Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Hagoritic Tome

What was St Gregory Palamas defending in "The Declaration of the Holy Mountain in Defense of Those Who Devoutly Practice a Life of Stillness," otherwise known as the "Hagoritic Tome"? I will first briefly place the text in its historical context, then analyze its argument section by section, and conclude by offering some synthetic conclusions.

Although we will take the Declaration as our primary text and not consider the secondary literature, it will prove helpful to locate the text's historical context. St Gregory Palamas wrote the Declaration in 1340 during the latter stage of his dispute with Barlaam, though the Calabrian is nowhere mentioned by name. The issues raised in the Declaration should therefore be considered in the light of St Gregory Palamas' ongoing dispute with Barlaam, though it should be noted that there is no mention of their earlier disagreement concerning the use of apodictic reasoning as a theological method, as was raised in their exchange on the Latin teaching on the procession of the Holy Spirit. Nor is there any mention of somatopsychic practice, though the role of the body in prayer is emphasized. It appears their earlier disputes over these issues were not of sufficient importance to necessitate a counciliar, doctrinal refutation. Rather, the Declaration focuses on the Hesychasts' claim of the reality of man's participation in God's uncreated, deifying energies.

The structure of the Declaration is as follows: first a Prologue in which the key issues are set forth; then a series of six statements, each condemning a doctrinal assertion while offering a positive teaching; then a statement by the Athonite monks declaring the uniformity of these teachings with Holy Tradition and explicitly supporting the work of Palamas; as series of signatures endorsing the test; and finally the signature of the local bishop, declaring a break in communion with those not in agreement with the Declaration. We will briefly analyze each of these sections.

The argument of the Prologue may be stated as follows: Just as the mysteries of the Mosaic law, later revealed to all through the Gospel, were known only by the Prophets, so too the mysteries of the Gospel, which will be revealed in the age to come, are now known by those to whom it has been disclosed prophetically. Those who have not been purified by virtue will regard the prophetically disclosed teaching of the Gospel as impious. As such, two "strata" of Christian doctrine could be said to exist: one consisting of those "which are openly proclaimed" and another consisting of those "which are mystically and prophetically revealed by the Spirit to such as are accounted worthy." The latter, prophetic doctrines have been revealed to those "who have been initiated by actual experience." Others may learn of these esoteric doctrines through their "reverence, faith and love' for those initiated saints. Citing Saints Dionysius and Makarios the Great, Palamas concludes by stating that the deifying, uncreated grace of God is manifested to the saints in an "ungenerated and completely real" light.

We see here that St Gregory Palamas presents the saints as prophets who have been initiated by experience into a mystical knowledge that would strike those who are not purified as impious and blasphemous. Although he leaves it to the reader to draw this conclusion, it follows that these contemporary prophets are his fellow Hesychasts, while Barlaam and those in agreement with him remain both unpurified and irreverent towards those who have been initiated by actual experience. Put rather crudely, the doctrine Palamas and the Hesychasts are defending is one that is known by all the saints and those who at least follow their experience faithfully, but rejected by those foreign to virtue.

In the first of six statement of faith, Palamas attacks anyone who "condemns as Messalians those who declare this deifying grace of God to be uncreated, ungenerated and completely real." Anyone who makes such a claim is "an adversary of the saints of God," and risks excluding himself from God. Those who trust the saints, even if they have not experienced the mystery, should "not refuse to enquire and learn from those who do possess knowledge." Here the central assertion is that the deifying grace of God is uncreated."

In the second statement, Palamas places in the ranks of the Messalians those who declare that "perfect union with God is accomplished simply and in an imitative and relative fashion, without the deifying grace of the Spirit," and say this grace is "not a supernatural illumination and an ineffable and divine energy behind invisibly and conceived inconceivably by those privileged to participate in it." Anyone who believes this is invited to "lay aside his presumption and learn from persons of experience or from their disciples" that this deifying grace is above nature, vision, and knowledge, as St Maximos taught. The central claim is that deification is by supranatural illumination, not by mere imitation.

Palamas, in the third statement, argues against the claim that "those who regard the intellect as seated in the heart or in the head" are Messalians. While Saints Athanasios, Makarios, and Gregory of Nyssa may have located the intellect variously, the Fathers "say that the intellect is in the body because it is united to it, and thus they state the same thing in a different fashion; in more modern terms, we might say there is no clear topography of the human person. The central affirmation of the section is that the intellect is embodied.

The fourth section asserts that one who maintains that the light of Tabor was an apparition, a passing symbol with no real being and inferior to comprehension, "clearly contends against the doctrines of the saints." The light has real being and surpasses comprehension. In Christ's Transfiguration He was seen in the glory tat is naturally His; He was Transfigured "by the manifestation to His disciples of what He really was." An analogy is made to the light of the sun, but with the warning that "this image is imperfect, since what is uncreated cannot be imaged in creation without some diminution."

In the fifth section, Palamas contends against those who "maintain that only God's essence is uncreated, while His eternal energies are not uncreated, and that as what energizes transcends all it activates, so God transcends all His energies." Palamas cites St Maximos to the effect that all "qualities that contemplative vision perceives as substantially appertaining to God, are realities of God which did not begin to be in time." Palamas, building on St Maximos, argues "there are some things issuing from God," meaning, I imagine, energies, "that are without beginning." The divine energies are uncreated and do not contradict God's "supraessential simplicity."

The sixth section is directed against those who do not "acknowledge that spiritual dispositions are stamped upon the body as a consequence of the gifts of the Spirit" abiding in the soul and also against those who regard dispassion as a "deathlike condition of the soul's passible aspect" rather than "a state of aspiration for higher things." Instead, the soul "communicates its joy to the body too, and this joy which then fills both soul and body is a true recalling of incorruptible life." Those saints who have acquired grace "see both with the sense of sight and with the intellect that surpasses both sense and intellect." The body participates in the deifying energies, and this is an eschatological foretaste of the resurrection of the body.

The final section, which appears to have been written by the signers, affirms that all the above has been taught by the Scriptures and the Fathers as well as confirmed by their "own small experience." Palamas' treatise is judged to be "fully consistent with the traditions of the saints" and the Athonite fathers adjoin their signatures "for the assurance of those who read this present document." Following the signatures, Bishop Iakovos of Hierissos and the Holy Mountain adds that they shall have no communion with anyone who is not in agreement with the saints and their immediate predecessors.

At the risk of oversimplification, we could summarize the argument as follows: The Hesychasts, exercising a prophetic role, have been initiated by experience into mysteries of God that may appear impious to those without such experience. This experience of deifying grace is communicated by means of a vision of divine light. This deifying grace is 1) is uncreated; 2) is brought about by supranatural illumination; 3) is experienced by an embodied intellect; 4) is manifest in a light that has real being and surpasses comprehension; 5) "issues" from God as energies having uncreated reality; 6) is participated in by the body as an eschatological foretaste.

We could therefore say that St Gregory Palamas is defending the reality of the revelation of the mysteries of the Spirit to those purified through virtue and deified by the uncreated energies or grace of God revealed in the vision of the uncreated light and participated in by both intellect and the senses and communicated to the body.

But the heart of the Declaration is not so much an abstract doctrinal assertion as it is a defense of the experience of the Hesychasts. Throughout the document we see that the true source and demonstration of the doctrinal assertions is the prophetic, mystical revelation that is actually experienced by mystical initiation. Those who have not had this experience should at least trust those who have. Those who object to the teachings of the Hesychasts lack proper reverence, have not been purified by virtue, and are stuck in ignorance. Like the Jews of old they will accuse the new prophets of blasphemy. Those Athonites who signed the Declaration were convinced of its truth not only from its conformity to Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers, but from their own experience as well.

We may then conclude that St Gregory Palamas, in the "Hagoritic Tome," is first and foremost defending the experience of the Hesychasts, for the specific theological claim that he is defending -- the reality of the deifying vision of the uncreated light by both body and intellect -- is experiential.

Without in any way meaning to question the authority or Orthodoxy of the Declaration, I would like nonetheless to point out certain problems of a critical nature. The first is the problematic nature of basing doctrinal assertions on personal experience. How can one verify the authenticity of experience? And how does one argue against the claims of the "initiated"? And may not the existence of two "strata" of Christian doctrine undermine the primary kerygma? Can there even be such a thing as "esoteric" Christian doctrine revealed prophetically and mystically only to the initiated? How does one in fact distinguish between openly proclaimed doctrine and prophetic doctrine?

I will cite one contemporary case as illustration. According to Fr Nicholas Sakharov, the late Archimandrite Sophrony of Essex criticized Lossky's use of the Dionysian image of divine darkness in these terms: "Fr Sophrony is reserved in using the term 'darkness' and disagrees with a literal interpretation of the term, on the basis of his own ascetic experience of the divine light: 'To talk about the 'divine' vision is entirely a figure of speech, for God is Light in whom there is no darkness at all. He always appears as light.' " How is one to argue with this? Both Lossky and Fr Sophrony make appropriate reference to the patristic sources, but the latter seeks to trump Lossky by citing his own experience. Is this legitimate theological discourse?

The second is the problematic nature of the appeal to Tradition. None of the patristic authorities that Palamas cites say quite what he represents them as saying. For instance, in the fifth section, Palamas takes St Maximos' statement that all that substantively appertains to God, such as goodness, are uncreated realities and then extends this claim to apply to the divine energies.

Yet we cannot expect a brief declaration of faith to respond to all these questions; its aim was not to articulate a comprehensive, systematic presentation of the theological vision of Hesychasm. But we do find a coherent defense of the Hesychasts' experience of God's uncreated and deifying grace.

28 comments:

Elijahmaria said...

Dear Father,

We rise with Christ from glory to glory!

Thank you for entertaining this topic. There is much to be said and words must be chosen carefully, for they are poor and full of error as they exit the mouth and enter the mind.

We cannot read the Declaration out of the context of all of what we have of the saints writings, his homilies in particular. It is plain as day to me that he is correct, if one believes that we are to have a creatures share in the divine life, and I do. In some way the rest is made easier because I trust fully what we have been told in Scripture.

A short story: Many years ago I entered into formation as a Carmelite secular, and began serious formation in prayer and in the study of the reformed saints. In her writing on the Interior Castle, I found that she spoke of two states of union with God, the highest states, in terms of deep darkness and shining splendor, fire and light.

I pondered these things for many years and quietly began to seek affirmation of her texts in other places, to try to comprehend such a grace and such a God.

In my travels I first found St. Gregory Palamas, and began to see that there was a history of divine light in the Church and I trailed along after that for some time.

Then, I remembered the light that was darkness that is not quite at the pinnacle of union. The state where God comes and goes, and the soul yearns like a hart for running waters. And I went in search of that, and almost immediately as the thought came into my head to look, I found Nikitas Stithatos and the light that is darkness took root.

I continued my prayer discipline and study till I was told that I was not suited to be a secular Carmelite but I was all right because I had moved out of the Latin rite and into one of the eastern Catholic Churches and so that feeling of being more at home made up for the sense of being cut loose from my Carmelite moorings. I remained with my Carmelite studies and expanded my exploration to the overarching question of nature and grace.

Then, after a long time of settling in...well...not so long actually because I was lonely in my little prayer discipline, I began to go to Orthodox Vespers, then liturgies, and so on.

In the process of coming to know Orthodoxy and Orthodox faithful, I discovered the contested ground of so-called created and uncreated grace and I began to discover the mystical St. Thomas Aquinas and I believed and believe to this moment that St. Thomas and St. Gregory would be most comfortable with one another.

At any rate when I read your contribution here, I started to cry.

Thank you for the light that you shed, as we rise with the Risen Christ, from glory to glory!!

Mary

Becoming said...
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Becoming said...
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Becoming said...

Christ is Risen!
Ohhhh. Questions of epistemology! Always exciting.

Now your question is framed around study vs. study & experience but both ultimately relate to how do we know.

You ask a hefty load of questions. Let’s begin with the first one:

1) How can one verify the authenticity of an experience?
Most cannot verify someone else’s experience but some can. Fr. Seraphim (Rose) addresses the same question in his book “Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future”. He has also cited elsewhere of the “false vision” of Saint Nikita of the Kiev Caves and how a discerning Abbott who learned of his deception, knew that it was a false vision and struggled for the young monks soul until he was able to pry it out of the hands of the enemy. Other examples are found in “True and False Visions: In the Light of Orthodoxy”(Holy Dormition Sisterhood). This is only to say that some are attuned enough to the spiritual life to be aware of the wiles of the devil while I am not. These can be found strewn throughout the lives of the saints. Fr. Seraphim’s method was to compare experiences with those previously found in the lives of the Saints.

2) How does one argue with the initiated?
The “burden of proof” is on the initiated to reveal the truth to the uninitiated especially if he is engaged in the discussion or why should he think I should just trust him. In such a context his initiated-ness has less to do with it and more to do with him being able to convey the truth. One can be initiated but not have the skills to explain or convince others of it. Being “initiated”, is not a trump card for the initiated person in an argument because it reveals nothing.
This, I believe is the highlight of Fr. John Romanides’ point in Met. Hierotheos’ book on Elder Sophrony entitled, “I Knew a Man in Christ: The Life and Work of Elder Sophrony”. He says, “In accordance with this teaching, men are separated into four categories, distinguished by the respective degrees of their noetic (νεορας) and intellectual (διανοητικης) capacities. In the first category, we find those ‘with a low level of intellectual ability, who but have ascended to the highest level of noetic perfection,’ this describes certain simple monks who have achieved great spiritual experiences. In the second category we find those, ‘with the highest level of intellectual ability, but who fall to a low level or even to the level of possessing no noetic perception.’ Here we find certain philosophers, scientists and professors. In the third category there are those that, ‘have an almost perfect intellect, and have attained noetic perfection’. Here Fr. Romanides is speaking of the Fathers of the Church. To the fourth category belong those, ‘with a dwarfed intellect and hardened hearts,’ that is to say, the majority of men.”

3) Does the existence of two “strata” of Christian dogma undermine the primary kerygma?
St. Gregory is quite clear that there are two “strata”, as noted also in his “Triads in Defence of the Holy Hesychasts”, one to the “prophetic” and another to the pious laymen who trust these prophets. What do you mean by “the primary kerygma”?

Matthew

Becoming said...

4) Can there even be such a thing as "esoteric" Christian doctrine revealed prophetically and mystically only to the initiated?
Yes, such is St. Gregory’s point and not only this but that there is a specific path (ie. method) by which this knowledge is obtained/imparted. Such also seems to be what Met. Hierotheos defends in “Orthodox Psychothearpy” where the glorified are those who are fully cured of their passions and participate in the divine light receiving the divine vision – perfect knowledge of God, “the discernment of spirits.”

5) How does one in fact distinguish between openly proclaimed doctrine and prophetic doctrine?
I assume this is being asked of someone who would seem to be presently a prophet. Nonetheless it would be the same as the answer to question one. Fr. Seraphim (Rose) and Fr. Herman believed that the then Archbishop John of San Francisco and Shanghai was a Saint and therefore began to collect writings of his life and miracles and in due time he was canonized, though many opposed him in his life. They saw him as being an example of what they had read in the lives of the saints.

6) How is one to argue with this? Is this legitimate theological discourse?
In Lossky vs. Sophrony I believe that Archimandrite Sophrony’s experience is a legitimate point because of the Archimandrites experiences and exposure on Mount Athos previously. He was a child of Saint Silouan from 1930 to 1938. Afterwards he left the Monastery of St. Panteleimon to live at Karoulia and then in a cave. In 1941 he was ordained a priest and was the confessor and spiritual guide for many ascetics on the Holy Mountain of which Fr. Nicholas Sakarov comments saying that this allowed him to have “unique access to the personal experiences of all those who confessed to him.” Unless Vladimir Lossky had such access to the spiritual world how can their conclusions be compared? Were his experiences only what he read about and did not engage in them himself? Otherwise would he not be sharing his experience with Fr. Sophrony as well like Fr. Sophrony did with St. Silouan? This was the experience between Fr. Sophrony and St. Silouan where there had comparative ascetic models.
“Legitimate theological discourse” could be an empty statement because it leaves the dresponder to define what “legitimate” actually is. It seems that St. Gregory thought his way was “legitimate” but what are we to make of it in our time and how would we define it? I would begin by making sure that the method used to obtain the knowledge is the same. That is, is the individual in the position to allow themselves to have the clearest understanding (ie. using the ascetical method in order to know God)? I believe this is what Ivan Kontzevitch’s thesis is in his book, “The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in Ancient Russia”. He documents the use of the ascetical model as being the only legitimate way to know God and the truths of God throughout Russia’s history. Are these not St. Gregory’s “prophets”? Needless to say I would advocate a single method/means to the knowledge of God. If the two in a discussion do not agree as to the method how can they agree on what the results will be? Of course the results will yield something different if they use different means.

Matthew

protov said...

To the question of how can one verify the authenticity of experience I think that there is only one answer: to have the same experience.

Elijahmaria said...

Certainly, it would seem reasonable that the more people who have the same or similar experiences the more a pattern will emerge in terms of the nature of the experience, if not the full content.

It is more difficult to say that the more experienced the ascetic, the more reliable his experience, if one means to say that the less experienced is less reliable. Tradition is full of instances where a bare novice shows signs of great mystical graces.

Scripture gives us the best guide in this and that is to taste and see, and also the Great Apostle tells us that we shall know them by their fruits. But even with that we cannot rely on wonder works to assure us because others can wonderwork, in the name of Jesus, or without!!

So most of the saints that I follow, east and west, tend to suggest that it is in the small things, the daily expression of great humility, patience, prudence, kindness and understanding that we begin to see the sure fruits of grace perfecting nature. That takes time and leaves us with great uncertainty in many cases.

The Church ultimately is the body who settles the hope of sanctity on any one of us, regardless of our experiences. St. Gregory was very clear on this point. What he was trying to do was prevent members of the body from automatically throwing out an entire class of experience as false, regardless of the evident fruits of the grace.

EM

Elijahmaria said...

Felix Culpa writes: "I will cite one contemporary case as illustration. According to Fr Nicholas Sakharov, the late Archimandrite Sophrony of Essex criticized Lossky's use of the Dionysian image of divine darkness in these terms: "Fr Sophrony is reserved in using the term 'darkness' and disagrees with a literal interpretation of the term, on the basis of his own ascetic experience of the divine light: 'To talk about the 'divine' vision is entirely a figure of speech, for God is Light in whom there is no darkness at all. He always appears as light.' " How is one to argue with this? Both Lossky and Fr Sophrony make appropriate reference to the patristic sources, but the latter seeks to trump Lossky by citing his own experience. Is this legitimate theological discourse?"

Mary: This is an important point, three points in fact. The surface point is that there are going to be conflicting experiences of grace perfecting nature in the members of the body. Not everyone is going to have the same kind of experience or the same content.

Also not every mystical experience is going to happen only to the initiated. As the fathers and saints note, and experience shows, even the uninitiated may have quite intense and apparent mystical experiences. And we always seem to forget that the one who is healed by the saint is also sanctified!!

We can reasonably surely say that those who live in the humility and discipline of ascetic life will be able to experience and show the fruits of grace at some time in their lives, even if they do not have greatly demonstrable mystical experiences to go with the transfiguration of the soul. The light will shine in the darkness nonetheless.

We can say with utmost surety that divine light will NEVER shine forth from evil. But evil is not always clearly identifiable and so we are back to depending on time, and tradition and the Church to help us to discern spirits.

In addition to the wisdom of the Church, we have over time identified fathers and elders who do indeed show forth a gift for discerning spirits that comes with the advanced perfection of nature by grace. We have relied on these people over time, BUT they would be the very first ones to tell you to be very very cautious about them...about declaring their own sanctity. A spiritual father who does not address the need for caution even in his own case is no real father at all.

The mystical experience is not man shining forth goodness and virtue. The mystical experience is God's power on display using a vehicle of great weakness. One of the most sure tests is humility, and it is not possible to pretend genuine humility indefinitely.

And the third element is that the experience of the light that is darkness tends to precede any experiences of the visible glory of God. God touches us with his light. He comes and goes with his graces within us, like a painter with a brush full of glory, and we are not really aware of it ever having happened, save that others can see the gentle and step-wise transformations occurring over time.

So if someone ever says that they have not seen the light that is darkness, the response to that is "Good"...

EM

Becoming said...

Mary,

You-re next-to-the-last-comment (1:24pm) left me agreeable but still faced with the same question - "how is one to discern?" It seems that Felix is pointing toward something that is more concrete. Hearkening back to the Scriptures seems to be the same as Felix's comment that both Lossky and Fr. Sophrony quote the Father's and therefore are using the right resources so how are we to know who is correct?

Your last post I enjoyed because that may also be another contour of the problem - why would anyone use there experience as justification to someone else? I do not know what the situation was between Lossky and Fr. Sophrony, nonetheless it would not seem that experience can be a trump card because it leaves the "opponent" unable to respond or engage with the answer.

The first paragraph of your last comment is the method employed by Fr. Seraphim Rose to say what are true experiences and what are not. Apart from him, I haven't seen many who employ this. I know there is one in Russian comparing the experiences of Roman Catholic Saint Francis of Assisi and St. Seraphim of Sarov called, "Light Invisible" and an English article comparing the same two at http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/st_francis_st_seraphim.htm Other than these works I'm not aware of others though it seems to me to be a correct way of judging experiences.

Matthew

Elijahmaria said...

Matthew: You-re next-to-the-last-comment (1:24pm) left me agreeable but still faced with the same question - "how is one to discern?" It seems that Felix is pointing toward something that is more concrete. Hearkening back to the Scriptures seems to be the same as Felix's comment that both Lossky and Fr. Sophrony quote the Father's and therefore are using the right resources so how are we to know who is correct?"

Mary: I am going to break your comment up Matthew and respond bit by bit.

In terms of your comment above, the "answer" as far as we have answers is entirely a matter of authority.

We have the authority of Scripture.

We have the authority of Tradition.

We have the tradition-related authority of those whom we recognize as having the especial grace of the Holy Spirit, formally called "Discernment of Spirits."

There is no other appeal, other than to authority, in any discernment of the spiritual life and mystical experience.

Without the authority of Scripture, Tradition and the Church to guide, you are adrift, and the best thing to do at that point is to follow the laws of God as you know them or the inherent sense of morality that we all have and call conscience, fast, pray and give alms and hope for the best!!

Mary

Elijahmaria said...

Matthew: The first paragraph of your last comment is the method employed by Fr. Seraphim Rose to say what are true experiences and what are not.

Mary: Now here you've lost me Matthew because when I went and read the first paragraph of my [then]last comment, I could not discern where I had laid out a method? Can you tell me what specifically you see there?

Mary

Becoming said...

Sorry Mary, I meant to say, "your first comment from 1:24", not 1:47 - the comparison of experiences.

As well, you are right, I am pointing towards authority, as I believe Felix to be doing the same. What he is asking, I believe, is the appropriate way of discerning the Scriptures, Tradition and authority. Perhaps he questions whether or not there is a method of discerning these authorities, the means of which we will know that we are interpreting them correctly. To this St. Gregory is an example. Felix does not question his methodology but raises the question about him as an example of the way our method of discernment is applied.

Matthew

Elijahmaria said...

Matthew: Sorry Mary, I meant to say, "your first comment from 1:24", not 1:47 - the comparison of experiences.

Mary: Oh yes! thanks! I see now with respect to that hypothetical first-step in identifying patterns [plural] since we cannot say that there is any one particular pattern,even within Orthodoxy alone, much less in terms of any shared mystical heritage between Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

Matthew: As well, you are right, I am pointing towards authority, as I believe Felix to be doing the same. What he is asking, I believe, is the appropriate way of discerning the Scriptures, Tradition and authority. Perhaps he questions whether or not there is a method of discerning these authorities, the means of which we will know that we are interpreting them correctly. To this St. Gregory is an example. Felix does not question his methodology but raises the question about him as an example of the way our method of discernment is applied.

Mary: The appeal to authority requires a certain docility that is often difficult for the active intellect to acquire in our post lapsarian state [tongue in cheek]. Docile acceptance was apparently no easier for our first parents before the fall.

In other words, one does not discern the authority of the Church. One either accepts it or rejects it or lives in some liminal state of disconcertment...is that a word?

~smile~

EM

Becoming said...

I whole-heartedly agree, that docility is needed, which is also a virtue and an obedience.

I think you are correct in all that you have been saying about docility, humility, etc as needing to be the characteristics of inquirers, patience, of course, helping as well.

The question, as I see it, is one of where the Church has not spoken, and we are looking for an answer how can we use the discernment of the authorities before us (behind us) to apply to a given scenario so that we may have an answer? As far as I know, there is not final teaching on the use of experience being added as a trump card in settling matters. I believe Felix is asking questions that relate to issues where no "final word" has been given and, therefore, how should we responsibly go about finding an answer?

Matthew

Elijahmaria said...

Dear Matthew,

And thus your reference to the article comparing St. Francis and St. Seraphim...and my own experiences with the Fathers and St. Teresa of Avila, etc.

Has universal Orthodoxy offered a definitive response or not and if not how does she go about doing so in such a way as to transcent human subjectivism and frailty? How are we to be open to the authentic moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the life of the Church?

There is no singular "method" though there are tried and true practices that we've already touched on, both within the Orthodox and Catholic confessions, and also between them, at least for a time.

Clearly we seek some kind of consensus using accepted practice whether we examine a particular phenomena or witness from within or between confessions.

Just with the example that you offered: The author of the comparison of SS Seraphim and Francis did two things which make his comparison suspect to me.

1. The author presumes as one of his underlying supportive premises that the Catholic Church automatically accepts the stigmata as sign of sanctity.

The history of stigmatics in the Catholic Church tell quite a different story. The life of the stigmatic in the Church is a very difficult one. The story of Padre Pio is a case in point. He was isolated. Forbidden to say mass; forbidden to hear confessions; separated for long years from his confessor and spiritual father for the protection of both of them, etc., and this went on for decades. It did not happen that way with St. Francis because he died rather shortly after the stigmata appeared and the Church has never spoken of the sanctity or deviltry of his wounds. There response to that element of his life has been silence, for there is now no way to know. His sanctity was recognized for many other reasons.

2. The author then takes his own imagery of St. Francis from a French Calvinist, Paul Sabatier, whose texts are interdicted by the Vatican because they are heretical. Of course when I have suggested this is a fatal flaw in the comparison I've been told that the fact that his texts are interdicted by the Vatican simply prove that he is a reliable source on the life of St. Francis.

There are, of course, other more accurate sources chronicling what happened to St. Francis and his responses to them so I don't really worry about that essay, as a Catholic.

However, if a Catholic who was not so informed, stumbled upon that article, it could do serious damage to his or her faith.

So there are really three issues at stake requiring the intervention of the Holy Spirit:

1.The Word of Wisdom

2. The Word of Knowledge and Understanding

3. The Discernment of Spirits

You don't get to 3 without 1 and 2 being pretty firmly in place.

It is what Catholics call a "well formed conscience."

Having said all of that I do think that the author of the article raises questions that deserve to be considered and deserve a response. I don't think the essay deserves uncritical acceptance, however.

And here we are back to the heart of your concern without any hard and fast set of principles that give us flawless clarity.

We remain looking through a glass darkly at the substance of things unseen!

~long winded woman!!~

EM

protov said...

The experience of the monastics has been recognized as the Orthodox practice of perfecting the striving for union with God (the very goal of Christian life), by the "Palamite Synods" (which sanctified Gregory Palamas) and enshrined in the Synodikon of Orthodoxy. The fact that the "doctrinal" expositions of Saint Gregory are celebrated twice during the Lent (on the Sunday of Orthodoxy and on the Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas)is reason enough that the Orthodox Church recognized that the Holy Spirit spoke through his mouth. Saint Gregory did not write just the Hagioritic Tome! He did not invoke only the experience of the Hagiorite Fathers (to "trump" the arguments of Barlaam or Akindinos), but his own! There is a suggestion that the decisions of the Palamite Synods have been imposed by imperial will (echoing the assertion that the Niceean Creed was "imposed" by the Emperor Constantine).
On the other hand we cannot equate the experience of the unapproachable Light with the "visions" of Catholic mystics. The Orthodox saints never experienced stigmata and this is highly significant. They received the foretaste of Resurrection.
The experience of the stigmatized mystics like Francis of Assisi is a stunted one. It is the sign of a suffering due to the incompleteness of the spiritual gifts given by the Lord. Catholics refused laity the communion of the Blood. Francis was never communed with the Blood of the Savior. Certainly he was longing for it.
Certainly we cannot speak of "two strata" of Christians. "Esoteric" Christianity smacks of perennialist Guenonism and ecumenism. We should avoid such notions. The "Prayer of the heart" is not what can lead us to the heart of the "transcendent unity of religions". The Prayer of Jesus, yes, because it is the invocation of the Logos, the Son of God who became flesh "who dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth". "In Him was life , and the life was the life of men. And the life shines in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it". I do not quote because I assume that this is what we all know. This was the answer of Archimandrite Sophrony to Losski!

protov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
protov said...

I think that I have left a question unanswered (directly). "Has universal Orthodoxy offered a definitive response or not and if not how does she go about doing so in such a way as to transcend human subjectivism and frailty. How are we to be open to the authentic moving of the Holy
Spirit in our lives and in the live of the Church?"
Yes Orthodoxy (which is universal by definition, although not in Roman-Catholic parlance) offered and continuously offers THE definitive response to all human questions! How are we be open to "the authentic" (please explain) moving of the Holy Spirit...?
It is very simple, banal even. First of all one should be PROPERLY baptized (i.e. by triple immersion in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost) and then sealed with the Seal of the Holy Ghost and communed with the Body and Blood of the Lord. Then we must attend all Church services (or at the very least the Liturgy), to confess our sins regularly, to fast the prescribed periods of fast, to commune frequently, to pray regularly (incessantly, indeed) and most of all "to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves". Then we must be poor in spirit, and mourn, and be meek, and hunger and thirst after righteousness, and be merciful, and pure at heart (and only the pure at heart shall see God), and make peace, and be persecuted for righteousness sake. "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven".

Becoming said...

Mary, thank-you for your comments. My examples are not too give a definitive answer but were to used as an example of the method of comparison. This one being between Orthodox and Roman Catholic spiritual experience and Fr. Seraphim (Rose) as being between Orthodox and the New Age Spirituality. Your “suspect comments” are appreciated and uncritical acceptance needn’t hold sway with many declarations. “Flawless clarity” seems to be a stumbling block in that there won’t be a perfect and uniform method but perhaps principles that reside in the life of the learner as well as objectively in dealing with a subject. Hence my emphasis on the ascetic life as the proper disposition for discernment.

I must say though, that I would not agree to a single method, but a fenced in area which guides the discernment of these matters. That is to say the experience of the Saints is not uniformly the same experience and yet it is in that it stays within certain bounds, outside of which is delusion and deception. Therefore to know what is within these bounds, or to be acquainted with the writings of those who speak of this area is to be familiar with what is from God and what is from the demons (ie. the discernment of spirits). Knowing these two areas would allow one to make comparisons and contrasts with those who speak on such topics whether about their own or others’ experiences. The Lives of the Saints contains a plethora of information here from which we can draw from, of course.

Here also I think is the response to your concerns, Protov - proving from the experience of the Saints and previous Fathers, as what St. Gregory Palamas does. Your point regarding the Orthodox experience of God and the stigmata, I believe is correct.

The existence of two “strata” of Christian doctrine I do not take as being different in types of knowledge. I recall the introduction to Fr. Seraphim’s Vita Patrum of St. Gregory of Tours and whether or not there is such a thing as the “lives” of the Saints or is it “life” meaning, only one. I side with the latter. The two strata though I see from Fr. John Romanides where he divides the recipients, guardians and transmitters of the Holy Tradition into “knowers and believers”. He says that there are the direct knowers of the glory and energy of God, who are eyewitnesses of the Godhead of Christ, namely the Prophets, the Apostles and the Saints, then there are the believers who accept in the Holy Spirit with child-like simplicity the teaching of those who see God (An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics p. 85). The two strata are further described by him when he says of the “believers” that “they avoid the scientific and philosophical method of investigating God’s grace and truth, because their spiritual leaders and fathers, the Prophets, the Apostles and saints were not intellectuals, who engaged in dialogue and search about the truth but were eyewitnesses… who… do not theologize in an abstract intellectual way or dialectically, but spiritually, in the cloud of mystical Theology” (87). Therefore, I am agreeing with the lion’s share of what you say but Felix is asking about proper theological dialogue, seemingly between “believers”. Then when we come to Fr. Sophrony and Vladimir Lossky who are “properly baptized, commune regularly, go to Confession, etc.” how are we to discern between what they are saying when they are in opposition?

I’m interested, where did you find Archimandrite Sophrony’s answer to Losski? I was never aware of this.

Matthew

Elijahmaria said...

Just a very quick Dew-Drop-Inn response concerning your question about the Archimandrite's response to Lossky: That was Felix Culpa who offered that comment, and I was reposting that segment so as to keep the continuity of my reply.

I will have to address the rest of your very interesting comment latter tonight or tomorrow!!

Mary

protov said...

Mea culpa! I realized that a lapsus calami crept into my quotation. Maybe that's why it was not recognizable.
It should read: "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it".
I was a bit hyperbolic. The quotation is from the Prologue of the Gospel of Saint John.

Becoming said...

Protov
I realized that the passage was from the Gospel according to Saint John. What I was wondering was where you found the dialog between Archimandrite Sophrony and Vladimir Lossky. It sounds very interesting.

Matthew

protov said...

Matthew,

I am sorry that my unhappy rhetoric created the impression that I was arguing scholastically. I did not find any quotation belonging to Archimandrite Sophrony in a supposed dialogue with Lossky.
But I think that this is the doctrinal background of his affirmation that God is light. We may add I John 1,5-7 : "This is the message that we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us of all sin". And this is what John have heard and seen with his own eyes, and looked upon and his hands have handled "concerning the Logos of life", which was from the beginning.

Felix Culpa said...

I found mention of the correspondence between Fr Sophrony and Lossky in Fr Nicholas V. Sakharov, "I Love Therefore I am: The Theological Legacy of Archimandirte Sophrony (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Press, 2002), 31.

Becoming said...

Protov,

No worries. I had thought that maybe you were privy to some writings about the Archimandrite and Lossky of which I haven't seen much. You may be onto something with the Gospel of Saint John and Archimandrite Sophrony.

Felix,

This also is the only place that I have seen this correspondence. Unfortunately, Fr. Nicholas does not mention where this information is from and therefore little information is found on Archimandrite Sophrony's time in Paris and his discussions with Lossky as they "worked side-by-side from 1950 to 1957".

Matthew

protov said...

Surely a good exercise to understand what the experience of the hesychasts is, is to read more of the writings of Saint Gregory Palamas.

Becoming said...

Protov - it seems that these might be the best one's out at the present time - http://mounttaborpress.com/gpal.html

Matthew

Anonymous said...

I found it interesting that in Mary's comment(Elijahmaria) she said:

"The author of the comparison of SS Seraphim and Francis did two things which make his comparison suspect to me.

1. The author presumes as one of his underlying supportive premises that the Catholic Church automatically accepts the stigmata as sign of sanctity.

The history of stigmatics in the Catholic Church tell quite a different story. The life of the stigmatic in the Church is a very difficult one. The story of Padre Pio is a case in point. He was isolated. Forbidden to say mass; forbidden to hear confessions; separated for long years from his confessor and spiritual father for the protection of both of them, etc., and this went on for decades. It did not happen that way with St. Francis because he died rather shortly after the stigmata appeared and the Church has never spoken of the sanctity or deviltry of his wounds. There response to that element of his life has been silence, for there is now no way to know. His sanctity was recognized for many other reasons."
posted on:
April 18, 2010 6:04 PM

I found this strange in light of all the things that I had ever heard about stigmata as a catholic. Whether the Roman Catholic church at the time of certain incidents of stigmata were completely convinced of their "sanctity", the fact that many of their most famous "saints" were stigmatics - such as Francis and Padre Pio - what else is the RC church saying except that stigmata must be tied to 'sanctity'. How is it possible for a "saint" to have dramatic experiences of spiritual phenomenon, such as stigmata, and it not be a reflection of their communion with God or communion with demons? What would it say about "His sanctity [being] recognized for many other reasons"? How can a 'saint' have a demonic supernatural experience at the end of their life, and still die and be canonized a saint, whatever their previous life was. Judas was a miracle-working apostle, but when Satan entered into him he became the greatest betrayer in history.

Further, in my understanding of Francis' experience, he describes having received it from an angel. What does this say about stigmata if the "saint" himself accepted the truth/"sanctity" of it.

http://www.catholic.org/saints/stigmata.php

I found this website which mentions that the RC church has canonized or beautified "62 saints or blessed of both sexes". If there isn't some acknowledgement by the RC church of the 'sanctity' of the phenomenon, is it truly possible that 62 of the 'saints' experienced some form of demonic mystical phenomenon?

As a note about Padre Pio, wasn't a large part of the controversy over the fact that various people claimed that he faked his stigmata? I wonder if this is an example of the RC church being skeptical of the truthfulness and sanctity of a particular person, Padre Pio, and not some kind of proof that the RC church doesn't uphold the 'sanctity' of the phenomenon of stigmata?

I realize that this is off the topic of the original post, but I hoped to support the comments of others who suggest that one is able to determine the source of mystical phenomenon by comparing it to the received and common experience recorded in the lives in the Orthodox tradition. As 'Becoming' said very clearly in one of his later comments: "Therefore to know what is within these bounds, or to be acquainted with the writings of those who speak of this area is to be familiar with what is from God and what is from the demons (ie. the discernment of spirits)."

Hope this isn't too late a comment to be useful. No offense intended if my words have come out in a blunt manner.

forgive me,
matthew