Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sweeter Than Honey

I am very pleased to see that my good friend and former professor, Peter Bouteneff, has a new podcast, entiled Sweeter Than Honey. Have a listen! Have also a look at his new book – which I haven't yet seen myself (although I posted about it here before its publication): Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives.


orrologion said...

"Beginnings" is good, though I haven't finished it, yet. Definitely scholarly, definitely of the 'critical' school, so it is not for the faint of heart recent convert from fundamentalist creationism. A very good survey of the pertinent pre- and post-NT witnesses to the understandings of the creation accounts in Genesis. It is a good companion to "Genesis, Creation and Early Man", "The First-Created Man" by St. Symeon the New Theologian and Louth's ACCS volume on the first part of Genesis.

Felix Culpa said...

Although, of course, "The First-Created Man" is not by St Symeon at all. I'm also strongly critical of the work by Fr Seraphim you mention.

orrologion said...

People are often critical of the text by Frs. Seraphim and Damascene. I'm sure you have good reasons; many are simply critical because it doesn't agree with what they already think (evolution is science, so it is true). I think Prof. Bouteneff's book and Louth's volume are good in that they also come at the question from a patristic perspective and come to different conclusions, highlight 'exculpatory' patristic understandings and the like.

Are you saying that the seven homilies in "The First-Created Man" (SHS Press) are not by St. Symeon the New Theologian, or punning on the fact that St Symeon did not create 'the first-created man' (i.e., Adam)? Sorry, only one cup of caffeinated beverage so far this morning.

Felix Culpa said...

I am saying that the works collected under the name of "The First-Created Man" are not in fact written by St Symeon the New Theologian. This is not just my opinion, but the judgment of contemporary scholarship. Fr Seraphim did not know Greek, and was not a patristic scholar. What we have in his English translation of the Russian translation of a misattributed Greek text. I'm afraid that I simply don't have the resources at hand to demonstrate this at present, but you can find this out for yourself with a trip to the library. I have tremendous respect for Fr Seraphim as a person, monk, clergyman, and spiritual father -- but there are a good number of points on which I disagree with him as a theologian.

orrologion said...

No need to demonstrate the point, I had never heard there was question surrounding the authorship of those homilies. Good to know. Of course, there is question regarding the authorship of Hebrews, too, but it is still 'canonical'...

I value Prof. Bouteneff's book precisely because it addresses the issue from a patristic standpoint, rather than accepting non-Orthodox conclusions and then attempting to craft an Orthodox doctrine of acceptance - which invariably means ignoring or twisting patristic witness that would otherwise, within Orthodoxy, be authoritative.

I, for one, would be very happy to read your thoughts on where Fr. Serpahim was in error in his theology. There is usually so much hyperbole surrounding the man (holdovers from more acerbic days between the OCA/GOA/St. Serge/Brookline and ROCOR) or a simple dismissal from those 'in power'. I think you would be more thoughtful, and 'traditional', in your critique.

Felix Culpa said...

I've often thought about writing something about Fr Seraphim, but each time have shied away. I wonder very much whether it's possible to say anything constructive about such questions as evolution or the toll-houses, to name just two points of controversy. And it's not so much that I think Fr Seraphim was "in error" on these or other points, but rather that there is more room for a variety of opinion than his writing sometimes seems to allow. You are quite right, though, that it's hard to view Fr Seraphim afresh, since we all approach him with some level of prejudice, be it positive or negative. That would indeed be something worth commenting on at greater length.

I like your comments about an "Orthodox doctrine of acceptance." This is a theme I will in fact be writing about sometime soon, although with reference to the Orthodox Study Bible.

Critical editions of the works of St Symeon did not appear until the middle of the twentieth century, largely through the efforts of Archbishop Basil (Krivosheine). Fr Seraphim was working with St Theophan the Recluse's translation from the Greek, if I recall correctly. There were a good number of works attributed to St Symeon published both in Greek and in Russian translation that were not his at all.

orrologion said...

I am a relatively recent convert to Orthodoxy and so missed the first half dozen volleys of controversy over Fr. Seraphim. In some ways I came to him 'fresh' in the late 90s and found much that he wrote less controversial than it seemed to have been back in the 70s.

As a Protestant, I never had a problem with the toll-houses, for example, because he was so clear that these were spiritual visions and images, not physical realities (not a literal purgatory with literal fire that you were sentenced to for so long so as to...).

I think the later exit of HTM from ROCOR also took the wind out of the sales in that Fr. Seraphim was proven 'right', in some way.

He was also polarizing given the politics between the Metropolia/OCA, ROCOR, MP, HTM, Fr. Herman taking Platina vagante, and the generally more apocalyptic times (USSR, the imminent demise of Athos, the lifting of the anathemas, etc.) With time, a lot of that has been sorted out and Fr. Seraphim doesn't seem so very odd or 'extreme' as he perhaps once did to some.

That being said, I think a Russian dominated discussion (OCA, ROCOR, MP) allowed for a narrowing of options. There are venerable things in Greek practice, for instance, that would be seen as innovation in a Russian-centric milieu, but which were left out. There has also been a great deal of patristic work done in the intervening years - often out of argumentation, admittedly - by Orthodox, RCs, Protestants and non-sectarian scholars that has brought more complexity to the patristic witness than would have been known to Fr. Seraphim and the bulk of his trusted sources (primarily pre-1917 and emigre Russian scholars). Those added options are welcome, often taken too far, and ask tough new questions that need to be answered.

I look forward to your thoughts. All orthoblogdom welcomes your return!

Felix Culpa said...

Fr Seraphim was a very good student of his ecclesiastical milieu, namely ROCOR in San Francisco in the sixties and seventies. He really did strive to absorb its ethos and convey and convey it in English to American converts. On most points on which he is judged controversial -- the tollhouses, the veneration of the Blessed Augustine, evolution and creation, apocalypticism -- he was simply following the thought of his mentors. He seemed to be genuinely surprised at the criticism his writing prompted.

This, I think, accounts for both the strength and the weakness of his writing. That is, the strength of his writing comes from his place within this tradition; he was trying not to speak from himself, but from what he called "living links" with the Fathers. The weakness, as you mention, was that this particular tradition, which really did rely heavily on 19th-century Russian thought, is at times rather narrow and (dare I say it) even quite scholastic at times. So I would take something of a middle position: I find the accusations that he is a "Neo-Platonic heretic" to be total nonsense (if Fr Seraphim was a "Neo-Platonic heretic," then so was St Ignaty Brianchaninov, to name just one saint), but I'm also reluctant to "canonize" his work as authoritative.

And thank you for your welcome on behalf of "all orthoblogdom"!