Monday, 28 January 2008

Exams, sleep and the Arians

It's exam time in Rome. Most of the University students here are having to grind their minds in the effort to be prepared for the ordeal. As a result, many places experience great tension among the student body.

I am glad to say that none of this seems to be too apparent here at the Casa. Everyone, though working hard, seems fine. It has to be said that the habitus of "working hard" is well instilled into everyone here throughout the year and not just at exam time - and so the house is always buzzing with work. Furthermore, if there is any grinding noise going on from the Licence students, this is probably drowned out by the roar of the drilling operations undertaken by the Doctorate students. These poor students experience an on-going pressure and at times anxiety as they seek to complete on time, work hard at a constant pace, read, think, take notes, develop their arguments and divine their conclusions. Time out, though gratefully undertaken, is always laced with a trace of guilt.

Last night I experienced what most say they end up facing - a fairly sleepless night. I don't know why it happened. In the end I just read Simonetti's comprehensive history of the Arian crisis - useful background reading for my studies on Hilary. The section I read covered much of Hilary's history: his own arguments in favour of the Divinty of Christ as true Son of God in his De Trinitate which became the key text in the West in the debate with Arianism and semi-Arianism; his bravery, despite his gentle disposition, in opposing the Arians, backed up as they were by Imperial threat; his exile in the East and his fruitful study of Eastern theology, particularly Origen; his success in joining the Council of Seleucia in 359 and helping to transform it into an anti-Arian event; his eventual repatriation to the West because the pro-Arian authorities realised how much trouble he had caused - he was considered to be "discordiae seminarium et perturbator Orientis"; his return via Rome to Gaul where he united the Bishops at Paris, persuded them to denounce Arianism, affirm the Council of Nicea, condemn the main perpetrators of the heresy and to extend a level of understanding to those who had signed previous creeds under Imperial threat and who now wished to disown what they had signed and to the so-called semi-Arians many of whom were in reality homoousions (i.e., Catholics: the Son is of the same substance as the Father - in Latin "consubstantialis Patri") but were cautious about terms becuase they did not want to fall into the heresy of Sabellianism. Some of the homoiousions (i.e. semi-Arians: homoiousios = the Son is of a similar substance to the Father) of the East sent a letter to the Council of Paris to let the Gaul Bishops know why they had signed the pro-Arian creeds - again because of Imperial pressure. The reply from Paris was probably written by Hilary (it bears the full stamp of his style and thought): it is full of carefully crafted distinctions which bring out the Catholic understanding of homoousios and also show why homoiousios can be accepted but only because it logically points to homoousios: the true similarity of substance implies being of the same substance if it is to be wholly and utterly similar: similarity "veri Dei sit ad verum Deum."

Simonetti also laid bare how much the Arians and their supporters came to depend on Imperial power for their cause to be espoused and imposed: their violence, cunning and downright dishonesty is treated dispassionately by an author who at times appears critical of Athanasias.

This is a medieval depiction of St Hilary combatting the heresies. Of course, he never used a sword. His weapons were grace, the Catholic Faith, fidelity, something to write with and his mind. One thing is clear: he knew that heresies damage people's faith and their spiritual lives because they distort the living image of God which the Church conveys to us in her preaching and they replace that image with one made according to our subjective reason. That's why they must be combatted - in every time, in every place, including today.

I spent the rest of the day in the library working with his Treatise on the Psalms. It was slow work today after last night. I have a priest on either side of me on my desk in the library - Fr Tad Oxley on my right and Fr Derek Borak on my left. I have dubbed the whole table "Death Row". The clock is ticking and we all know why.

1 comment:

On the side of the angels said...

Rolling eyes...
Sorry father but I truly hope you're qualifying your arguments with problems of transliterations between the greek and latin - the conditional qualifications necessary when identifying ousia with substantia [look what Athanasian conditionals were required in the chalcedonian Creed etc] and all the subsequent difficulties with physis, natura, prosopon, hypostasis etc .
I must have told you already of my run-ins with Bishop Trautmann's office over the issue and my ultimate appeal to cardinal Arinze regarding the whole 'homoousios' /'consubstantialem' being translated into the frankly erroneous 'One in Being' [which can be interpreted as modalist in one extreme and tritheistic [e.g. Mormonism ] at the other] whereas the closest english has to homoousios is NOT consubstantial [as even the 'substance' definition of the 14th century 'substantiate' is not powerful enough or inclusive enough to be congruent with the latin 'substantia'] but weirdly and ironically [I suspect more via accident than theological intent on the part of ICEL] is 'Of One Being with'.
None of this would have been a problem if the composers of the creed had not sought to give metaphysical answers to ontological questions - because they always needed to be qualified whereas ontological answers would have axiomatically rendered it all into a position of faith in the coherent rational necessity but within the Divine mystery of it all !!!
Fr Ray Blake, myself and a couple of others discussed the whole 'proceeds' problem regarding ourselves and our eastern orthodox brothers and sisters. Yet again I am adamant that the problem arises because we were guilty then of what certain aspects of the faith movement are attempting now [together with the radical orthodoxy crowd] in unnecessarily giving metaphysical answers to ontological propositions; and inadvertently [although we should be reticent because the qualified dogma is absolute in this regard ; but the dogma is not stated as it should be] teeter upon a pseudo-pneumatomachianism merely by using the word 'proceeds' [see ? metaphysics not ontology !!!]

allow me to qualify - ektorouomenon - means 'out into existent being' ; in no way does it mean 'proceeds from' - this implies previous inaction - a time when it didn't - even with the qualifying 'eternal' tag it creates more problems than it solves because the greek never said proceeds - it talks of being not action - in fact the closest word we have in english is 'IS' !!! Technically when we say proceeds from the father and the son - this is saying - He 'is' with the father and the son - i.e HE IS [co-eternal] GOD just as much as the Father and Son - it's one of the most pivotal aspects of the whole creed and we ignore it at our peril.

It's like the way certain Irish gaelic forms cannot be properly translated into English - because they have the verb 'to do being' [the old rhyme - 'does be and do be are two big boobies and cannot be used in english']

when we moved from greek to latin we had to impose that which wasn't intrinsically there in order to make sense of it - like ektorouomenon becoming 'procedit' we moved from 'ex' to 'ab' [and I'm sure Fr Reggie would warn you of that problem]
This is a metaphysical trap :
and it's part of the Creed's construction - we have to use words like 'eternally begotten' and 'proceeds from' because we used metaphysics - but in the process we fall into a very dangerous trap of imagining an image of the trinity as an eternal beam of light between two eternal perfect mirrors - and because the perfect light is reflected perfectly from both [i.e. eternally begotten light from light ] - that light by its very nature is the fullness of the light and is just as much light as the light inherant from the two mirrors - in other words we can fall into three traps :
a] the pneumatomachian one of the light is not God
b] one which ironically never became a popular heresy [quite unusual given the neo-platonic background behind all this ] one i'll have to name hyperpneumatism - where the only real aspect of God is neither eternal begetting father or eternally begotten logos but the actual thing being begot - The Holy Spirit !!!! The father and Son merely being repositories of the True God [The Holy Spirit] - and are thus divinised by the act - I somehow think if arianism had moved further east past India we might have arrived at this form of heresy but it was never to be .
3] The orthodox heresy of solely proceeding from the father [it's merely arianism in another form - they are really saying 'He is because of the father' and indirectly entering hyper-arianism where logically God the father ceases to be Eternal as well as son and spirit - they may not realize it but they are inadvertently saying God isn't really God [i.e. Eternally Pure Act] ; but even if it doesn't go that far and stops itself through conditional and qualification it falls very near to making the mistake of an 'adoptionism of the Spirit' whereby the Holy Spirit becomes only Fully God by virtue of the actions of Father and Son.We may almost 'curse' the filioque as an unecessary exigent that caused more harm than good - but like all apparent minor, if not trivial , things it became a cardinal aspect of our faith and ensured we remained orthodox and didn't fall into all manner of traps.

It's understandable ! we were so terrified of sabellian modalism that we reverted to metaphysics to overemphasise the distinctive persons within the trinity; we used the processions to internalize and divinise and introduce absolute equality within the three in one by ramming home conditionals - but we simply have to be aware of what we were doing and why we were doing it otherwise all that struggle for orthodoxy ; all the martyrdoms and sufferings; really will be for naught - because all it needs is a shallow uneducated ignorant crowd like the US conference of bishops and their liturgical commissions to tear orthodoxy to shreds by misunderstnding the inherant philosophy and theology within the creed's composition - like using 'One in Being' [incredulously even the vatican's english language website uses this translation !!! Even the most renowned historians who are supposed to be experts in the developments of the Christological/Trinitarian aspects of the creed use it - and it's simply wrong !!!]

sorry, got a bit carried away....