In the concluding section of his study of St Gregory Palamas, Anestis Keselopoulos refers to ‘the possibility for man to commune existentially with God, a possibility that has its foundation in the distinction between God’s essence and energies. This possibility is the heart and soul of Orthodox theology, as well as its greatest contribution to mankind…
‘The distinction between essence and energies definitively distinguishes the Latin West from the Orthodox East…According to the Western perspective, God is defined solely by His essence. Whatever is not God’s essence cannot belong to God and is therefore a creation of God…In other words, this perspective forces Western theologians to consider the energies as being “created”.
‘This Western perspective makes man’s theosis and participation in divine life impossible, since the grace that deified the Saints is itself created, even though it may be referred to as “supernatural”. Western theologians, however, have yet to explain how grace can be both created and supernatural…
‘For Palamas, the uncreated light as the energy of God was not simply a matter of dogmatic theology, but a necessary extension and goal in the life of every believer…St Gregory Palamas views theology as a lived experience and as an expression of God’s revelation…True theology is based on nourishing and renewing the gift of “divine passion” through personal communion with God. It is founded on experiencing “divine passion” within the life of the Holy Church. The more one advances in the passion of theosis, the more one acquires an increasingly steadfast knowledge of God. True theology is not the achievement of human intellectual ability. It is the fruit of man’s theosis and communion with God.’
All quotations in this series of postings have been from Anestis Keselopoulos, Passions and Virtues according to Saint Gregory Palamas (Engl transl, St Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2004)
In his study of St Gregory Palamas, Anestis Keselopoulos quotes words of the Greek scholar Mantzaridis concerning seeking one’s neighbour in God: ‘This is no longer the classical path in which the “self” is led through his neighbour to God, but a new path in which the “self” turns directly toward God in order to find his neighbour in God as well. In this case, man does not use the image as a means of ascent toward the archetype, but he attempts a direct ascent, which enables him to regard the image correctly.’ He goes on to comment:
‘One teaching that is often encountered with regard to theosis in that love, which is the chief and cohesive bond uniting the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, is also the living and active or “energetic” bond uniting God, man and all created beings. When man reaches perfect love he discovers that, within this love, his often fragmented “self” is now unified and united with God. Only within this sacred and divine eros can the soul find its perfect and complete unity. ..
‘This theology of union with God is also prevalent in the writings of St Gregory Palamas. He often underlines this particular dimension of love and yearning in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. He teaches that in the Holy Eucharist Christ grants us the possibility of “intimate contact ” with Him. Through Holy Communion, we are not only spiritually united with Christ, we are also united to Him bodily. Or in other words, we existentially become flesh of His Flesh.’
At last the Australian version of the online site of The Guardian (in days long past The Manchester Guardian; a whole history lies behind the steady transfer of its activities to London and the disappearance of the second word of the title) is operating, and it’s well worth a look: www.guardian.co.uk/australia Its strength will lie not in its reporting breaking news, but the reflective pieces written by the small band of extremely well-credentialed journalists it’s been able to hire.
While some people have worked out how to make large sums of money from the Internet, many others are searching, and this is true of newspapers struggling to make the switch to an online presence. The Guardian site is free, and presumably it is hoped that advertizing alone, largely confined to that from the Institute of Chartered Accountants at the moment, will generate profits (it’s worth remembering that most hard-copy newspapers enjoy a revenue from advertizing several times several times greater than that from their sales.) The Murdoch press, on the other hand, has opted for user-pays models, in the case of The Times putting everything behind a paywall and, for The Australian, charging for access to ‘premium content’. It’s easy to see why it’s unhappy about competition from rival sites that are free, in particular those of the public broadcasters, the ABC and BBC. Doubtless there’s some truth to the charge that their news sites represent a shift from the broadcasting that these bodies have traditionally been funded to undertake, but the shift from hardcopy to electronic newspapers is surely of equal magnitude.
Years ago a wise person pointed out to me that, while hardcopy newspapers are full of pointers to material available in their online editions, there are never arrows pointing in the other direction. And I remember reading that the online readership of one of the UK broadsheets was 20 years younger than the readers of its print version. There’s no doubt where the future lies, however unclear the extact form it will take.
One of the first CDs that was given to me was one of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, and unlike many early enthusiasms the music has stood the test of time. It runs to over one and a half hours, too long for liturgical use or for concert performance without a decent interval, so that as with Handel’s Messiah there is no definitive version for performance. It opens with the Domine ad adiuvundum, in which a wall of joyous and confident sound bursts over the listeners, as trumpets excitedly work their way around the melody line (does any other composer before Wagner use trumpets so effectively?) Unlike much serious music, this sounds better the louder you play it! But the sound level varies, and in the Audi coelum, a quiet passage for male voices, one voice does not repeat as much as echo the other. While Monteverdi only became Maestro di Cappella at S Mark’s in Venice three years after writing the Vespers, it’s easy to imagine singers and players, strategically scattered around the large space, operating in a satisfyingly stereophonic way that allowed a suggestion of echoes to become part of the music. Another of my favourites, in which less is definitely better, is the Sonata sopra Santa Maria, for sopranos and accompaniment, in which a small number of motifs are playfully reworked with an odd change from 4/4 to 3/2 time; such graciousness would not be out of place in Mozart.
The version I have, directed by Philippe Herreweghe, has its own peculiarities. Rapid changes in tempo and crescendos are used to bring the music to sudden climaxes. But I’ve come to know it all too well, and music of this quality will bear any number of interpretations; perhaps the time has come to listen more widely!
It was the opinion of Jean-Paul Satre that hell is other people (L’Enfer, c’est les autres), and people entering the carriages of trains in Britain used to give the appearance of acting in accordance with it. A person would scan the distribution of those already in the carriage, and sit at a place furthest removed from the others. Anyone entering at the next stop would apply the same principle in the reconfigured space, and so on, until people were finally in a degree of proximity to each other that the initial occupants of the carriage did all they could to avoid. Nowadays there is less reason for such defensive measures, for most people in a carriage will be listening to music on their headphones, updating their status on facebook, reading something on their tablets or engaged on other activities that make it highly unlikely that anyone will address them with a smile, still less a word.
Several times recently I’ve been invited to functions where there will be ‘opportunities for networking’. Now I suppose there’s nothing wrong with junior people seeking patrons, or senior people trying to build up their number of clients, but scanning the crowd at a social function to identify people with whom it may be advantageous to exchange business cards strikes me as going too far in the direction of seeing other people simply in terms of beings one can use for one’s own ends, a kind of sex without love among professional people.
Somewhat aslant to the view of other people as hell, or beings to be used for one’s own purposes, is the view of the Anglican author C. S. Lewis, who suggested that people in purgatory are forced to see themselves as others do. Placing the emphasis on what others think of us, rather than starting from ourselves, and being open to the possibility that this may not be what we would like, is an uncomfortable thought, but it may be an idea worth working with.
Quibbles have been raised as to the accuracy of the annual listing of the world’s leading 500 universities produced by Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, but it provides data to think with. According to its list for 2012, the top four universities in the world are all in the United States (Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Berkeley). They are followed by Cambridge, after which only Oxford (no. 10) interrupts a stream of US universities that terminates at no. 20, with Tokyo. The dominance of the United States at the topmost level is astonishing, and perhaps exaggerated; it is not quite as strong in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Nevertheless, there is no escaping it, doubtless a reflection not only of the wealth of that country but the commitment of its people to education and the generosity of wealthy philanthropists. We would do well to respect this achievement.
Other aspects of the list are also interesting. Take the figures for the nations that have formed the group known as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China): China has 28 of the world’s top 500 universities, Brazil six, Russia two and India one. The strength of the first among them is noteworthy, and reflected in the figures for Taiwan (nine) and Hong Kong (five). On the other hand, the results for Russia, so powerful a nation for much of recent history, and India, broadly comparable with China in many respects, are surprisingly poor. Perhaps in both cases they are a sign of institutional problems.
One could go on, pulling out pieces of data and thinking about them. It’s interesting that Israel manages to have six universities in the list, three of them in the top 100, while Saudi Arabia has just three, none of them in the top 200. But we can think in more general terms. Elite universities remain central to the way the world operates. While the story that there is a car park at Berkeley reserved for the use of faculty who have won the Nobel Prize may be an urban myth, I am reliably informed that there is a engineering lab there with an annual budget equal to those of all such Australian labs combined. Such institutions bring enormous benefits to the countries where they are located, that are magnified by their ability to attract talent from places that are less well endowed. In this way their location not only reflects the realities of the world as it is now, but give an idea of where its future strengths will be as well.
Though Thou didst go down into the grave, O Immortal One, yet Thou didst put down the power of Hades and didst rise a conqueror, O Christ our God; thou spakest clear to the myrrh-bearing women, Rejoice; Thou didst bestow peace upon thine apostles, and to the fallen hast Thou brought resurrection. (Kontakion)
A joyous celebration of Pascha to all readers of this blog!
I’ve very much enjoyed the writing of the renaissance scholar Stephen Greenblatt; his Will in the World, an account of the life of Shakespeare, operates with the intriguing method of starting with the limited body of biographical evidence that has come down and expanding on it by drawing on material from the plays. His recent book makes a big claim. Greenblatt attributes great significance to the discovery of a manuscript of the long and beautiful poem by the Roman author Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, in a monastery library by the Italian scholar Poggio Bracciolini, early in the fifteenth century. Lucretius argued for a materialistic and non-supernatural view of reality that caused him to be little read in the Middle Ages. (In the same way, the eroticism of Catullus meant that the manuscript tradition of his works is very thin.) But Poggio rescued him from oblivion, and such was the impact of his find that it brought about a ‘swerve’ that changed the course of history.
But I wonder. Polemic rather than reason seems to lie behind some of Greenblatt’s writing on medieval Christianity. It is strange to discuss the attitude of Jerome, Tertullian and Lactantius (the second and third surely marginal figures) to classical learning while ignoring the vastly more influential Augustine; to argue that ‘the pursuit of pain triumphed over the pursuit of pleasure’ among Christians on the basis of a few pieces of monastic writing (surely a class of evidence that needed to be balanced) is dangerous; to see Christians of the fifth and sixth centuries as being likely to weep because ‘the cities were falling apart, the fields were soaked in the blood of dying soldiers, robbery and rape were rampart’ flies in the face of decades of scholarship on late antiquity. And the powerful scientific tradition that developed in western Europe from the twelfth century, something that went far beyond that of the pre-Christian Romans such as Lucretius, sits awkwardly with some of Greenblatt’s emphases.
Placing the impact of Lucretius’ ideas within the framework of renaissance thought is harder for me. But surely the renaissance had been under way for some time before the acitivity of Poggio (which is engaging described, by the way.) And while Greenblatt accumulates an impressive list of people who knew Lucretius’ work, surely we nee to contextualize this within the body of their general reading. Attributing immense consequences to the discovery of one manuscript seems dangerously close to mono-causalism.
In his study of St Gregory Palamas, Anestis Keselopoulos observes:
‘Love is the only real reason why man fulfills the commandments of God. Of course, this presupposes that the believer’s love for God is perfect and fills his entire being. Love for God is the source and root of every virtue. It gives the believer a unique strength that ennobles his love for his fellow men. This love is clearly referred to in Orthodox ascetic writings: “And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons, and for every created things…For this reason he offers up prayer continually…he even prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in his heart in the likeness of God.”
‘In so far as man’s love for creation is a fruit of his love for God, it is also a “divine passion”, a sign of his love for Christ.It is the first step in ascetic endeavour for every virtue. But when love is found outside of this context, it becomes “the cause of every vice”. In this case, love for God and love of the world can be seen as the two antithetical poles that positively or negatively define the content of a man’s ethical life.’
If it were not enough to have been Britain’s first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher will be remembered for having been a conviction politician. Unlike some of the pygmies of the generation that succeeded her, whose policies are always liable to alter in accordance with changes in the opinions of focus groups, she had firm beliefs. Such was her success in acting on them that among British Prime Ministers of the twentieth century she will rank second to Churchill in historical significance. When I went to England as a student in what can now be seen as the pre-Thatcher period I was struck by the influence of Trade Unions and the prevalence of strikes, the ability of ‘local authorities’ to impede daily living, and what sometimes seemed a general feeling that life was not going to get any better. (Despite this, my student years there were very happy.) Margaret Thatcher’s free market policies turned all this upside down.
But her success came at a cost. The placing of the economy on new foundations was done with scant regard for the welfare of the displaced sectors and the regions where they were based. Those who stood in her way were attacked with ferocity, and her claim that ‘there is no such thing as society’ is surely morally indefensible. As it’s turned out, the rise of the City to a position of great importance in the British economy has brought its own corruption and immorality (my favourite comic strip has been for years the genuinely funny Alex, by Peattie and Taylor), while the price of housing in the areas that have done well has brought problems for those who live there. And while the foundations on which the economy rested before the Thatcher reforms may not have been particularly strong, the experience of the GFC raises questions about the depth of those that have replaced them.
Meanwhile, the person who, more than any other, was responsible for a new start in South Africa has not been well. Many years unto him! But I suspect that, when he reposes, there will be not only appreciations of his historical significance, but sorrow throughout the world that a virtuous person has been taken from us.