the river without wondering why they’re falling in, in the first place.
  • A recording of David Bentley Hart’s lecture at Fordham on American Orthodoxy has been released online.
  • Tali Sharot has an article at the Harvard Business Review about how to motivate people. The most interesting part is the studies of behavior. Apparently, they found that rewards are better at encouraging action while threats are better at discouraging bad behavior. A hospital, struggling to encourage staff to sanitize their hands before entering a patient’s room, decided to try a strategy other than warnings: “An electronic board was placed in the hallway of the unit that gave employees instant feedback. Every time they washed their hands the board displayed a positive message (such as “Good job!”) and the current shift’s hand-hygiene score would go up. Compliance rates rose sharply and reached almost 90% within four weeks…” But although Sharot is a neuroscientist, the actually biological explanations given are disappointing. It does not get much better than references to a vague ‘signal’ being triggered in some part of the brain, which does nothing to confirm the phenomena itself, since everybody already knows that the brain plays a role in behavior.
  • Adam Rogers summarizes new research by Ted Gibson and Bevil Conway on names for colors across cultures. If I understood it right, they have built on Berlin and Kay’s earlier finding that each culture divides up and names the color spectrum in roughly the same way. They show there is a possible link with how foreground objects tend to be warmer colors (which are more readily communicable) versus background which tend to be “cool”. We have less need to label background objects, like the forest or the sky, than to label foreground objects, which tend to be warm. Our names for colors, they suggest, developed this way because we develop color words inasmuch as they are useful: “as cultures get more industrialized, they get more color words. First comes black and white (or light and dark), then red. Then a bunch of others.” There is an interesting analogy here with the development of language for numbers.

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.

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.