Friday, October 31, 2008

Latest Old Books Club discussion...

We've been reading "Hymns on Paradise" by St. Ephrem the Syrian.
This, again, is an ecumenical book club. Some interesting topics covered.
Here's a snapshot of our discussion:

I responded....

(1) Ephrem as a Catholic & Orthodox Father
One thing that I forgot to bring up during our great discussion on Wednesday night was the fact that Ephrem is both part of the Patrimony of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. When discussing the "intermediate state" theory posited by Ephrem, the discussion seemed to follow a line that this was a great idea and one that was outside the thinking of the Catholic Church. I would simply point out that all of the Fathers we are reading are within both Traditions, respectively.

(2) O Happy Fault (Felix Culpa)
A decent explanation from Wikipedia...

Felix culpa is a Latin phrase that literally translated means a "blessed fault" or "fortunate fall". As a religious term it refers to Adam and Eve's fall and the loss of the Garden of Eden, known theologically as the source of original sin. The phrase is sung annually in the Exsultet of the Easter Vigil: "O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem," "O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer." The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas cited this line when he explained how the principle that "God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom" (not to say that it ought or needs to happen) underlies the causal relationship between original sin and the Divine Redeemer's Incarnation.

The phrase "Oh happy fault!" is used in colloquial English, especially among literary intellectuals.

In a literary context, the term "felix culpa" can be used to describe how a series of miserable events will eventually lead to a happier outcome. The theological concept is one of the underlying themes of Raphael Carter's science fiction novel The Fortunate Fall; the novel's title is explicitly derived from the Latin phrase. John Milton also invokes ideas of felix culpa in his epic poem Paradise Lost.
Mike chimes in... So, ultimately, the main point is this: felix culpa is from a beautiful song sung during the epic Easter Vigil mass at midnight... it is not any sort of theological maxim or hermeneutic by which Catholics operate. It does however say something profound about the faith that we have in God to transform such a calamity as Original Sin in such a powerful, redemptive manner, renewing the face of the earth.

(3) Intermediate State/Sanctification or 'being clothed in Glory' w/o Original Sin
I would actually like to couple this with a side remark made by Tim yesterday about Marian devotion, specifically the Immaculate Conception. Let me retrace some steps first. Again, Ephrem was positing that Original Sin did not need to occur; the Tree was a 'test' so to speak, and God wanted Adam and Eve to use their radical freedom for the good. If they were to choose righteously and faithfully (not eat the fruit), then they would have (without 'needing' to sin) been 'clothed in Glory' and essentially been given the graces won through Christ on the Cross without all the suffering and death. We all seemed to like and be intrigued by this idea.
Ok, here's the move...
If Adam and Eve were created in an intermediate state (not Glorified, not fallen, yet created in God's image) then couldn't God also create another human (if He so wished) in such an 'intermediate state'? Could He not create, say the Mother of His Divine Son, in this 'intermediate state'? Clearly the roots of the idea behind the Immaculate Conception are within such a doctrine. This is precisely what the Catholic Church teaches on this manner; Mary, set aside for the specific mission of bearing the Son of Man, could not have been born with Original Sin, thus God in all His Omnipotence created her in an 'immaculate state/intermediate state'. She still had radical freedom just like Eve, but not the 'concupiscence' or tendency of fallenness to sin. That's why there's all these Patristic references to Mary as the "new Eve". Hence, when Gabriel announced to her the great task of bearing the Son of God, she was able to answer with a resounding "Let it be done to me according to they will!". Hence, the great Archangel's response: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee."
The Immaculate Conception, contrary to common belief, is not a new idea. It was discussed even in the time of Thomas Aquinas in the 11th century. The Orthodox, and Aquinas, reject the idea because in those days most believed that the soul did not "quicken" the body at conception, but ensouled the fetus/embryo 40 days later. This was even posited by Augustine in the 4th century. Aquinas openly rejected the theological idea being debated even way back then. Orthodox theology, like Catholicism, developed from Pentecost until around the 10th or 11th century; then, in my interpretation, it became ossified and static, though still quite rich. The Catholic Church, after the schism, still continued the thoughtful, prayerful, and slow 'development of doctrine', for it is like a seed, growing and revealing more to us. Theology is not static. As we know now via science, the embryo is 'kicking' almost at conception, and most would now say that the ancient/medieval idea of 'quickening' was wrong. The body clearly appears to be ensouled at conception, the cornerstone of pro-life teaching.
Thus, it is not extraordinary that 800 years later (after Aquinas et al.) the pope proclaimed it a dogma of Mary, divinely revealed (Immaculate Conception 1854; Assumption of Mary 1950... Orthodox 'dormition' is essentially the same= Matt, correct me on this if necessary!).
Also, the Catholic Church, through the exercise of God given reason and Divine Revelation, thinks about, prays about, and asks God for his assistance in such matters of faith and morals. The Church believes that Peter and his papal successors have the "keys of the Kingdom" to "bind and loose" guided infallibly by the Holy Ghost. God is in fact the authority behind such a declaration. Keep in mind there have really only been 6 major 'infallible statements' made by popes throughout the ages; it is not a power-play as is typically believed.
Here they are:

* "Tome to Flavian", Pope Leo I, 449, on the two natures in Christ, received by the Council of Chalcedon;
* Letter of Pope Agatho, 680, on the two wills of Christ, received by the Third Council of Constantinople;
* Benedictus Deus, Pope Benedict XII, 1336, on the beatific vision of the just prior to final judgment;
* Cum occasione, Pope Innocent X, 1653, condemning five propositions of Jansen as heretical;
* Auctorem fidei, Pope Pius VI, 1794, condemning seven Jansenist propositions of the Synod of Pistoia as heretical;
* Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX, 1854, defining the immaculate conception; and
* Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII, 1950, defining the assumption of Mary.

(This is from Wikipedia, and seems correct, so don't take this as 'dogma'... ha, ha, ha.)

In conclusion, the theological groundwork is within Ephrem for such a dogma of Mary via the 'intermediate state' doctrine.

What say you fellas on all these matters?

One fellow, currently attending a High Anglican parish, replied:

Hmmm, on part 3-- that is an interesting move, which I will consider.
This whole "intermediate state" is all new to my thinking, so I'm
still processing it, but you propose an interesting twist. It is
possible that it begins to work toward a resolution of my major
objection--an objection that I thought otherwise could only be dealt
with by a very mystical explanation of the nature of kairos v chronos.
(Are these the right terms?)
I am aware that the germs of some of the modern innovations in Marian
theology have been around for some considerable time, but to my
curmudgeonly anti-modern sensibility, it still seems all too
innovative for me.

On 2, my hesitation is that the phrase could possibly be seen as
trying to make the fall less bad than it was. Maybe this phrase and
the hymn, properly understood, do not do this. But the idea could
easily lead some in that direction. (Similarly--and I don't think you
object to any of this--Death is truly bad, a result of the fall.
Christ's conquest of death does not make death not-bad, but rather
conquered. It is a mistake, then, to think that because of Christ,
death can be a good thing in itself. I think a similar thing could
happen with this fortunate fall idea.)

On 1, yes, of course, pre-schism.

Another friend, newly converted to Orthodoxy, also said he found the connection of Immaculate Conception and St. Ephrem's 'intermediate state' interesting.

Good stuff...

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