Blog Abuse: come see the violence inherent in the system!

CusanusAs some of you know, my life has been consumed with trying to get an Orthodox Institute started at my university (you can find out more here and here). Even though things are moving slower than what I had hoped, all such difficulties are negligible really, as most of the people at Eastern are gung-ho for this enterprise, even people I had thought would be resistive. Of course the greatest support has come from the Orthodox of the area, and from across the jurisdictions. I have een travelling, speaking, meeting, and praying for the past seven months about getting the Institute off the ground. This has kept my spirits afloat in an otherwise difficult time, but difficult only in the sense that I have almost no time for other things (sadly, this blog). But what else have I been doing? There have been a great many people who have personally helped, some which at the moment must remain unnamed. I have also been very buoyed in this by my parish, as the people of St. Paul’s are wonderful beyond words. In the midst of all of this I had also to teach, be department chair, and at least look like I am trying to produce some scholarship. And yes, family and friends were about too.

One item I am producing is an article on the sources of Nicholas of Cusa’s Trinitarian thought. This is a wildly complex subject, as Cusanus was well versed in scholastic thought, drank deeply from St. Augustine, but also owed an enormous intellectual debt to St. Dionysus the Areopagite. He had been reading him for years when as secretary to the great conciliarist cardinal, Giuliano Cesarini (whose own life is a remarkable biography) he published the conciliarist manifesto, On Catholic Harmony (De catholica concordantia). He made ample use of Denis’ Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, and showed himself the Platonist adept. In this, he was quite different than the spirit of his age which was predominantly termist and nominalist. Indeed, Jan Hus had been accused of heresy at Constance by Pierre d’Ailly based merely on the fact that he was a realist. This would later bring Cusanus into conflict with his contemporaries about the relationship of nature and grace, reason and faith. This quite naturally will be part of my text, for the question of how and to what extent the mind can ascend to God is all important. I shall zero in on two of Cusanus’ tracts, De aequalitate (On equality, a tract that has the Holy Trinity as the primary object) and De apice theoriae (The summit of Contemplation) as ways to make sense of his great mystical tract, De visione Dei. In it Nicholas seemingly turns his back on the notion of the Beatific Vision as set out in Aquinas, and perhaps (though hard to tell) taking a cue from Dante, tends to see the Beatific vision more in terms of God Incarnate. This latter point is not a neat and trim matter, however. I will have this essay finished by 28 February. I have already done a lot on it, indeed, I already have 20+ pages but will be revising. Nicholas is a complex thinker, and his thought clearly changes from his De docta ignorantia (Of learned ignorance) of 1436-38, and his De apice theoriae of 1464, but I love reading him, and I look forward to finishing this.

The other item I am producing is ripping a chapter out of my book on Calvin (as the chapter was very much out of place) and turning it into a chapter for a festschrift I am helping to edit. The subject of the chapter, Thomas Stapleton, lived, like Cesarini, an eventful life. Stapleton died in bed, however, writing theology almost to the end, whereas Cesarini died on the battlefield in Varna, a tragic end to what did not have to be a tragic enterprise to save Constantinople from the Turks. That’s another essay. Stapleton had been trained at Winchester, then New College, Oxford, but left England shortly after Elizabeth’s accession, never to return. The first few years of his exile he spent attacking the English Protestant establishment, chiefly John Jewel (yes, I love Stapleton) and Richard Horne, bishops of Salisbury and Winchester respectively. The last 25+ years of his life Stapleton spent attacking Calvin, with lots of vignettes in other directions as well, chiefly at William Whitaker on the question of the authority of the Church. One of these side enterprises was his defense of the Jesuit Leonard Lessius, who ran afoul of the Dominicans and Michael Baius with his 1586 Theses Theologica. Lessius was accused of semi-Pelagiansim and the University of Louvain censored him. But the pope and the Universities in Cologne and Ingolstadt sided with Lessius. Stapleton came to his defense, but what we have on this is very scant, as it has to be drawn from Stapleton’s later commentaries. Stapleton had penned a treatise on justification in which he had defended Aquinas as opposed to Scotus, and contemned Johann Eck for having thrown Aquinas under the ox cart in his debates with Luther, thinking Thomas’s doctrine of original sin would give too much to Luther. But Stapleton thought quite otherwise, and ably defended Aquinas as the pinnacle of Catholic theology. But most of Stapleton’s writings, his volumes of commentaries, which he entitled Prompuarium (cupboards), were largely aimed at asserting the Catholic and rebutting the Protestant (and here almost always, Calvininian) reading of scripture. All sorts of vistas are opened by Stapleton, and he was a man of immense intellectual energy. One of the things that is low hanging fruit would be to see how his commentaries affected Gregory Martin’s translation of the Vulgate (the Douay-Reims version of the English Bible). But my main interest, at least for this chapter, is Stapleton as the anti-Calvin. There is lots in his immense corpus to draw from. With only a few exceptions (his life of Thomas More), next to nothing by Stapleton has been translated into English. His first few tracts (well, they each ran about 700 pages, and he did the first English translation of Bede) were in English, but after the riots in Antwerp in 1566 the Catholic English presses shut down. Thus we have an English Catholic theologian, read and admired in Rome, but who is largely forgotten today. I hope to bring one of the key aspects of his life, his vast polemic against Calvin, to the fore.

Apart from this, I am trying still to be a faithful Christian; a good husband, father, friend, and mentor; and even try to help with the choir and cantors at St. Paul parish. I shall try to write more in the next few weeks (Christmas break). And so I wish all of you a blessed end to your Advent preparations, as we await the coming of our great King, our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.


About Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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1 Response to Blog Abuse: come see the violence inherent in the system!

  1. Janice says:

    Always interesting when you post a blog entry. Thanks for taking the time to do so.

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