Friday, January 31, 2014

A Litany by St. Gregory of Narek

St. Gregory of Narek (951-1003) was a great Armenian saint and spiritual writer, a monk of the Narek Monastery, who wrote the Matean Voghbergutyan (Book of Lamentations), the greatest spiritual work of the Armenian tradition (at least according to popular acclaim).  It is, in some ways, a new book of psalms written by a sorrowful, repentant heart.  This holy book is often put near the bedside of sick Armenians to assist in their healing.  I have begun reading this work, and I am already falling in love with it.  Below is just one section of Gregory's work (often called just "the Narek"), a litany that I find somewhat reminiscent of the famous Anima Christi, although without the Eucharistic theme found in St. Ignatius' prayer.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On Ps 109:7: "He will drink from the brook by the way..."

My wife and I were praying the Hours recently, and the reading of Psalm 109 (110) was proscribed.  "The Lord says to my lord: 'Sit at my right hand...'"  The light of grace has made it abundantly clear to Christians of all times, beginning with the Apostles and Evangelists themselves, that this psalm relates to Christ's "Divine Begetting from the Father and His coming in the flesh" (St. Athanasius).  Thus its announcement of Jesus the Messiah is quoted frequently in the New Testament.  With the light of the Spirit, the key message of most of the verses of this psalm are clearly evident, yet the last line is still "deeply enigmatic," as Pope Benedict XVI admitted.  My wife encountered this enigma and asked me for clarification on this text.

"He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head."  These words come following the description of Jesus' victorious kingship, how He executes judgment and shatters chiefs.  It is after His destruction of His enemies that He drinks from the brook.  Pope Benedict explained it in this way: "At a moment of respite and rest, he quenches his thirst at a stream, finding in it refreshment and fresh strength to continue on his triumphant way, holding his head high as a sign of definitive victory."  My first thoughts bent also in terms of respite and rest from the battle.  The brook is particularly "by the way"; it is in the open, not hidden.  Thus it shows confidence to partake of this unguarded water, leaving oneself vulnerable.  Yet God need not fear, for His enemies cannot overtake Him.  Not only that, but He has already crushed and shattered them: thus there is no one to be guarded from, and He may freely partake of the stream.  The lifting up of His Head is a triumphant sign.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Translator Saints

I am a lover of languages, and so reading about saints famous for translating (particularly translating Scripture) is incredibly interesting for me.  For those few who are like me, I decided to collect, in quick, summary forms, stories of some famous saints renowned for their translation efforts.  These are only some of the many, but they are important even in their incompleteness.  If you know of any other saints famous for translating Scripture, please let me know, either via e-mail or in the comments.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Parasite of Curiosity

A vice that was oft-discussed in olden times seems to have become eradicated least in the popular mind.  I have heard and read very little in contemporary Christianity that discusses the vice of curiosity.  Yes, it is a vice when taken to an extreme (which it easily tends to): it is an excessive love of novelty that includes a disdain for what is older, more common, more traditional.  (Another meaning would be the curiosity of a busybody who is eager for gossip, but that form of curiosity seems more commonly condemned than this one.)  It may manifest as simply an overwhelming preference for living spiritual writers than sainted ones or for modern ideas over ancient ones; it may also manifest in an obsessive drive to be always learning more by learning broadly.  This latter form, I fear, is the least recognized and least condemned, and it is incredibly easy to fall into, especially with our current "Information Age."  In addition to the disdain for the old, this form of curiosity can also lead to dissipation: one can exhaust all one's energies merely in searching out new information.  Our inter-linked websites nowadays are fertile ground for growing this vice: when researching one subject, a link spurs an interest in another subject, which one then researches, which leads to more links, eventually creating a whirlpool that drains all of one's time and energy.  (I am thinking, as prime examples, of sites such as Wikipedia and TV Tropes.)  In general, this form of curiosity is about desiring to ever know more and to be researching new things but doing so to the point where deeper study of things one knew before is ignored; often, this can lead to a mere search for a breadth of knowledge without truly digging into the depths of a topic.  At its most vicious, of course, it leads one to prefer the quest for novelty and new knowledge to the deepening of one's relationship with the Lord.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Very Brief Primer on the Filioque

The Filioque is a phrase added to the Nicene Creed in Western Christianity. The original text of the Nicene Creed (really, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed) states that the Holy Spirit is “τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἐκπορευόμενον,” “the One out of the Father proceeding.” In the currently-used Latin text, it is stated that the Holy Spirit is “Qui ex Patre Filioque procedit,” “Who out of the Father and the Son proceeds.” Originally, the Latin did not have the “and the Son” (Filioque); the phrase appeared in other creeds beginning around the 5th century, and it began to be added to the Nicene Creed in the 8th century. It was added to combat a heresy related to Arianism that had sprung up in the West, especially among the Goths, a heresy that denied the consubstantiality of all three Persons of the Trinity. The phrase also fit in with the Latin theological tradition and the way it discussed the Holy Spirit’s relation to the Father and the Son. In the East, however, the theological tradition discussed this relation differently; not only that, but when the Filioque was translated into Greek, it became a heretical statement. In the Greek, the word for “proceeding” in the Nicene Creed connotes a relation of origin or causality, while the Latin word has a broader meaning; thus, if the Filioque is added to the Greek text, it states that the Holy Spirit has His origin and cause in both the Father and the Son separately, a belief that is heretical and has never been accepted in the West either. The East thus thought that the West was denying the monarchy of the Father, that is, the doctrine that the Father is the origin and source of the other two Persons of the Trinity. The West, though, was really trying to highlight the consubstantiality of the Persons. Due to these linguistic issues and the growing tension between the West and East for various reasons, this misunderstanding and difference of theological expression became a key issue, as each side saw the other as teaching heresy. The truth of the matter is that many of the basic doctrines are the same in both the West and the East, though the nuances are still debatable: the Father is the ultimate cause and primordial source of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is consubstantial with both the Father and the Son, all operations of the Trinity are the work of all three Persons, and the Holy Spirit is sent to mankind in time through the Son. Because of the possibility of misunderstanding and the respect for the differing theological expressions, the Catholic Church recognizes that the Filioque cannot be added to the Greek text of the Nicene Creed, and She does not force Eastern Christians to use it even in translations, although She admits its use among Western Christians. All of the theological issues are still not resolved, but much work has been done to heal the past wounds, and work to reconcile the two theological traditions is still being done.