Over-honoring Mary?

Starting a new category on mariology.  I hope people don’t take this the wrong away.  I am not saying that honoring Mary is wrong.  I am not even saying that Anchoretism’s special honoring of Mary is wrong, but I am pointing out how these unguarded statements will usually be interpreted by the less-educated.

In the very words of Cabasilas, ‘Mary’s blood became God’s blood,’ by the ineffable communicatio idiomatum and by her personal effort to raise fallen humanity to its original purity and perfection. Even more so, she recreated earth and heaven and united them—angels and men–by showing to them, more directly and more clearly than ever before, the ‘enhypostasized wisdom and love of God,’ the very God and their Savior Himself. She is, therefore, the very first and last created human being who represents microcosmic and macrocosmic perfection, having fulfilled God’s purpose of creation: the original and ideal humanity perfectly united with His love and will.

Basically, everything Protestants have said of Jesus, Cabasilas is saying of Mary.  This is the most basic textbook definition of idolatry.

because our Lady is the first ‘divinized’ human creature, making all men able to rise to deification by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

I have no problem with theosis.  I have no problem with saying the Holy spirit divinizes us into the image of Christ.  That’s classic Reformed teaching on sanctification + glorification.   I Have a problem with making Mary the active agent.

That is why Gregory Palamas calls the Mother of God ‘the boundary between the created and the uncreated,’

When I translated Genesis 1 from Hebrew, one of the more powerful repetitions was raquiyy, boundary or division.  I don’t think God was thinking about Mary when he said that.

(Constantine N. Tsirpanlis, _The Mariology of Nicholas Cabasilas_)


And people say I read chain of being into everything

(And lest I am misunderstood, my target audience was not originally the Orthodox, though my comments directly apply to them.  Rather, some Reformed guys took issue with my Covenantal Ontology and didn’t believe that chain of being was a real deal).

“The Old Testament makes the body obedient to the intelligence and raises it up towards the soul by means of the virtues, preventing the intellect from being dragged down towards the body. The New Testament fires the intellect with love and unites it to God. Thus yet Old Testament makes the body one in its active with the intellect; the New Testament makes the intellect with God through the state of grace.”-

St. Maximos the Confessor ( Philokalia Vol. 2, Fourth Century of Various Texts)

But anyone who is a “portion of God,” on account of the logos of virtue that exists in God, as was explained above, and who abandons his own origin, is irrationally swept away toward non-being, and thus is rightly said to have “flowed down from above,” since he did not move toward his own origin and cause, according to which, by which, and for which, he came to be.

“Flowing down from above” in this manner, he enters a condition of unstable deviations, suffering fearful disorders of soul and body, failing to reach his inerrant and unchanging end, [1085A] by freely choosing to turn in the direction of what is inferior. Here the sense of “flowing down” can be understood literally, for though such a person had it well within his power to direct the footsteps of his soul to God, he freely chose to exchange what is better and real for what is inferior and non-existent.

St Maximos the Confessor, Ambiguum 7. Translation by Fr Maximos (Nicholas Constas)

10.74} As for Elijah, he is the image of nature, not simply because he preserved inviolate the principles of his own nature (along with the deliberative frame of mind appropriate to these principles) free from any change due to passion, but because he taught by judging, like a kind of natural law, those who twist nature to unnatural ends. For such is nature, punishing those who undertake to violate it to the degree that they actually live in unnatural opposition to it, by not allowing them to acquire naturally all of nature’s power, for they have been partially deprived of its very integrity and for this they are punished, since it is they themselves who pointlessly and foolishly [1164D] have procured this lack of existence by inclining toward non-being.

Ambiguum 10

>>>>Elijah was free from passions? Didn’t he call down fire on the king’s army?

>>>>Notice how he says “inclining toward non-being.”  That is about as stark an admission of chain of being that I have ever seen.  I did worry at a time that I might be reading chain of being into ancient sources.  That is no longer the case.  You do not get any clearer than that.  In fact, this is far clearer than Plato ever was.

29. Just as evil is a privation of good, and ignorance a privation of knowledge, so non-being is a privation of being – not of being in a substantive sense, for that does not have any opposite, but of being that exists by participation in substantive being. The first two privations mentioned depend on the will of creatures; the third lies in the will of the Maker, who in His goodness wills beings always to exist and always to receive His blessings.

St Maximos Four Hundreds Texts on Love, Third Century. Philokalia v 2


Did Mary Sin?

When I was looking sympathetically into Eastern Orthodoxy, statements like this bothered me.  It could have been because I was an evil Western logical Protestant, but still.  Logic and Augustino-Paul aside, something just seems off with this:

The ‘middle wall and barrier of enmity’ were of no account to her; indeed, everything that divided the human race from God was abolished as far as she was concerned. Even before the common reconciliation, she alone had made peace with God; or rather, she was never in any need of reconciliation, since from the very beginning, she was never in any need of reconciliation, since from the very beginning she stood foremost in the choir of the friends of God.” –

St. Nicholas Cabasilas (Homily on the Annunciation)

O victorious leader of triumphant hosts! We your servants, delivered from evil, sing our grateful thanks to you, O Theotokos! As you possess invincible might,(that kind of language is usually used about divinity; yikes) set us free from every calamity so that we may sing: Rejoice, O unwedded Bride!

-from the Akathist to the Mother of God, although not part of the original. This First Kontakion was added after the siege of Constantinople.   The language of unwedded bride is simply bad.  She was wed.  With Joseph.  The Bible intimates she had sex with Joseph.  God’s law said one could divorce the other if one refused sex.  Hebrews would have wanted to have married sex.  Unless they were influenced by Greek Alexandria. 

The Life-Giving Font”


“O most favored by God, you confer on me the healing of your grace from your inexhaustible Spring. Therefore, since you gave birth incomprehensibly to the Word, I implore you to refresh me with the dew of your grace that I might cry to you: Hail, O Water of salvation.”

What does the hymn mean by “inexhaustible spring?”  Anchorites are quick to say that even though they invoke Mary for salvation, it’s really Jesus that saves.  Even if that distinction holds, this line weakens it. I’ll assume that inexhaustible Spring means Jesus, and what’s really at stake is that Mary was the economia of bringing salvation into the world.  That interpretation could work, but if that’s true then why isn’t it in the past tense?  Economia is historical language.  Why are they invoking it now?  Secondly, it seems to place Mary in a hierarchical scheme between us and Jesus.  This validates Tillich’s charge that the saints replaced the Forms in ancient thought.

Which came first: God’s speech or the church?

Anchoretic apologists often ask Protestants, “Which came first, the church or the Bible?” This question is misleading on a number of levels (and really reflects sophomore apologetics than anything else) but what they are trying to elicit is the recognition that church communities preceded the final recognition of the canon.

So what if they did? The Protestant can equally turn back the question: Which came first, God’s speech or the church? Obviously, God’s speech. And if God’s speech came first, and God’s speech is the Logos-Word-Debar, and Jesus created the Church (or more precisely, spoke it into existence), then God’s speech created the Church.

God’s speech is therefore over the church.

Can non-monks be saved?

Hesychasts started to believe that whoever had not shared their special experience was not among the saved.   “Those who have not seen this Light, have not seen God; for God is light,” Symeon wrote.  “Those who have not yet received this this light have not yet received grace, for in receiving grace, one receives this divine light and God himself” (98).

William Placher, A History of Christian Theology.

St Symeon the New Theologian, Homily 129.2, quoted in Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 218.

No one can accuse me of quoting unrepresentative Orthodox texts.   St Symeon is one of the few Orthodox to receive the vaunted title “The Theologian.”  This means he is more representative and authoritative than other Orthodox.

Looking at all of this I have to ask, “Where is the Gospel?”   If this is how we are to be saved–meditating and achieving the divine light, then what need to Jesus have to die?  This is the difference between covenant religion and magic/chain of being/estrangement ontology.

Against hyper-church hermeneutics

I am feasting on Kevin Vanhoozer’s First Theology.  He is the unsung hero of Reformed Evangelicalism.   He critiques those who say the church’s interpretation is what makes it right (his specific target is the Yale school of theology, but it as easily applies to Anchoretic models):

This claim to “self-referentiality is artificial; it disconnects the text from the extratextual world and from the process of reading…[quoting Francis Watson] To regard the church as a self-sufficient sphere closed of from the world is ecclesiological docetism” (Vanhoozer 216).

Indeed, such a position reduces to “interpretive might makes right.  One may very well question the grounds of such optimism: the believing community in Scripture is too often portraryed as unbelieving or confused, and subsequent church history has not been reassurring either” (219)

And Vanhoozer asks the most painful and unanswerable of questions:  how can we guard against the possible misuse of Scripture?  If we have to read the Bible with the church, we have to posit the corollary:  the church’s interpretation is what counts.  But what are the criteria so we know the church interpreted it correctly?  The Holy Spirit will guide it.  Well, what about Heira?  That doesn’t count.

It’s kind of like the definition of pornography:  I’ll know it when I see it.

St Paul or Celestial Bodies?

I took a break from checking the Orthodox Bridge site.  That they scorn true dialogue is fully apparent to even their supporters by now.  I have nothing more to add on that front.  (Incidentally, I noticed that the last comment was another moderating warning to me, and that was over a week ago.  I hate to say it but I am the reason that site was interesting.   Whenever they’re are 70+ comments, I am sure you can find the reason why).

I was interested to see an article on the Orthodox view of marriage.  I’m actually quite grateful.  It is very hard to find good Orthodox presentations of that, especially from the mainline level.    Much of the article is a summary of Trenham’s book on Chrysostom, and much of it is quite good.  I want to call attention to the Hellenistic Chain of Being Ontology that explicitly governs their views on marriage.

They write,

This is why the Orthodox Church discourages (but does not prohibit) re-marriage after the death of a spouse.

But what did the apostle Paul say?  True, he had concerns but they were more of a temporary and logistic nature, and not because marriage is “less than” celibacy.

They write,

A second or third wedding ceremony (no fourth is allowed) has a somewhat penitential character, recognizing human weakness.

So, are the sexual urges and physical union “dirty?” or not “as good?”  I know they will declaim gnosticism, but it’s hard to see why on their gloss.  This specifically says that married sexual urges (or sexual urges seeking climax–sorry, bad pun–in marriage) are human weaknesses.  Chain. Of. Being. Ontology.

St. John urged the young widow to whom he wrote to remain faithful to her husband (the title “husband” is used even after his death), in order to keep alive their bond of love, and eventually to be re-united with him.

This is the exact opposite of the New Testament.  Paul says that death cuts the covenant bond.  But Orthodoxy is anti-Covenantal (sorry, no other way to say it).  This is partly why I no longer take the majority of the fathers seriously.

The Orthodox Church forbids re-marriage to widowed clergy, as a way of upholding this ideal.

I can only surmise why not.  This is an example of being holier than the apostles. It is interesting that Orthodox (and Romanists) base a lot of their rites off of the Levitical code (never mind that the book of Hebrews said that is done away with).  Let’s go with that for a moment.  Leviticus 21 gives the qualifications for priestly marriage.  While strict, there is no prohibition against remarrying a virgin, etc.

First, the language of the sacrament does not contain the phrase, ‘Till death us do part. In fact, there are no  vows at all taken by the couple, except to certify that they come to the marriage of their own free will, and have not promised themselves to anyone else.

Tell any lawyer that isn’t a vow and then come back to me.  I understand why they don’t use that language, even if they don’t:  vowing until death is covenantal language.  The covenant is usually dissolved by physical death, but sometimes it is dissolved by judicial death.  Covenant, moreover, is Old Testament language.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from there.

The vows of the Catholic and Protestant West give the marriage a more legal emphasis, rather than the Eastern Church’s emphasis on the blessing of God to effect the union.

This snide tone towards “legal” is at its root rebellion against God’s law.  If God is King then his Word is Law.

On why CREC always lose to Anchoretism

I posted a comment at Orthodox Bridge on the Future of Protestantism comparing it to the Nevin-Hodge debate and they blocked it, saying it wasn’t relevant.  To anyone who’s read more than twenty minutes of American religious history in the late 19th century, it  is painfully relevant.

Further, he brought up Nevin in the original post, and I continued the thought on Nevin, and then I’m told irrelevant comments will be blocked. Wisdom is justified by her children.  I think they are beginning to see just how silly a hard realist-essentialism is, on which both Nevin and Orthodoxy depend, and knowing I was about to back the truck up and unload Hodge’s critique of Nevin, they took their ball and went home.  Or took my ball, rather.

I still have a number of issues which they won’t touch, probably because these issues can’t be addressed with copy/past quotations by Ignatius and Pelikan. They are ontological questions which require internal analysis, which is one of the reasons why I am not welcome there.

That, however, is not the point of this post.  I think the Future of Protestantism debate effectually demonstrated why the more “stout” FV/CREC guys will always lose the debates with Anchorites.  Once you admit that these traditions are in some degree normative today (by using languages and analogies calling them “mother”), and your only line of attack is, “Respect us, too! We’re hip. You need us,” you will always be fighting on a line of retreat.

Even Doug Wilson recognizes this and makes some fairly good points.  I Wish he would see the FV for what it is today and call it as such.

As the greatest genius of the War Between the States said, “Get ‘em skeered and keep the skeer on ‘em!”


Are you using the right incense?

I have one more post in my series on High Southern Culture.  I plan to address the historiography of the so-called “Confederates in the Pulpit.”   A minor detour for the moment.  The closest any high church tradition can get in the bible’s commanding our use of incense is in Malachi 1:11

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be[b] great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering.

Granted this isn’t actually a command but it seems that God sees their use of incense in the coming generations.  Several difficulties come to mind:

  1. To be consistent with the text, are you also offering “the pure offering?”   If you spiritualize that part of the text, why is the Protestant wrong in spiritualizing the incense part?
  2. Are you using the proper formula set forth in Exodus 30:9 (You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it)?
  3. If you are not offering the 1:1 formula, you are literally playing with fire, since the “non-judge-non-wrathful-God not-killed” Nadab and Abihu for offering unauthorized incense.
  4. If you are using the 1:1 formula, then one has to ask why we as New Covenant Christians have to go back to the types and shadows which the Book of Hebrews put a stop to?