Posts Tagged ‘anthropos’


The Fall As Seen From Liturgical Theology: “We Have Wounded Creation” — David Fagerberg

September 29, 2011

We have recanted our vocation as homo adorans.

Happiness does elude us, because we have recanted our vocation as homo adorans. As a result, we have not only wronged ourselves, but we no longer “do” the material world the way it was meant to be done. God’s response was, characteristically, merciful: God expelled us from the environs of the Tree of Life lest we be eternally disfigured. Do not think we were expelled from paradise because God was jealous of divinity and would not share it with anthropos. The Christian narrative is not the myth of Prometheus.

The expulsion was on account of man and woman’s untimely grasping at that for which they were not prepared. The sin was not that man and woman took something which God never intended them to have; the sin was that the serpent convinced them to take it prematurely. Thus, Ephrem says,

He deceived the husbandman
so that he plucked prematurely
the fruit which gives forth its sweetness only in due season
—a fruit that, out of season,
proves bitter to him who plucks it.

God would have given Adam and Eve the knowledge they sought after preparing them for it, but when grasped precipitately the knowledge impaired their created capacity for liturgical priesthood. A double knowledge was hidden in the tree: knowledge of God’s glory and of our lowliness:

But when Adam boldly ran
     and ate of its fruit
this double knowledge
    straightway flew toward him,
tore away and removed
     both veils from his eyes:
he beheld the Glory of the Holy of Holies
     and trembled;
he beheld, too, his own shame and blushed,
     groaning and lamenting
because the twofold knowledge he had gained
     had proved for him a torment.
Whoever has eaten
     of that fruit
either sees and is filled with delight,
     or he sees and groans out.”

If anthropos had eaten the tree’s fruit as God gave it — in love — then men and women would have seen everything with a knowledge that is delighted by the sight of God’s glory and by the sight of their humility (just as Dante describes souls in heaven). But when anthropos ate the tree’s fruit as the tempter gave it — in jealousy — then the sight of God’s glory and our humility filled men and women with envy (just as Dante describes souls in hell). Through time, sin’s cataracts have obscured anthropos’ liturgical vision.

Because of our fallen state, we no longer see the world as material sacrifice for the glory of God, or as sacramental means for communion with God. Man and woman no longer fulfill their vocation as homo adorans because they are plunged into a sea of forgetfulness. Makarios of Egypt says the prelapsarian soul was to have progressed and attained full adulthood, just as a newborn child, who is the image of a full-grown adult, must progress and grow up.

But through the fall [anthropos' soul] was plunged into a sea of forgetfulness, into an abyss of delusion, and dwelt within the gates of hell. As if separated from God by a great distance, it could not draw near its Creator and recognize him properly. But first through the prophets God called it back, and drew it to knowledge of Himself. Finally, through his own advent on earth, He dispelled the forgetfulness, the delusion; then, breaking through the gates of hell, He entered the deluded soul, giving himself to it as a model. By means of this model the soul can grow to maturity and attain the perfection of the Spirit.

Since that cataclysm, material things have held so much potential to make us amnesiac that the ascetical tradition warns us to discipline the body, warns about material things, and even warns about the danger of these things recurring in memory and imagination.

We have lost our equilibrium. The fall affected our nature in such a way that we have grown accustomed to the unnatural state of forgetting the sacramental dimension of good, material things. In Schmemann’s words, “the `original’ sin is not primarily that man has `disobeyed’ God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for God and God alone…

The only real fall of man is his non-Eucharistic life in a non-Eucharistic world. The microcosm that God had created — a spirit in matter should have spiritualized the material universe in which it was placed. Instead, man and woman abdicated their office in the cosmic liturgy.

This causes Evdokimov to lament, “There are no more singers for the cosmic liturgy because the Taboric light [the light revealed on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration of Jesus, identified with the light seen by Paul at his conversion.] has no longer been seeded the opacity of our bodies, and the glory of God has lost its place in a nature put to another and illegitimate use.”

Although the fall took place on a spiritual level, it affected matter, which is why this asceticism must be done to the body, through the body, by the body, for the body. “By what rule or manner can I bind this body of mine?” asks John Climacus. “He is my helper and my enemy, my assistant; and my opponent, a protector and a traitor…. If I strike him down I have nothing left by which to acquire virtues.”

Asceticism is necessary in order to think straight — about ourselves (anthropology), the world (cosmology), and God (theology).  The place where we can think straight is the place where we stand straight. At the opening of the anaphora in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the deacon bids the Church, “Let us stand aright; let us stand with fear; let us attend, that we may offer the Holy Oblation peace.”There is nothing wrong with matter, but matter has been wronged by us. By turning away from the Creator, anthropos does not use matter eucharistically or receive matter sacramentally. We have wounded creation, and by our fault matter does not fulfill its end anymore. Ephrem describes the reaction of the sun to human idolatry:

The sun bellowed out in silence to the Lord against his worshippers.
It was a suffering for him, the servant, that instead of his Lord he was worshipped.
Behold the creation is joyful that the Creator is worshipped… .
Since fools honored the sun, they diminished him in his honor.
Now that they know he is a servant, by his course he worships his Lord. All the servants are glad to be counted servants.
Blessed is he who set the natures in order!
We have done perverse things that we should be servants to servants…
Since fools honored the sun, they diminished him in his honor.
Now that they know he is a servant, by his course he worships his Lord.
All the servants are glad to be counted servants.
Blessed is he who set the natures in order!
We have done perverse things that we should be servants to servants.

That is why creation groans in travail, waiting for the redemption of anthropos. Asceticism is required of the liturgist so that earth may be healed; asceticism is required of the theologian in order to see the matter clearly.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis describes the effect which eating enchanted food could have upon a son of Adam. A little boy named Edmund and his siblings had stumbled into Narnia and threatened the reign of the white witch, so she gave to Edmund a candy upon which an enchantment had been placed. Its first effect was “anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they had killed themselves.”

Second, when Edmund sat down to supper, he did not enjoy the meal because, Lewis observes, “There’s nothing that spoils the taste of good ordinary food half so much as the memory of bad magic food.”” The Christian doctrine of original sin claims that each human being is born with a spoiled appetite, and that humanity was expelled from paradise before we killed ourselves eternally, and that the memory of this bad magic food has spoiled the taste of this good ordinary earth. Asceticism is the weaning of our appetites from magic food, but it does not make us less human, it makes us finally human. Man and woman were plunged into a sea of forgetfulness by the delectability of the world, and the first reaction of God was mercy: They were expelled from the garden until they got their appetites under control. But this was not the last action of God.

The way to rectify the being of a microcosmic hybrid who had come under the trance of the corporeal is for God himself to become corporeal flesh. Satan warped our spirits so that creation would work an opposite effect upon an unrighteous being. We are idolatrously blinded by the heavenly luminaries, impoverished by the avarice that the goods of creation create in an unrighteous heart, and alienated from God by the very book of nature that was created to disclose God. The only countervail would be an incarnate inversion. In Ephrem’s words,

The All-Knowing saw that we worshipped creatures.
He put on a created body to catch us by our habit,
to draw us by a created body toward the Creator.
Blessed is He Who contrived to draw us to Him.
The evil one knew how to harm us; with the luminaries he blinded us.
With possessions he maimed us, by gold he made us poor.
With graven images he made us a heart of stone.
Blessed is He who came to soften it!

If the sinner will no longer look through matter to God, then God will himself become matter to be looked at. It is a principle of iconography that the faculty of sight is the most active of the senses, reaching out to seize and take in the object apprehended. We become what we look at. God became human so that we might see him and he made divine. Irenaeus says, “The Word was made flesh … that all that exists could see … its King, and also that the paternal light might meet with and rest upon the flesh of our Lord, and come to us from his resplendent flesh, and that thus man might attain to immortality, having been invested with the paternal light.” The incarnation is crucial to our justification.

When Satan burgled Eden, he took the most valuable possession and imprisoned it in a stronghold he thought was secure. The evil one thought he could hide anthropos from God by shame and accusation and death. He took Adam to a place he thought was out of God’s reach, but he was mistaken.

Adam was heedless
as guardian of Paradise,
for the crafty thief
stealthily entered;
leaving aside the fruit
—which most men would covet—
he stole instead
the Garden’s inhabitant!
Adam’s Lord came out to seek him;
He entered Sheol and found him there, then led and brought him out to set him once more in Paradise.

When the man and the woman hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden, the Lord God called, saying, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). The cry, “Adam, Eve, where Are you?” sounded in the garden that first time. Then angels went to the corners of the universe shouting the question, not only because they were bid by their Lord to do so, but also because they missed the humans’ voices in the celestial choir. The king sent inquisitors with the question through the long corridors of history — Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah — but neither could find Adam and Eve. Finally, the Lord put on flesh, so that he could die, so that he could look in the last, last place. And there, in Sheol, he found them: deaf, mute, ashamed, dead. And the Lord brought out the man and woman and led them once more to paradise. This dogma is written in icon, too.

Whereas Christ overcame the passions; whereas struggling against the passions increases the share we have in Christ’s life; whereas our renewed humanity is an icon of Christ, who is the icon of the invisible God; and whereas the work of this renewed humanity is to perpetuate Christ’s own ergeia in the world, therefore the discipline practiced by Christ’s mystical body ought to be called liturgical asceticism. Liturgical asceticism was not possible until after the incarnation any more than iconography — and for the same reason. The uniqueness of liturgical asceticism derives from the uniqueness of the hypostatic union. And since liturgy is living by grace this hypostatic union that was natural in Christ, the new reality into which a Christian is baptized brings with it a discipline to make Christ’s image visible in our faces. It begins with death. It is sacramental, spiritual, pre-biological death, made efficacious by mysterious union with Christ’s own death.

Evdokimov states, “If philosophy brings knowledge of death, Christian ascesis offers the art of going beyond it and thus anticipating the resurrection.” Liturgical asceticism corroborates the death of Christ in our own bodies by taming those passions that accompany life-in-the-body so that we may notarize with our hope that death has not been victorious. Instead, death, when grasped in a radical act of faith, has been made a portal to the new age. The pall has become a white baptismal garment, which is our swaddling cloth.

That is why liturgical life begins in the font. The asceticism, which is made possible by the theological virtues infused by baptism (faith, hope, and charity), is the discipline that increases the measure by which the Christian can participate in the liturgical life this sacrament initiates. Baptism drops the spirit of the Holy One into our veins, but there is no fire where there is not matter to burn; liturgical asceticism makes us combustible. In his foreword to Unseen Warfare, Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain describes the book’s ascetical subject matter in this way: “It teaches not the art of visible and sensory warfare, and speaks not about visible, bodily foes but about the unseen and inner struggle, which every Christian undertakes from the moment of his baptism, when he makes a vow to God to fight for Him, to the glory of His divine name, even unto death.” If it is remembered that the word sacramentum once meant the vow taken by a soldier upon enlistment in the army, then it will be understood that liturgical asceticism is the fulfillment of every Christian’s baptismal sacramentum. If it is remembered that baptism creates the people of God, named by the word laos, then it will be understood that this life is the ergeia of the laos.

Liturgical asceticism is not born out of hatred of the world, and it is not an exercise of our religious faculty alone. Christian liturgical asceticism is born in the waters of the font where the liturgist-information is immersed into the blood of a suffering Christ. Evdokimov sees the cross “planted at the threshold of the new life — vita nova — and the water of baptism receives the sacramental value of the blood of Christ. From then on, ascesis teaches participation in the `health’ of the Savior, but this entails a victory over death and therefore a preliminary purification.”

This labor is incumbent on every Christian who has passed through what Gregory of Nyssa calls the mystical sea:

Those who pass through the mystical water in baptism must put to death in the water the whole phalanx of evil—such as covetousness, unbridled desire, rapacious thinking, the passion of conceit and arrogance, wild impulse, wrath, anger, malice, envy, and all such things. Since the passions naturally pursue our nature, we must put to death in the water both the base movements of the mind and the acts which issue from them…. If someone should still serve them, even if he should happen to have passed through the water, according to my thinking he has not at all touched the mystical water whose function is to destroy evil tyrants.”

‘Therefore, liturgical asceticism is for every baptized Christian. It is not confined to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, but they blazed the trail and it is to them that generations have turned when seeking creative recovery and interpretation of this spirituality.

Paul Evdokimov describes the kingdom of God in this way:

“It is in the offering of the heart to God that the Spirit manifests itself and introduces the human being into the eternal circulation of love between the Father and the Son, and this is the `Kingdom.’”

I suggest that this is the only adequate definition of liturgy. Liturgy is living in that eternal circulation of love within the Trinity. For us to love God, our appetites must be put into control: ordo amoris. In the liturgy God presents himself to be loved and by loving we know Him, and knowing the trinity is what Athanasius simply called “theology.” It is liturgical theology practiced by liturgists in the ascetical discipline of theologia prima.


Liturgical Asceticism – David Fagerberg

September 28, 2011

Coptic icon of Saint Anthony the Great

The objective of the previous posts has been to deepen the grammar by which we speak about liturgy itself, and to do so in order to prepare us to speak specifically about liturgical theology. Since I intend to follow the lead of Schmemann in developing a connection between liturgy and theology that could be called organic, my definition of liturgical theology raises a wide range of questions about the vocation of liturgists. Let me speak directly about this liturgical vocation. This is, in other words, a clearer elucidation of liturgical asceticism.

There are general definitions of asceticism from which liturgical asceticism must be distinguished. The term askein, from which askesis comes, meant “to work.” Asceticism thus came to mean discipline and training, especially the sort that an athlete undergoes, as John McGuckin explains:

The word “asceticism” derives from the Greek term for physical exercise, such as athletic practice. The idea of training the soul to virtue by disciplining the body is fundamental to monastic theory. Here, Christian monasticism provided a distinct and original anthropology. In many Greco-Roman theories the purpose of “philosophic” asceticism was to purify the soul of the body’s influence…. In its purest form the Christian concept of ascesis seeks not the liberation of the soul in the body but the integration of the person, spiritually and materially, Ascesis was thus a manner of disciplining the body and training the mind by prayers, vigils and fasting, until the whole person was attuned to his or her best ability to hear and obey the voice of Gods’

Asceticism therefore involves the idea of self-sacrifice and self-discipline. Since there are a large number of reasons for which one might submit to a discipline, I have no objection to a large number of uses for the word asceticism. When an athlete is placed under discipline in order to train for a prize, it is athletic asceticism; when a person disciplines excessive consumption of goods for the sake of distributive justice it might be called moral asceticism; when a person refrains from those same goods during wartime, it may be called patriotic asceticism; when a child learns to discipline wants and outbursts of frustration, that self-discipline may also be said to have an ascetical quality about it. In this way, different types of asceticism could be identified by different formal causes. Paul Evdokimov admits this range of meaning, too:

The word “ascesis” comes from the Greek askesis and means exercise, effort, exploit. One can speak of the athletic ascesis when it seeks to render the body supple, obedient, resistant to every obstacle. The ascesis of scientists and doctors shows their magnificent abnegation that sometimes costs them their lives. Monastic tradition has given to this term a very precise meaning; it designates the interior combat necessary in order that the spiritual acquire a mastery over the materials

It is easy to imagine religious causes of asceticism, too. Religious asceticism would be a disciplined endeavor to find God. The existence of pre-Christian and extra-Christian asceticism is a phenomenological fact (just like the existence of pre-Christian and extra-Christian religion is a phenomenological fact). But I shall maintain that liturgical asceticism is different from both moral asceticism and religious asceticism, and distinguish them not so much by the practices employed, but by the cause and end to which they are employed. That is exactly why two words (liturgical and asceticism) are required to name the single, simple reality liturgical asceticism. It is a theological category, not a moral, civic, religious, or athletic one. Evdokimov states it succinctly: “An athlete exercises his body; an ascetic, his flesh.”

Christianity shares many religious practices with the whole of humanity. This is a corollary of believing that grace perfects nature, and there is no alarm in this admission: It is, in fact, a sign of the solidarity and compatibility of Christianity with human nature. Perhaps no one understood this better than G. K. Chesterton, whose writings often contained an apology for the rather pagan quality of certain Catholic acts. For example, when critics of Catholicism complained that “ritual feasts, processions or dances are really of pagan origin,” Chesterton replied, “they might as well say that our legs are of pagan origin. Nobody ever disputed that humanity was human before it was Christian; and no Church manufactured the legs with which men walked or danced, either in a pilgrimage or a ballet.

Neither do I deny that fasting, vigils, and solitude were practiced by religious persons before they were practiced by Christians. The Church did not create asceticism, and I do not deny that there were ascetics before there were Christians. In fact, liturgical asceticism does possess this religious dimension, meaning by “religion” what Archimandrite Boniface Luykx meant when he called it “making a path for God to come to you by.” There is a religious aspect to liturgical asceticism. After all, Christian ascetics who make a profession are called “religious” (priest, lay, religious).

However, Chesterton also pointed out modernity’s tendency to overlook content when noticing similar forms, a tendency which he said led ethical societies and parliaments of religion to conclude that “the religions of the earth differ in rites and forms, but they are the same in what they teach.” Chesterton contradicts this. “It is false; it is the opposite of the fact. The religions of the earth do not greatly differ in rites and forms; they do greatly differ in what they teach…. They ,agree in machinery; almost every great religion on earth works with lie same external methods, with priests, scriptures, altars, sworn (brotherhoods, special feasts. They agree in the mode of teaching; what they differ about is the thing to be taught.”

Similarly, I will suppose that liturgical asceticism and religious asceticism agree in their machinery: They will use the same external methods of fasting and celibacy. But liturgical asceticism will differ from religious asceticism in its arche and telos (origin and end, principle and purpose). Not all monasticism is liturgical, any more than all worship is Christian; but liturgical asceticism does exist, as does liturgical worship.

Jeremy Driscoll affirms this in Evagrius who recorded the understanding of the Desert Fathers: “Evagrius himself is witness … to how at base this monastic heritage has a distinctive Christian face which distinguishes it from all other traditions of spiritual exercises, from other cultural manifestations of monasticism. This distinctive face, again, is the face ofthe incarnate Lord who is with the monk in every stage of his exercises….” Every mystery of the Church — its sacraments, its laws, its hierarchy, its exercises, its ministry — exists for the sole purpose of being a means to participate in the mystery of Christ. Therein lies the difference between Christian asceticism and other religious asceticism. What makes it liturgical asceticism is the fact that it is a means of participating in Christ. There is a natural virtue of moral discipline that might lead a person to make ascetical experiments in goodness or justice or humility before Almighty God, but I am speaking of a discipline that is required to become a liturgist in Christ’s body. Asceticism is requisite to being a liturgist and to becoming a liturgical theologian.

All this is presented to help explain the kind of theology a liturgical theologian does. Liturgy is not just ritual; it is a way of living and a way of thinking, expressed ritually. I will try to make this point by nesting asceticism and theology within the fundamental liturgical mysteries of creation, sin, salvation, and deification. Our liturgical life is our synergistic participation in the economy of God, as the Almighty gathers up history to bring it to eschatological perfection.

I will turn to the Christian East (particularly the fourth-century hymnographer, Ephrem) in order to speak of asceticism as a vocation that includes the liturgist, and not only the monk. I will do so for a reason John Paul II understood when he wrote: “In the East, monasticism was not seen merely as a separate condition, proper to a precise category of Christians, but rather as a reference point for all the baptized, according to the gifts offered to each by the Lord; it was presented as a symbolic synthesis of Christianity.”

From the beginning, God intended to share divine life with man and woman, and the incarnation is simply the flowering of the paradisal seed God planted. Jesus is called the “final Adam” because he is, finally, what Adam and Eve were meant to be. Jesus is the eschatos Adam. The life anthropos simultaneously leads in the visible and invisible worlds is the anthropological potential for the incarnation. The incarnation is neither an afterthought by God, nor a simple case of damage control, for the Father had Christ before his eyes when Adam and Eve were made.

God sculpted the human person while looking at his Wisdom, the celestial humanity of Christ…. In the thinking of the fathers, above the potential abyss of the Fall, God sculpted the human face while looking at the humanity of Christ in the depths of his Wisdom…. Christ did not become incarnate in a foreign and utterly alien element, but he found in man his own heavenly and archetypical image, for God created man while looking at the heavenly humanity of the Word of God (1 Corinthians 15:47-49), preexistent in the Wisdom of God.”

From the moment God created, the economy was under way that would lead to the moment when God would appear in the midst of his ecstatic product, material creation. Jesus is the ground of God’s hierarchies.

Human being is unique among other ways of being in the world, and in at least three ways. First, anthropos is microcosmic because in men and women can be found everything that is in the entire cosmos. Anthropos is made of matter and spirit. Gregory Nazianzus said God produced a being “endowed with both natures, the visible and invisible…. Thus, in some way a new universe was born, small and great at one and the same time. God set this hybrid worshipper on earth to contemplate the visible world, and to be initiated into the invisible; to reign over earth’s creatures, and to obey orders from on high.” No other creature is enrolled as simultaneous citizen in both realms.

Second, this microcosmic capacity enables anthropos to be royal priest, ruling over matter in the image of God. In Schmemann’s words:

All rational, spiritual and other qualities of man, distinguishing him from other creatures, have their focus and ultimate fulfillment in this capacity to bless God, to know, so to speak, the meaning of the thirst and hunger that constitutes his life. Homo sapiens, “homo faber” … yes, but, first of all, “homo adorans. “The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God — and by filling the world with this Eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. The world was created as the “matter,” the material of one all-embracing Eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament

Men and women were created with the capacity to recognize the logoi of material things (reflected in the biblical story of Adam naming the animals; he called things as they are). There is a world to be celebrated. The angels know it, but cannot experience it sensually; the animals experience it, but cannot know it spiritually. Only man and woman praise God for a world taken in through the senses and wondered at by the intellect. At the incarnation, the Word will not assume an angelic nature, or an animal nature, but rather a human nature, because of this microcosmic and priestly potential. Gregory asks,

Do you realize how much your Creator has honored you above all creatures? He did not make the heavens in his image, nor the moon, the sun, the beauty of the stars, nor anything else which you can see in the created universe. You alone are made in the likeness of that nature … you alone are a similitude of eternal beauty, a receptacle of happiness… Nothing in all creation can equal your grandeur. All the heavens fit into the palm of God’s hand. And though He is so great that He can grasp all creation in His palm, you can wholly embrace Him; He dwells within you, nor is He cramped as he pervades your entire being.

The third way anthropos is unique is because this is given as potential that is not actualized without our cooperation. In order to be a liturgical temple in whom God is not cramped, anthropos must act. Other beings are finished as soon as they are made. There is nothing else to add to a dog to make it finally canine, a cow does not progressively grow more bovine, and a cat is sufficiently feline as a kitten. But men and women are made homo via/or: a being-on-the-way. Anthropos is a verb (a human being) until he or she becomes a noun (saint).

Ephrem says God created anthropos this way in order that men and women would enjoy the potential to contribute to their own reality. Human nature was made with the capacity to participate freely and willingly in a process of growing into the likeness of God. Created in the image of God, a human person also lives by relationship, and this provides for maximum individuality. God planned beings who could attain maximum personality:

For this is the Good One, who could have forced us to please Him, without any trouble to Himself; but instead He toiled by every means so that we might act pleasingly to Him of our free will, that we might depict our beauty with the colors that our own free will had gathered; whereas, if He had adorned us, then we would have resembled a portrait that someone else had painted, adorning it with his own colors.”

We were created for immortal happiness — and I do not mean by the modifier how long the happiness will last, but from whom it must come. Only the Immortal One can satisfy us, and communion is the ordered end for men and women. The liturgical posture of homo adorans is even more basic to anthropos than homo erectus, and happiness will elude us until we stand aright in our vocation as liturgical beings.


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