The Pozzo di San Patrizio (English: “St. Patrick’s Well”) is a historic well in Orvieto, Umbria, central Italy. It was built by architect-engineer Antonio da Sangallo the Younger of Florence, between 1527 and 1537, at the behest of Pope Clement VII who had taken refuge at Orvieto during the sack of Rome in 1527 by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and feared that the city’s water supply would be insufficient in the event of a siege. The well was completed in 1537 during the papacy of Pope Paul III.
The name was inspired by medieval legends that St. Patrick’s Purgatory in Ireland gave access down to Purgatory, indicating something very deep. The architect-engineer Antonio da Sangallo the Younger surrounded the central well shaft with two spiral ramps in a double helix, accessed by two doors, which allowed mules to carry empty and full water vessels separately in downward and upward directions without obstruction. The cylindrical well is 53.15 metres (174.4 ft) deep with a base diameter of 13 metres (43 ft). There are 248 steps and 70 windows provide illumination.
An inscription on the well states that QUOD NATURA MUNIMENTO INVIDERAT INDUSTRIA ADIECIT (what nature stinted for provision, application has supplied).
I’m leading the discussion on Sunday (yesterday) for the Norris article. I have made reading selections from in my last two posts last week. Here are some of the questions and my own answers:
- What specifically are the distinctions between person and nature that Fr. Norris refers to in his essay?
This might be a trick question. Norris tells us that drawing out the distinction was essential to Christian theology as it had to explicate its two central doctrines,i.e., God as Triune (i.e., one divine nature possessed equally by three distinct Persons, distinguished only by their relations of origin to each other) and Christ as God-man (i.e., one divine Person possessing two distinct natures, one divine, one human). But he never seems to state what the distinction is, although we might be allowed to guess based on our own understandings of man and the divine in scripture.
Don led me to another section and pointed out some of the universal applications of persons [the 1, 2, 3 of the Orthodox Church would qualify below] as opposed to some of dynamic “state” things that Norris was talking about earlier. I’m not philosophically trained as he is, so it was difficult for me to follow. I think I got it, though. Don really helps me with these Communio articles. Along with Frank he is a natural leader of our little group.
I would offer the following:
a. We are told that Jesus“emptied out” his divine nature (kenosis: Philippians 2:7) before taking on the drosser human nature. Some notes on kenosis:
- Theologians in all the great faiths have devised all kinds of myths to show that this type of kenosis, or self-emptying, is found in the life of God itself. They do not do this because it sounds edifying, but because this is the way that human nature seems to work. We are most creative and sense other possibilities that transcend our ordinary experience when we leave ourselves behind.
Karen Armstrong, in The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness
- History, is a conscious, self-meditating process — Spirit emptied out into Time; but this externalization, this kenosis, is equally an externalization of itself; the negative is the negative of itself. This Becoming presents a slow-moving succession of Spirits, a gallery of images, each of which, endowed with all the riches of Spirit, moves thus slowly just because the Self has to penetrate and digest this entire wealth of its substance. As its fulfillment consists in perfectly knowing what it is, in knowing its substance, this knowing is that withdrawal into itself in which it abandons its outer existence and gives its existential shape over to recollection. Thus absorbed in itself, it is sunk in the night of its self-consciousness; but in that night its vanished outer existence is perserved, and this transformed existence — the former one, but now reborn of the Spirit’s knowledge — is the new existence, a new world and a new shape of Spirit.
In the immediacy of this new existence the Spirit has to start afresh to bring itself to maturity as if, for it, all that preceded were lost and it had learned nothing from the experience of the earlier Spirits. But recollection, the inwardizing, of that experience, has perserved it and is the inner-being, and in fact the higher form of the substance. So although to bring itself to maturity, it is none the less on a higher level that it starts.
The realm of Spirits which is formed in this way in the outer world constitutes a succession in Time in which one Spirit relieved another of its charge and each took over the empire of the world from its predecessor.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)
- In all great poetry there is a kind of “kenosis” of the understanding, a self-emptying of the tongue. Here language points away from itself to something greater than itself.
L. P. Jacks, in “The Usurpation Of Language” (1910)
b. In one of the central stories of the gospel we are told of Jesus’ transfiguration before Peter. Here at last is Jesus in his divine body, a hint perhaps of our futures? It is beyond understanding of course, but it is there. And it is also something that man is not. So how are we the imago dei?
c. In a Catholic anthropology, unlike the secular subject, the human is separate and above its mere physical nature, as the Church’s teaching on the concept of imago dei would seem to illustrate.
The work of John Paul II and Benedict XVI has helped us now to see more clearly that the human body, precisely as body, is an order of love, indeed is a pre-sacramental sign and expression of the order of love revealed in God’s act of creation.
David L. Schindler, Regarding Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Unions
The Catholic notion of person is an order of love tied to a bodily sexual difference which bears a unity-in-difference that is characteristic of the integrity of human love as such, hence in the whole range of its expression. This sense in which the sexual difference, essential for an integrated expression of human love, is thus objectively necessary for authentically human culture. [Sentences adapted from the Schindler piece quoted above.]
d. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant.” [Philippians 2:5] Paul of Tarsus
2. How does Aquinas’ notion of “real being” relate to self-expression and being-through-action?
Aquinas’ notion of “real being,” i.e., actually existing being, was being that was intrinsically active and self-communicating. Norris claims that because it was never the subject of a question or article in the Summa that a superficial reading of the Summa never reveals it fully. However Norris states that “it runs all through his [Aquinas’] thought, both philosophical and theological, as one of the key mediating ideas in explanations and drawing of conclusions.”
Being-Through-Action “Not only is activity, active self-communication, the natural consequence of possessing an act of existence (ease); St. Thomas goes further to maintain that self-expression through action is actually the whole point, the natural perfection or flowering of being itself, the goal of its very presence in the universe.” The clear lesson here is that if you are not in love with God, if you do not “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might,” then you are not fully alive and have not achieved the fullness of your personhood.
“Not: to be, then to act,” as Norris quotes Etienne Gilson, “but to be is to act. And the very first thing which “to be” does, is to make its own essence to be, that is, “to be a being.” This is done at once, completely and definitively…. But the next thing which “to be” does, is to begin bringing its own individual essence somewhat nearer its own completion.”
I really think the challenge of the Church is not so much to explain why gays, abortionists or anyone else fully engaged in sin are wrong but to educate those already in the Church on how Catholics view the human person and their own being, their person. Let them contrast it with the various secular constituencies who jostle for “fairness” and the rights of women, etc, etc. Send them out fully informed to speak for the Church: 1000 new voices and 1000 more after that.
3. How, in Dante’s words, does “Love make the world go round?”
Norris tells us that to be an authentic person, in a word, is to be a lover to live a life of inter-personal self-giving and receiving. Person is essentially a “we” term. Person exists in its fullness only in the plural. He quotes Jacques Maritain:
Thus it is that when a man has been really awakened to the sense of being or existence, and grasps intuitively the obscure living depth of the Self and subjectivity, he discovers by the same token the basic generosity of existence and realizes, by virtue of the same inner dynamism of this intuition, that love is not a passing pleasure or emotion, but the very meaning of his being alive.
Aquinas wrote: “It is natural for man to take delight in living together with other human beings.” Norbert Hoffman, speak of a self-openness towards the other”. most luminously defined and manifested in the revelation of divine being as self-communicative interpersonal love. It is “the primal mystery and the first of all impulses in the heart of being. “All of its own, and not because of subsequent determination, Being posits itself as communicatio; its essential form is called, “Love.”
This literally does make the world go round.
4. Relate Fr. Norris’ essay to the following. This is by the late Donald Sheehan, a professor at Dartmouth College for a number of years and author:
“Central to Eastern Orthodox Christendom is the singing, at the end of every Orthodox funeral, of the song known as “Memory Eternal” (in Church Slavonic: Vechnaya Pamyat). This song also concludes Dostoevsky’s great, final novel, The Brothers Karamazov, when, following the funeral of the boy whom Alyosha Karamazov (and the circle of schoolboys around Alyosha) had deeply loved, Alyosha speaks to the boys about the funeral and about the meaning of the resurrection, with this brief song as their steady focus.
My thesis is simply this: to know something of this song’s meaning is to comprehend both the Eastern Orthodox faith and Dostoevsky’s greatest novel.
We can best approach the meaning of this song through following the connection between the Orthodox funeral services and the crucifixion of Christ. Fr. Pavel Florensky, recently canonized by the Church in Russia [sic: according to other comments on this article, the canonization did not occur], articulated the connection by first asking, “What did the wise thief ask for on the cross?” (144) and then answering by quoting from St. Luke’s Gospel: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom” (23:42). Florensky then continues:
And in answer, in satisfaction of his wish, his wish to be remembered, the Lord witnesses: “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” In other words, “to be remembered” by the Lord is the same thing as “to be in Paradise.” “To be in Paradise” is to be in eternal memory and, consequently, to have eternal existence and therefore an eternal memory of God. Without remembrance of God we die, but our remembrance of God is possible only through God’s remembrance of us. (144)
Florensky here articulates the essential reality of Orthodox Christianity: the relational reality of all personhood. We are persons, says the Orthodox Church, because we fulfill the three conditions of all existence. These three conditions were articulated in the third century A.D. by the Orthodox Fathers known as the Cappadocians. They are summed up in this way by J. D. Zizioulas in his wonderful essay called “The Contribution of Cappadocia to Christian Thought”:
- We are persons because we know ourselves as foundationally free, under not even the tiniest bondage to, or limitation of, either earthly history or the material world – a freedom even prior to and greater than the Church herself because (as Zizioulas says) such freedom “constitutes the ‘way of being’ of God Himself”(34).
- We are persons because we can give ourselves freely and entirely to another in self – emptying love; that is, we can voluntarily surrender all our selfhood entirely into the hands of another in the action of loving that other. Zizioulas puts it beautifully: “Love is a relationship, it is the free coming out of one’s self, the breaking of one’s will, a free submission to the will of another”(34).
- We are persons when we understand ourselves as wholly unique, as entirely unrepeatable and forever irreplaceable. As members of a species we are merely replaceable and countable individuals in a set: biological, historical, or sociopolitical. As members of a set (or sets), we can be compelled to serve extrinsic, even hostile, purposes; we can, that is, be treated as things. But as persons, we are unique and unrepeatable; hence, we cannot (as Zizioulas says) “be composed or decomposed, combined or used for any objective whatsoever”(35).
These three conditions of personhood – foundational freedom, self-emptying love, and absolute uniqueness – shed great light on what the Orthodox Church – and Dostoevsky – mean by the phrase “Memory Eternal.” It means this: in the same way that the wise thief achieves personhood by entering into loving Christ freely (and this freedom is emphasized in the crucifixion scene as everyone else mocking Christ while the thief freely and deliberately chooses to love), just so we become persons in freely surrendering our own will, in an action of love, into the hands of another.
Dostoevsky gives beautiful expression to this Orthodox understanding of personhood early in The Brothers Karamazov when he describes the relation between Alyosha Karamazov and his spiritual father, the Elder Zosima. “What, then,” asks the narrator, “is an elder?” He answers:
An elder is one who takes your soul, your will into his soul and into his will. Having chosen an elder, you renounce your will and give it under total obedience and with total self-renunciation. A man who dooms himself to this trial, this terrible school of life, does so voluntarily, in the hope that after the long trial he will achieve self-conquest, self-mastery to such a degree that he will, finally, through a whole life’s obedience, attain to perfect freedom – that is, freedom from himself – and avoid the lot of those who live their whole lives without finding themselves in themselves. (27-28)
This perfectly expresses the Orthodox understanding of the relational reality of personhood. And the whole of The Brothers Karamazov can usefully be read as a vast commentary on this single passage.
Dmitri at first rejects the Orthodox way of personhood by plunging into a life of entirely autonomous desires and their endlessly self-willed fulfillment.
But then, in the course of the novel, he discovers a profounder and more directly Orthodox experience when he discovers the relational reality of personhood through his love of Grushenka. The middle brother, Ivan, age 24, rejects the ways of both his brothers in the name of a still more terrifying autonomy: not the passional autonomy his older brother Dmitri attempts but a spiritual autonomy, one wherein he asserts his own will as more perfective than God’s will in creating the world.
Ivan’s spiritual and psychic agony in the novel’s final 100 pages stands as Dostoevsky’s revelation of what inevitably happens to those who attempt to deny or unmake the Orthodox reality of relational personhood. It is the attempt to unmake Memory Eternal through self-willed oblivion.
In this light, then, I want to consider that astonishing moment in the novel when Dmitri, having been falsely arrested and imprisoned for two months for the murder of his father (and about to be wrongly convicted of it), says this to his brother Alyosha who visits him in prison:
“Rakitin wouldn’t understand this,” he began, all in a sort of rapture, as it were, “but you, you will understand everything. That’s why I’ve been thirsting for you. . . .
Brother, in these past two months I’ve sensed a new man in me, a new man has arisen in me! He was shut up inside me, but if it weren’t for this thunderbolt, he never would have appeared. Frightening! What do I care if I spend twenty years pounding out iron ore in the mines, I’m not afraid of that at all, but I’m afraid of something else now: that this risen man not depart from me! Even there, in the mines, underground, you can find a human heart in the convict and murderer standing next to you, and you can be close to him, because there, too, it’s possible to live, and love, and suffer!
You can revive and resurrect the frozen heart in this convict, you can look after him for years, and finally bring up from the cave into the light a soul that is lofty now, a suffering consciousness. You can revive an angel, resurrect a hero! And there are many of them, there are hundreds, and we’re all guilty for them! Why did I have a dream about a ‘wee one’ at such a moment? ‘Why is the wee one poor?’ It was a prophecy to me at that moment! It’s for the ‘wee one’ that I will go.
Because everyone is guilty for everyone else. For all the ‘wee ones,’ because there are little children and big children. All people are ‘wee ones.’ And I’ll go for all of them, because there must be someone who will go for all of them. I didn’t kill father, but I must go. I accept! All of this came to me here . . .
Within these peeling walls. And there are many, there are hundreds of them, underground, with hammers in their hands. Oh, yes, we’ll be in chains, and there will be no freedom, but then, in our great grief, we will arise once more into joy, without which it’s not possible for man to live, or for God to be, for God gives joy, it’s his prerogative, a great one. . . .” (591-92)
I want to pull three strands from this complex and revelatory speech. The first strand occurs when Dmitri says: “A new man has arisen in me! He was shut up inside me, but if it weren’t for this thunderbolt, he would never have appeared.” This newly risen (or resurrected) self is, above all, a remembered self; that is, it is a self that was always “shut up inside” him but that could only be made manifest – i.e., be remembered – by the “thunderbolt” of relationality let loose by his father’s death.
Hence, the second strand: “I didn’t kill father, but I must go. I accept!” The walls of autonomy are here fully breached as Dmitri voluntarily accepts the Orthodox reality wherein “everyone is guilty for everyone else” because each person possesses personhood only relationally. The result in Dmitri is the rush of understanding that, as the false freedom of self-willed autonomy vanishes, genuine joy arrives.
Here is the third strand: “Oh, yes, we’ll be in chains, and there will be no freedom, but then, in our great grief, we will arise once more into joy, without which it’s not possible for man to live, or for God to be. . . .” This third strand explicitly links the arrival of real joy to the ending of false freedom, a joy that is essential, Dmitri says, to both human life and divine being.
Together, these three strands - the resurrected self; the relational self; and the joyful self – are the three defining aspects of personhood in The Brothers Karamazov. And all three aspects can be best understood – in Dostoevsky and in Orthodox Christendom – as aspects of the meaning of Memory Eternal.
Florensky opens yet another dimension of this meaning when he says: “‘My eternal memory’ means both God’s ‘eternal memory’ of me and my ‘eternal memory’ of God. In other words, it is the eternal memory of the Church, in which God and man converge”(144). This convergence of God and man, a convergence wherein the human person is understood to become like God, is practically unknown in Western Christianity (except in those very rare experiences called ‘mystical’) but is everywhere operative in Eastern Christendom, where the term given it is the Greek word theosis.
In Orthodoxy, theosis is considered to be the normative goal of every person on earth – and not the rare experience of a spiritual elite called ‘mystics.’ What propels the person toward achieving theosis is, very simply, obeying what Christ, in the gospels, calls the first and great commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Matthew 22:37).
In this scene we are examining, Dmitri perfectly illustrates this love when he ends his speech to Alyosha by saying: “And then from the depth of the earth, we, the men underground, will start singing a tragic hymn to God, in whom there is joy! Hail to God and his joy! I love him!”(592). Here, then, is the engine that moves the process of theosis: the power of loving God.
Furthermore, this is also the engine that moves what Christ (in the same passage in St. Matthew) calls the second of the two great commandments: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew: 22:39). In loving the neighbor – that is, loving the one who is always right now before you, ‘nigh’ or near you – in the same way in which you love God, you are directly experiencing the way wherein the Other is always oneself. These two great commandments are, to the Orthodox heart, Christ’s direct injunctions to each of us to enter into the way of theosis.”
I found the above to be the perfect companion piece to Norris’ writings on Person. In the moment of the beatitude, Christ will remember us as Persons fully alive in love.