Iconographers, Symbols, & the Goodness of Creation

The text which follows leads the soul to a more profound philosophy of th things of the spirit. For he teaches us here that the universe is entirely consistent with itself, that there is an indestructible harmony among all intelligible things and a kind of cooperation which exists among all beings. The universe is not separated from that with which it is connected, but all things continue in existence governed by the power of being; and that which is truly being is the divine Goodness in itself–or call it by another name you may find to express its indestructible nature. And yet, how can we find a name for that which the divine voice of the Apostle tells us is beyond every name (Phil. 2:9)? The only name you could find to express that ineffable nature and power is that of the Good. St. Gregory of Nyssa, in From Glory to Glory, p. 122. Continue reading

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Nothing secular but sin

Here was this city, Renaissance from end to end, set under clear skies and a burning sun; and the religion in it was the soul dwelling in the body. It was the assertion of the reality of the human principle as embodying the divine. Even the exclusive tenets of Christianity were expressed under pagan images. Revelation spoke through forms of natural religion; God dwelt unashamed in the light of day; priests were priests, not aspiring clergymen; they sacrificed, sprinkled lustral water, went in long, rolling processions with incense and lights, and called heaven Olympus. Sacrum Divo Sebastiano, I saw inscribed on a granite altar. I sat under priest-professors who shouted, laughed, and joyously demonstrated before six nations in one lecture room. I saw the picture of the “Father of princes and kings and Lord of the world” exposed in the streets on his name-day, surrounded by flowers and oil lamps, in the manner in which, two centuries ago, other lords of the world were honoured. I went down into the Catacombs on St. Cecilia’s Day and St. Valentine’s, and smelled the box and the myrtle underfoot that did reverence to the fragrance of their memories, as centuries ago they had done reverence to victors in another kind of contest. In one sentence, I began to understand that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”; that as He took the created substance of a Virgin to fashion for Himself a natural body, so still He takes the created substance of men — their thoughts, their expressions, and their methods — to make for Himself that mystical body by which He is with us always; in short, I perceived that “there is nothing secular but sin.” Catholicism, then, is “materialistic?” Certainly; it is as materialistic as the Creation and the Incarnation, neither more nor less. Hugh Benson, Confessions of a Convert Continue reading

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Blogging My Way Through the Semester (without using any names).

Skull ChaliceTerm has begun, and at the moment I have 65 students, though I think a few may drop out of my Byzantine empire class, which at the moment has 30. I had a colleague, a modern European historian who used to ask me “How do you get so many students to take a course on the Byzantine empire?” I told him they all enjoy the stories. So, something I have thought about doing for a long time was blogging my way through term. Some will find what I write of little interest, but many of the things I write, I do so for my own sake, a catalogue of memory, and I hope at least some will find this entertaining, if not enlightening. Continue reading

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The Prophet Elijah and Discerning God

Some of these thoughts I had posted about five years ago, and as they touch our commemoration of Elias (Elijah) the Prophet, I thought I would repost them tonight as we begin his feast. This is also timely in light of my last post on discerning Balrogs. (I had actually thought about titling the post “Discerning Balrogs” but then someone might have wondered “what type of discretion do Balrogs exercise?” So I went with “Discovering Balrogs.”) Discernment is one of the most difficult things in the Christian life, and I think we often make it much harder than it needs to be, for we go about trying to find God not in the mundane, but in the spectacular. I think this afflicts much of modern, enthusiastic evangelicalism, and to a large extent progressive Protestantism, which has sold the gospel for immanentizing the eschaton. Continue reading

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Discovering Balrogs

When the Fellowship of the ring stood before the tomb of Balin, Gimli overcome with grief at the death of his kin, the first cousin of his father, Gloin, Frodo thought back to Balin’s visit to the shire, which was the last scene in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Balin had been a good friend to Bilbo, one of his chief advocates among the dwarves. Balin with other dwarves had attempted to take back Moria, and had succeeded, but their occupation lasted only five years, and seemed to have been tenuous at best. Balin is slain while gazing at the Mirrormere, a small lake just outside Moria’s east gate. All of this we learn from a book the company found at Balin’s tomb where the dwarves of Moria met their end. The last lines of the book, as Gandalf read them would be echoed by the company of the ring’s own experience: “We cannot get out. They are coming.” Continue reading

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“Verweile doch, du bist so schön!”*

This past weekend found me in Ligonier, PA for the second annual Ancient Faith Writers and Podcasters Conference (AFCon), along with about 75 other writers and content producers. I had only a dim and foggy notion of what to expect, some vague idea of what might be transpiring — lectures, meals, conversation – for I really knew no one there except for Fr. Andrew Damick, who rode out with me (and who’s now been my priest for almost six years; two people there are Facebook friends whom I had yet to meet.) Also, the whole forum could be thought of as “new media”: bloggers, ebook writers, web content providers, podcasters. Sure, I’ve been to lots of conferences, and have made lots of contacts and gotten lots of publishing opportunities out of them, but this was a different animal entirely. At past conferences, almost all academic, I’ve heard some great papers and lots of worthless ones as well, and truthfully, I thought this might be the same. I was (the mercenary side of me) looking for people to aid me in a venture for the Center for Orthodox Thought and Culture, namely The Basilian Journal. In fact, I did find this, and so AFCon stood akin to other conferences I had attended as regards networking. But it differed markedly from all of them as well. Continue reading

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Reading the Tradition with Morgoth

“He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Ilúvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness. Yet he found not the Fire, for it is with Ilúvatar. But being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren (Tolkien, Ainulindale, 16).” Continue reading

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