God on earth, man in heaven; and all became mingled together

Brothers, Sisters and beloved Children in the Lord,

The human mind finds it difficult to comprehend the immense change the Birth of Christ brought about in the world. He who was born in the manger of Bethlehem was not an ordinary child like the ones that are born every day. He is the Creator of the entire universe, come down to our level, in order to lift up His creature and restore him to the heights from which he had fallen.

According to the plan of the Creator, which is full of love, man was created with the capacity to achieve divinity. Due to his own failings, however, he strayed from the right path and became enslaved to decay and death. In order to restore to man the potential to become divine, God had to become incarnate, to take on flesh, for the sake of fallen, perishable and sinful man who, being a creature of earth, could not by his own means transcend his mortal nature and become like God.

The idea of God’s incarnation was something that not even the most vivid human imagination could come up with; no one dared even to consider this unexpected event as a possibility. Only the Prophets, inspired by the Holy Spirit, prophesized that such occurrence would be possible through God. Indeed, the night of Christmas, the unexpected became real. “God [is] on earth, man in heaven”, exclaims St. John Chrysostom in admiration.

This world-altering event is not irrelevant to our life. Its significance is not exhausted in the fleeting celebratory festivities. We ought to contemplate the new situation with great seriousness. The Birth of Christ gives us the opportunity to transcend our mortality, ascend to heaven, live with Christ, be reconciled to God, enjoy His adoption, live in the inexhaustible joy of His love unto the ages.

Let us celebrate spiritually the grace of God offered to man together with the Angels and Saints, and let us begin a new life, worthy of the calling of the Incarnate God. The stirring event of Christ’s Birth, although it occurred inconspicuously and humbly, has caused immense changes to the Universe and particularly to the future of each person. We should take care not to undervalue its importance, simply because it took place in historically humble and simple circumstances. Nor should we celebrate the event in a boisterous and superficial manner that would befit a seasonal celebration that had no other significance for our life beyond providing an opportunity for secular revelry.

Although the events surrounding the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ are not visible by our mortal human eyes, there are some who, by the grace of God, have seen and described the deeper events and the resulting mystical change of the world. Here is how our saintly predecessor on the Patriarchal Throne, John Chrysostom describes this sacred event, dazzled by what he has perceived:

“Angels joined the choirs of men, men had fellowship with the angels and with the other celestial powers; and one might see … reconciliation made between God and our nature, the devil brought to shame, demons in flight, death destroyed, Paradise open, the curse eradicated, sin done away with, error driven off, truth returning, the word of piety everywhere sown and flourishing in its growth, the heavenly City planted on earth, angels continually brought to the earth and abundant hope for things to come” (P.G. 57, 15-16).

Children, brothers and sisters, may we see this very hope for things to come realized in our life through the prayers of great Saint John Chrysostom, who intercedes before us to the Lord in heaven together with all the Saints. This coming year will mark the sixteen hundredth anniversary of the falling asleep in the Lord of this Saint, and thus, the Ecumenical Patriarchate proclaims this to be the year of Saint John Chrysostom, so that we may give the urge to the faithful to study his work and more closely examine his life.

Brothers and Sisters!
Christ is born: glorify Him!
Christ is come from heaven: go to meet Him!
Christ is on earth: be lifted up!
To this God who so loves mankind that He was born for us in the flesh at Christmas, be the honor, the thanksgiving, the glory and the worship unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Patriarchal Proclamation Upon the Feast of the Christmas 2006

Communion and Otherness

Communion and Otherness

Metropolitan John Zizioulas’ earlier work, Being as Communion, has a fair claim to be one of the most influential theological books of the later twentieth century; it had a lasting effect on ecumenical discussions and on the vocabulary and assumptions of many churches as they sought to clarify their self-understanding and indeed their understanding of ordained ministry. But what Zizioulas had to say about the church was firmly anchored in a set of arguments about what we mean about the word ‘God’, and how our understanding of being itself had to be wholly informed by our understanding of God. In the following pages, these reflections are worked out at greater and greater depth, producing finally a comprehensive model for the whole of Christian theology.

This book is, in effect, a systematic theology, though it is not structured like one. But it is also a work of apologetics in its way. Zizioulas mounts a formidable challenge to atheism by affirming very simply that it is meaningless to discuss ‘whether or not’ God exists in abstraction from the question of ‘how’ God exists. To ask whether God exists is really to ask about what the relations are that you can recognise yourself as involved in – because God is irreducibly a living complex of relation, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But this complex is not just a given plurality, it is the work of freedom – the Father’s personal liberty and love generate the inseparable Other, the eternal Son, and ‘breathe out’ the eternal Spirit. The Father is never alone, nor is the Father simply one among three divine beings alongside each other; it is his absolute freedom to be completely for and in the Other that is the root and rationale of Trinitarian life. And this utter freedom for the Other becomes the insight that allow us to make sense of the freedom of creation, with all that this implies…

On page after page of this outstanding book our assumptions are challenged and our minds led back to the most deeply significant aspects of the Christian faith, and to the conceptual and practical map drawn not only in Scripture but in the Greek Fathers, including the Fathers of the desert and their teaching on practice and prayer. The discussion of what is implied in classical Christological statement is of special note; so is the chapter on the Spirit. But insights abound, into death and sexuality, individualism and postmodernity, prayer and ecology. Zizioulas engages boldly with different strands of modern philosophy, refuting most effectively the idea that he is simply recycling some kind of existentialism or secular personalism, and offering a deeply suggestive religion and correction of Levinas on the Other as fundamental for ethics.

Few will read this book without sensing that they have been invited to rediscover Christianity in its richest traditional form….

A great book and a converting one, which reintroduces us to the essential Christian conviction that there is no life without relation with God, as God himself is eternally life in and only in the relations initiated by the free love of God the Father, generating the everlasting Son in whom and for whom all things exist, growing into their fullest possible connectedness with God through the gift of the Spirit’s presence.

Archbishop Rowan Williams’ Foreword to Communion and Otherness by John Zizioulas

The assurance of friendship

One of the most chilling things on this journey to the Holy Land was the almost total absence in both major communities of any belief that there was a political solution to hand. So step back from that for a moment and ask, ‘What do both the communities in the Holy Land ask from us – not just from that convenient abstraction, the “international communityâ€?, but from you and me?’ Both deserve the best; and the best we can give them in such circumstances is at least the assurance of friendship. Go and see, go and listen; let them know, Israelis and Palestinians alike, that they will be heard and not forgotten. Both communities in their different ways dread –with good reason – a future in which they will be allowed to disappear while the world looks elsewhere. The beginning of some confidence in the possibility of a future is the assurance that there are enough people in the world committed to not looking away and pretending it isn’t happening. It may not sound like a great deal, but it is open to all of us to do; and without friendship, it isn’t possible to ask of both communities the hard questions that have to be asked, the questions about the killing of the innocent and the brutal rejection of each other’s dignity and liberty.

Archbishop Rowan Williams The Poor deserve the best Christmas sermon

Ten theses on the Significance of the Episcopal Office for the Communion of the Church

Thesis One:

The Bishop serves the koinonia of the gospel into which the baptised are incorporated by God the Holy Spirit

Through the gospel God calls all people into relationship and establishes a covenant of love, mercy and justice. By baptism the people of God become participants in the visible body of Jesus Christ. The bishop is called to serve this new fellowship by actively fostering the koinonia of the Body of Christ. Just as the eucharist is the focal event which connects communities of faith together so the bishop is the focal person who links communities of faith not only to one another but to the wider Church. As a result the bishop has a universal and ecumenical role. This fundamental theological truth challenges all parochial conceptions of the episcopate that fail to transcend ethnic, social, and cultural realities in which the episcopate is, by nature, necessarily embedded.

Bishops of the Anglican Communion have primary responsibility for Anglicans. However, the nature of the episcopal office means that bishops are called to lead the Church towards a deeper koinonia amongst all God’s people, and in so doing represent the wider Christian community to the diocese. This universal and ecumenical ministry belongs to the bishop’s role as a symbol of unity. Yet this symbol is ambiguous because the Church is divided and torn. In this context the bishop is a sign of a broken Church looking to its Lord for healing and hope through the power of the Spirit.

Inter Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission The Anglican Way: The Significance of the Episcopal Office for the Communion of the Church

The Word became flesh and lived among us

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten youâ€?? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a sonâ€??

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.â€? Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.â€?
But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.�

And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.â€?

Hebrews 1.1-12

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

The Gospel of John 1. 1-14

Saint Mary Stoke Newington

How Should We Worship?

Because it is often all too obvious that historical knowledge cannot be elevated straight into the status of a new liturgical norm, this archaeological enthusiasm was very easily combined with pastoral pragmatism: people first of all decided to eliminate everything that was not recognised as original and was thus not part of the “substance”, and then they supplemented the “archaeological remains”, if these still seemed insufficient, in accordance with “pastoral insights”. But what is “pastoral”? The judgments made about these questions by intellectual professors were often influenced by their rationalist presuppositions and not infrequently missed the point of what really supports the life of the faithful. Thus it is that nowadays, after the Liturgy was extensively rationalised during the early phase of reform, people are eagerly seeking forms of solemnity, looking for “mystical” atmosphere and for something of the sacred. Yet because–necessarily and more and more clearly–people’s judgments as to what is pastorally effective are widely divergent, the “pastoral” aspect has become the point at which “creativity” breaks in, destroying the unity of the Liturgy and very often confronting us with something deplorably banal. That is not to deny that the eucharistic Liturgy, and likewise the Liturgy of the Word, is often celebrated reverently and “beautifully”, in the best sense, on the basis of people’s faith. Yet since we are looking for the criteria of reform, we do also have to mention the dangers, which unfortunately in the last few decades have by no means remained just the imaginings of those traditionalists opposed to reform.

I should like to come back to the way that worship was presented, in a liturgical compendium, as a “project for reform” and, thus, as a workshop in which people are always busy at something. Different again, and yet related to this, is the suggestion by some Catholic liturgists that we should finally adapt the liturgical reform to the “anthropological turn” of modern times and construct it in an anthropocentric style. If the Liturgy appears first of all as the workshop for our activity, then what is essential is being forgotten: God. For the Liturgy is not about us, but about God. Forgetting about God is the most imminent danger of our age. As against this, the Liturgy should be setting up a sign of God’s presence. Yet what happens if the habit of forgetting about God makes itself at home in the Liturgy itself and if in the Liturgy we are thinking only of ourselves? In any and every liturgical reform, and every liturgical celebration, the primacy of God should be kept in view first and foremost.

How Should We Worship? Preface to The Organic Development of the Liturgy by Alcuin Reid, O.S.B. by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

Theological scrutiny in service of the Communion

Anglicans value being part of a world Communion, but successive controversies have made it increasingly unclear what it is that they have in common. The contention of this document is that Anglican ‘communion’ will be maintained and nurtured, not just by preserving existing ecclesiastical structures but through a renewal of the theological tradition which brought the Communion into being.

To speak in this way of ‘renewal’ does not mean just a reinforcement of that tradition. As will be seen as the argument progresses, Anglicanism has developed by way of faithful responses to the gospel by churches facing concrete challenges in particular circumstances. At critical moments in their history they have been inspired to draw resources from their theological and spiritual inheritance which enabled them to address seemingly new situations in new ways. Such moments of renewal were eventually judged to be consistent with the tradition from which it was drawn, and generally won recognition and support from others who shared its patrimony. It is that sort of response which is required by the Anglican Communion at the present point of its history, as it faces circumstances threatening to disrupt its life and call into question the tradition itself….

A covenant, which rehearses the theological tradition from which Anglicanism has developed, and establishes clear commitments for the way it can maintain its cohesiveness, seems the most likely way to secure its communion for the foreseeable future. The one thing that Anglicans cannot permit at this time is for disputants to refuse to allow their opinion to be submitted to theological scrutiny. Those involved in disputes must not only listen to each other, but also attend to the wisdom of the wider Christian community.

The Anglican theological tradition cannot be content with any claim to communion which separates the gospel of Christ from the reality of his Church.

Inter Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission Summary Argument from the IATD’s ‘Communion Study’ October 2006

Blogged

Sorry. What with the grind of term and the excitement of events this autumn I never got around to doing any actual blogging. I haven’t posted anything of my own since August. It takes me much longer to post something I have written that to post a couple of paragraphs, already polished and published, by someone else. There is no limit to the number of times I can change what I have written, and a day later it will still look like gibberish to me – to you too probably. I wasn’t born to blog, being neither spontaneous nor self-controlled enough.

But I have enjoyed everything I have posted here, in particular that Regensberg moment, but also all the rest of Pope Benedict’s wonderful teaching that the secular or public sphere depends on the church, and reason and the possibility of truthful discourse depends on the gospel. I was amazed that the British media, and British evangelicals, failed to see what was at stake here. So once again:

Fellow members of the British public square: Benedict is arguing for the public testing of ideas and all the other good practices required for rationality and society.

Fellow evangelicals, Benedict is a Christian. It may be that this Christian is being hammered by the media because the world sometimes opposes the gospel; the extent of the world’s opposition may even be indication of the depth of the gospel he is holding out to it. When the mob is giving some Christian a kicking, joining that mob may endanger your salvation.

You phenomenologists, Benedict is intellectually far more rewarding than all of the the epigones of Heidegger put together.

Benedict produces wonderful, insightful evangelical teaching. His output, written and apparently off the cuff is extraordinary. I enjoyed his visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople for a brief reprise of the ‘two lungs’ of the Church. The unity of the Church is all the evidence of his power and love that God offers the world. No part of the church catholic will grow without finding the humility to examine the teaching and perhaps even accept the discipline of the rest of the Church.

There have also been a good number of pieces from Archbishop Rowan Williams, on the church, public sphere, university and Christian calling, and from Oliver O’Donovan at Fulcrum on how to we may learn the skills of judgment, and so learn how to make decisions on the vexed questions of church order and sexuality, and how to live together within those decisions. I am staggered by how slow we are in the UK to take up the material provided by Williams, O’Donovan, and even more provided by the Church’s own councils. About the discussions of the future of the Anglican church and covenant, I refer you to the Windsor process and covenant discussion documents. I find it extraordinary that there is no theological discussion of these thoroughly theological documents in any academic theological setting, in London or the UK. Let me know if you hear of any.

There is a mountain of work in front of me, almost none of it paid, but I am going to enjoy it anyway. There are books on their way, and still more rumours of books, that will delight readers of Colin Gunton and of John Zizioulas. It is good to see the emergence of some serious scholarship on the theological revolution represented by Zizioulas’ eschatological ontology. Of course, since this is a theological revolution, is also just a recovery of what we should never have forgotten. So get yourself a copy of Communion and Otherness for a happy new year. Meanwhile brother webmaster is building a content management system for a renewed ‘Resources’ website, with new buttons to click on, but one that I will be able to work this time, he thinks. When that is done, I will mend broken links to Zizioulas’ work.

The first truly post-Christian generation

Who would have thought that, in the early years of the twenty-first century, the most vibrant and serious field of Christian study would be the Church Fathers? But it is true. They are returning.

We certainly need their help. I teach at a Catholic university that employs hundreds of professors, and the evidence is plain to see. Only two or three scientists seem willing or able to speak about the relation between the truths of faith and the hypotheses of science. Nobody studies or teaches Dante. The extensive modern tradition of Catholic social teaching has no role to play in political science. The history department employs no one to teach the Middle Ages. Administrative initiatives consistently emphasize “diversity,â€? and the practical effect, whether intended or not, is a slow reorientation of faculty and curriculum away from a collective focus on the Western Christian intellectual tradition. The retiring professor who specialized in Dryden and Pope is replaced by a young Ph.D. whose interests run to gender studies and postcolonial theory.

If this is happening at a self-consciously Catholic university, imagine what the situation is like at Yale and UCLA. Intellectual life is now dominated by the first truly post-Christian generation. A friend of mine at Yale two decades ago wrote his senior paper on James Joyce. He was fascinated by Joyce’s use of trinitarian language. Ignorant of Christian doctrine, he set out to find a faculty member who might provide guidance. I remember his dismay when he told me that he could not find anyone who could explain to him the classical Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

The situation has only gotten worse in the intervening years. A student at Princeton and Harvard—or Georgetown and Boston College, for that matter—now studies with teachers who have no knowledge of Christianity other than the crude caricatures long retailed by progressive illuminati. Christianity no longer exists as an integrated worldview that shapes the education and mental habits of modern people in the West. The loss is significant: None of us can reinvent a Christian literary imagination, political theory, scientific culture, or systematic theology on our own, because a Christian intellectual culture is a collective, multigenerational project.

It is not the case, however, that we must live alone in the ruins of Christendom. The poverty of the present need not cut us off from the wealth of the past. One of the most important new facts about Christian theology in North America is the sudden popularity of the theologians and pastors, monks and bishops, martyrs and missionaries, who first fashioned a Christian culture nearly two thousand years ago. The Church Fathers are returning as agents of renewal, guiding us toward the biblical source of a truly Christian culture.

R.R. Reno The Return of the Fathers

Catholicity 10

We cannot know other people in a full sense without love. We have want to be in relationship with them, and be recognised by them. We must look for their response, and respond to it gladly when we receive it. The highest form of recognition is mutual recognition in friendship, fellowship and love. Any other form of knowledge, may effect to keep its object just an object and no more. If it refuses to allow it its proper context and purpose, it may prevent that object from reaching its telos and becoming fully a creature.

All things become themselves as they participate in Christ. Christ draws them into this participation. What starts solely his act, and always remains his act, also becomes their act. From his life and his relatedness to all other persons and things, their life and relatedness to all others grow. They participate in his communion with the Father and in the freedom of God that this involves. In Christ knowledge and being are inseparable – God’s word and act are one.

Christ’s knowledge is the giving, taking and returning again of the proper final identity of all creatures – as creatures of God. The participation of his people in the life of God means that they participate in Christ’s act of creation and reception of creation. They receive all creation, each creature, person and thing, from Christ, by giving their public acknowledgement of the origin and destiny of that creature. In giving this acknowledgement, and so in some measure returning this creature back to God, they have a relationship with this creature, but neither they nor the other creature is solely defined by it. This relationship does not become necessary to either of them, so they remain free in it and they survive when it changes.