Leo the Great on the Nativity  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Leo the Great (ca 400-461, pope from 440) is best known for dissuading Attila the Hun from sacking Rome.  Theologically he is much more significant for having authored the Tome of Leo, a tract that influenced the outcome of the Council of Chalcedon. 

Since we are still very much in the Christmas season, it's appropriate to read a bit of one of his Nativity sermons.  The citation is Sermo 1 in Nativitate Domini, 1-3:  PL 54, 190-193.


Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice.  Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life.  The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness. 

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing.  Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all.  Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand.  Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness.  Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life. 

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God's wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator.  He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind...

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God's own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition.  Bear in mind who is your head and and of whose body you are a member.  Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God's kingdom.

Theotokos of Guadalupe  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today's feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds us that her veneration is not restricted to Mexican Roman Catholics.  Replicas of her image can now be seen throughout the United States, both in predominantly Anglo Catholic parishes and in non-Catholic (especially Episcopal) churches. 

Mexico is not a culturally homogeneous nation, and its religious mosaic includes a number of Eastern Orthodox Christians.   Their liturgy includes an akathist--a long hymn--honoring the Virgin, or the Theotokos (God-Bearer), as she is often referred to by Eastern Christians.  Part of this is reproduced below; click here for the full text.  I also include a video showing scenes from Mexican Orthodox life.


From the Akathist to Our Lady of Guadalupe

The peoples of Mesoamerica saw a most Divine Light when they gazed upon Thy sacred and miraculous image inscribed by the Finger of God upon the tilma of Juan Diego.  They recognized in  it their salvation at last and liberation from the darkness of enslavement to the cunning Serpent of old and they cried with grateful love amidst tears:
Rejoice, Most Immaculate Messenger from on High!
Rejoice, Great Sign that appeared in Heaven and in our midst!
Rejoice, Woman shining with the Brightness of Thy Son and our Lord!
Rejoice, Lady crushing the Serpent of old beneath thy feet!
Rejoice, Victor over evil!
Rejoice, Queen of Heaven and Earth!
Rejoice, unfailing Intercessor for those lost in darkness!
Rejoice, Star of the Sea bringing us to the harbor of safety!
Rejoice, Defender of children!
Rejoice, Protector of such as are of the Kingdom of Heaven!
Rejoice, Standing with the moon at Thy feet!
Rejoice, with hands enfolded in prayer to God on our behalf!
Rejoice, O Lady from Heaven, Virgin-Mother clothed with the Sun!

Merton and Theoria Physike  

Posted by Joe Rawls

For today's commemoration of Thomas Merton, we look at how he engaged with the thought of St Maximos the Confessor.  This can be found in his lecture notes for a course in ascetic theology given to the novices of Gethsemani Abbey, Merton's monastic community.  The excerpt deals with how Maximos addresses theoria physike, a stage in the contemplative journey in which the practitioner makes an effort to sense the divine presence in the created universe.  It is found in Merton and Hesychasm, Bernadette Dieker and Jonathan Montaldo, eds., Fons Vitae, 2003, pp 434-435.


Theoria physike is then:
a) Reception of the mysterious, silent revelation of God in His cosmos and in its oikonomia [stewardship of all things, the structure of God's dispensation of the cosmos, God's providence and judgement], as well as in our own lives. 

b) It is the knowledge of God that is natural to man, with God's help (grace).  But note it is not "natural" in the modern sense, [that is], clearly distinct from and opposed to "supernatural".  It is natural in the sense that it is what God intended for man in creating him.  It is proper to him as a son of God, was his when in paradise, is proper to him as a brother of the angels.  We must be restored first of all to this "natural" contemplation of the cosmos before we can rise to perfect theologia.

c)  This contemplation is demanded by the cosmos itself and by history.  If man cannot know creatures by this spiritual gnosis, they will be frustrated by their end.  If man cannot spiritually penetrate the meaning of the oikonomia, it runs the risk of being frustrated and souls will be lost.

d) Hence theoria physike is a most important part of man's cooperation in the spiritualization and restoration of the cosmos.  It is by theoria that man helps Christ to redeem the logoi of things and restore them in Himself.

e) This theoria is inseparable from love and from a truly spiritual conduct of life.  Man not only must see the inner meaning of things, but he must regulate his entire life and his use of time and of created beings according to the mysterious norms hidden in things by the Creator, or rather uttered by the Creator Himself in the bosom of His Creation.

f) The vision of theoria physike is essentially sophianic.  Man by theoria is able to untie the hidden wisdom of God in things with the hidden light of wisdom in himself.  The meeting and marriage of these two brings about a resplendent clarity within man himself, and this clarity is the presence of Divine Wisdom fully recognized and active in him.  Thus man becomes a mirror of the divine glory, and is resplendent with divine truth not only in his mind but in his life.  He is filled with the light of wisdom which shines forth in him, and thus God is glorified in him.  At the same time he exercises a spiritualizing influence in the world by the work of his hands which is in accord with the creative wisdom of God in things and in history.