Rublev's Sacred Geometry  

Posted by Joe Rawls in , ,

Andrei Rublev's icon of the Holy Trinity--also known as the Hospitality of Abraham--was painted in Russia in the early 15th century and is possibly the most popular icon in today's world; it speaks alike to Orthodox Christians, Western Christians, non-Christians, and folks with no religious affiliation whatever. I myself use it in prayer but I also sometimes get entranced with just looking at it and absorbing its visual beauty.

An element of the latter is the icon's underlying geometrical construction: the three angels representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are arranged vis-a-vis each other, the table, and the elements in the background in such a way that several geometrical figures including a circle, a triangle, and a cross are easily defined. It is marvelous how well this is done, as can be seen in the above illustration, without making the whole composition seem contrived. (The illustration is part of a University of Toronto course taught by Jaroslav Skira.)

Some thoughts on the theological implications of these geometrical figures are found in an on-line essay by Soo-Young Kwon, excerpts of which are printed below.


[The cross is defined by a vertical line connecting the tree, the halo of the central figure, the cup, and the small rectangle on the front of the table. It is defined horizontally by a line passing above the halos of the two outer figures and through the halo of the central figure.] God's love is Holy and Tri-hypostatic. And this love is suffering love...Christians usually think the suffering of the Cross was only an event of the man, Jesus Christ. If this is true, the suffering is just a man's martyrdom, not a universal event of salvation...the suffering of the Cross is an event of God as Trinity, not only an event of Jesus Christ. The Father suffers with the Son on the Cross.

This rectangular space [on the front of the table] speaks about the narrow road leading to the house of God. It is the road of suffering. This rectangle is a starting point for the mystical union with the Trinity.

The oneness and mutual love of the three persons...are strongly symbolized around an unseen circle...The visual theology of the icon...seems embedded in the "social" doctrine of the Trinity...The geometrical element of the composition, the circle in the icon, is speaking to us visually: God is sharing, self-giving, and solidarity.

Healing Words  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The Greeks had a word for it, of course. Many words, actually. Orthodox writer Scott Cairns discusses several of these in an interesting on-line essay dealing mainly with nous and kardia and how they have been translated somewhat simplistically into English as "mind" and "heart". Cairns sees the primary mission of the church as healing the spiritual sickness of its members. And the way to do this is to inculcate a way of prayer that draws the "mind" into the "heart".

I preface the Cairns excerpt with a brief definition of nous by Greek theologian John Romanides.



...nous [is] this noetic energy that functions in the heart of every spiritually healthy person...It functions in the brain as the reason; it simultaneously functions in the heart as the nous. In other words, the same organ, the nous, prays ceaselessly in the heart and simultaneously thinks about mathematical problems, for example, or anything else in the brain.


Virtually every time we come across the word mind (or, in some cases, intellect or reason) in an English translation of the New Testament, nous is the word being rendered. One might say that it is the word being surrendered.

The greatest danger is that what should be an actively performed faith, a lived faith, becomes little more than an idea. When it is most healthy, ours is not simply a propositional faith, but a faith embodied and performed. Having lost this understanding, much of Western Christendom and much of an unduly influenced Eastern Church, has squandered the single most essential aspect of the Christian life: that we are ill, that what we need most is to be healed--our nous purified, illuminated, and restored to the actual communion with the God who is.

...Another New testament word that could benefit from a rigorous appraisal is kardia, offered to us simply as heart. Early Christians understood kardia as the very center of the complex human person, and as the scene of our potential repair...

The more we read in the fathers and mothers across the early centuries of the Church, the more profoundly we come to recognize this formula, this admonition that we might find our prayer lives made fruitful by our descending with our "minds" into our "hearts". This figure, then--of the lucid nous descended into the ready kardia, of the mind pressed into the heart--articulates both the mode and locus of our potential re-collection, our much desired healing. At the very least, it identifies the scene where this reconstitution of our wholeness might begin: the center of the human body, which is nonetheless the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Liber Precum Publicarum  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Vernacular liturgy was one of the cornerstones of the Reformation almost from its very beginning. When the Church of England exchanged papal rule for royal control, its contribution to worship in the language of the people came in the form of the Book of Common Prayer, the first edition of which came out in 1549. It was largely the work of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who was a master stylist of early modern English.

The ascent of Elizabeth I to the throne saw a revised version of the BCP in 1559. The next year witnessed the publication of a Latin version of the same text. The rationale for this seeming liturgical regression was to provide a suitable text for public worship in collegiate chapels. In 16th-century England, as well as most of the rest of Europe, secondary and higher education consisted largely of the study of the Greek and Latin classics. A familiarity with at least Latin was one of the marks of proper English gentlemen, even gentlemen who spent their Oxbridge years engaged in riotous living instead of taking degrees. So a Latin liturgy would be quite understandable in an academic setting.

The Latin version was also authorized for use in Ireland, of all places. Apparently there were some Irish Anglican congregations of ex-Roman Catholics who did not understand English but would be receptive to something resembling the old Latin Mass.

The Latin BCP does not seem to have been widely used but was an interesting, if quirky, episode in Anglican liturgical history. An online version can be found here. Below is a brief excerpt. A free cigar to the first one who identifies it.


Omnipotens Deus, cui omne cor patet et cui omnes affectus animorum cogniti sunt, et quem nihil latet, purifica cogitationes cordium nostrorum, ut per inspirationem Sancti Spiritus te ex animo amenus, et debita veneratione celebramus Nomen tuum sanctum, Per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum.