Anglica Apparitor

Canon law, theology, and musings

Orthodox Anglo-Saxons? Article summary — October 11, 2020

Orthodox Anglo-Saxons? Article summary

Jack Turner (2015) The Orthodoxy of the Anglo-Saxons: conversion and loyalty in the pre-conquest English Church, International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, 15:3, 199 213, DOI: 10.1080/1474225X.2015.1083780

The article cited above is very interesting. To anyone who has an interest in this topic, it is a must-read.

It is, in short summary, a critique of the main points put forward by John Romanides, Andrew Philips, and Vladimir Moss, that England before the Norman invasion of 1066 was an “Orthodox” land.

Turner deconstructs every argument that England was actually aligned with Constantinople and not Rome, which concludes with this rather forceful paragraph:

As can be seen, reform came with the Norman Conquest, but it was a reform that was already underway due to the presence in England of Anglo-Saxon and foreign prelates who were already interested in the reform, and the progress of reform was uneven in any case. For that matter, even though Moss and Phillips both suppose that the Conquest brought a new surge of papal influence to England, the evidence leads us to the opposite conclusion, and there is no reason to conclude, as Moss has,63 that the break in communion between Stigand and the papacy represents a deliberate stance of Orthodoxy. The circumstances related to Stigand’s suspension and possibly excommunication were wholly unrelated to the dispute of 1054. For that matter, even the 1054 dispute was not important in ecclesiastical relations a generation after the schism, and there was little recognition on either side that they were now unalterably separated; all of this comes much later than the period under discussion, hence it cuts to the heart of Phillips and Moss’s underlying point that the schism was final in 1054 and was recognised as such by the Orthodox at the time. As for the other evidence cited by Phillips and Moss, it is either at best mixed or at least has been misinterpreted or misrepresented. Overall, the evidence presents a mixture of continuity and change that is consistent with William’s desire to invade England to secure his inheritance and gain the honour of kingship rather than to make wholesale changes to England’s political or religious identity.64 In that regard, the Conquest is less crusade and more civil war, though the latter term may be considered inadequate by some. Nevertheless, it is still not the holy war to wrest Anglo-Saxon England out of the sphere of Greek Christianity, as would be argued by Philips and Moss.

There is a certain anti-Western and anti-Catholic strand in Eastern Orthodoxy which must make create such myths. It pops up most noticeably when Orthodox will only recognize as saints westerners who died before 1054. It is also inherent in the bias that every theological and spiritual development in the west in the second millenium is useless at best, heretical most probably, but that every theological and spiritual development in the east in the second millennium is not only good, but must be adopted by all those who wish to be a part of the “true” church. The preference for the “undivided church” of the first millennium in 20th century scholarship has been a positive one, but twisting it into amputating half of the heritage of Christianity is a negative deformation of that solid foundation.

Turner goes on to make a very good point in the conclusion:

In reality, Moss is attempting to address a very significant problem for Western converts to Orthodoxy, at least insofar as it relates to his native land. It is difficult to simply sweep away the ecclesiastical heritage of one’s home as if it were non-Christian, even though there are many Orthodox authors and theologians who understand the post-Schism West to be indistinguishable from non-Christian religions. One means of dealing with one’s pre-Orthodox Christian past (personal or national) is to determine what elements remain acceptable in one’s new confession. This is embedded in Moss’s stated aim, which he points out is neither political nor social, but spiritual in hoping to aid the future canonisation of Harold Godwinson as an Orthodox saint, and he relies almost exclusively on hagiographical sources because modern researchers are ‘bias[ed] against anything that smacks of the miraculous’.71 This further explains his selective use of modern Conquest studies and his preferences for hostile Anglo-Saxon accounts.

Secondly, we can detect an undercurrent of anti-Roman Catholic hostility in the entire enterprise. Moss’s anti-Catholicism is not a significant surprise. In one sense, it is little different from Anglican attempts to demonstrate that their church had always been jurisdictionally separate from Rome in an effort to support the separate course Anglicanism has taken since the English Reformation.72 By demonstrating England’s separateness from Rome, he and Phillips are able to justify the Orthodoxy of England’s ecclesiastical heritage, at least up to the point of the Conquest itself, and all the better if the early Anglo-Saxon conversion can somehow be linked with the East as well.73 Neither Moss nor Phillips takes the logical next step of considering the progress of reform in the other territories in Britain and Ireland; Moss considers the ‘end’ of the Welsh and Irish churches briefly,74 but does not provide any consideration of the Scottish Church. At what point can we think of Scotland as having entered Schism since it was never conquered by the Normans and did not have strong relations with the papacy prior to the twelfth century?75 And what of the point that 1054 was not considered a catastrophic break by those living at the time; what bearing does that have? These questions, neither asked nor answered, are serious challenges to the edifice erected by Moss and Phillips but are never given their due by the authors.

As an Anglican, I am also concerned that we do not ground ourselves to deeply in being simply not-Rome, whether that not-Rome happened at 1054 or 1066 or 1534. Being not-Rome, however, does not mean being Orthodox. In Orthodox ecclesiological terms, autonomous national churches are normal, and it seems to me odd that the only reason why Orthodox accept the Romanian church as valid, but the Anglican church as not. What it basically comes down to is that the Romanian rite is eastern and the Anglican rite is western. To bound the “true faith” together with a rite is something that if you push within Orthodox churches themselves obviously falls apart, so that doesn’t work. The argument that Anglicans have “jumped the shark” since the 70’s is a red-herring, as every Orthodox simply refuses to recognize the existence of the Continuum (or resorts to mocking it for stupid reasons if they do see it).

To put it plainly – what I see Moss et al. trying to do is bigotry. Just as people tried to desperately try to explain the away the pyramids because it was inconceivable that they were made by Africans, this refusal to acknowledge that the English could ever have their own valid church unless it was “Orthodox” and connected to Constantinople is likewise disgustingly biased. And much like racism itself, most Orthodox I meet do not even realize that they hold this bias. They nearly all think that even the most sacramental traditionalist continuers among the Anglicans need to be “fixed” to become acceptable. As if our problem is that we need to stop being so prideful, pull up our pants, and act white.

I believe there could be a lot of fruitful discussion between the Orthodox and the catholic Continuers. But the myths such as Moss et al are not helpful, and impede any flourishing of respect.

Review of Spiritual Dimensions of the Holy Canons – with a discussion of differences East & West — July 23, 2020

Review of Spiritual Dimensions of the Holy Canons – with a discussion of differences East & West

It is commonly said that Orthodox canon law is somewhere between non-existent and too complicated. Both, obviously, can not be true. What is true is that the current state of Orthodox canon law looks different today from western canon law. The idea of have “A Code” is an idea based on legal positivism, and the entrance of this idea into Roman Catholic canon law in the 20th century has been questioned.

The Orthodox church does not have “A Code.” Instead, there is (still) a dependence on all the legislation set down in councils, the decisions and teachings of various bishops and ascetics, and, to a lesser extent, the commentaries on these rules. The lack of one influential commentator, who pulled together various canons to try to find a harmony of discordant canons and distilling out basic principles of juridical interpretation, as Gratian did in the west, points to one of the main places where eastern and western canon law diverged.

So what do the Orthodox do with this unwieldy corpus which few people actually read? Cynically, one may say that it is a mess, different Orthodox jurisdictions can have rather different praxis, which a savvy Orthodox person can easily exploit to their own advantage. On the other hand, even with differences in praxis, the basic principles in the different jurisdictions remain remarkably constant for a lack of any easy rule book. This constancy, which is not just constant geographically but also temporally (consider the way the Orthodox still respect the rule from Nicaea which bans kneeling on Sundays), is based on something other than a text. It is, like many cultures before modern times, based on oral tradition, which is bigger than just verbal transmission, but is part of the life and actions and the traditional way of life. “We have always done things that way” or “this is the Orthodox way” are expressions of this lived tradition, where rules are a part of the way you live your life, not things applied to your life from a rule book.

With this in mind, it is easier to see what the Orthodox mean by economia, that nebulous thing Roman Catholics tend to view as allowing trigamy. Patsovos defines economy as the lifting of the consequences for violating the law (p. 13). So while economia seems to function like a dispensation, it is a bit different. A dispensation is an exception made to the law for you, economia (in this definition) is an exception made to the punishment for you. On the level of jurisprudence, economia is more strict than dispensation. However, in practice, economia allows more freedom, and allows the law to consider the present situation based on what has passed, instead of a dispensation which is intended to lift a rule in the future.

This temporal difference points to another basic philosophical difference between east and west. When it comes to marriage law, Patsavos mentions the principles of abduction or “sham” weddings invalidating a marriage. But the principle of consent it not developed further, certainly not to the extent consent has influenced Roman Catholic marriage law and the grounds for annulment. In an annulment, what is investigated (in most instances) is the mental beliefs about marriage and internal consent to the marriage, at the exact moment of the exchange of vows. So being a bit drunk, or thinking “maybe I should have married her sister instead,” at the altar is grounds to nullify the marriage – to say that it never actually happened. This is quite mystifying to the Orthodox, and not just because of the lack of development of consent. Patsavos posits many times that canon law is for spiritual perfection, and the Orthodox consider this spiritual perfection as growing and developing over time. To someone who had doubts about the chosen bride on the wedding day, and then 20 years later got divorced, the Orthodox would not attempt to adjudicate the past to determine a person’s state of mind on the wedding day, but instead ask “was there any point in the 20 years that you accepted the bride as your wife and tried to make it work?” Most would assume that after 20 years of marriage there was a point where the couple had consented to their union.

This idea that sacramental validity can develop and deepen over time points to another aspect of the dynamism of the eastern approach to ecclesiastical praxis. Whereas the Roman Catholic church today is trying to reign in the ballooning cases of marriage annulments with more and more pre-marital educational initiatives, the Orthodox are more willing to perform a wedding and allow the marriage to take root and flourish in its sacramental grace after. While this may seem shockingly irresponsible to a Roman Catholic, it is consistent with the approach to other sacraments of the church. Baptism being the main example of a sacrament usually received without understanding, to which the receiver is expected to align themselves in ever greater fashion over the course of one’s life.

There are a few specific areas where Patsavos’ language is strange when considered in terms of how those words are usually used in western canon law. The most egregious is on p. 35, where he says the difference between priests and laity is not ontological but liturgical. The ontological change of the priesthood is a fundamental principle in western canon law, and here Patsavos seems to be denying it. Yet, in the context he is talking about how clergy and laity play different roles in the liturgy, yet each is equally necessary. Yet it is clear that for Patsavos the priesthood is not simply functional, as on p. 43 he states that a priest who is under ecclesiastical censure may not function as a priest, but retains his priestly office. It would seem that Patsavos is considering the language of ontological change to be something more than a permanent mark on the soul, but something more akin to the place one has in the hierarchy of being. He is, simply, saying that priests are still human, human in the same way laity are humans. When western canon law speaks of ontological change of the priesthood, it is not speaking of the man being changed into a different class of being. Presently. There was, one must keep in mind, in the middle ages of high scholasticism the idea of the hierarchy of beings, with God on top, angels and other powers below, and a gradation down to the lesser and lower. In this system clerics were, in fact, put on a higher level in hierarchy of being than the laity, it was one of the arguments raised to defend clerical celibacy – since clerics were on a higher plane, being tied to the lower plane by wife or children was a confusion of the hierarchy (not unlike the sons of God having children with the daughters of men, as in Genesis). This idea has been quietly laid aside in Roman Catholic canon law in the past few centuries, though the argument seems to have made a historical impact on the Orthodox. The language of “indelible mark” is something I believe Patsavos would heartily agree with, and is thus perhaps a better way for east and west to discuss this topic.

Patsavos gives at the end of the book a topical list of canons. This is helpful to have references to canons which Orthodox would normally consider when deciding an issue. However, the western person should not consider this list to be exhaustive or authoritative. The rules of St John the Faster are a part of the Orthodox milieu, for sure, but for those in particular there could be (among some priests) a great deal of hesitation.

The real strength to this book is in its opening pages of introduction and principles. In it, Patsavos succinctly lays out how canon law as a dynamic corpus can be respected, obeyed, and also pastorally applied. He brings canon law out of the prism of rules to be followed, and into principles for life. He explains how canons can be authoritative, even if the plain meaning of the canon is no longer considered applicable. It is, in short, a masterful rebuttal to the Legal Positivism which is at work in the 1983 codex iuris canonici and the entire modern conception of what law is. I once heard an Orthodox canonist try to explain Orthodox canon law by comparing it to Common Law. The problem is that common law has itself moved in a legal positivist direction, and the idea of binding precedent is somewhat alien to canon law (except, perhaps, in the larger sense of adding to the traditional life of the church). Nonetheless, Patsavos here gives another perspective in how to have and follow a law, one which offers a good corrective to modern legal theories many of simply assume to be self-evident.


A Way of the Cross — April 4, 2020

A Way of the Cross

Below is a little something I created. I got a spark from the “new” way of the cross by John Paul II, and spent some time exploring the various versions that exist, including the Philippine one. The idea of a Scriptural way of the cross was one I found interesting, but I found the versions a bit…missing a little something (sorry, JP). So I made this. Looking at it now that it’s finished, I realized that it’s set up a bit like an Orthodox akathist or canon. The Collects I took from Chambers  – so to sound cool I nickname this the Sarum Way of the Cross.

A Way of the Cross 

Round One (meditations 1 – 4):

O Jerusalem, look to the East and see; 

lift up thine eyes, O Jerusalem, and see the power of thy King.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, unto ages of ages. Amen.

Praise be to Thee, O Lord, King of eternal glory.

1: The Last Supper:

The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world. 

2: The Garden of Gethsemane:

And Jesus came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives; and his disciples also followed him. And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

3: Jesus is Arrested:

Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand. And immediately, while he yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve. And he that betrayed him had given them a token, saying, whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely. And as soon as he was come, he goeth straightway to him, and saith, Master, master; and kissed him. And they laid their hands on him, and took him.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

4: Jesus Before the Sanhedrin:

And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death. And straightway in the morning they bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, unto ages of ages. Amen.

Praise be to Thee, O Lord, King of eternal glory.


O Lord! We call on Thy Name, and entreat Thee, that, as by the strength of Thy Name, Thou didst refresh our fathers, when in danger of perishing, with the food of Angels ; so Thou wouldst nourish and recreate us by the feast of Thy mysteries. Through our Lord Jesus Christ who livest and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, to the ages of ages. Amen.

Round Two (meditations 5 – 8):

O Jerusalem, look to the East and see; 

lift up thine eyes, O Jerusalem, and see the power of thy King.

5: Jesus judged by Pilate:

And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto them, Thou sayest it. And the chief priests accused him of many things: But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled. Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. And there was one named Barabbas, who had committed murder. And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them. And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify him.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

6: The Scourging of Jesus:

Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, and said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

7: Simon Carries the Cross:

And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him. And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

8: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem:

And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, unto ages of ages. Amen.

Praise be to Thee, O Lord, King of eternal glory.


O God of strength! Passing all understanding! Who mercifully givest to Thy people mercy and judgment ; grant to us, we beseech Thee, faithfully to love Thee, to walk in the way of righteousness, and to hate the accursed sins of vanity and pride. Through Christ our Lord, who livest and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, to the ages of ages. Amen.

Round Three (meditations 9 – 12):

O Jerusalem, look to the East and see; 

lift up thine eyes, O Jerusalem, and see the power of thy King.

9: Jesus is Crucified:

And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, and saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, This Is The King Of The Jews.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

10: The Good Thief:

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

11: Jesus Speaks to His Mother:

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

12: Jesus Dies:

And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. And they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, unto ages of ages. Amen.

Praise be to Thee, O Lord, King of eternal glory.


O Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst will to be shown forth in the substance of our mortality, and suffering for us didst not refuse to submit to the horns of the cross ; grant, we beseech Thee, that we may be worthy to be made partakers of Thy Divinity, and may ever glory and rejoice in Thee, Who livest and reignest in the Unity of the Father, and the Holy Ghost, God, unto ages of ages. Amen.

Round Four (meditations 13 – 16):

O Jerusalem, look to the East and see; 

lift up thine eyes, O Jerusalem, and see the power of thy King.

13: Jesus is Pierced:

The Jews, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, besought Pilate that their legs might be broken. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

14: Jesus is Buried:

When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

15: Mary’s Sorrow:

And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And Anna gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

16: The Resurrection:

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, unto ages of ages. Amen.

Praise be to Thee, O Lord, King of eternal glory.


O God! Who in the holy morning of Thy Resurrection, madest Thy joy to be heard, when, returning from hell, Thou didst fill the earth with gladness, which Thou hadst left in gloom ; we beseech the Ineffable Majesty of Thy Power, that as Thou didst cause the holy company of the Apostles to rejoice in Thy rising, so Thou wouldst vouchsafe to illumine this Thy church, which with outstretched hands doth beseech Thee, with the radiance of Thy celestial splendour, Who livest and regnest with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, God, unto the ages of ages. Amen.


Thirty years have been finished — April 2, 2020

Thirty years have been finished

The second part of the hymn Pange Lingua, Lustra sex qui jam perácta, is used as the hymn for Passion Sunday. I was reading Neale’s translation, and noted that some lines seemed a bit opaque. “From the smitten Lamb that roll’d” is an awkward line, and it took me a moment to connect the referent of “that roll’d.”

I mentioned this to my husband, and he pointed me to Chamber’s translation of this hymn (in his Psalter, p. 86), but that translation also seemed to lack a certain flow. Then my eyes landed on the Latin that Chambers provides, and down the rabbit hole I fell.

The textual history of this hymn, and the translations made of it, are explained in a fantastic document by Corpus Christi Watershed. I’m not going to repeat everything said in that document, just discuss certain points.

First, about the textual history. Urban VIII’s changes to the hymns is it’s own thing. But in this hymn in particular I am very puzzled by the change in stanza 10 of nauta to arca. The line ends with náufrago, which means “shipwreck” or “castaway.” Perhaps the idea of the change was that the Ark is the ship coming into the port made by the cross, but you’re still left with the words “shipwrecked world” to deal with. Most translators simply skip over these words, though Neale keeps it as the indirect object of  præparáre (and though he calls the changes “revived Paganism” he keeps the change to arca). It’s clear (to me) that the original text is making an important image with the word nauta, there is a sailor who is a castaway on the world, and by the cross that sailor has a port to come home to. One could point out that the original text doesn’t have a way for the sailor to come to port, hence the introduction in the revision of the ark. But this totally misses the point. First of all, we’re working on the level of analogy, not literal Hollywood-movie plot points, so we don’t need to invent a plot point to get the actor from A to B. And, more importantly, the hymn itself suggests the method by which the sailor gets to port, quem sacer cruor perúnxit. In Latin poetry there’s not much given to determine the syntax of the sentence, but perúnxit is the finite verb, and quem agrees with nauta, who seems to be the subject of this clause. The sailor is being anointed with the sacred blood – that’s how he changes from being shipwrecked to being brought to port.

This idea of the cross being made into a port for us castaway sailors builds upon the previous language being used for the cross, and one that many of the translators seem to miss, or just not express clearly. Namely, the cross only participates in the salvation wrought by Christ because it itself went through it’s own act of salvation. It’s called a noble tree, yes, but stanza 9 expresses how it achieved that status. It had to change, it had to give up the nature it had from birth, it had to be willing to relax it’s rigidity, it’s “original sin” so to speak. Only after that transformation could it accept Christ upon itself. This is a model of redemption.

Another image that I think most translators miss is the flúmine at the end of stanza 7. Many translators seem to make it redundant with unda, and collapse the two together. I think that’s linguistically problematic, but most importantly it obscures the theological analogies of this stanza. The river that flows out from Jerusalem, from the temple, to redeem the world, is an image used often in the Old Testament. Specifically, this stanza seems to draw heavily on Psalm 65. Verses 5-9 in the KJV read:

By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea:

Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girded with power:

Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.

They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens: thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice.

Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it.

In the Vulgate this is Psalm 64:

6 Mirabile in aequitate exaudi nos Deus salutaris noster spes omnium finium terrae et in mari longe 6 wonderful in justice. Hear us, O God our saviour, who art the hope of all the ends of the earth, and in the sea afar off.
7 Praeparans montes in virtute tua accinctus potentia 7 Thou who preparest the mountains by thy strength, being girded with power:
8 Qui conturbas profundum maris sonum fluctuum eius turbabuntur gentes 8 who troublest the depth of the sea, the noise of its waves. The Gentiles shall be troubled,
9 Et timebunt qui inhabitant terminos a signis tuis exitus matutini et vespere delectabis 9 and they that dwell in the uttermost borders shall be afraid at thy signs: thou shalt make the outgoings of the morning and of the evening to be joyful.
10 Visitasti terram et inebriasti eam multiplicasti locupletare eam flumen Dei repletum est aquis parasti cibum illorum quoniam ita est praeparatio eius 10 Thou hast visited the earth, and hast plentifully watered it; thou hast many ways enriched it. The river of God is filled with water, thou hast prepared their food: for so is its preparation.

In these verses aspects of nature are also enumerated, waiting in tremulous expectation, until finally they are visited and the flumen Dei becomes repletum est aquis. The result of this? They can come to dine – parasti cibum illorum. (One can also note here how the eucharistic imagery is obscured in the KJV rendering). The psalm goes on to express the renewal of all of creation. Since when this hymn was written it was common for monks (and others) to memorize the whole psalter, it is reasonable to conjecture that the language used in stanza 7 was intended to bring this psalm to mind.

Being unhappy with the existing English translations, I set about to make my own. I began with a largely literal translation, but recognizing that a literal translation of Latin verse produces some incomprehension in English, I then squished some things around dynamically. I am not a poet, and did not bother to format the language into a particular meter, my only concern being that it would flow nicely enough to be placed on a chant tone. To rephrase the old saying “Theology comes first, my dear, and then the rhyming.”

Some notes on my translation choices – I render stípite as “beams” in both instances. I realize the word is grammatically ablative singular, but I see the hymn making the point that both the horizontal and vertical beams of the cross were made from the same trunk (stanzas 8 and 9), and there’s also the play on fuísti in stanza 10. The trunk was split into two beams, which were then fused back together to form the cross. To capture this aspect of the Tree’s story, I went with “beams.” I translate sanguis and cruor as “blood” in all instances, but I feel that’s not quite right. In stanza 10 I understand cruor with perúnxit talking about something similar to the blood of the sacrifice being used for purity and protection (cf. temple rituals and Passover), and I’m not sure how to express that in English.

My translation of Lustra sex qui jam perácta:

THIRTY years have been finished : The time in flesh being fulfilled,

dedicated to this His passion : he willed to be born.

The Lamb upon the cross is raised high : to be sacrificed upon the beams.


Behold the vinegar and gall, the reed and spit! The spear and nails

his meek body have pierced : blood in a wave flows forth

upon the earth and sea, stars and world : where the stream has cleansed.


Cross of faith ! One and only noble Tree ;

No forest yields one like thee : in leaf, flower, or bud.

Sweet wood, sweet nails : sweet weight upholding.


Haughty Tree, bend thy branches : ease thy rigid sinews,

may that rigor relax : which birth has given thee.

And the limbs of the Celestial King : may be stretched meekly on thy beams.


Thou alone was worthily joined : to bear the surety of the world.

And to make ready the port for the sailor : of the shipwrecked world

whom the sacred Blood anointed : poured out from the body of the Lamb.


Glory and honor to God : everlasting in the highest,

One Father and Son : and illustrious Paraclete ;

To whom is all praise and power : Through the ages of ages, Amen.

Selections from the Stanzaic Life of St. Margaret — August 7, 2012

Selections from the Stanzaic Life of St. Margaret

Taken from Stanzaic Life of Margaret. Edited by Sherry L. Reames. Originally Published Middle English Legends of Women Saints. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 2003.

Old and young, I you pray your foibles for to cease and believe on Jesus Christ, that gave you wit your sins for to atone. Listen, I will tell you words fair and sweet- the life of a maiden that was called Margaret.
Her father was a pagan priest, as I tell you may. In Antioch a wife he chose in that false faith. Feeble was his heart and false was his faith; The fiends out of hell, they served him both night and day.

The nurse that this maiden took, she kept her with pleasure. All they her loved, as says the book, in the house that she was in. Soon she knew great wisdom, and sin she dread abhorred; She gave her heart to Jesus Christ and left all her kin.
Then spoke Olibrius. He cursed both sun and moon. For this virgin glorious his wits were nearly gone. “Bring her before me,” he said. ” I will change her mind very soon. I shall her make me to love long before midday.”

“Maid Margaret,” he said, “my sweetheart thou shalt be, and I thee will wed if thou be of free birth. If thou be of riches born, I give thee gold and fee. Thou shalt be my sweetheart so long as it shall be.”
That maid him answered clearly and alone: “I am a Christian woman, baptized in the font. Blessed be my Lord that I believe upon. I will not lose His love for no earthly man.”

“Believest thou,” he said, “on Jesus Christ, that which was done upon the Cross? Longinus pierced His side – the blood ran in streams. The crown was of thorns that on His head stood. If thou considereth that He liveth, I hold thee but mad.”

Then spoke that maid as an angel taught her: “He died on the Cross our souls to amend, And then into hell His holy ghost He sent To take us out of prison to joy without end.”

Then spoke Olibrius. He saw it was no use To argue with that maiden, so steadfastly she stood. He bade men to bind her, both hand and foot, And put her in prison – “that ye may change her mind.”

Maid Margaret all night in prison lay. She came before Olibrius upon the second day. “Maid Margaret,” he said, “trust upon my religion; Jesus that thou believest on, forsake Him now forever.

“All thy counsel,” she said, “it turns not my thought. I commit myself to Jesus Christ, which that has me bought. And all this middle earth, forsooth He made from nothing, And then with His precious blood out of hell us brought.”

Then spoke Olibrius, “Now it shall be seen Who it is that thou believest and why thou art so bold. Hang her up by the hair, for to anger her Lord! Beat her with scourges until ye believe her dead!”

These torturers did as he bade; to her they gun go. With their sharp nails they caused her much woe. Of her fair white flesh they drove ever fro, That the blood from her head ran down to her toe.

Full well saw that Sarysyne that he might not cause her to budge. He called forth Malcus, that was his executioner. “Lad,” he said, “out of the town – or else I shall her bear – And bring her out of life with sword or with spear.”

Jesus with his angels He sent her a fair voice – To maiden Margaret, Christ’s maid of heaven: “Blessed be thou today with all that I can name. Today shalt thou find the way into the bliss of heaven.”

Than spoke maid Margaret; her prayers she ceased. “Malcus,” she said, “smite off my head. Forgiven to thee is that sin.” “That will I not do,” he said, “for all this world to win. Thy Lord has greeted thee, that thou believest in.”

“But if thou do,” she said, “Unless shalt thou never have That joy that is in paradise, that thou after do crave.” Malcus herd these words; his sword then did he draw And smote off her head with dread and repugnant awe.

Michael and Gabriel and Raphael together, Cherubim with ten thousand that there were, With censers and tapers to heaven they her bore, Full high before Jesus Christ; she is to Him full dear.

Of that sweet maid this is her life, The twentieth day of her in the month of July. Jesus Christ, that was born of the Virgin Mary, For Saint Margaret’s love on us have mercy. Amen.

Review: Hurting with God by Glenn Pemberton — July 1, 2012

Review: Hurting with God by Glenn Pemberton

Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms by Glenn Pemberton

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers

A few pages into this book I realized that Glenn Pemberton and I live in two different worlds. He devotes the opening of the book to lamenting (yes, lamenting) that the church does not lament, and has no language for lament in its public worship (or thereby offer people ways to lament in their private devotions, which would be the logical corollary).

For the last decade I have lived in traditional Christian liturgical circles (of various types and flavors, I admit). All of these have in common the traditional liturgical practice of reading the psalter straight through, skipping nothing and glossing over nothing. Yes, the heads of children are bashed against stones. In traditional Anglicanism the Book of Lamentations is read during Holy Week, and in Eastern Orthodoxy Psalm 50 is read so often that it is the first Psalm most Orthodox memorize. So his statement that churches today don’t lament strikes me as a very insular assertion.

I do realize that in many of the modern “liberal” churches this is not the case any more, with the Psalms being carefully redacted for use in public worship, beginning with the 1928 BCP and God knows what has happened since then. And in non-liturgical circles (which Pemberton seems to be a part of) this can easily devolve into Psalms only being read/sung according to their popularity. So in the age of sentimentalism the only exposure to the Psalms most get in churches today is “As the deer panteth for the water…” often and ad naseum.

I get that this is a problem. Though I have personally solved it by leaving it behind, Pemberton wants to fix it. Which is fine. However, it becomes immediately clear that his academic training is in the realm of Biblical Criticism, notably Textual and Redaction Criticism. He clearly is very aware of the text of the Bible, especially the Hebrew Old Testament. Perhaps too aware. It ends up bogging down his entire argument and leads him into many strange places for a book with the subtitle “Learning to Lament with the Psalms.”

He begins chapter two by trying to explain away the fact that the Hebrew title of Psalms is Sefer Tehillim, “Book of Praises.” What are lament psalms doing in a book of praises? Are they are praises or praiseworthy? Bah humbug, I say. The title Sefer Tehillim is Rabbinic, meaning it post-dates Christ by at least two centuries, if not more. The title does appear in the DSS in the War Scroll, but it is not at all clear that it refers to the whole Book of Psalms, something else entirely, or maybe just the psalms that carry the superscription of “tehillim” and may have been collected together at some point (see The Dead Sea Scroll Psalm Scrolls and the Book of Psalms by Peter Flint, page 23). In any case, the Bible itself refers to the Book of Psalms as – guess what? – the Book of Psalms, biblio psalmon, in Acts 1:20. A translation of this, if we need one, is “Book of Songs.” Why does it carry a different title in Hebrew? Because as nearly everyone in biblical studies these days knows, the Rabbi’s putting together the Masoretic Text occasionally made editorial decisions in order to make the MT more different from the LXX which was popular among Christians. I’m not going to make a value judgement upon that, only to say that I think Christians should be fine referring to the Psalms the same way that the author of the Book of Acts did.

Pemberton’s near-sightedness because of his reliance upon the Hebrew ultimately obfuscates his point later concerning Paul and Silas singing psalms in prison. Were they actually psalms? Were they laments? Was it the psalms themselves which caused the guard to convert? Yes, yes, yes, and only because they were singing the Psalms in Greek – from the LXX. He should have been able to flesh this out, but he couldn’t, because he was so stuck on Sefer Tehillim.

Moving on. In the fifth chapter he goes through three particular lament psalms. Concentrating just on his treatment of Psalm 51 (50, for those who don’t follow the Hebrew numbering), a psalm full of interesting metaphors for sin, grace, and forgiveness, his discussion is remarkably superficial. He concentrates instead on the textual history of superscriptions, and when he does get to theology it consists merely of denying that the psalm says anything about Original Sin or Pneumatology. Yes, we get that Psalms are constructed as parallel metaphors, but even so, even a general understanding of biblical inspiration would say that those metaphors carry more than just their bald meaning.

I could go on with examples, but in the interest of length… these are indicative of most of the book. He textually deconstructs numerous psalms (at one point speculating about the age of the author of a particular psalm) and breaking out the various components of lament psalms and how they work. He says that this book was written because of his own personal struggles, and I believe him. I also believe that his method of textual criticism is the only way he knows how to read the Bible in order for it to have any meaning for him.

Eventually, the book seems to hit upon its subtitle in chapters eleven and twelve. If the whole book was more like these chapters I would find it much more worthwhile. He wraps it up by giving some suggestions for how Christians and churches can include more language of lament in their spiritual expression, pointing to an appendix with a list of traditional metrical psalters (yes!). Though I have a feeling that some of the newer publications in that list may have had the Psalms undergo a thorough “scrubbing” before they were set to music (thus undermining his point), but I am not familiar enough with some of them to say for sure.

The Chapter Discussion questions and Further Reading parts at the end make the book easily adopted for use in church book clubs or Bible Studies. Though with all my issues with his over-reliance on Biblical Criticism, I personally find the book to have limited value in those settings.

In the end, I think his point is laudable. Christianity isn’t all about having happy, smiling faces. When it comes right down to it, Christianity demands rather the opposite. But in the age of Moral Therapeutic Deism I am afraid that this won’t be enough to encourage Christians to return to the gritty Christianity of “deny yourself” and instead this book may be read as just another shade of “spiritual self-help.” “Haven’t received what you asked for yet? Use this struggle as an opportunity to lament. Thanksgivings will surely follow!” No, this is not what Pemberton is saying, but he doesn’t seem to really deny it either.

One last problem with the book: He quotes from C S Lewis’s commentary on the Psalms, and I have thus found something where I completely disagree with Lewis. Damn. And here I was starting to give credence to my latent belief that Lewis may be personally infallible. Just goes to show, even all good saints have their warts. (***)

Review: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity — June 13, 2011

Review: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity

I picked up The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity by Carsten Peter Thiede on a whim at my local public library. I knew I had heard his name before, and I knew he wasn’t a wacko, but I had not read anything by him, so I figured it was worth a quick perusal.

The most interesting thing I found about the book was Thiede’s insistence on pointing out that the Dead Sea Scrolls, as revolutionary their discovery was, are not actually all that odd. There have been other scrolls found in the same area which express the same things, and all the theology expressed in the scrolls can be pieced together from other sources. If nothing else, the DSS give definitive “proof” of many things in a field otherwise filled with conjectures. But one is left to wonder if the real “revolution” of the scrolls was in showing just how shaky and unreasonable many of the vaunted conjectures were.

Thiede is interesting in that he stands between two worlds. On the one hand there is the Evangelical-inerrancy type which subconsciously regards the MT as inherently holy, and on the other hand there is the irreligious scholars who are more than willing to mock anyone who thinks these writings are holy, if given half a chance. Thiede’s approach in balancing and reasoning between the competing arguments of these camps is refreshing, though in a popular book such as this one his discussion on this point is disappointingly thin. Thiede’s approach reminded me that, even at the time the DSS were written, many of the texts were already considered sacred scripture, which means discussion of their composition and history should carefully account for them being treated with piety and devotion, while taking account of the fact that such piety at the time did not include modern ideas of a fixed inerrant text.

Thiede occasionally seems to lose track of himself, and his narrative slips into side notes, bunny trails, and sub themes on a regular basis, interrupting his overall point. He also tends to slip into his “second job” as an Anglican priest and slips into pastoral mode, and seems to be on the verge of giving a homily. His pointed critique of some of the crazy ideas popular in Christian circles are entertaining, but not always entirely appropriate in a general popular book such as this one.

Finally, one can not give a full review without mentioning the New Testament Issue. Thiede goes through piece by piece all his reasons for suggesting that the unknown fragments belong to Mark and 1 Timothy, and all the reasons why he thinks the scholarly world refuse to consider his proposal. After going through all of it I can understand why he thought the whole thing was very frustrating (the frustration almost drips off the page at times). I’m inclined to give his theory a sympathetic consideration, but in the end I believe that it is impossible to prove that the fragments are not Mark and 1 Timothy, and I also believe it is impossible to prove that they are. There simply is not enough solid evidence to prove one way or the other.

The book is very helpful in that it clearly situates the DSS in it’s proper context within the theology of Second Temple Judaism. Even the discussion of the fragments is helpful in that it shows in an engaging way what is involved in manuscripts studies and forming conclusions from the raw evidence. It would be a good supplemental book to an advanced NT studies course, or a good read for any moderately religious armchair theologian who wants to know more about the DSS.

Review: The Nativity by Geza Vermes — April 23, 2011

Review: The Nativity by Geza Vermes

I was browsing my local public library and picked up a few interesting books. The first one was The Nativity: History and Legend

I found this book…oddly disappointing. The main problem is a problem that is my pet peeve about many biblical scholars. This is the practice of using a statement made in one part of the Bible to prove that a statement in another part of the Bible is false. It’s kind of like using inches to prove that centimeters are wrong. I mean, sometimes I can see the point of this method, but other times it just seems nonsensical, especially when there is a completely reasonable explanation for a seeming contradiction. Vermes makes much of the fact that it seems that the location of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is an invention made to make the event line up with an obscure prophecy and as proof he points to the verses where Jesus’ contemporaries in Galilee wonder how he could be the Messiah if he was born in Nazareth.

The exact placement of Jesus’ birth does have issues, but all canonical or non-canonical accounts place it somewhere around Bethlehem. The hoops Matthew and Luke jump through to get Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem are complicated and even historically questionable, but it seems unlikely that their audience would have accepted such a complicated account if it lacked some kind of historical precedent. As for the statements of others asking about Jesus’ birth in Nazareth, hasn’t Vermes ever heard of the idea that the Gospels have as a major theme the Messianic Secret? Or that the Gospels often use irony or rhetorical questions to advance that theme?

The other major problem I had was Vermes approach to Matthew’s use of proof texts. Matthew’s appeal to prophecies are sometimes odd (and maybe even made up) but Matthew does not do anything which his contemporaries among the Mishnah, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the whole stream of Second Temple Jewish Literature were not also doing, or doing even more imaginatively. Vermes knows this, I know he knows this. So why does he characterize Matthew as a purveyor of falsehoods, half-truths, and outright deception? Unless, of course, that is also his opinion of nearly every other Second Temple Jewish author, but then he should have mentioned that.

Overall, I found the book interesting insofar as it let me get an understanding of Vermes own musings and opinions of the genre of Infancy Gospels. Some of his ideas I find unlikely (such that Mary’s virgin birth referred to her simply becoming pregnant by Joseph before the onset of menarche), but they are interesting ideas to grapple with. Whether it was responsible for him to express such unproven ideas as fact in a book geared to a general audience is quite another matter.

Penthos, Tears, and Mystical Union with God — May 12, 2010

Penthos, Tears, and Mystical Union with God


The “theology of tears” has a distinguished history in Byzantine and western Medieval spirituality. The standard work on penthos however, first published in 1944 by Irénée Hausherr, while a thorough overview of the literary evidence for tears in early Christian writings, is weak in discussing where this theology came from or how its particular theological formulations impacted the wider theological system. Arguably, Hausherr spends too much time distracted by cataloging every instance of a monk breaking out of a Stoic system to shed tears over something that he misses the theological impact of penthos itself in the spiritual life of the ascetic. By an examination of only a few sources, spanning the first millennia of the Christian era, this paper hopes to illuminate the place of penthos in the theology of an experience of a mystical union with God.

To begin with the origins, penthos is instructed by Jesus in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the sorrowing [penthountes] for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). The twelfth-century Byzantine writer Nicholas Kataskeperios defined penthos as “a godly sorrow, engendered by repentance.”[1] The connection between tears and repentance has clear evidence in both the Old and New Testaments. Most evident is Luke 7:36-50, the pericope of the sinful woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears. As a result of her actions Jesus declares that her sins are forgiven and that her faith has saved her. Tears have, therefore, a scriptural connection to the forgiveness of sins and salvation. The implied message is that the actions of the sinful woman should be imitated, and if one does so, one will also have forgiveness of sins equal to that of the sinful woman and achieve perfect union with God. Certainly, this was the conclusion of the many Syrian monastic writers who interpreted this passage.[2] The question can then be raised, how do tears work to affect this renewal of the person into harmony with God, and why do tears achieve this goal?

A simplistic answer is that tears are a sign of sorrow, and by tears the true repentance of the sinner is made manifest. Tears and grief are clearly a part of the life of the desert monastics, however their conception of these tears seems to be largely limited to sorrow of sins.[3] As William Harmless characterizes the role of tears in the Apophthegmata Patrum, “Weeping was the outward expression of inward sorrow.”[4] Certainly many other theologians also instructed Christians to have sorrow over their own sins and the sins they see in the world. This, however, is quite a bit different from how some other theologians explain the role and effects of tears. Isaac the Syrian, for example, saw tears as the boundary between the physical and spiritual state, John Climacus viewed tears as nearly superior to baptism, and Niketas Stethatos believed that tears could restore lost virginity.[5] It is also quite different from the elaborate theological system advanced by Evagrius of Pontus, who clearly placed penthos in the realm of spiritual state needed to have a mystical encounter with the divine, which is echoed in how tears are used in the theology of Symeon the New Theologian.[6] This conception of penthos and tears in Evagrius and Symeon is the subject of this paper, but to understand the role of tears in the spiritual system of these writers one must first look at an antecedent to this theology of tears in the popular Christian literature of nascent Christianity.

In a fragment of the Acts of Peter dating to the third or fourth century and preserved only in Coptic there is the story of Peter’s daughter.[7] To summarize the plot of this short composition, Peter’s daughter suffers from extensive paralysis on one side of her body. When the people ask why Peter does not simply heal his daughter, since he has proven able to heal so many others, he answers that he can heal her and demonstrates this to the crowd. Though the healing is only temporary, for, Peter says, his daughter is paralyzed because if she was healthy she would be a source of great temptation to men. In fact, Peter goes on to recount that before his daughter was paralyzed she had already led one man to his ruin, a certain Ptolemaeus. Ptolemaeus saw the girl’s beauty and desired for her to be his wife, and though the text is fragmentary on this point, it is clear that God saved the girl from the uncleanness of sexual intercourse by inflicting her body with the paralysis, at which point Ptolemaeus returned the girl to her father uncorrupted. This fragment, like the rest of the Acts of the Apostles, bears an apparent affinity for encratism.[8] However, it is possible that this pericope was understood in a spiritual sense, teaching by narrative a theology of the soul and sin.[9] This approach may be borne out by how the text presents the fate of Ptolemaeus.

Ptolemaeus, unlike the villainous men in other narratives in the Acts of Peter or similar texts such as the Acts of Thekla who seek to rob young maidens of their virtue, is treated sympathetically.[10] After returning the girl to her father he “grieved night and day” over what had happened and “because of the many tears which he shed, he became blind” and he therefore contemplates suicide. However, when he was alone in his room at the ninth hour of the day he “saw a great light” and heard a voice telling him that he was not made for corruption or shame, or to defile a Christian virgin, but that he must go to Peter’s house, for there he will “behold my glory.” Upon telling Peter of these things Ptolemaeus could see “with the eyes of his flesh and the eyes of his soul.” Then, upon his death, Ptolemaeus gives all his land to Peter’s daughter, since “it was through her that he had believed in God and had been made whole.”

This story is, on one level, an expansion of, and theological exposition of, the pericope of the sinful woman in Luke 7.[11] The sin is converted from the sexual misdeeds of the female to the physical lust of the male. This lust or desire creates a deformity, paralysis being a visual representation of the damaged or maladjusted soul. By tears the sinful woman gained forgiveness of sins, and by tears Ptolemaeus could see the light of the glory of God. The sinful woman was granted salvation and Ptolemaeus had his eyes healed, both his fleshly and spiritual eyes, and thus he also was made whole. The movement from sin to salvation is clear in both, but in the account of Ptolemaeus tears gain a more prominent position, becoming not simply a part of expressing sorrow, but the impetus behind a vision of God leading to the salvation of the soul.

This conception of tears as the catalyst for conversion and an encounter with the glory of God bears remarkable similarity to how Evagrius and Symeon use penthos in their outline of the spiritual journey. For both monastic theologians penthos, accompanied by repentance, tears, and good works, leads to a state of pure prayer where one can have a direct experience of God. There are some differences in how both conceive of this process being carried out, but by examining some of the similarities and differences it can be hoped that the full meaning of penthos and its relationship with prayer and an experience of personal encounter with the divine may be elucidated.

In his work Chapters on Prayer, Evagrius spends the first four chapters describing the state of mind necessary for prayer,[12] then in chapter five declares that the first thing a person should do to achieve this is to pray for tears, “Pray first for the gift of tears.”[13] Here it is clear that Evagrius considers tears to be the first and most important aspect of the spiritual journey in prayer. Moreover, they are a thing which can not be conjured up by the student as a deed or state of mind necessary before praying. Rather, tears are the beginning of true prayer, a thing which must be requested in prayer, by prayer, and as such are a gift given by God to the supplicant.[14]

Like Evagrius, Symeon also sees tears as a gift of God, but, unlike Evagrius, sees this gift to be a part of a symbiotic relationship for:

There are things which we contribute and there are things given us from on high by God. To the extent that we are purified through holy toils and labors, we are illumined by the light, so we are purified in tears. On the one hand we bring out our own resources, and on the other we receive the gift from on high.[15]

This does not meant that Symeon believes that the gift of tears is simply an outcome of a certain set of deeds, for “There are many who have made their contribution without receiving that which God usually gives”[16] because they have not done these things with “a right mind and pious intention and fervent faith, or…great humility.”[17] Yet Symeon says elsewhere in the Chapters that “[without] sorrow and tears there is no repentance or true conversion or fear of God in our hearts”[18] The physical aspect of penthos is of great importance to Symeon. The human body is the locus of the dwelling of the Spirit, and the physical process of penthos by the individual Christian is as important as the reception of the gift of tears.[19]

This difference between Evagrius and Symeon seems to be dependent upon the fact that Symeon struggles to find room for the sacrament of baptism in his system, leading him to say that in baptism “we receive the remission of our sins…and we are freed from the ancient curse and sanctified by the presence of the Holy Spirit” yet “it in proportion to our repentance, confession, and tears that we receive the remission of our former sins, and as a consequence of this, sanctification and grace from on high.”[20] While Evagrius is silent on how tears and sorrow as the first step of spiritual perfection relates to the theology of conversion inherent in the sacrament of baptism,[21] Symeon is bound to account for it. In Symeon’s system in baptism one is given freedom from the curse of sin and the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit, but then the person must take those things and use them to come to full repentance, which will then purify the soul and allow it to be in full participation with the Holy Spirit.[22] In this second baptism of tears one has a conscious reception of the Holy Spirit, by which one is spiritually reborn into in the Kingdom of Heaven.[23] In short, penthos ratifies the sacraments of the church. By the physical act of the shedding of tears the whole person, body and soul, is restored and reintegrated into the perfect state which can embody the Holy Spirit.[24]

Because both Evagrius and Symeon emphasize that tears of repentance is a gift from God they are both also very careful to warn against these tears becoming a source of pride. Evagrius warns, “Though fountains of tears flow during your prayer do not begin to consider yourself better than others.”[25] Symeon, on the other hand, sees such tears as false tears, and not the result of any true penthos, “There is a false kind of humility which arises from careless neglect or the pangs of conscience…it does not have as its companion that sorrow which alone is the bringer of joy.”[26] And “There is a sorrow that has no spiritual humility about it.”[27] Tears, for both Evagrius and Symeon, are the gift that leads to repentance and the antidote for passions. Evagrius continues, “It is because your prayer has received help that you are able to confess your sins readily and to placate the Lord by weeping. So do not turn the antidote to passions into another passion.”[28] Symeon also sees the two-fold purpose of tears, “Sorrow works in two ways: it is like water because it quenches all the fire of passion with tears and washes the soul clean of stains.”[29] This is why tears that lead to pride, the highest of the passions, either arouse the anger of God, as in Evagrius, or are false tears, as in Symeon.

Another aspect of Evagrius’ teaching about penthos in the spiritual journey is its connection to the common monastic problem of acedia or listlessness. In the Praktikos Evagrius says, “When we meet with the demon of acedia then is the time with tears to divide our soul in two. One part to encourage; the other to be encouraged.”[30] Acedia and penthos are directly opposed to one another, and Evagrius recommends the recitation of the Psalter to oppose acedia, not because the text itself sacred, but because the Psalter impacts the nous and by it the mind is prodded to consider its practice of virtue.[31] While Symeon often rants in his Catechesis against the monk who is lazy and unconcerned with giving the proper attention to his spiritual growth, Symeon fails to make this direct connection that tears are an antidote to acedia. Symeon does, however, prescribe that tears must be a daily practice, and that one can only achieve these daily prayers by carefully and deliberately living out ones ascetic discipline.[32]

Tears, however, for both Evagrius and Symeon, are themselves important since it is through them there is a full repentance and cleansing of the soul. Evagrius says that when tears are given then “by means of sorrow you may soften your native rudeness” and gain pardon for sin.[33] As such, tears are not a single event, to be exercised at the beginning of the spiritual journey and then abandoned as one progresses. Rather, tears are an ongoing process, and one should be careful not to lose them. Evagrius says, “When you suppose tears on account of sin are no longer necessary in your prayer, see how far removed from God you are – you who ought to always be in him! – and you will weep more fervently.”[34] Symeon echoes this, saying that after baptism it is the three-fold practice of repentance, confession, and tears that achieve the remission of sins,[35] and that “it is a good thing to repent each day as the commandment instructs us ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven draws near.’ This imposes on us a duty without limit.”[36] To weep continually is the goal, and since there is no one without sin, one must weep everyday over ones sins until this goal is achieved.[37]

The ultimate goal of these tears is not simply the achievement of total repentance, but knowledge of God and union with him, and this is where Evagrius and Symeon take their theology of tears a step further. Evagrius first draws the parallel between repentance and the purification of Isaiah, “Indeed, when you have understood your own measure, you will delight in compunction and call yourself a wretch, in the manner of Isaiah. For how, being impure and having impure lips and being in the midst of such a people, how have you dared stand before the Lord Sabaoth?”[38] But, continues Evagrius, “If you pray truly, you will find great assurance.”[39] This true prayer is the chanting of the psalms, which leads to “immaterial and undiversified knowledge”[40] and “Knowledge is exceedingly fair, for it is prayer’s collaborator, rousing the mind’s mental power to the contemplation of divine knowledge.”[41] Moreover, “Through true prayer, the monk becomes ‘equal to the angels,’ yearning to ‘see the face of the Father who is in heaven.’”[42] For Symeon, grief leads a person straight into the presence of God, “When a man does not try to escape or avoid this grief…he will then progress more rapidly until he comes to stand before the face of the King of Kings.”[43]

This union with God is the highest achievement for both Evagrius and Symeon. Evagrius call this union “essential knowledge,” and it is the culmination of the practice of virtues and tears, “The sheaves of the grain are the fruit of the seeds; the virtues have knowledge as their fruit. As surely as tears go with the labor of sowing, joy attends the reaping.”[44] Evagrius says that when one has the great yearning for God and is filled with this piety and joy, laying aside all sensible perception, one enters into prayer.[45] In this state the Holy Spirit meets the mind and “lights upon it…advancing it in the love of spiritual prayer.”[46] An emotional response to this experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit is entirely lacking in Evagrius. In fact, Evagrius even speaks against it, concluding his On Prayer by warning that the quality of prayer is important, quoting from Matthew 6:7 “When you pray, do not babble”[47] and “In proportion as you are paying attention to the body and your mind is busy with the Tabernacle’s delights, you have not yet beheld the place of prayer and in fact its blessed way remains far from you.”[48] Evagrius’ separation between the physical and the pure prayer has led some to accuse him of having a “stoic” view of emotions.[49] His insistence on tears seems to belie a simple application of this category to his theology, but it is worth noting the nuance in his system that true tears are not the result of the passions, a desire to weep or otherwise emotionally react to sin or one’s sinful state. Rather, true tears leads to a pure prayer which rises above sensible perceptions.

For Symeon physicality and emotions are very much a part of ones response to a vision of God. He says that when a person comes to stand before the King of Kings “the grief in his heart will be turned to joy.”[50] Furthermore, “When a man has within him the light of the all-holy Spirit, he cannot bear the sight,…he cries out and shouts,…he pours out an endless flood of tears which refreshes him and rouses up the flame of his desire. His tears become more abundant and, when he is purified in their flood, he shines with a greater brilliance.”[51] Only through tears and compunction can one have the vision of light by which one can see God. This dependence upon light imagery is how Symeon describes his own initial mystical experience, and impacts all his language of the Holy Spirit as the giver of light.[52]

The differences in how tears are viewed in the end of the spiritual journey of Evagrius and Symeon seems to be largely dependent upon their view of the achievement of the mystical experience. Evagrius sees the end of man as beatitude.[53] Therefore, tears of repentance and grief over sins is a long-standing process which culminates in the end of man, the telos tou anthropou for, as Solomon says, the end of man is penthos, and blessed are those in penthos, for they shall be consoled, as Jesus says in the Beatitudes.[54] Symeon, on the other hand, sees tears and grief also as an ongoing aspect of spiritual growth, but believes that they can lead to an immediate mystical experience of God which includes an even greater outpouring of tears. Not only that, but Symeon supposes that this mystical experience is not only for those well into their spiritual ascent, but also for beginners who have within themselves the fear of retribution and grief.[55] Those who continue in this spiritual journey, then, can conceivably have many mystical experiences throughout the spiritual journey, as Symeon’s own personal testimony bears witness to. Furthermore, to achieve this state is the measure of salvation, those who do not repent of sins and work to become perfect before God can not be saved.[56]

The similarities and differences between Evagrius’ and Symeon’s concept of penthos and tears in the spiritual journey can be summed up as follows. Penthos and tears are a part of repentance and remorse over sin, which is the beginning of the spiritual journey to union with God. For both penthos is a gift from God and should not be a cause of boasting or pride. However, their theologies diverge when it comes to the soteriological outcome of this penthos. Evagrius makes no soteriological judgment upon those who do or do not achieve the state of perfect knowledge, and because Evagrius was writing to a monastic audience it can be assumed that he is not worried about such things. Symeon, on the other hand, believes that it is absolutely necessary to have this continual repentance in order have the purified state necessary for salvation and complete the process begun in baptism. This is not only the instruction for his own monks but secular persons as well. Finally, Evagrius and Symeon have very different views on how the mystical union is to be experienced. Evagrius is inherently suspicious of any representational forms or emotions during prayer, and instructs that these things are to be avoided as possibly demonic. Symeon welcomes such an ecstatic experience and emotions as a sign of achievement. Therefore, while Evagrius and Symeon stand in the same tradition of spiritual guides and have a similar method of speaking of penthos, their conclusions are very different. These differences may be attributed to the different times, situations, and spiritual situation of each one, and it serves to show how the spiritual journey can be conceived of differently depending upon the contemporary situation.

What is clear from both Evagrius and Symeon is that tears have a value beyond simply weeping over past sins. When tears are the expression of the inner sorrow of the soul they can lead the person to a personal encounter with the divine. Upon this understanding of penthos Niketas Stethatos, the student of Symeon, defines two different kinds of tears. He says:

Tears of repentance are to be distinguished from tears shed through divine compunction. The former are like a flood which carries off all the dikes of sin, while the latter fall on the soul as the rain upon the grass and as the showers upon the herb, causing knowledge to grow up for the harvest and multiplying its grains. All tears do not necessarily come from catanyxis; the two are quite different. Tears come from repentance and the remembrance of past strayings of the soul; as though from fire and boiling water, they are for the purification of the heart. Catanyxis comes from on high, from the divine dew of the Spirit. It consoles and refreshes which has just entered with fervor into the abyss of humility, which has received the contemplation of inaccessible light, and which cries to God in joy, with David, ‘We went through fire and through water, yet you have brought us forth to a spacious place.’[57]

This division between the two different types of tears are important for understanding the place of penthos in the spiritual life. Any study of tears in early Christian theology should recognize the distinction being made between simple tears of repentance, which is the common motif in the Apophthegmata Patrum, and the tears of compunction which brings about union with God. To be sure, the tears of the latter assume the tears of the former, but confusing the tears of penthos with mere tears of regret over past sins downplays the power of tears in the school of thought which conceives of tears as the thing leading a person to an encounter with the divine. And though the tears of repentance and tears of compunction may look similar, and while it would be wrong to say that the two types of tears are opposed to one another, it is clear from this study that the two types arise from two different modes of spiritual experience and result in two different ends.[58]

This latter form of sorrow, the sorrow that leads one to the contemplation of the divine light, is similar to the tears of Ptolemaeus in the Acts of Peter. By tears Ptolemaeus had the eyes of his soul opened so that he could see the glory of God. The text goes on to say that even after Ptolemaeus’ death Peter instructs his listeners “be sorrowful, and watch and pray, and God’s goodness shall look upon us, and we wait for it.”[59] While this text does not have the full theological system that we see in Evagrius and Symeon, it is worthwhile as a testimony to an early popular understanding of tears in repentance and the vision of God. It also offers a contemporary alternative to the “philosophical” position on tears offered by Clement of Alexandria which subsumed tears under theological speculation,[60] thus giving us a background to a positive conception of tears in the path towards a mystical experience. In it the later conception of tears as a path from the damaged state of the soul to a restored state of the soul in perfect unity with God is advanced, and we can speculate that this theology was common enough in Egyptian Christianity to have had some influence upon Evagrius’ theology, setting off a school of thought which possibly influenced not only Symeon and other eastern theologians, but also Benedict via Cassian in the West.[61]

From this limited survey of texts spanning a millennia it is clear that there was a particular strand of theology which tied the tears from penthos to a mystical vision of God, alternatively conceived as God’s glory, perfect knowledge, or light. As evidenced by the Acts of Peter, this theology began early in Christian ascetical thought, and continued until Symeon formulated his theology that these tears leading to a vision of God are not simply the telos of the Christian life of an ascetic, but a necessary and integral part of the daily life of every Christian. In this theological system the tears of penthos are distinguished from tears of repentance and should be studied in their own right as an important aspect of early Christian mystical theology.

[1] Irénée Hausherr, Penthos: The Doctrine of Compunction in the Christian East, CS 53 (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1982), 18.

[2] Hannah Hunt, Joy-bearing Grief: Tears of Contrition in the Writings of the Early Syrian and Byzantine Fathers (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 105.

[3] Hausherr, Penthos, 26-45.

[4] See Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 240.

[5] See Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom: Volume 1 of the Collected Works (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000), 55.

[6] The exact nature of the relationship between the writings of Evagrius and Symeon is difficult to determine. Separated by centuries and the condemnation of Evagrius’ writings at the Fifth Ecumenical Council, it is difficult to imagine that, even if Symeon was aware that many of his teachings on the spiritual life was in any way dependent upon Evagrius, he would have thought it wise to make this public knowledge, but for the availability of at least some of Evagrius’ writings in Greek, even into twelfth century Byzantium, see A.M. Cassiday, Evagrius Ponticus (New York: Routledge, 2006), 21-22.  The great similarities between Evagrius’ Chapters on Prayer and Praktikos and Symeon’s The Practical and Theological Chapters are clear, both in style and in content, though it is equally unclear whether these similarities are intentional or simply the product of standing as the first and the last representative of a method of monastic spiritual instruction, see Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer, John Eudes Bamberger, trans. Cistercian Studies Series 4 (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1981), lv and n.130.

[7] Berlin Coptic Papyrus 8502. For an early dating of the Acts of Peter, even a possible second century composition, see Matthew C. Baldwin, Whose Acts of Peter? Texts and Historical Context of the Actus Vercellenses (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 4-8. For the more likely fourth century dating and composition of this particular Coptic fragment see Christine M. Thomas, The Acts of Peter, Gospel Literature, and the Ancient Novel: Rewriting the Past (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 17-21. English translation in Wilhelm Schneemelcher, ed., New Testament Apocrypha Volume 2: Writing Relating to the Apostles, Apocalypses and Other Subjects, trans. R. McL. Wilson (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992), 285-286.

[8] Thomas, The Acts of Peter, Gospel Literature, and the Ancient Novel, 132 n. 85.

[9] That this text can be understood allegorically has already been proposed, but I find unlikely that the purpose of this text is the message that “God cares for his own” or that Ptolemaeus here is a stand-in for Paul on the Damascus road. See F. Lapham, An Introduction to the New Testament Apocrypha (New York: T&T Clark, 2003), 69-70.

[10] Thomas, The Acts of Peter, Gospel Literature, and the Ancient Novel, 68.

[11] This text, as one example, bears similarity to Ephrem’s interpretation of the sinful woman of Luke 7 and his belief that the female represents both the ailment of sin and the catalyst for its healing. See Hunt, Joy-bearing Grief, 114.

[12] See Jeremy Driscoll, Steps to Spiritual Perfection: Studies on Spiritual Progress in Evagrius Ponticus (New York: Newman Press, 2005), 52-53.

[13] Prayer 5. Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer, 56.

[14] Driscoll, Steps to Spiritual Perfection, 53.

[15] Chapters 3.39. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, Paul McGuckin, trans. Cistercian Studies Series 41 (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1982), 82.

[16] Chapters 3.40. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 82.

[17] Chapters 3.40. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 83.

[18] Chapters 3.23. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 78.

[19] Hunt, Joy-bearing Grief, 205-206.

[20] Chapters 3.45. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 85.

[21] Evagrius in Exhortations 2.39 does say “Faith and baptism will not save you from the eternal fire without works of righteousness….if you do [not] carry out the commands of God, do not call yourself a believer.” Evagrius of Pontus, Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus, Robert E. Sinkewicz, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 222.

[22] Chapters 3.46. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 85.

[23] Hunt, Joy-bearing Grief, 215.

[24] Hunt, Joy-bearing Grief, 219.

[25] Prayer 7. Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer, 56.

[26] Chapters 3.10. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 74.

[27] Chapters 3.11. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 74.

[28] Prayer 7. Driscoll, Steps to Spiritual Perfection, 54.

[29] Chapters 3.12. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 75.

[30] Praktikos 27. Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer, 23.

[31] Driscoll, Steps to Spiritual Perfection, 59.

[32] Hunt, Joy-bearing Grief, 218.

[33] Prayer 5. Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer, 56. An alternative, and clearer translation is given by Jeremy Driscoll, “First of all pray to receive tears, so that by sorrowing you may be able to calm the wildness that there is in your soul and obtain forgiveness from the Lord by confessing your offenses to him.” Steps to Spiritual Perfection, 53.

[34]Prayer 78. Cassiday, Evagrius Ponticus, 194.

[35] Chapters 3.45. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 85.

[36] Chapters 3.46. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 85.

[37] Hunt, Joy-bearing Grief, 218.

[38] Prayer 79. Cassiday, Evagrius Ponticus, 194.

[39] Prayer 80. Cassiday, Evagrius Ponticus, 194.

[40] Prayer 85. Cassiday, Evagrius Ponticus, 195.

[41] Prayer 86. Cassiday, Evagrius Ponticus, 195.

[42] Prayer 113. Cassiday, Evagrius Ponticus, 198.

[43] Chapters 3.20. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 77.

[44] Praktikos 90. Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer, 39.

[45] Prayer 62. Cassiday, Evagrius Ponticus, 192.

[46] Prayer 63. Cassiday, Evagrius Ponticus, 192.

[47] Prayer 151. Cassiday, Evagrius Ponticus, 201.

[48] Prayer 152. Cassiday, Evagrius Ponticus, 201.

[49] Hunt, Joy-bearing Grief, 7.

[50] Chapters 3.20. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 77.

[51] Chapters 3.21. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 77-78.

[52] Hunt, Joy-bearing Grief, 207-209.

[53] Driscoll, Steps to Spiritual Perfection, 63.

[54] In Eccl 7:2. Driscoll, Steps to Spiritual Perfection, 63.

[55] Chapters 3.19-20. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 76-77.

[56] Chapters 3.25. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters and The Three Theological Discourses, 79.

[57] Centuries 1.70-71. Quoted in Hausherr, Penthos, 144-145.

[58] In this I disagree with Ware, who while noting the distinction between the “lower” and “higher” level of tears, says that one can lead to the other, see The Inner Kingdom, 56-57.

[59] Schneemelcher, ed., New Testament Apocrypha Volume 2, 286.

[60] Hausherr, Penthos, 11.

[61] See Evagrius Ponticus, The Praktikos and Chapters on Prayer, lv-lviii.

Summary report: Loren T. Stuckenbruck, “Worship and Monotheism in the Ascension of Isaiah,” in Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, 70-89. — December 8, 2009

Summary report: Loren T. Stuckenbruck, “Worship and Monotheism in the Ascension of Isaiah,” in Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, 70-89.


Stuckenbruck uses the Ascension of Isaiah to examine the origin of the worship of Jesus. The Ascension used both early Christian ideas, as well as historic and contemporary Jewish ideas, to build a binitarian theology out of a monotheistic framework. Stuckenbruck examines how “worship” is perceived in the Ascension in order to gauge its relationship with monotheism. This is significant, since, according to Larry Hurtado, it was only in Christian cultus that the departure of Christian theology from Jewish monotheism became clear. In the Ascension, however, worship is also closely linked to a cosmological hierarchy. This hierarchy probably had Jewish angelomorphic antecedents, and, if that was the case, then the honorifics of figures other than God in the Ascension does not immediately depart from monotheism. 


Worship in the Ascension of Isaiah

– Worship of God

In the Ascension God is situated above the seventh heaven and the worship of each of the seven levels is directed towards him. These layers of heaven have its antecedents in the Jewish notion of divine inaccessibility, with mediatorial beings standing in increasing rank between humanity and God. However, the “righteous ones,” the faithful dead, are themselves placed above the angels, beyond the seventh heaven. Since worship is also directed to other beings besides God, it seems that in the Ascension monotheism is spatially conceived. God is over all, so any worship is ultimately directed towards him, even if he is not the immediate receiver of the worship.


– Worship of Angels

Whether angels are worshipped or not in the Ascension is difficult to determine. Considering first only the angels of the lower heavens seems that their purpose is to direct worship towards God, and Isaiah’s two attempts to worship angels are refused. But by considering why Isaiah may have been tempted to worship angels Stuckenbruck sees traces of angelic veneration. If one understands Isaiah’s actions in the second heaven to be worship directed towards the one seated on the throne within the context that the worship of the angels themselves seem to be directed towards this enthroned figure as well, then it seems that there is an element of angelic veneration. Isaiah’s worship is rebuked only because he, as a righteous one, will have a superior place in the seventh heaven, and so he should not venerate that which is inferior to him. Still, in the Ascension angelic veneration is limited, inspired by the glory of appearance and activity which they have received from God, and when it does occur is not seen to be conflict with the worship of God.


In contrast, in the seventh heaven Isaiah is instructed to worship the “angel of the Holy Spirit.” Here, the “angel of the Holy Spirit” is considered to be analogous, but superior to, the other angels. Yet the text itself shows some confusion in also identifying Michael “the chief of the holy angels.” The textual tradition which seems to alternately conflate and distinguish between the two is complicated, and Stuckenbruck believes that some of the confusion may come from later textual additions. The Holy Spirit is understood as the inspiration for Scripture and prophecy. Further, Isaiah is commanded to worship the Holy Spirit in a fashion analogous to the command to worship Christ. The Holy Spirit is also described as ascending with Christ and as Christ sits on the right hand of God the Holy Spirit sits on the left. Stuckenbruck does not think this is a particularly Trinitarian image since standing on the left is a subordinate position in the Ascension. The Holy Spirit is likewise usually subsumed under Christological themes in the Ascension and the Holy Spirit is described as standing to the left of Christ as a “second angel.” Even considering this weak positioning, the Ascension is the earliest evidence for worship of the Holy Spirit alongside God and Christ.


– Worship of Christ

In the Ascension after the angel refuses Isaiah’s wish to call him “my Lord” Isaiah begins to refer to Christ as “my Lord.” That the refusal mechanism, used in Jewish literature to draw worship to God alone, is used to direct Isaiah’s worship to Christ indicates how thoroughly the author has integrated the worship of Christ into a monotheistic framework. The title “Lord” in the Ascension has double significance in the Ascension. Christ is both “Lord” and the “Lord of all the praise” of the angels in heaven. Taking this into consideration Stuckenbruck believes that the understanding of angelology in the Ascension is broad. While some angels can not be worshipped, others, such as the Holy Spirit, can. And while Christ is designated as above the angels he also performs angelic functions. While Christ is never described as being an angel, the angelology of Jewish literature clearly impacted the Christology in the Ascension. Most distinctive about this Christology is transformation of Christ as he descends through the levels of heaven, disguising himself as an angel in the first through fifth heavens. When Christ ascends heaven in the human form he took from earth the angels in each level lament their previous inability to recognize him. After the ascent Christ is enthroned in his human form and sheds his angelological descriptions.



In comparison with Jewish antecedents Stuckenbruck asks if the motif of worship/veneration of beings other than God is compatible with the monotheistic cosmology. The limited veneration of angels in the Ascension seems compatible with contemporary Jewish ideas, since it does not impact soteriology and any veneration seems to be based upon their derived glory from God. This is paralleled in Tobit which praises angels, but carefully places this praise in a monotheistic framework. Finding Jewish antecedents which parallel the worship of Christ in the Ascension is far more difficult. A divine agent who acts performs divine functions can be found, but there is no command to worship this divine agent. The closest Stuckenbruck can find is 1 Enoch where the language of worship is used to underscore the mediatorial role of the Son of Man. The Ascension develops this idea of the divine agent being worshipped and thus is able to also apply it to Pneumatology. Non-Christian Jews would have understood “three powers” in heaven to be blasphemous, but by developing Christology and Pneumatology within this setting the author of the Ascension was able to develop the cultic worship of Christ and the Holy Spirit within a monotheistic framework.