A couple years old, but a great read.
"Consider with what sort of honor you are honored, or what sort of table you are partaking from. That which, when angels behold, they tremble and dare not so much as look at it without awe on account of the brightness which is present. With this we are fed, and with this we are commingled, and we are made one body and one flesh with Christ…what Shepherd feeds his sheep with his own limbs? There are often mothers that after travail of birth send out their children to other women as nurses; but He endures not to do this, but Himself feeds us with His own blood, and by all means entwines us with Himself. With each one of the faithful does He mingle Himself in the mysteries. And whom He begat, He nourishes by Himself, and puts not Himself out to another; by this persuading us once again that He had taken our flesh. Let us, like infants at the breast, draw out the grace of the Spirit - let it be our sorrow not to partake of this food."
Christian theology, particularly in the East, has long championed the use of an “apophatic” approach to theology. The word “apophatic” literally means, “what cannot be spoken.” It is a recognition that “what cannot be spoken” is not the same thing as “what cannot be known.” Apophaticism is a mystical approach to theology (and even to the world), in which participation becomes the primary means of cognition. We come to know something or someone because we have a share in its existence. Rationality is not dismissed, but is made to serve the primary life of participation.
The surplus of desire over against all finite objects is more universal to the human condition than any system of thought. In our every dissatisfaction, the fleeting presence of the infinite God haunts us.
If in the human heart there has lurked from the beginning a desire for God, and history is the story of the superabundant fulfillment of that desire culminating in Jesus Christ, then human nature cannot be conceived “non-religiously”—that is, as directed only to imminent ends. Human nature has from time immemorial yearned for the supernatural; it has been shaped through salvation history and human nature itself has been united to the divine in the hypostatic union.
The fact that the wells of human reason have not yet been cleansed of the impurities of revelation, that our culturally inherited ideas and ways of thinking about what it means to be human have been so deeply affected by Jesus Christ, does not call for furthering the secular project, for chasing away the shadows of God from the face of nature with the sterile light of “pure” reason. To borrow a metaphor from Aquinas, we should not seek to turn wine back into water. We can in good conscience reject, with Benedict XVI, the idea that it is “possible to construct a rational philosophical picture of man intelligible to all and on which all men of goodwill can agree, the actual Christian doctrines being added to this as a sort of crowning conclusion.” The promise of natural law theory does not lie in its amenability to the secular world, but in its ability to deny the validity of the secular as such. In his seminal Theology and Social Theory, John Milbank pronounced: “Once there was no secular.” The classical tradition of natural law may end up teaching us that the secular rests is mistaken in its most fundamental ontological and anthropological assumptions. What we learn from the better Christian reflections on human nature may be that the secular story of man is a Christian heresy, and a shallow one at that.
Matthew 18:20 is a staple of Protestant apologetics. I even quoted it in a letter to a Catholic priest once. So it’s interesting to know this misreading has an ancient lineage. Even more interesting is St. Cyprian’s correction of the error.
Nor let any deceive themselves by a futile interpretation, in respect of the Lord having said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Corrupters and false interpreters of the Gospel quote the last words, and lay aside the former ones, remembering part, and craftily suppressing part: as they themselves are separated from the Church, so they cut off the substance of one section. For the Lord, when He would urge unanimity and peace upon His disciples, said, “I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth touching anything that ye shall ask, it shall be given you by my Father which is in heaven. For wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am with them;” showing that most is given, not to the multitude, but to the unanimity of those that pray. “If,” He says, “two of you shall agree on earth,” He placed agreement first; He has made the concord of peace a prerequisite; He taught that we should agree firmly and faithfully. But how can he agree with any one who does not agree with the body of the Church itself, and with the universal brotherhood? How can two or three be assembled together in Christ’s name, who, it is evident, are separated from Christ and from His Gospel? For we have not withdrawn from them, but they from us; and since heresies and schisms have risen subsequently, from their establishment for themselves of diverse places of worship, they have forsaken the Head and Source of the truth. But the Lord speaks concerning His Church, and to those also who are in the Church He speaks, that if they are in agreement, if according to what He commanded and admonished, although only two or three gathered together with unanimity should pray — though they be only two or three — they may obtain from the majesty of God what they ask. “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I,” says He, “am with them;” that is, with the simple and peaceable — with those who fear God and keep God’s commandments. With these, although only two or three, He said that He was, in the same manner as He was with the three youths in the fiery furnace; and because they abode towards God in simplicity, and in unanimity among themselves, He animated them, in the midst of the surrounding flames, with the breath of dew: in the way in which, with the two apostles shut up in prison, because they were simple-minded and of one mind, He Himself was present; He Himself, having loosed the bolts of the dungeon, placed them again in the market-place, that they might declare to the multitude the word which they faithfully preached. When, therefore, in His commandments He lays it down, and says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am with them,” He does not divide men from the Church, seeing that He Himself ordained and made the Church; but rebuking the faithless for their discord, and commending peace by His word to the faithful, He shows that He is rather with two or three who pray with one mind, than with a great many who differ, and that more can be obtained by the concordant prayer of a few, than by the discordant supplication of many.
When we bring this understanding of God’s work to bear on the human predicament – the will is revealed to be other than what we imagine it to be. Rather than the agent of change, it is simply one part of the human creature which is itself in need of redemption and healing.
I can no more will my salvation than I can will my resurrection.
Like everything else in the human life – the will is in need of redemption, even though it plays its own small role in its cooperation with grace. We cannot be saved except by grace – even though grace requires our cooperation. That cooperation, however, can sometimes be as minimal as a cry for help. It is the voice of the thief on the cross crying, “Remember me!”
We are not the agents of change – but subjects in need of change. The world of cause and effect in which we can imagine ourselves (like Nebuchadnezzer) to be people of great power, is not, after all, the realm of true power. That realm, ruled by God’s secret hand, became flesh and dwelt among us – doing for us what we could not ourselves do. We could not ascend into heaven and become Divine. He descended among us and became Man – that we might ascend with Him and become partakers of the divine nature.
God cannot be chosen or consumed as though He were a product among products. Neither is He an idea or slogan to which we may give allegiance. He is the God to Whom we may cry for help and Who has manifested His love and assured us of the ready answer to our feeble call.
Implied in what you say is that relationship is the highest aim, and that an obstacle to relationship is what calls the need for forgiveness.
I prefer the word communion to relationship. The Orthodox approach is that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and that God is a Trinity of persons in absolute identity of being and of life in perfect communion. Therefore, communion is the given. Anything that breaks that communion destroys the very roots of our existence. That’s why forgiveness is essential if there is going to be human life in the image of God. We are all sinners, living with other sinners, and so 70 times 7 times a day we must re-establish communion — and want to do so. The desire is the main thing, and the feeling that it is of value.
The obsession with relationship — the individual in search of relationships — in the modern world shows there is an ontological crack in our being. There is no such thing as an individual. He was created, probably, in a Western European university. We don’t recognize our essential communion. I don’t look at you and say, “You are my life.”
Modern interpretations of the commandment in the Torah reflect this individualistic attitude. The first commandment is that you love God with all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength, and the second is that you love your neighbor as yourself. The only way you can prove you love God is by loving your neighbor, and the only way you can love your neighbor in this world is by endless forgiveness. So, “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, in certain modern editions of the Bible, I have seen this translated as, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But that’s not what it says.
I recall a televised discussion program in which we were asked what was most important in Christianity. Part of what I said was that the only way we can find ourselves is to deny ourselves. That’s Christ’s teaching. If you cling to yourself, you lose yourself. The unwillingness to forgive is the ultimate act of not wanting to let yourself go. You want to defend yourself, assert yourself, protect yourself. There is a consistent line through the Gospel — if you want to be the first you must will to be the last. The other fellow, who taught the psychology of religion at a Protestant seminary, said, “What you are saying is the source of the neuroses of Western society. What we need is healthy self-love and healthy self-esteem.” Then he quoted that line, “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He insisted that you must love yourself first and have a sense of dignity. If one has that, forgiveness is either out of the question or an act of condescension toward the poor sinner. It is no longer an identification with the other as a sinner, too. I said that of course if we are made in the image of God it’s quite self-affirming, and self-hatred is an evil. But my main point is that there is no self there to be defended except the one that comes into existence by the act of love and self-emptying. It’s only by loving the other that myself actually emerges. Forgiveness is at the heart of that.
As we were leaving a venerable old rabbi with a shining face called us over. “That line, you know, comes from the Torah, from Leviticus,” he said, “and it cannot possibly be translated ‘love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ It says, ‘You shall love your neighbor as being your own self’.” Your neighbor is your true self. You have no self in yourself.
After this I started reading the Church Fathers in this light, and that’s what they all say — “Your brother is your life.” I have no self in myself except the one that is fulfilled by loving the other. The Trinitarian character of God is a metaphysical absolute here, so to speak. God’s own self is another — His Son. The same thing happens on the human level. So the minute I don’t feel deeply that my real self is the other, then I’ll have no reason to forgive anyone. But if that is my reality, and my only real self is the other, and my own identity and fulfillment emerges only in the act of loving the other, that gives substance to the idea that we are potentially God-like beings. Now, if you add to that that we are all to some degree faulty and weak and so on, that act of love will always be an act of forgiveness. That’s how I find and fulfill myself as a human being made in God’s image. Otherwise, I cannot. So the act of forgiveness is the very act by which our humanity is constituted. Deny that, and we kill ourselves. It’s a metaphysical suicide
Another excerpt from my continued correspondence with a friend.
In my mind, the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism boil down to two different views of authority, tradition, and unity. In Orthodoxy the authority exists in order to serve the tradition of the Church, or the deposit of faith. Unity is a fruit of the common faith and tradition that the people and clergy share.In Roman Catholicism, authority exists to enforce unity. In theory the authority exists to clarify and proclaim the faith and tradition they received, but the reality is the opposite. In Orthodoxy, tradition is reverenced. The second Council of Nicea says "Those therefore who after the manner of wicked heretics dare to set aside Ecclesiastical Traditions, and to invent any kind of novelty, or to reject any of those things entrusted to the Church, or who wrongfully and outrageously devise the destruction of any of those Traditions enshrined in the Catholic Church, are to be punished thus: If they are bishops we order them to be deposed; but if they are monks or lay persons, we command them to be excluded from the community." However in the modern Roman Catholic Church the Pope has supreme juridical authority, and can impose novelty on the Church, forbidding the traditional one.It is not just liturgy either. There are many examples of what was not believed in one generation, being binding in the next. Or what was believed by one generation is forbidden in the next. For instance the most popular catechism of the English speaking Catholic world denied Papal Infallibility as a myth created by Protestants. After Vatican I, it was updated to fit with the new dogma, which had been believed before the Council, but certainly not by Catholics everywhere. If so, it would have been defined at the Council of Trent. The Orthodoxy follow the teaching of St. Vincent of Lerins, who said that what is dogmatic are those things which have been believed everywhere, and by all the faithful.What it comes down to is the question of authority. Who has it, and what is its scope? From my own studies, I think that as early as the second century there were diverging views on the nature of Rome’s authority. St. Cyprian taught that all the bishops shared the chair of Peter. That idea wasn’t just in Africa and the East, it also made it’s way to Ireland by the 5th century. Check out these links: Gildas1, Gildas 2. Also, Pope St. Gregory the Great condemned the title of Universal Bishop, and I don’t know what a universal bishop could be other than a Bishop with supreme and immediate jurisdiction over the whole Church, including his peers in the episcopate.