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Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Byzantine Rosary (Theotokos Lestovka)

I have not posted in a while because graduate school has kept me quite busy.  Tonight however I discovered an mht file on my computer which I was quite happy to have found again - an explanation saved from a defunct website of St. Anne's Byzantine Catholic Church of the Theotokos Lestovka, the Holy Rosary of Our Lady as practiced by the East on Mount Athos since long before the prayer was ever heard of in the West.  It probably came from the Fathers of the Egyptian Thebaid in the 4th century.  In the East the prayer was only a private devotion, rarely if ever said in public and not done before Divine Liturgy as it is in the Latin Church (Matins, or Orthros as it is called, is done instead).  Here it is, copied, pasted, expanded, and edited (and corrected on some minor factual errors).

On a Western Orthodox website ( I found a quotation from a letter of Fr. Alexander Gumanovsky.  Gumanovsky was a spiritual son of Fr. Zossima (after whom Dostoyevsky's Fr. Zossima is modeled), who was in turn the spiritual son of St. Seraphim of Sarov.  (In the East spiritual lineage is just as important as biological lineage, not out of vainglory or pride but out of a sense of the paramount importance of the life of the spirit as opposed to merely natural life.  It's a bit similar to academic lineage in college departments, where all the professors have signs on their doors giving their lineage back to Galileo and Newton if they are physicists, or back to Liszt for example if they are musicians.  Priests know who their spiritual father's spiritual father is, etc.  My first spiritual father was the son of the very holy Elder Aimilianos Simonopetritis, for example.)

Fr. Gumanovsky quoted Fr. Zossima in saying,

…I forgot to give you a piece of advice vital for salvation. Say the Hail, Mother of God and Virgin one hundred and fifty times, and this prayer will lead you on the way to salvation. This rule was given by the Mother of God herself in about the eighth century, and at one time all Christians fulfilled it. We Orthodox have forgotten about it, and St. Seraphim has reminded me of this Rule. In my hands I have a hand-written book from the cell of St. Seraphim, containing a description of the many miracles which took place through praying to the Mother of God and especially through saying one hundred and fifty times the O Hail, Mother of God and Virgin. If, being unaccustomed to it, it is difficult to master one hundred and fifty repetitions daily, say it fifty times at first. After every ten repetitions say the Our Father once and "Open unto us the doors of thy loving-kindness, [O blessed Mother of God, in that we set our hope on thee, may we not go astray; but through thee may we be delivered from all adversities, for thou art the salvation of all Christian people.]"  Whomever he spoke to about this miracle-working Rule remained grateful to him…

Father Gumanovsky passed on the Rosary to his disciple, the edinovertsy Old Believer St. Seraphim Zvezdinsky, a bishop and an Old Believer in communion with Moscow.  It is from him that we learn the "Theotokos Lestovka", or "Rule of the Theotokos".  (The lestovka or "ladder" is a leather prayer rope worn on the upper arm, practiced more commonly by Old Believers.  It is similar to the chotki.)

Make the Sign of the Cross

Start at the crucifix:

+  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee.

Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of life, come and dwell within us, cleanse us of all stain and save our souls, O Gracious Lord.

From Pascha until Ascension leave out Glory to Thee and Heavenly King and instead say three times Christ is risen from the dead - by death He trampled death, and to the those in the tombs He granted life.  From Ascension until Pentecost, simply make the sign of the cross - In the Name of the Father - before continuing as usual with:

+  Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, have mercy on us(Three times)

+ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, Amen.

Most holy Trinity, have mercy on us.  Lord, cleanse us from our sins.  Master, pardon our transgressions.  Holy One come to us and heal our infirmities for Thy Name's sake.  Lord have mercy.  Lord have mercy.  Lord have mercy.

+ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, Amen.

Then at the first large bead on the pendant:

+  Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.

Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us, for we have no defence: this prayer do we as sinners offer Thee as Master, haver mercy on us.

+ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.

Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have hoped in Thee.  Be not angry with us greatly nor remember our iniquities, but have mercy on us now for Thou art compassionate and delivera us from our enemies.  For Thou art our God and we Thy people; all are the works of Thy hands and we call upon Thy Name.

+  Both now and ever and unto the ages of ages, Amen.

Open unto us the doors of compassion, O holy Theotokos, for hoping in thee we will not perish, but through thee will we be delivered from all adversities, for thou art the salvation of all Christians.

Lord, have mercy.  (12 times)

+ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the HOly Ghost, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, Amen.

+  O come, let us worship God our King.
+  O come, let us worship Christ, our King and God.
+  O come, let us worship and bow down before the only Lord Jesus Christ, our King and our God.

Then you may say Psalm 50, Have mercy on me, O God - or another appropriate psalm - and the Nicene Creed, I believe in one God, the Father Almighty.

 Then at the first small bead on the pendant:
+  Glory to the Father, who hast made us, both now now and ever and forever. Amen.
Rejoice, O Theotokos, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Christ the Savior, the deliverer of our souls.
 Then at the second small bead on the pendant:
+ Glory to the Son, who hast redeemed us, both now and ever and forever. Amen.
Rejoice, O Theotokos, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne Christ the Savior, the deliverer of our souls.
 Then at the third small bead on the pendant:
+ Glory to the Holy Spirit, who hast enlightened us, both now and ever and forever. Amen.
Rejoice, O Theotokos, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne Christ the Savior, the deliverer of our souls.
+  Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and forever. Amen.
 The 15 mysteries are given to us by St. Seraphim Zvezdinsky, with the prayer intentions taken from the Western Rite Orthodox website and rephrased in a more Eastern fashion.  The prayers after each decade are taken from Phillip Rolfes' blog:

As with the Dominican rosary, on the large bead say the Lord' Prayer, followed by Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us and then Open unto us the door of thy loving-kindness, o most blessed Theotokos.  As we set our hope in thee, let us not be confounded, but through thee may we be delivered from all adversities.  For thou art the salvation of the Christian race.  On the ten small beads in each decade, say Rejoice, O Theotokos... ten times followed by + Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and forever. Amen.  After each decade one may say the Fátima prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.
The mysteries according to St. Seraphim Zvezdinsky are:

1.  The Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos.  We pray for fathers, mothers, and children.
Follow the decade byOur Lady, Blessed Mother of God, save and preserve your servants (names of parents, relatives, friends), increase their faith and repentance, and when they die give them rest with the saints in your eternal glory.
2.  The Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple.  We pray for those who have lost their way and fallen away from the Church.
Follow the decade by:  Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, save and preserve and unite or re-unite to the Holy Orthodox Church your servants who have lost their path and fallen away (names).
3.  The Annunciation to the Theotokos.  We pray for the soothing of sorrows and the consolation of those who grieve.
Follow the decade by:  Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, soothe our sorrows and send consolation to your servants who are grieving and ill (names).
4.  The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin with the righteous Elizabeth.  We pray for the reunion of the separated, for those whose dear ones or children are living away from them or missing.
Follow the decade by:  Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, unite your servants who are separated.
5.  The Nativity of Christ.  We pray for the rebirth of souls, or new life in Christ.
Follow the decade by:  Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, grant unto me, who has been baptized in Christ, to be clothed in Christ.
6.  The Feast of the Purification of the Lord, and the words uttered by St. Simeon: Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also (Luke 2:35). We pray that the Mother of God will meet our souls at the hour of our death, and will contrive that we receive the Holy Sacrament with our last breath, and will lead our souls through the terrible torments.
Follow the decade byOur Lady, Blessed Mother of God, let me receive the Holy Sacrament with my last breath, and lead my soul yourself through the terrible torments.
7.  The Flight of the Mother of God with the God-Child into Egypt.  We pray that the Theotokos will help us avoid temptation in this life and deliver us from misfortunes.
Follow the decade by:  Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, help me avoid temptation in this life and deliver me from misfortunes.
8.  The Teaching of Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve and the Sorrow of the Theotokos on His Disappearance.  We pray, begging the Theotokos for the constant repetition of the Jesus Prayer.
Folllow the decade by:  Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, grant to me the unceasing Jesus Prayer.
9.  The Wedding at Cana of Galilee, when the Lord turned water into wine at the words of the Theotokos: They have no wine (John 2:3).  We implore the Theotokos for deliverance from all affliction, wrath, danger, and need.
Follow the decade by:  Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, help me in all my affairs and deliver me from every need and sorrow.
10.  The Sorrow of Mary Standing at the Foot of the Cross.  We pray for the strengthening of our souls and the banishment of despondency.
Follow the decade by:  Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, strengthen my soul and banish my despair.
11.  The Most Holy Resurrection.  We beg the Theotokos to resurrect our souls and give us a new courage for podvig.
Follow the decade by:  Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, resurrect my soul and give me constant readiness for spiritual feats.
12.  The Ascension of Christ, at which the Theotokos was present.  We beg her to raise up our souls from earthly and worldly amusements and direct them to striving for higher things.
Follow the decade by:  Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, deliver me from worldly thoughts and give me a mind and heart striving towards the salvation of my soul.
13.  Pentecost, the Feast of the Holy Spirit, and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the Theotokos.  We pray, Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me (Psalm 50).
Follow the decade by:  Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, make me a clean temple in which God's Holy Spirit will ever dwell.
14.  The Dormition of the Theotokos.  We ask for a Christian, painless, unashamed, peaceful end of our lives, and a good account before the fearsome judgement-seat of Christ.
Follow the decade by:  Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, grant me a peaceful and serene end.
15.  The Protection (Pokrova) of the Holy Theotokos, when she casts her protecting mantle over all her faithful.  We pray that the Queen of Heaven not abandon the faithful who are on earth but to defend them from every evil, covering them with her honoring and protecting veil.

Follow the decade by:  Our Lady, Blessed Mother of God, preserve me from every evil and cover me with your honorable protecting veil.
Closing Prayer
To your protection do we fly, O Mary Theotokos; despise then not our cry.  From every peril shelter us, for you alone are immaculate - the Mother of our God. 
+  Most holy Mother of God, save us. (Three times with bows)
It is truly proper to glorify thee, who hast borne God, the ever-blessed and immaculate and the Mother of our God! More honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, who without spot gavest birth to God the Word. Thou truly the Theotokos, we magnify!

To thee, the Champion Leader, we thy servants dedicate a feast of victory and thanksgiving as ones rescued out of sufferings, O Mother of God: but as one with invincible might, from all dangers deliver us that we may cry to thee: Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!

This last prayer is from the Akathist to Our Lady, an important Marian devotion in the Orthodox Church


Emending this blog post from its original form, I recently discovered an article by Phillip Rolfes on St. Seraphim of Sarov's Rule of the Theotokos, found here:

It is much simpler than the rule I have given above, which is to some degree tailored for my own personal use, and begins with a simple Our Father and no mysteries.  (Meditation using the imagination after all is shunned by the spiritual writers of the Philokalia.)  Instead, St. Seraphim of Sarov divided his prayers by the following fifteen ejaculations, without any further Our Fathers:
"Open to us the doors of Mercy, blessed Mother of God, so that we who hope in Thee may not perish, but be saved by Thee from troubles, for You are the salvation of the Christian people."

Then St Seraphim divided his rule into fifteen decades of Hail Mary's with the above prayer "Open to us" said at the end of each decade (No further Our Father's).

At the end of each decade, the following 15 requests are also made:

1) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, save and protect all Orthodox Christians, increase their faith and repentance, and give repose to the dead in the eternal glory of our Lord.

2) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, save and reunite to the Orthodox Church thy servants who are lost and who are fallen away.

3) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, save and protect my spiritual Father and by his holy prayers have mercy on me a sinner.

4) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, assuage our sorrows and bestow joy on thy suffering and pained servants.

5) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, save me from all evil attacks.

6) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, help me so that everything I do will be for the glory of God and the service of my neighbours.

7) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, protect me from all evil and cover me with Thy Holy Omophorion (Mantle) of Protection.

8) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, resurrect my soul and grant me constant prayer to You.

9) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, help me obtain the mercy of Your Son and our Lord and grant me the grace of fervent and continual prayer.

10) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, pray our Lord Jesus Christ to have mercy on me a sinner, to forgive all my sins and save my sinful soul.

11) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, imbue me with Your love, strengthen me with Your faith, and enlighten my eyes that are darkened by sin.

12) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, save me from evil thoughts and grant me a mind and heart that strives after salvation.

13) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, send me peace of soul and health in body.

14) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, grant me an untroubled and peaceful end and lead my soul through the terrible toll-houses.

15) O Most Holy Sovereign Theotokos, be for me, O Mother of God, an Unmoveable Wall and mighty intercession. Do not reject me a sinner, who is unworthy, who runs to your invincible Protection, for you are the hope of Christians and the refuge of sinners.
In addition, a further article
gives a completely different set of mysteries and closing-prayers, from the Russian Encyclopedia of Orthodoxy.  Credit again goes to Phillip Rolfes, and to Dr. Alexander Roman for translation.
1) Nativity of the Theotokos Your Nativity, O Mother of God, heralded joy to the whole universe, for from you rose the Sun of Justice, Christ our God. He cancelled the curse and poured forth His grace; He vanquished death and granted us eternal life.

  • 2) Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple
    Today is the prelude of the benevolence of God, and the announcement of the salvation of men. In the Temple of God the Virgin is seen openly, foretelling to all the coming of Christ. Wherefore, let us cry to her in a loud voice: “Hail, O Fulfillment of the Creator’s plan.

  • 3) Death of Sts. Joachim and Anna
    Triumphant leader, to you belongs our prize of victory! And since you saved us from adversity, we offer you our thanks. We are your people, O Mother of God! But, as you have that invincible power, continue to deliver us from danger that we may cry out to you: Hail, O Virgin and Bride ever-pure!

  • 4) Annunciation/Incarnation
    Today is the beginning of our salvation and the revelation of the Mystery that was planned from all eternity. The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin, and Gabriel announces this grace. Let us join him in crying out to the Mother of God: “Hail, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”

  • 5) Meeting of the Theotokos and St. Elizabeth
    It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos, who are ever-blessed and all-blameless and the Mother of our God. More honored than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, you who without stain did bear God the Word. You are truly Theotokos; we magnify you!

  • (One could also recite the Magnificat in place of the above)

    1. 6) Nativity of Christ
      Your Nativity, O Christ our God, has shed the light of knowledge upon the world. Through it, those who had been star-worshippers learned through a star to worship You, O Sun of Justice, and recognize in you the One Who rises from on high; O Lord, glory to You!

    2. 7) Meeting in the Temple with Symeon
      Hail O Full of Grace, Virgin and Mother of God, from you has arisen the Sun of Justice, Christ our God, enlightening those who stand in darkness. You too O just elder Symeon, rejoice for you carried in your arms the Redeemer of our souls, Who grants us resurrection.

    3. 8) Flight into Egypt
      Triumphant leader, to you belongs our prize of victory! And since you saved us from adversity, we offer you our thanks. We are your people, O Mother of God! But, as you have that invincible power, continue to deliver us from danger that we may cry out to you: Hail, O Virgin and Bride ever-pure!

    4. 9) Finding of Christ in the Temple
      Triumphant leader, to you belongs our prize of victory! And since you saved us from adversity, we offer you our thanks. We are your people, O Mother of God! But, as you have that invincible power, continue to deliver us from danger that we may cry out to you: Hail, O Virgin and Bride ever-pure!

    5. 10) Crucifixion
    6. The noble Joseph took down from the Tree Your spotless Body and wrapped it in pure linen with spices and laid it for burial in a new tomb.

    7. 11) Resurrection
    8. Christ is risen from the dead and by His death He has trampled upon Death, and has given life to those who were in the tombs!

    9. 12) Ascension
    10. You ascended in glory, O Christ our God, and gladdened Your Disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit. Through Your blessing, they were confirmed in their belief that You are the Son of God, the Redeemer of the World!

    11. 13) Pentecost/Descent of the Holy Spirit
    12. Blessed are You, O Christ our God, who have filled the fishermen with wisdom by sending down the Holy Spirit upon them; and who through them have caught in Your net the whole world. O Lover of Mankind, glory to you!

    13. 14) Dormition/Assumption
    14. In giving birth, you have preserved your virginity, and in falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Mother of God. You have passed to Life being the Mother of Life; through your intercession, save our souls from death.

    15. 15) Glorification of the Trinity
    16. It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos, who are ever-blessed and all-blameless and the Mother of our God. More honored than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, you who without stain did bear God the Word. You are truly Theotokos; we magnify you! 

    As one can see, there are many variations.  The Rosary has a very rich tradition in the East worthy of rediscovery.

    Saturday, October 1, 2011

    On the diversity of the Byzantine rite

    Here are two Youtube videos which are fascinating to play sequentially.  Both are liturgical settings of the Great Doxology for the Byzantine rite, the prayer well-known in the West which begins "Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis".  Besides being one of the most beautiful prayers ever written, the musical settings are some of the finest in the world.  I wanted to show both of these because they demonstrate the diversity within the Byzantine rite.

    The first video is a setting by a Bulgarian composer, Apostol Nikolaev-Strumsky, sung by the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir.  This is a setting that would sung in many Slavic churches - I was stunned with its beauty when the choir sang it during the incensing of the iconostasis and the rest of the temple at the beginning of Liturgy one Sunday morning at St. Constantine's Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in Minneapolis.  I tracked down the choir director, Yuri, at Vespers at a nearby Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic church later that week in order to find out what it was:

    The Byzantine churches in the Middle East that have less of a Slavic flavor, however, have very different musical traditions, which are no less haunting in their beauty.  Melkite and Antiochian churches and churches in the Alexandrian Patriarchate take their traditions more directly from Greece, the heart and mother of Orthodoxy in the East (with all due respect to Moscow the "Third Rome").  Here is the same liturgical text, in Greek tones, sung by Kyrios George Papanikolaos:

    Have a blessed feast of the Pokrova, the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos, and also a blessed feast of the glory of the West, St. Therese the Little Flower!

    Sunday, September 25, 2011

    St. Theophan the Recluse on penances in confession

    Eastern Christian priests are not entirely uniform in the handing out of penances as part of the Mystery of Reconciliation.  Some whom I have known have declined the practice in an attempt to be authentically Eastern, on the grounds that penances smacks of Latin legalism, while others (including a hieromonk who translated from Orthodoxy after having been a schemamonk on Mount Athos for many years) give penances in the Latin style.  The following passage comes from one whose Orthodoxy and vostochnik credentials could never be questioned, St. Theophan the Recluse in the translation provided by Blessed Seraphim of Platina.  The source is from St. Theophan's The Path to Salvation:  A Manual of Spiritual Transformation (Platina, CA:  St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1996), p. 182.

    If the spiritual father gives you a penance, accept it with joy.  If the spiritual father does not give you one, then ask him to.  This will be not only a send-off to you as you depart on your good path, but also a shield and protection from outside enemy attacks on your new way of life.  Here is what the Patriarch of Constantinople wrote in answer to the Lutherans:  "We accompany the absolution of sins with penances for many respectable reasons.  First of all, so that through voluntary suffering the sinner will be freed here from onerous involuntary punishment there, in the next life, for the Lord grants mercy to nothing more than He does suffering, especially voluntary suffering.  Therefore St. Gregory also says that God's love is granted for tears.  Secondly, it is in order to destroy in the sinner those passionate desires of the flesh which give birth to sin, for we know that opposites cure.  Thirdly, it is so that the penance would serve as a bond or bridle for the soul, and not allow it to again take up those same vices from which it is still being cleansed.  Fourthly, in order to accustom it to labor and patience, for virtue is a matter of labor.  Fifthly, it is so that we will see and know whether or not the penitent has truly come to hate sin.
    The English edition references "Christian Reading, 1842, vol. 1, p. 244 [in Russian]."

    This is an illuminating passage for several reasons, first and foremost that it gives five very good reasons for the giving of penance during confession, but also because it shows that the practice is not simply a Latin borrowing or inappropriate Latinization.  Finally, the first reason St. Theophan gives is illuminating regarding the Orthodox teaching on reparation for sins - the "involuntary punishment" he speaks of cannot be the permanent fires of Hell (since the sin for which the sinner would be punished is already forgiven by the Mystery of Confession), so they must be something analogous to the Latin doctrine of Purgatory.

    Our holy father Theophan the Recluse, pray to God for us!

    Thoughts on Hegel's Phenomenology of the Spirit

    The following paragraphs contain a few thoughts or insights that came to mind reading Hegel's Phenomenology.  They do not necessarily reflect an accurate interpretation of Hegel's own thought, but rather the summary of what I was able to glean from it.  His book was difficult, and I may learn more from another reading, but for now this is what I learned from it.  

    The “I”, as subject, is devoid of those personal characteristics associated with self-identity, the reflexive self, or self-as-object, the “me”.  Hegel concludes that the “I” is universal – by contrast, I conclude that the act of subjectivity is deeper than our reflexive ego, and prior to it.  Our subjectivity is transitive from us to something transpersonal and prior to even our pre-biographical unity or transcendental apperception.  The pre-biographical unity is the unity anterior to the self, while the “universality” of subjectivity points to a unity anterior to subjectivity as such.  The act of subjectivity is an act “pushing forward” from the impersonality of pure subjectivity to the reflexivity of self-awareness on through to the multiplicity of sense objects, upon which we turn back to a second reflexive understanding of the self (the first was self-consciousness, this is a truly reflexive understanding of oneself) as we process our sense-impressions through our thoughts and self-concepts.

    Riding this wave of the surging act of subjectivity backwards (a paradox, since to think about something is to objectify it, and we are objectifying subjectivity qua subjectivity), we find that the pure subjectivity qua subjectivity is not only devoid of personal characteristics, but it is a surging-forth from nothingness into being.  This surging-forth, phenomenologically constituted, is the apperception of itself, that is, as the subjectivity surges forth into the cognition of things and thoughts, it apperceives the very act of apperception, and likewise there are reflective acts on a deeper level than apperception that turn back on themselves, pushing back the envelope deeper and deeper all the way to a nothingness prior to the unity of being.

    This surging-forth from nothingness is the act of Creation, in theological terms, since the acts of creation and sustaining the universe are one.  The unity of this one act can be seen in the lack of individuality or the “universality” of the subjectivity qua subjectivity – though it is reflected on by many “me”s, there can be no multiplicity to the subjectivity as such, because no characteristics by which to individuate it.  There is only one “surging-forth” – one act of creation.

    This is not metaphysical idealism, because we must alienate the objectivity of the outside world from our own subjectivity by positing objects separate from us, and the necessity of such an alienation implies a noumenal “surging-forth” independent of the existence of a human subject understanding or perceiving the objects.   This noumen is prime matter; it does not exist except phenomenally, but to even talk about a noumen is to talk about it as phenomenon, so it is meaningless to say that the noumen is “unknowable”.

    Let us ride the wave of being forward now.  God reveals Himself by creating and by sustaining the world, and His Providence is the same as his sustaining of the world, and Hegel notes how man through his intellectual activity orders the world, imparts finality to it, elucidates it, sheds light on diversity in order bring unity and order out of chaos.  The movement is toward consciousness, consciousness OF everything in its relation to everything else.  Hegel thought this was the Absolute struggling to achieve consciousness of itself; I say it is God revealing Himself through the Book of Nature.

    Saturday, September 24, 2011

    That the material cause of evil is a bad sense of humor, with an illustration from Chesterton

    Incongruity is the essence of humor; contradiction is the essence of evil.  The formal cause of evil is the contingent being rejecting its contingency.  It is humorous to joke about wanting to kill your mother-in-law; it is evil to actually do so.  Rudeness and insults are quite often funny when intended as a joke/teasing, but become mean when taken seriously. The incongruity of sex in certain situations forms the material for dirty jokes; yet to take such seriously is called fornication.  (Likewise, to take sexual pleasure from such jokes of a sexual nature – and not just that pleasure of incongruity – is fornication of the heart.)

    To take an example, Sunday in G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday is an “anarchist” leader, yet in an entirely playful manner.  It is Gregory who takes it seriously, and who is the evil one.

    Friday, September 23, 2011

    Four General Attitudes on Sexuality

    I am currently finishing my tour of Blessed John Paul II's trilogy on the Theology of the Body (an aesthetic presentation - The Jeweler's Shop, a philosophical treatise - Love and Responsibility, and his systematic theological presenation, The Theology of the Body).  It will take a while to finish, as I am slowly relishing the book by reading it aloud to my sweetheart instead of zipping through it in one sitting, yet for this post I will take the lead from this blog's patron figurehead, Chesterton, and like most authors write about something that I know nothing about, an unmarried continent man in the middle of reading the classic work on the subject.

    What struck me as I was contemplating the subject is that the body is indeed an ethical and philosophical "problem".  Humanity's discomfort with the body has been expressed in a huge variety of extremes in its relationship to it, ranging from stark body- and world-denying ascetism (some Buddhist monastic rules forbid monks to even come within a certain distance of women, for example, like the "six-inch" rule preached though not always practiced by some fundamentalist Protestant sects, and Buddhist asceticism is mild compared to many forms of Hindu practice) to unrestrained libertinism.  The discomfort with the body is not restricted to religious considerations; the ancient Greeks often despised the body for philosophical reasons, either regarding it as a prison of the soul (as with Plato) or as a dangerous threat to man's tranquility (as with the Epicureans, especially Lucretius).  Nor was Victorian prudery particularly religious, and today's modern excesses in favor of promiscuity and unbridled lust are not religious either, though they also demonstrate a discomfort and self-consciousness with the body expressed in an obsession with sexuality (fifty minutes inside a college literature class will reveal this one quickly) and a frenetic search for an always evasive sexual panacea for all man's unease and disquiet.

    It seems that mankind's reaction to the sexual problem can be divided into four basic attitudes we tend to fall back on.  One of them, which I will summarize last, is expressed by the theology of the body, the body viewed in the light of its nuptial meaning made even more clear to us by Divine Revelation; two of them are nothing short of despicable, and one of them has a veneer of piety and widespread adherence among modern Catholics, but is ultimately no less wicked than the others.

    First there are the libertines, who view sex only as a dirty pleasure which everyone does, and which nobody should stop themselves from doing.  This is the legacy of the "sexual revolution", and it is a despicable cheapening of such a wondrous mystery as erotic love.  As this is only a blog post, this attitude does not deserve the space and time for further consideration.

    Secondly, there are the Puritans, both religious and non-religious.  The Puritans are the Manichaeans and Zoroastrians who regarded the body as the creation of an evil deity, the Gnostics who regarded it as a fall from true spirituality, the Docetists who could not conceive of an Incarnate God, the historical Puritans who made it a crime (in Hartford, Conn.) for a man to kiss his wife in public on Sunday lest the Lord’s Day be profaned by public lasciviousness, and also unfortunately the attitude taken by many monastic and patristic spiritual writers who were tainted with a sort of angelism – regarding perfection as incompatible with the married state, or (with St. Gregory of Nyssa) believing sexual differentiation to be a second-best state, one God created in foresight of the Fall though He would have really rather made us propagate mentally, like angels.  This is an equally despicable view, to which I will give no further consideration.  Unfortunately, it still pervades some aspects of our culture - in many places one cannot purchase alcohol on Sundays. 

    Third, there are the traditionalist Catholics and Russian Orthodox, who reverse this, and while the Protestants abstain from defiling the Sabbath with carnal pleasures, traditional Catholics and Orthodox honor the Lord’s Day with great celebration, both by feasting and by going hard at work in propagating their kind.  And yet such married couples will still practice periodic abstinence as a form of ascesis - in Russia for example it is traditionally forbidden to make love during Lent.  This is no less wrongheaded than the previous form of Puritanism, and in the end just as wicked an attitude, but for a slightly different reason.  We as Catholics do not abstain from the world because it is evil, but rather because it is good - but we give up the lesser good of innocent pleasures for the greater good of our soul, which is a personal good (we ourselves are ends rather than means, and therefore making our own substance or being good is more important than pursuing pleasures which are only means for other ends).  The fact that marriage is a joyful state does not justify reducing it to only an innocent pleasure like food and drink, and what distinguishes it is even more fundamental than its sacramental character – it is the interpersonal character of love, the mutual and total self-giving (and, therefore, the dying to self) involved that makes one’s love for one’s wife different than his love for a cold beer, and consequently why one cannot fast from one’s wife the same way one fasts from a cold beer, as if your wife was just another licit pleasure object.  This is especially problematic when such "ascesis" introduces an element of hypocrisy.  When NFP is used for contraceptive purposes, the husband fasts from the pleasure-object he is married to only when and precisely in view of when making love to her would be fruitful, all the time vaunting his “asceticism” and congratulating himself for achieving the same end as a mortal sin, the only difference being that he does so without taking a pill so "unnaturally" manufactured in a factory.  When the intention is contraceptive (and the method, according to its proponents, 99% effective), one is only deluding himself or engaging in the most meaningless sophistry by pretending to still be "open to life".  This is a contraception more pernicious, more double-tongued, more two-sidedly and blatantly wicked than any medical technique that at least has the honesty to admit that it is not in fact open to life, and while the full force of the Church's critique of contraceptives for their objectification of one's sexual partner remain in place, taking a pill is not quite so bad as reducing one's partner to the axiological status of a cold beer.

    Abstinence during the period of fertility is not asceticism, but if carried out in a planned and systematic manner for contraceptive purposes, it is simply a shirking of the conjugal duty.  Of course, there is no duty to make love every night, or even to abstain on particular occasions if one does not wish to procreate that night for whatever reason (bad finances that might suggest waiting a month, or lack of sleep, or whatever).  Sex is by nature spontaneous, as is deciding not to have sex on a particular occasion.  What is a violation of one's responsibility as a married couple is the systematic and planned method of contraception, as for example when NFP is routinely taught to engaged or dating couples with the presumption that it will be used as "Catholic birth control" rather than an unfortunate concession to grave or serious circumstances, the only circumstances to which Humanae Vitae gave its blessing.

    Lest I simply be dismissed as disagreeing with the Church's official teaching on this matter, I will support my claim with a passage from Blessed John Paul II's Love and Responsibility, p. 242:

    We cannot therefore speak of continence as a virtue where the spouses take advantage of the periods of biological infertility exclusively for the purpose of avoiding parenthood altogether, and have intercourse only in those periods. To apply the 'natural method' in this way would be contrary to nature - both the objective order of nature and the essential character of love are hostile to such a policy.

    The objection of course is often made that NFP is "natural" whereas medical contraceptives are "unnatural".  This is one of the more comical retentions from outdated science and metaphysics.  Contraceptives are not created ex nihilo in a laboratory - there is no distinction between "substantial" and "accidental" change apart from grammar, and they are just as "natural" as penicillin or baked bread.  The nature of the human body is to react to contraceptives the way it does, just as its nature is to react to penicillin the way it does, and to react to cyanide the way it does.  There is no telos in the realm of metaphysics.  There is a telos regarding biological purpose, but here one can easily see that contraceptive NFP is fundamentally unnatural - because of the procreative rather than contraceptive biological purpose of sexuality.  Females are most affectionate during that period (a fact confirmed by scientific research into hormone levels, as if any male in a relationship needed a scientific study to confirm the obvious), and as nature and biology and ordained and disposed intercourse to the period of fertility (biologically that’s why we want to do it then), going through elaborate processes to find that period and avoid intercourse can only be called unnatural.  And if marriage truly is as liberating to our sexuality as the theology of the body proponents claim and as the dignity of the sacraments demands, then let us all get married and procreate with reckless abandon.

    One finds it not surprising that the traditional Catholic theology of marriage, the one which originally encouraged us to use the calendar as birth control, never spoke of marriage as a good in its own right, but always reduced the sacrament to utilitarian purposes or as a concession to sin.  Instead of recognizing that sexuality is in fact love, the only human form of love ennobled by being given the dignity of a sacrament, older theological manuals speak of it as a "remedy for concupiscence", as if marriage were nothing but legalized lust.  It is only a "remedy" for concupiscence in the same way that food is a remedy for hunger, not in the way that medicine is a remedy for sickness or that amputation is a remedy for a diseased leg.  As Paul Evdokimov states in his wonderful little book The Sacrament of Love, the end of marriage is not procreation or whatever biological function it may have; the end of marriage is nothing other than the spouses themselves, given to us for our own good and not some evolutionary biological purpose.  It is true that that biological purpose is present, but that is only relevant on the biological order, something we far transcend.  If marriage were simply a means for biological reproduction, then manipulating this biology would not be a sin (though one would be hard-pressed to explain the moral difference between using the calendar as birth control and using a pill).  But that is not the purpose of marriage; the purpose of marriage is to give oneself completely in love.

    It is not necessary for me to try to summarize hundreds of pages of the theology of the body at the end of this post.  Marriage is nothing short of the sacrament of love, a foretaste of heaven and a consummation of man's nature in the full expression of the nuptial meaning of his body.  Both the religious life and marriage offer a foretaste of Heaven – the one through the total devotion to God and the transcendence of sexuality that we shall all experience after the Parousia, the other through tasting the joys of Heaven and the total love for each other in the sexuality which shall be consummated and completed as well as transcended when the perfect union between a man and woman shall become the perfect union of the Body of Christ, reflected in the icon of a marriage, reflected in many mirrors.  Both states of life require dying to oneself and growth in holiness.


    Evdokimov, Paul.  The Sacrament of Love.

    John Paul II,  Love and Responsibility.
    John Paul II,  The Theology of the Body.