Grace and Christology in the Early Church

It is fitting that a blog called “On First Principles” should deal with such principles. This blog has been in existence for almost a decade and I have never figured out what to do with it. But today will perhaps bring some much needed clarity. The first principle of Christian life is JESUS CHRIST. Over the past 10 years I have moved away from some of the basics my old professor at Seminary (Archpriest John Behr) taught me. One thing, however, remains. Maybe even two things.

Christian theology is an answer to the question posed by our Lord “He [Jesus] saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16, 15) The answer is to be found in the Scriptures which testify of Him (the Bible). Three creeds can be found which enshrine “The Rule of Faith” of the earliest Church that gave us the Scriptures and taught us how to read them. They are the Apostles Creed (recited multiple times per day), the Nicene Creed (recited at least weekly at the Sunday Mass), and the Athanasian Creed recited monthly in the Book of Common Prayer, but almost daily in St. John Mason Neale’s Breviary Offices).

 

Christological and Anthropological Grace

In a tightly argued and well researched book Donald Fairbairn has investigated the answer to our Lord’s question above. He does not so much answer the question, as investigate the answer given to it by the early Church. He does so by focusing his attention on three main figures of Church history: 1. Theodore of Mopsuestia, 2. Cyril of Alexandria, and 3. John Cassian. The result of this research is this 288 page tour de force of Christology.

In the first of seven chapters Fairbairn sets the stage for his topic. He first needs to look at grace a bit differently than we are used to. We are introduced to two kinds of grace: anhtropological and christological:nativity

By christological grace, I mean the issue of what (or whom) God gives people through the incarnation and atoning work of Christ. By anthropological grace, I mean the issue of how God leads us to receive and to retain this gift.

~ Donald Fairbairn, Grace and Christology in the Early Church, p. 13.

Anthroplogical grace, as Fairbairn says, has to do with the gift of freedom bestowed upon human beings at their creation and how this relates to the gifts of faith and perseverance that God gives in salvation. Here we enter the debates between – for example – Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants concerning synergism and monergism. In this book this aspect of grace is left to one side in order to focus on what we have called christological grace. The latter is concerned with what or whom Jesus Christ actually gives the Christian what we call salvation.

Thus there was a question of whether grace consisted of Christ’s giving the Christian power, aid, and assistance in reaching that perfect human condition, or whether God gave the believer participation in his own immortality and incorruption.

~ Fairbairn, Grace and Christology, 14.

As we shall see in a moment these two ways of looking at (christological) grace are related to what Fairbairn calls “the structure of salvation” as well as to who or what a particular author thinks Jesus Christ really is.

 

Cyril, Cassian, & Theodore

It is not hard to see why Fairbairn has chosen Cyril for a study on the Christology of the early Church. If you do have difficulties seeing it perhaps you ought to stop reading here and brush up on your knowledge concerning the “Nestorian Controversy.” Without a basic grasp of this conflict in the early Church much of what this book will argue is going Johncassianto go way over your head.

St. Cyril of Alexandria has been the subject of a great many studies and his importance in the christological debates of the early Church is indisputable. Whether one finds him an attractive character or whether one agrees with him or not is another matter. For Cyril’s thought on the matter of christological grace – even if he did not know the term – Fairbairn asserts that it can be argued that for Cyril “Christ is grace (p. 15).” It is also a fact that Cyril’s teaching on the person and nanture(s) of Jesus Christ are the touchstone of orthodox and catholic theology East and West. He is a doctor of the Church in both traditions primarily for his christological teaching. It is quite fitting therefore that the first axis of the book is St. Cyril of Alexandria.

The second axis of the book is St. John Cassian and Fairbairn admits this may be a bit more difficult to justify. It would seem that the great teachers of the Church in the West to turn to would be St. Augustine and perhaps especially St. Leo the Great whose Tome was read and accepted at Chalcedon as conveying Cyril’s doctrine. So, why Cassian? For three reasons: 1. Cassian is the only one in the West to have contributed a work against Nestorius during the Nestorian Controversy. He was asked to do so by St. Leo the Great. Though it would, perhaps, have been a more evident course of action for Leo to have commissioned such a polemics from St. Augustine since the much respected Bishop and doctor was still alive at the time. 2. Cassian is not an Augustine, lacking the Augustinian orginality and thus more lilely to represent what “the choir was singing rather than the soloist (p. 16).” Bringing Augustine into this study may overwhelm other voices. 3. There has been no serious engagement of Cassian’s christological work in the twentieth century and is therefore long overdue.

The third character to play a major role in this study is Theodore of Mopsuestua. Again some justification may be necessary since, after all, we are chiefly dealing with what has been called “the Nestorian Controversy” and not the “Theodoran Controversy.” Nestorius is famous for having denied that the Blessed Virgin Mary is Theotokos (Mother of God). The logic behind such denial is that God cannot be born from His creature. Nestorius is also known to have written a lengthy – if repetitive – tome in defense of himself and his doctrine. It is also against Nestorius that Cyril and Cassian address their polemic.  It would seem that Nestorius is a much more natural place to look for the christology opposed by both Cyril and Cassian.

All of this can be granted readily. Yet Nestorius is mostly repeating the doctrine taught to him by Theodore without really explaining the depth of it. That is to say Nestorius writes a lot about prosopic union but remarkably little about how this relates to grace (though he does presuppose it). To understand how Nestorian christology relates to grace in its christlogical sense one needs to consult the writings of his teacher: Theodore of Mopsuestia. The purpose of Fairbairn’s study is after all to study christological grace.

 

Two Structures of Salvation

The final major theme mentioned by Fairbairn in the first chapter concerns salvation. Salvation can be construed in two basic ways: 1. as an act of restoration, or 2. as an act of elevation. The first way of thinking about salvation presupposes – as it were – salvation to be a play consisting of three acts. The first act is that of the creation of humanity in a “state of grace.” The second act in this play is the fall from grace into sin and its consequences. The third act, salvation as such, is the restoration of fallen humanity into its original condition. Fairbairn summarizes:

This way of understanding salvation, then, sees the key acts or movements as creation, fall, and restoration.

Fairbairn, Grace and Christology, p. 18.

The second way to conceive of salvation is as a play consisting of two acts. The original condition of humanity is not so much perfection (state of grace) as it is a condition of imperfection demanding development and completion. Or as Fairbairn says “opportunity.” Humanity is created to attain a state of perfection – state of grace – and it will do so under the guidance of God. There is growth from imperfection to perfection so as to almost exclude any notion of a fall and restoration. Again in the words of Fairbairn:

This scheme sees the key acts as creation and elevation.

Fairbairn, Grace and Christology, p. 18.

The contrast between these two views of salvation has now become clear. These views have a direct impact on how its adherents view Jesus Christ. In other words the way a patristic era author conceives of salvation is directly related to his christology. As the study proceeds it will become clear that those authors tending toward the three act scheme of salvation tend to have a Cyrillian christology, and those who conceive of salvation as a two act play tend toward a Nestorian christology. Once the study begins to treat Cassian it will become clear that – in spite of appearances – Cassian’s soteriology is very much a three act play impacting his christology so as to be basically Cyrillian. Grace and Christology are closely related.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

Psalmody and the Holy Rule

Steps of humility, Holy Rule, Chapter VII

For the past few days, we have heard St. Benedict tell us about the steps of humility. These are steps, which if we ascend them, lead us to “heavenly exaltation.” The latter is the eschatological goal of human life but is attainable in this life by means of humility. That is interesting. St. Benedict is saying nothing less but that humility is what leads to deification. This is the second time Benedict brings up deification. Though often not translated or even placed in a footnote Prologue 9’s “divine light” is more accurately translated as “deifying light.” In Prologue 9 there is a passivity – listening – involved which requires hard work: obedience. “For we must at all times use the good gifts He has placed in us (Prologue 6).” But here we must devote our attention to humility.

“Brothers, holy Scripture cries aloud to us …” (Holy Rule, vii, 1). The teaching on and of humility begins with holy Scripture. This is not a proto-Protestant move of Benedict. Whereas for the Reformers (including our own Anglican Reformers) Scripture always speaks to us and stays on the outside as it were (Cranmer and the Continental Reformers were committed nominalists). For Benedict Scripture is to be practiced, put on, produce an inner transformation. This is not unlike the Reformation controversy concerning justification. To the Reformers justification concerns a declaration whereas for the Catholics it concerns a transformation. John Henry Newman wrote at length about this issue in his Lectures on Justification. Benedict, being a Platonic realist (common currency in his time) views the speech of Scripture as transformative (not unlike Newman in the lectures mentioned above).

St. Benedict immediately quotes from the Gospel of St. Luke (18, 14): “for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted .“ Humility is here presented as a virtue mandated by the Gospel. In other words, the teaching to follow is, according to Benedict, to be understood as the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself mediated by the ministry of St. Benedict. The importance of humility could not be emphasized more strongly. Humility is the virtue taught by Christ Himself as the path to walk to attain to “heavenly exaltation.”

The Psalter has a key role to play here. Benedict spends no less than 11 chapters on the specifics of how Psalmody is to be performed. In fact, the recitation of the Psalms (and specifically the Psalms ! ) is so important that if a situation should occur where abbreviation of the Office is necessary it is the Responses and the Readings from Scripture that are to be shortened. Never the Psalter (Ch. XI, 12-13). Why this emphasis on the Psalter? A close reading of chapter VII will give us some important clues. As the reader will notice, perhaps aided by the footnotes in the translations of the Holy Rule, St. Benedict cites the Psalms more than 20 times in just this chapter ! Other Scriptural books are also cited but much, much less frequently. There is something peculiar about the Psalms …

Immediately after Benedict has provided the passage on humility from Luke’s Gospel he follows up with a double citation from the Psalms: 131:1 and 131: 2-3. The point being made in the Psalms is that humility implies an inner transformation. Humility is not a matter of mere outward behavior. It is an inner reality which finds expression outwardly. At the conclusion of the first step St. Benedict makes an interesting suggestion:

“In order then to keep his perverse thoughts under careful control, the profitable brother should repeat in his heart. ‘Then I shall be spotless in his sight if I keep myself in check against my sinfulness.’”

The method of “keeping control” here is that of antirhetikos (contradiction or as David Brakke translates the word “talking back” ). This method contradicts the tempting thought attacking the monk. In this case, it seems Benedict recommends that Psalm 18: 24 be used to contradict the thought which tempts the monk to “forgetfulness” (HR, VIII, 10). Here the Psalm is weaponized in the fight against sin. A major source for this practice of contradiction is Evagrius Ponticus. The latter wrote one of his longest works dedicated to precisely this practice. It is not unthinkable that Benedict was – at least – familiar with this Evagrian practice if not necessarily with his works.

Moving on in our reading of Chapter VII we find that Benedict uses the Psalms in yet another way. By means of the Psalms he tells us that God knows even our deepest thoughts and motivations (Ch. VIII, 15-18), that doing our own will is to indulge in our own corruption ( Ch. VII, 23), that God is very much aware of our inner state (whether outwardly expressed or not) (Ch. VII, 23). These verses of the Psalms (and other Scriptures passages) are to be memorized, internalized so that their “keeping them in our minds” brings about inner transformation. The Psalms are like building blocks, living building blocks, that (if Benedict’s advice is followed) will re-build our inner self. The obedience Benedict subjects us to is to break down the inner self we have constructed so that it may be rebuilt. This time not ego-centric but Christo-centric.

Something similar is going on in St. John Cassian’s Institutes. He opens his book with a prologue and immediately goes into a description of monastic dress. The point St. Benedict’s hero is making is not about monastic fashion preferences. There is no Kim Kardashian-esque obsession with what to wear. The items of the monastic dress are couched in Scripture verses and are thereby placed in a narrative which begins in the Old Testament (Elijah & Elisha), continues in the New Testament (St. John Baptist, St. Paul), and is presently represented by Cassian and the Egyptian Fathers by whom he was taught. The Scriptures cited and alluded to also serve to focus on the inner transformation of the monk. When the monk enters he takes off his old, worldly clothes and puts on the monastic dress. This indicates a break with his previous life (the old self) and the putting on of the new dress indicates an entry into a new life (a new self). Cassian uses Scripture as a tool to effect a transformation of the inner self. It comes as no surprise that Cassian too taught obedience, humility, and placed a heavy emphasis on the recitation of the Psalter. In fact, the chaotic state of Gaulic Monasticism (from Cassian’s point of view) is shown in their individualist use of the Psalms. Every monk has his own way to recite them and in so doing so shows his ignorance as to what Psalmody is even for!

Cassian is even more adamant than Benedict that Psalmody is essential to a monk’s daily practice. The correct way to recite them is given by the mediation of angels (like the Law of Moses) and thus enjoys super-human authority. Interestingly, the reading of Scripture is added by the Fathers upon their own human authority and insight. It is not essential, and it is not what the Divine Office is about to Cassian. It would seem that Benedict is a close reader of Cassian! Having arrived once again at the recitation of the Psalter it is now time to reveal why in the Office it is more important to recite the Psalms than to read Scripture. One thing should be clear by now: the Office is not about the public reading and proclamation of Scripture. The Office – at least as Cassian and Benedict see it – is about the regular recitation of the Psalms in the order and manner taught by Cassian and Benedict.

The Psalms contain all of Scripture in them. They re-tell the story of the Old Testament and they prophetically tell of Jesus Christ. In other words, the one who knows the Psalms – in real sense – knows all of Scripture (generally but not specifically so that Scripture reading is still mandated for every monk ! ). Another point is that the Psalms, in particular, seem to contain medicine against the disease of vice. The more the Psalms become the building blocks with which our minds are put together, the more Christ-like we will become. Here is the entire point! The deifying light which brings us to heavenly exaltation comes to us in a very special way via the Psalms. Their recitation is a fundamental technique to effect deification. As we absorb the Psalms we are absorbed by them. To put that differently: as we consume the words of God we are consumed by the Word. The recitation of the Psalter is the “opus dei (the work of God)” to which “nothing” is to be preferred because in this opus dei we perform the work of God (reciting the Psalter) and as we do so (and insofar as we do so) God performs His work on us (deification).

The Psalter as used in chapter VII in the Holy Rule shows what to do with the knowledge of the Psalms gained by their continuous recitation. The reason that both Cassian and Benedict attribute less value to the reading of Scripture in the Office is to be sought in the fact that the Psalms contain all of Scripture and that they are specifically designed and given by divine authority to be the basis of our prayer. The rest of Scripture is equally divine in authority but cannot generally be used in the same way the Psalms can be. For this reason, the recitation of the Psalter is the core of the Divine Office.

“Holy Scripture cries aloud to us” in and through the Psalms in particular. Psalmody is a way enable the monk in the struggle against vice and the attainment of virtue, and as we perform the “work of God” it is God who work in us. The 11 chapters to follow are therefore an essential part of “setting the fear of God always before our eyes and to utterly avoid forgetfulness.” Familiarity with the Psams at the level which is produced by their weekly recitation is where we start to be “always on our guard” (HR VII, 29) and how we “act wisely and seek after God” (HR VII, 27). The Psalms firmly place us before God and in His presence, we are transformed. Our transformation will show outwardly in our humility. Step 1 has been achieved … the other steps can be ascended in the same way.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

The Conceptual Content of Satisfaction

Cur Deus Homo in short

To find out where the Rule and Cur Deus Homo meet we will need to look at the concept of satisfaction again. In the Cur Deus Homo we have seen that:

  1. Sin consists in not rendering to God what is due him (Cur Deus Homo, I, 11).
  2. Nothing can be added or subtracted from God’s honor in-itself (Cur Deus Homo, I, 15).
  3. This disturbance is repaired either by satisfaction or punishment (Cur Deus Homo, I, 15).
  4. It is repaired by punishment when God exacts a penalty upon the unwilling/unrepentant sinner (Cur Deus Homo, I, 14 & I, 15).
  5. It is repaired by satisfaction when the sinner willingly repays (Cur Deus Homo, I, 16).
  6. The satisfaction offered must be supereregatory (Cur Deus Homo, I, 11).

This quick refresher in Anselmian thought should enable us to recognize where the Holy Rule and the Cur Deus Homo meet and here the one fertilizes the other.

The Holy Rule in short

It should be noted that the Holy Rule is not a theological treatise. It is a monastic rule of life. We should not expect Benedict to theologize as elaborately as Anselm in Cur Deus Homo. Still we have seen that satisfaction entails the following:

  1. Satisfacere concerns the monk at fault (RB, 11, 13; 43, 12; 44, 8-9; 46, 3; 71, 8 for example).
  2. Satisfaction in one way or another occurs 17 times in the Rule (see Mansini).
  3. Offence can be given to God or fellow monastics (RB, 9, 7; 11, 3; 11, 13; 16, 2; 18, 24
  4. Satisfaction takes place in the sphere of personal relationships and must be fitting (RB 24, 1-3; 44; 43; 45; 71 etc).
  5. Satisfaction is distinct from punishment (RB 5, 19).
  6. Satisfaction must be supereregatory (the satisfaction requires more than simply resuming to do what should have been done in the first place; prostration comes to mind).

There seem to be certain points of overlap and a deeper reading into the Holy Rule and Cur Deus Homo will make its Benedictine provenance even more evident (Obedience, Honor, and Order can also be shown to derive from The Rule rather than presumed feudalism).

Four Points where Cur Deus Homo & the Holy Rule meet

There are four points where satisfaction in the Holy Rule and Cur Deus Homo actually meet:

  1. Satisfaction concerns the personal relational sphere.
  2. Satisfaction must be fitting.
  3. Satisfaction is willingly given because punishment is reserved for the unwilling. Iow satisfaction is distinct from punishment.
  4. Satisfaction must be supereregatory.

This is not to say that Anselm was immune to the society in which he lived. Far from it. But since it was a decidedly Benedictine society the feudal link is far from the only possible, and certainly not the least problematic one. Recent scholarship has called into question the very existence of “feudalism” whereas other research which does believe some form of feudalism existed places it long after Anselm’s death. The easiest way to understand Anselm’s theory of satisfaction is to approach it from the very source that Anselm himself drank from very deeply: the Holy Rule of St. Benedict.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

Satisfaction in “Cur Deus Homo?”

Bad Anselm

The very name Anselm of Canterbury leaves a bad taste in many peoples mouths today. This is because Anselm has been associated with what has been called “the satisfaction theory of the atonement. So what is this satisfaction theory? A short description from the Theopedia defines it as follows:

The Satisfaction (or Commercial) theory of the atonement was formulated by the medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) in his book, Cur Deus Homo (lit. ‘Why the God Man’). In his view, God’s offended honor and dignity could only be satisfied by the sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Anslem believed that humans could not render to God more than what was due to him. The satisfaction due to God was greater than what all created beings are capable of doing, since they can only do what is already required of them. Therefore, God had to make satisfaction for himself. Yet if this satisfaction was going to avail for humans, it had to be made by a human. Therefore only a being that was both God and man could satisfy God and give him the honor that is due him.

The classic Anselmian formulation of the Satisfaction View needs to be distinguished from Penal Substitution. Penal Substitution states that Christ bore the penalty for sin, in place of those sinners united to him by faith. Anselm, by contrast, regarded human sin as defrauding God of the honour he is due. Christ’s death, the ultimate act of obedience, gives God great honour. As it was beyond the call of duty for Christ, it is more honour than he was obliged to give. Christ’s surplus can therefore repay our deficit. Hence Christ’s death is substitutionary in this sense: he pays the honour instead of us. But that substitution is not penal; his death pays our honour not our penalty.

The Protestant reformers shifted the focus of this satisfaction theory to concentrate not merely on divine offense but on divine justice. God’s righteousness demands punishment for human sin. God in his grace both exacts punishment and supplies the one to bear it.

This is an important difference. For Anselm, Christ obeyed where we should have obeyed; for John Calvin, he was punished where we should have been punished.

Theopedia.

This is a good place to begin understanding, and appreciating, Anselm’s soteriology. The attentive reader will already have picked up on the similarities between satisfaction as described above and that of St. Benedict’s Rule. The distinction made above between punishment (penal substitution theory) and satisfaction theory (Anselm, but also the Rule of St. Benedict) is very important. I think it would be true to say that in Anselmian thought we are not saved from God but we are saved by the God-man: Jesus Christ. In penal substitution we are saved by God but also from God. But still satisfaction theory makes the atonement a transaction of divine financing and Anselm is responsible for this misconstruction of the atonement.

Bad Anselm!

Rectitude, essence, and reference to God

Anselm is a Platonist. To provide some context to the argument in Cur Deus Homo we need to take this into account. In Platonism things are what they are because of their “essence” or “form.” A circle is a circle because it participates in the form (essence) of “circle-ness. A human being is a human being because he participates in human-ness, etc. Ever since St. Augustine of Hippo these “essences” or “forms” have been considered to exist in the “mind of God.” All things to be what they are must therefore be oriented toward God. That is to be a circle the circle must participate in circleness which exists in the mind of God. The same is true for human beings. The proper participation and orientation Anselm calls “rectitude.” To be rectitudinous is therefore simply to be what one “ought to be.”

Now human beings, unlike circles, are able to make choice and to (in a sense) lessen their participation in human-ness and thereby and to that extent turn away from God. This is what sin is. By sin we fail to be rectitudinous. Sin results in a distortion of the created order and therefore in a lack of rectitude. This disrupts the relationship of the created world with its Creator and needs to be addressed.

Satisfaction and salvation

According to Anselm sin “consists in not rendering to God what is due him” (G. Mansini, “St. Anselm, Satisfactio, and the Rule of St. Benedict,” p. 103). Anselm explains this to Boso in Cur Deus Homo? Bk. I chapter 11 (scroll down). Sin results in the disruption of the order and beauty of the universe. This order and beauty is God’s honor and it is “external to God” because:

… it is evident that no one can honor or dishonor God as he is in himself; but someone seems to do so, to the extent that he can, when he subjects his will to the will of God or withdraws it from the will of God.

Cur Deus Homo, Bk. I, Chapter 15 (Jasper Hopkins translation).

This an important point. Previously Anselm had said that it is God’s honor which is offended and that requires either punishment or satisfaction. Here, upon being asked, Anselm further refines what this offended honor is. It appears that it is not so much that God had his divine toes stepped on and is now furious with the offender. Rather it seems to be the case that the divine order and beauty of creation has been disrupted. That the orientation toward God has been knocked out of whack and has become dis-oriented. It is this which prevents God and sinful creatures to relate as they ought. The problem is not that God has flown into a fit of murderous rage to be cooled in murdering his innocent Son on the Cross. That idea is the result of simply failing to read what Anselm is actually saying. In fact, it seems to me, most people repeating this horrible narrative have simply failed to pay close enough attention to Anselm’s argument (if they have read him at all ! ).

The disrupted order must be restored. Anselm believes that this restoration takes the form of human beings (that are saved) taking the place left open by the angels who had fallen (following Satan’s rebellion). How is this restoration to take place? Either by punishment (Curd Deus Homo?, Bk. I chapter 14) or by satisfaction (Cur Deus Homo?, Bk I, chapter 16 & 19). But simply offering God what is due to him is not enough. Satisfaction must be supereregatory: satisfaction must consist in giving back more than what is already owed. In other words: it is not enough to simply say sorry. After all, “sorry,” does nothing to restore or repair. Restoration requires “undoing” the evil that was done. This undoing is not in the power of a human being to perform and necessitates the God-man. Since man owns the problem God cannot (externally) do away with the problem (it violates God’s nature to do so). God must become  man and from the inside out and clean up the mess we had made.

Next we will take a look at the conceptual content of Anselmian “satisfaction” and how it corresponds to the concept of “satisfaction” in the Rule of Benedict.

[to be continued]

Fr. Gregory Wassen

 

Praktikos 1-3

Introduction

The Praktikos is perhaps one of the most famous and popular works of Evagrius of Pontus. There are good reasons for this. Evagrius writes in such a way that engagement with his books can sustain steady spiritual growth over a very long time. To really “read” one of Evagrius’ works is to receive spiritual guidance from one of the Church’s most accomplished spiritual masters of all time. The failure to receive guidance from Evagrius is not usually on his part but on ours. To receive spiritual guidance for spiritual growth one needs to learn to “listen” and it is precisely this listening that is so fundamental to the Father of Western Monasticism: Benedict of Nursia. Let us, whether monastics or not, listen to Evagrius.

Praktikos 1 – 3

The online translation of Evagrius’ Praktikos by Fr. Luke Dysinger Osb translates the first three “chapters” or “sentences” as follows:

  1. CHRISTIANITY is the teaching of our Savior Christ consisting of [:] ascetical practice, the [contemplation of] nature, and theology.

  2. THE Kingdom of Heaven is apatheia (dispassion) of the soul together with true knowledge of beings.

  3. THE Kingdom of God is knowledge of the Holy Trinity, coextensive with the capacity of the nous (mind/intellect) but surpassing it in incorruptibility.

The first thing to notice is that even though Evagrius begins this book with three definitions he does not offer a definition of praktike. In other words he declines to define the primary subject – after which the book is named – of the book. This is an interesting move and should not go unnoticed. In writing a book on spiritual issues it would have made sense to allow your readers to gain some grasp of your point of view by defining how your book will treat and look at the subject. It would make sense to establish clear limits so your readers have a well defined frame of reference within which they can begin to understand the message your book is trying to get across.

Evagrius is doing the opposite. He begins his book with a definition not of praktike but of Christianity. His second chapter is also not a definition of pratike, but rather of physike followed by the third definition of theologike. Pratike will not be defined until much, much later in the book (Praktikos, 78). From the beginning Evagrius lays down that whatever praktike is, it is not a monastic spirituality. Evagrius is not merely addressing ascetic professionals or monks, Evagrius is writing for Christians. Praktike, whatever it may be, is christian spirituality pure and simple. The spiritual growth to which praktike leads: physike and theologike are also not reserved for monks only. The path to physike and theologike are open to all Christians.

Physike & Theologike

If praktike can be said to be the path to physike and theologike, then, what are they? Physike – to put it simply – is mediated knowledge of God. That is we begin to grow intimate with our Creator by means of His creation: God speaks to us in the Bible, in events in our lives, through things in our environment. We begin to perceive creation as a “letter” written by God to us who are far away from Him. God reveals Himself by thigs he has created: thus mediated knowledge of God.

Theologike is different. It too is built on the soul that has been established in praktike, but it is unmediated knowledge of God. No longer does God limit Himself to revealing Himself indirectly, either through nature, events, or even the Bible. All these are presumed, but a new thing emerges: God reveals Himself to us without using “go-betweens.” This is what in Western theology is “the beautific vision” or in Evagrian language: “essential knowledge.”

Praktike is then the way to physike and theologike. Praktike is not defined and – as we shall see – physike and theologike are not exhaustively defined either. Rather what has happened in the first three chapters is that we have been presented with a path we should travel. We have not been given precise definitions of anything, but we have been given some parameters which will enable our journey – a journey back to God with whom we have lost contact.

[to be continued]

Fr. Gregory Wassen

Satisfaction in the Rule of Benedict

Satisfied with Anselm

With the somewhat provocative title above I mean to focus on St. Anselm of Canterbury OSB (!) and in particular his theory of the atonement by means of “satisfaction.” Many have sought Anselm’s source for this theory in the harsh and rather un-Christian feudalism of Anselm’s society. Others have pointed out that Anselm’s source must also include the contemporary penitential theory and practice of the Church. Guy Mansini Osb wrote a mostly ignored article many years ago proving that Anselm’s satisfaction theory does indeed find its natural fit in the Church’s penitential theory and practice, but was able to provide a more specific context: the Holy Rule of St. Benedict. The doctrinal content of “satisfaction” in Anselm’s “Cur Deus Homo?” is identical or near identical to that contained in the Rule of Saint Benedict. Feudalism has had no influence on Anselm’s thinking – at least not demonstrably so.

Satisfaction in the Rule

Mansini points out that satisfactio occurs nine and satisfacere occurs eight times in the Rule. The Rule is Benedict’s attempt to succinctly provide a short text to guide monastic life. The text is short and succinct indeed. For these terms to occur that often in it must be taken as a testimony to its importance. In the Rule a monk is said to incur “punishment for grumbling” or he can be subjected to “excommunication” (excommunicatione subiaceat, 23, 4), to “more severe correction” (maiori subiaceat emendationem, 46, 4), or even corporal punishment (corporali vindicate subiaceat, 71, 9). The monk does not incur nor is subjected to “satisfaction” (satisfactio / satisfacere).

Since there is someone being satisfied by the penitent, there is someone that was offended. In RB 11, 13 it is God who is offered satisfaction (for faults in the Divine Office) and therefore it is God that is offended by carelessness in the Divine Office:

Let this order of the night Office be observed on Sunday the same way in all seasons, in summer as well as in winter, unless for some reason (God forbid) the brethren should rise too late, then some of the lessons or the responsories would have to be shortened. Let every precaution be taken this does not occur. If it should happen, let him through whose neglect it came about make due satisfaction for it to God in the oratory.

RB 11, 13.

In other places the Rule indicates that individual monks can be offended:

And if a brother be corrected in any way by the Abbot or by any of his superiors for even a slight reason, or even if he just barely perceive that the temper of any of his Superiors is ruffled or excited against him in the least, let him without delay cast himself down on the ground making satisfaction, until the agitation is healed by a blessing.

RB 71, 6-8.

… and even the community can be offended and therefore offered satisfaction:

If anyone make a mistake while intoning a psalm, a responsory, an antiphon, or a lesson, but does not humbly make satisfaction on the spot in the presence of all

RB 45, 1.

Satisfaction in the Rule of St. Benedict takes place in the personal sphere between the monk and God, between a monk and other monks, between a monk and his community. Satisfaction is the appropriate means to obtaining pardon / forgiveness (24, 7), and receives it’s appropriateness from an act of humility as in Chapters 43, 6; 44, 3-4; 45, 1’s prostration-satisfaction.

The most important feature to notice in the Rule with regard to satisfaction is that there is a sharp contrast between punishment and satisfaction. The first (punishment) is unwillingly born whereas satisfaction is freely offered. The Rule states:

And for such an action he [the unwilling monk at fault] will gain no benefit; rather he incurs the punishment (poenam) of murmerers, unless he amends his ways and offer reparation (satisfactione emendaverit).

RB, 5, 19.

Punishment and satisfaction are here contrasted as alternatives. It is true that in chapter 45 satisfaction occurs as a “vindicate” (45, 1) but a distinction is here made between a “maiori vindicate” and an apparently minor punishment (vindictam). Punishment is here either willingly or unwillingly born. Major punishment is reserved for the unwilling, and minor punishment for the willing penitent. Satisfaction  is seen as vindictam into distinct forms. One is subjected to major punishment (vindictam) but not to minor punishment because the latter is performed willingly. The distinction noticed in chapter 5 holds. Moving on to chapter 71, 8-9 we see again the distinction between willing and unwilling satisfaction being made upholding the distinction notes earlier.

A final note about satisfaction in the Rule must bring forward the fact that satisfaction is “supererogatory.” That is the act of humble penitence must exceed mere “restoration” of the fault it must include something beyond what is normally expected of the monk. In other words a mistake in the Divine Office is not emended by merely correcting the fault made. The monk is required to perform an act of repentance on top of fixing the mistake. Satisfaction does not occur unless the act of repentance is supererogatory.

In this short article we have discovered that satisfaction is an important feature of the Rule of St. Benedict and that it plays an important part in Benedictine Monasticism. Next we shall investigate what concept of satisfaction meets us in the Benedictine monk Anselm of Canterbury’s Cur Deus Homo?  Some of us may be in for a surprise …

Fr. Gregory Wassen