26 November 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

Who can describe the constraining power of a love for God? Its majesty and its beauty who can adequately express? No tongue can tell the heights to which love can uplift us. Love binds us fast to God. Love casts a veil over sins innumerable. There are no limits to love's endurance, no end to its patience. Love is without servility, as it is without arrogance. Love knows of no divisions, promotes no discord; all the works of love are done in perfect fellowship. It was in love that all God's chosen saints were made perfect; for without love nothing is pleasing to Him. It was in love that the Lord drew us to Himself; because of the love He bore us, our Lord Jesus Christ, at the will of God, gave His blood for us - His flesh for our flesh, His life for our lives. - St. Clement of Rome, *Epistle to the Corinthians* par. 49


Anonymous said...

Random curiousity:

What do you make of the prayer "Sub tuum praesidium" and it's history? I read about it and was a little confused, so I wanted your opinion.

William Weedon said...

Well, it definitely appears to be the earliest invocation of the Virgin on record, no? But the words of St. Cyprian loom: Custom without truth is the antiquity of error. Antiquity by itself does not demonstrate in this (or in any) case the God-pleasing nature of the practice or implied doctrine. For that you have that Sacred Scriptures, where the Lord invites you to find in Him all the things that here are besought from the Most Holy Virgin.

Chris Jones said...

implied doctrine

Sometimes "implied doctrine" is no more than "inferred doctrine," and tells us more about the person making the inference than about the reality of the practice or about the doctrine that is purportedly implied by it.

It's not that invocation of saints "implies" false doctrine so much as that it was associated with false doctrine in the mediaeval period. I think that it is a mistake to treat that association as if it were an implication.

Some may think that the invocation of saints implies idolatry; but I wonder if the condemnation of invocation implies a denial of the communion of saints. I prefer to think of the Lutheran attitude as the voluntary giving-up of a practice that in itself is innocent, in order to guard definitively against any possible abuse. I don't know that the language of the Confessions allows me this attitude; but then, we laity do not make a quia subscription, do we?

William Weedon said...


I think you can support from the Lutheran Symbols and the dogmaticians the notion that *even if* the practice of asking the intercession of the saints were not problemtaic in itself, yet where it has led suggests that it is a good path to avoid.

Whenever this topic comes up it seems vital to state the obvious: the saints DO pray for us, the church still wandering under the cross. Love doesn't diminish, but is perfected in heaven, and love will never cease to think of the whole Body and each individual member of it, not to mention the children wandering lost and confused and afraid. The saints pray for us to come to that great light, and among the saints, the Blessed Mother most of all. But to turn to the blessed saints for that which we are explicitly invited to come to God for - and to ask of him - that is the path that can and has led to idolatry, remembering above all the words of the Larger Catechism about what constitutes a god: that to which we turn for help in time of need.

Chris Jones said...

what constitutes a god: that to which we turn for help in time of need

Then I must be a god, too.

Last Tuesday my son's car broke down and he called me for help. I left work two hours early and drove 100 miles to rescue him. And this morning I put the $500.00 repair bill for the car (which my son could in no way afford) on my credit card. That way my son (who absolutely needs his car for his job) can continue to work, and pay me back the $500.00 more or less at his leisure.

Of course, you will object that, in turning to me for help in time of need, my son wasn't denying that God is the ultimate source of all help and the ultimate provider of all of our needs. And you will object that, in helping him out, I was not acting "god-like," but simply fulfilling my vocation.

That, of course, is just exactly what the saints are doing for us -- fulfilling their vocations. And our reliance on their prayers is no more a denial of God's providence, and no more an instance of idolatry than my son's reliance on Dad when he's in a spot. And honestly, to claim that it is an instance of idolatry really seems to me to be a weakening of the doctrine of the communion of saints.

St Cyprian was right, of course, that just because something is old does not mean that it is true. But a practice that is not only old and venerable, but is an ongoing part of the Church's liturgy and piety, is expressive of an article of faith, and against which Scripture does not speak, is to be treasured, not abandoned. If it is subject to abuse, let the abuses be reformed, but let not the practice itself be abolished. Abusus not tollit usus.

christopher3rd said...

Chris, methinks your riassa is showing. :)

Couldn't St. Cyprian's warning also apply to wrongheaded interpretations of Scripture, which is "older" and also prone to misuse by those 'choosing' their own understanding of the faith over that of the Church Universal? It seems odd that the Church could fight tooth and nail over whether Christ had a human will, or soul but would miss something so "obviously idolatrous" as the invocation of the saints - across time, as well as linguistic, cultural, confessional and political borders.

William Weedon said...

Chris J.,

I don't think your son would ever say, though, that you were his only hope, and that he trusted in you to save him. No?

Chris O.,

I do not think that asking the saints intercessions began idolatrously - but I would sure and shooting maintain that over the centuries the prayers BECAME idolatrous. Take the sequence for the feast of the visitation, composed in the middle ages:

Come, lofty Lady Mary, visit us; illumine our weak minds through the sacred gift of life.

Come, Savioress of the world, take away the filth of sin when you visit the people; take away the peril of punishment.

Come, Queen of the nations, put out the flames of guilt; take away whatever is crooked; grant life to the inncoent. Etc.

It development - and I would maintain also among Eastern Christians - follows a path that is dangerous. But I know that we disagree on this point, and I don't write to provoke you, but simply to clarify that I think it started out questionable and went from there unquestionably bad.

Chris Jones said...

your riassa is showing

Guilty as charged, I suppose. I try to be a good Lutheran, but there are a few issues where the Reformers just got it wrong. This is one of them.

Strictly speaking, as a tonsured reader I don't think I ever had the right to wear the riassa. I think it's for subdeacons and up. And for monastics, of course, but since I wear a gold band on my left hand, I can't wear the riassa on that basis.

William Weedon said...

By the way, you guys, what on earth does this discussion have to do with the St. Clement quote???

: )

William Weedon said...

But since we are off topic, the thought occurs and maybe either Christopher could answer:

Do the Orthodox *require* invocation of the saints? In other words, can one be a good Orthodox Christian, rely on the joyous reality of the saints' intercessions, but confine the prayers that one says to the persons of the Blessed Trinity?

Chris Jones said...

Certainly one could not be a "good Orthodox" if one were to condemn the invocation of saints.

As for one's personal spiritual discipline: that is something to be worked out under the guidance of one's father confessor. It is difficult for me to imagine an Orthodox father confessor giving his blessing to a person's refusal to honor the saints in this way. But if an individual were to prove incapable of understanding the distinction between adoration and veneration, such that he is not able to invoke the saints without idolatry, I suppose it is possible that a priest might bless a rule of prayer without such invocation. It is hard to imagine such a case, but it might be possible.

Of course, the public worship of the Church involves the public veneration of the saints (including invocation). A priest who would not follow the service books in this matter would have to answer to his bishop in fairly short order, I should think.

William Weedon said...

About the public invocation, that does raise a fairly interesting distinction between Western Rite and Eastern Rite, no? I *believe* I have read liturgiologists who argue the antiquity of, say, the Roman canon over the Eastern anaphorae precisely because it lacks such invocations (while mentioning the saints' merits and intercessions).

Anonymous said...

Except wasn't "Sub Tuum" in liturgical use?

William Weedon said...

I may be incorrect on this - please, someone who knows better, correct me! - but I think it was in paraliturgical use. It was not in use in THE liturgy: the Liturgy of the Mass. This is in contrast to the Eastern anaphorae.

Anonymous said...

But wasn't it found in Alexandria, and in Greek?

William Weedon said...

Yes, but it wasn't part of their liturgies in the 3rd century, was it? Do you know the date that invocation entered the liturgy of the Eucharist in the East? I mean, the Alexandrian anaphora of Basil has only:

Since, Master, it is a command of your only-begotten Son that we should share in the commemoration of your saints, vouchsafe to remember, Lord, also those of our fathers who have been well-pleasing to you from eternity: patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, preachers, evangelists, and all the righteous perfected in faith; especially the holy and glorious Mary, Mother of God and ever-Virgin, through whose prayers have mercy on us all, and save us through your holy name which has been invoked upon us.

christopher3rd said...

I think people often get more worried about people becoming idolatrous when in fact those people harbor no such illusions. Anastasia had a good little bit on what the Orthodox, for instance, mean be "Most Holy Theotokos, save us" that I posted on my blog. Of course, it is only offensive IF one holds to a Protestant understanding of what salvation itself is limited to, and IF one does not believe that Christians (in this world or reposed) can effect real results from their prayers to God. As to whether the saints can hear us, I defer to why we can choose to follow the Conciliar Church on such abstruse dogmas as the Trinity and Christ, and ignore the universal attestation to the fact that the saints can and do hear us when we request their efficacious prayers to God for us.

Lex orandi proves that invocation of the saints is a teaching of the Orthodox Church. Since these prayers are called for in the Divine Liturgy, and the canons say that we have excommunicated ourselves if we miss more than 3 Sunday Liturgies in a row without cause, I would say that it is required to accept and practice prayer to the saints for their intercession.

christopher3rd said...

Liturgical usage is not the sole component of lex orandi, however. "Theotokos" was a paraliturgical title, for instance. The sign of the cross, and how to do it, was not in the text of the service. I'm not even sure if Phos Hilaron was a part of the text of the service from ancient times, then making its way into the service.