Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Both Lungs

Theophan the Recluse (canonized by the Russian Orthodox in 1988) was a nineteenth century monk and bishop, who largely devoted himself to composing works of spiritual instruction - and while he fuelled the appetite of his countrymen for ghostly counsel by translating and editing the Philokalia (itself a Greek anthology of Patristic mystic texts), he also issued a book concerning the spiritual combat, which, as he happily stated, he drew from the writings of none other than St Alphonsus Liguori (whom he also imitated by relinquishing his diocese in order to pray, meditate, and labour as an evangelist via the printing press). Theophan was also notable for celebrating the Divine Liturgy each and every day - even in his hermitage! To the amazement of his contemporaries, he felt it right and salutary to offer the Holy Sacrifice daily, since he approved of the Western custom in this regard.

There are many more such unexpected crossovers between East and West - for instance, in Russian seminaries the training is not done by reading from the Fathers (despite Orthodox claims that they keep ever to their pure ancient teachings), but from manuals, which (but for such matters as the procession of the Holy Ghost and other famous points of disagreement) are most comparable to neo-scholastic manuals like those of Tanquerey et al.

I was just discussing all this and much else besides with my mate Justin this afternoon (using up a lot of mobile phone credit). It is vital to adhere to the Catholicity of the Fathers, to the Orthodoxy of the Fathers, seeing that the organic development of the Church over time must ever be true to its roots: for the Faith preached by Christ, by His Apostles, by the Fathers, by the Doctors, must be one and the same - after all, St Thomas Aquinas would have been horrified at the thought that he was an innovator: he would have described himself as an expositor of Sacred Doctrine, that is, of Holy Scripture, adhering to the teachings of Fathers; recall that his Summa was for beginners, and his commentaries on Scripture and on the sentences of the Fathers as arranged by Peter Lombard were his works for the proficient.

Nowadays, the Eastern Orthodox can appear trapped in their cultural milieu, even in ethnic chauvinism; but western Catholics merely imitate the anomie of their unchurched peers, alienated from their traditional cultures. While the Orthodox (without insult to their abiding in the Faith of the first millennium) can appear pre-modern in their attitudes, too often Catholics are contaminated by the post-modern retreat from reason into fuzzy-minded indecision, relativism, and indifference grading into unbelief. Orthodoxy is the desperate need of the west: we have it in Christ's Vicar, but all too often modern Catholics are ignorant of their religion, fearing and repulsed by Rome! The West must reacquaint itself with the Fathers (as Vatican II solemnly averred). We cannot expect the Orthodox to reunite with the Catholic Church, ending the age-old schism, if we remove not the beam from our own eye: our decadence, our dissent, our laxity, our abuses of the sacred liturgy - all of which the Orthodox abhor with horror and dismay.

As John Paul II said, the Church must breathe with both lungs.

1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

Breathing with both lungs is easier when Holy Tradition is upheld without innovation and alongside Scripture. The two are never in contradiction.

An interesting post.