John Donne  

Posted by Joe Rawls

John Donne (1572-1631) was what we would today call a second-career priest. He came to the priesthood following a very turbulent early life in which he wrote racy love-poems, studied at Oxford, Cambridge, and the Inns of Court, served in Parliament, and sought the sponsorship of various powerful men as a wannabee courtier. It did not help matters that he was a Roman Catholic or that he secretly married the niece of an erstwhile mentor. Eventually he made his peace with the Church of England and took Holy Orders, seemingly in part because he needed a steady job.

These negatives notwithstanding, Donne became one of the great English poets; it is largely by way of his poems that he is recognized today as a great Anglican theologian as well. Since he died on March 31, his feast often gets bumped from the liturgical calendar as it falls so close to Easter. This year he just manages to scrape by, and I'd like to share two of his works with you. Meditation XVII is poignant in light of the ongoing meltdown of the Anglican Communion; Holy Sonnet X is totally appropriate in this Easter season.

Meditation XVII

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tools for thee.

Holy Sonnet X

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
For those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'rt slave to Fate, chance, Kings and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
and better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Paschal Proclamation  

Posted by Joe Rawls

St John Chrysostom (347-407) was successively Patriarch of Antioch and Constantinople. A man of exceptional erudition and eloquence--his surname mean "golden-tongued"--he is credited with writing (more likely compiling) the eucharistic liturgy bearing his name, the one most frequently used in the Eastern churches. His paschal sermon is read aloud in all Orthodox churches on Easter Sunday.

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Is there anyone who is a grateful servant? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; if any have come after the third hour, let them with gratitude join in the Feast! And they that arrived after the sixth hour, let them not doubt; for they too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let them not hesitate; but let them come too. And they who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to them that come at the eleventh hour, as well as to them that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let none grieve at their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let none mourn that they have fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when he descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaiah foretold this when he said, "You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive. Hell took a body and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down. Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is Risen, and life is liberated! Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Bulgakov on the Incarnation  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944) was possibly the most preeminent Russian Orthodox theologian of the 20th century. Born into a clergy family, he went through a Marxist phase during his studies of law and economics at Moscow University but later recovered his faith. He was eventually ordained a priest but left Russia soon after in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution. He spent the remainder of his life in Paris where he taught at the Institute St Serge, a seminary founded by White Russian exiles. He wrote a number of books that are dense and controversial in equal measures. I recently came across a not-so-dense quote on the Incarnation that I'd like to share with you. It appears originally in Du verbe incarne' and was translated by the English theologian Andrew Louth, who includes it in his essay "The place of theosis in Orthodox theology", which in turn appears in Partakers of the Divine Nature (Christensen and Wittung, eds., Baker Academic 2007).

God wants to communicate to the world his divine life and himself to "dwell" in the world, to become human, in order to make of human kind a god too. That transcends the limits of human imagination and daring, it is the mystery of the love of God "hidden from the beginning in God" (Eph 3:9), unknown to the angels themselves (Eph 3:10; 1 Pet 1:12; 1Tim 3:16). The love of God knows no limits and cannot reach its furthest limit in the fullness of the divine abnegation for the sake of the world: the Incarnation. And if the very nature of the world, raised from non-being to its created state, does not appear here as an obstacle, its fallen state is not one either. God comes even to a fallen world; the love of God is not repelled by the powerlessness of the creature, nor by his fallen image, nor even by the sin of the world: the Lamb of God, who voluntarily bears the sins of the world, is manifest in him. In this way, God gives all for the divinization of the world and its salvation, and nothing remains that he has not given. Such is the love of God, such is Love.

Such it is in the interior life of the Trinity, in the reciprocal surrender of the three hypostases, and such it is in the relation of God to the world. If it is in such a way that we are to understand the Incarnation--and Christ himself teaches us to understand it in such a way (Jn 3:16)--there is no longer any room to ask if the Incarnation would have taken place apart from the Fall. The greater contains the lesser, the conclusion presupposes the antecedent, and the concrete includes the general. The love of God for fallen humankind, which finds it in no way repugnant to take the failed nature of Adam, already contains the love of stainless humankind.

And that is expressed in the wisdom of the brief words of the Nicene Creed: "for our sake and for our salvation." This and, in all the diversity and all the generality of its meaning, contains the theology of the Incarnation. In particular, this and can be taken in the sense of identification (as that is to say). So it is understood by those who consider that salvation is the reason for the Incarnation; in fact, concretely, that is indeed what it signifies for fallen humanity. But this can equally be understood in a distinctive sense (that is to say, "and in particular," or similar expressions), separating the general from the particular, in other words, without limiting the power of the Incarnation nor exhausting it solely in redemption. The Word became flesh: one must understand this in all the plenitude of of its meaning, from the theological point of view and the cosmic, the anthropological, the Christological and the soteriological. The last, the most concrete, includes and does not exclude the other meanings; so too, the theology of the Incarnation cannot be limited to the bounds of soteriology; that would be, moreover, impossible, as the history of dogma bears witness....

The Incarnation is the interior basis of creation, its final cause. God did not create the world to hold it at a distance from him, at that insurmountable metaphysical distance that separates the Creator from the creation, but in order to surmount that distance and unite himself completely with the world; not only from the outside, as Creator, nor even as providence, but from within: "the Word became flesh". That is why the Incarnation is already predetermined in human kind.