Saturday, August 20, 2016

Learning Latin with the Liturgy: the Felix Culpa in the Exsultet of the Easter Vigil Liturgy

There is no liturgical text more pregnant with theological implications than the famous Felix Culpa found in the Exsultet of the Easter Vigil Liturgy.

The concept that there could be a "Happy Fault" is found in the writings of Saint Augustine, who taught that:

Melius enim iudicavit de malis benefacere, quam mala nulla esse permittere.
For He judged it to be better to make good out of evil than to permit no evil things to be. (Enchiridion 8)

But I find the clauses immediately preceding Felix Culpa to be even more provocative. Our sin is termed, not just happy, but necessary.

Here is the Latin text, followed by a literal English translation and theological commentary.

O certe necessárium Adæ peccátum, quod Christi morte delétum est!
O truly necessary sin of Adam, which was destroyed by the death of Christ!

O felix culpa, quæ talem ac tantum méruit habére Redemptórem!

O Happy Fault, which deserved to have such and so great a Redeemer!

 A few thoughts before a full grammatical description. First off, the pointless argument over Adam's sin versus that of Eve is thankfully not even here. The Church does not prescribe a literal interpretation on the Creation Narrative. The "Fall of Man" is a primordial reality that somehow we humans fell from some original state of purity and harmony with God and Nature. 

The fact that the fossil record shows we murderously slashed our way around the planet, killing every other hominid we saw is archaeological proof of Original Sin.

But the Exsultet sings that this sin was necessary.

It was necessary because God did not create us to dwell endlessly and amorally in a primordial Garden.

For as long as we were free of sin, we were not virtuous, we were simply amoral. We were like the animals. The lion who kills the gazelle is not evil for doing so. The Cain who kills an Abel, however, is.

And only then can an act of charity be a virtue.

So God permitted evil in order that true good might be possible.

But our fledgling ability to produce moral good, made possible by the allowance of evil, was insufficient to bridge the gap--to heal the damage--that sin had produced.

And the implication of the Exsultet is that this was always part of a Grand Plan. 

Even as God created humans with the inevitable capacity to fall, he was doing so knowing he would then also incarnate to redeem them.

And so it was a Felix Culpa, which deserved to have such and so great a Redeemer. 

Think on the notion that the grammatical antecedent of quae is culpa. And quae is the grammatical subject of the verb meruit.

In other words, the Fault Deserves

It deserves? How can it deserve anything, let alone such and so great a Redeemer?

But that's what the Hymn proclaims. 

If our Primordial Sin deserved a Redeemer, and it received one, let us certainly not hold our simple daily sins from the Fount of Forgiveness of a Savior who promises to absolve whatever we repent of.

Here's how the Latin works:

Grammar Points
voc. sing. neut. adj.
necessarius, necessaria, necessarium
of Adam
gen. sing. masc. name
Adam, Adae
voc. sing. neut. noun
peccatum, peccati
nom. sing. neut. rel. pronoun
qui, quae, quod; with peccatum as antecedent, it is the subject of the verb deletum est.
of Christ
gen. sing. masc. noun
Christus, Christi
(by) the death
abl. sing. fem. noun
mors, mortis; ablative of means or manner
nom. sing. neut. past. part.
dēleō, dēlēre, dēlēvī, dēlētus; Past participle of active verb produces perfect tense passive periphrastically with past participle and forms of the verb esse in the singular.
[was] is
3rd pers. sing. ind. verb
sum, esse, fui
voc, sing. fem. adj.
felix, felicis
voc. sing. fem. noun
culpa, culpae
nom. sing. fem. rel. pronoun
qui, quae, quod; antecedent is culpa; quae is the subject of the verb meruit.
acc. sing. masc. adj.
talis, tale
so great
acc. sing. masc. adj.
tantus, tanta, tantum
3rd pers. sing. perf. act. ind. verb
mereō, merēre, meruī, meritus
to have
pres. act. infinitive
habeō, habēre, habuī, habitus
a Redeemer
acc. sing. masc. noun
Redemptor, Redemptoris


Sunday, December 6, 2015

St. Nicholas of Myra, Faithful Bishop. Fisticuffs? Not So Much...

Happy St. Nicholas of Myra Day!

This Wonder-Working Saint (AD 270-343) lived in that murky time when the persecuted Church of the Roman Empire was emerging into legal acceptance. 

There is no firm evidence that St. Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), but given the rather general invitation for all bishops to attend, it is entirely plausible.

Of much less historical certitude is the often quoted claim that St. Nicholas slapped or punched out Heresiarch Arius at that Council.

The oldest extant source of this claim is quite late, coming from a Venetian Bishop named Petrus De Natalibus in the 14th Century. He wrote that:

Fertur beatum Nicolaum jam senem Nicaeno concilio interfuisse et quemdam Arrianum zelo fidei in maxillam percussisse.
It is said that Blessed Nicholas, already an old man, was present at the Nicene Council and that he struck a certain Arius in the jaw, from zeal of the Faith. 

While it is probably  true that this Bishop Peter was not originating the story, it is entirely too late to be trustworthy. And it certainly not responsible for anyone to be passing on this story as established fact.

I have had the great honor, while in Bucharest, Romania, to venerate the right hand of St. Nicholas, which is in a reliquary at the Church of St. George the New. 

There is a Russian proverb that says, "If God Himself were to die, at least we would still have St. Nicholas."

Now, don't be scandalized by the apparent blasphemy of this hyperbole. First off, if you are a Christian, you already believe God died. And rose from the dead. But the proverb voices an abandoned veneration of this ancient Bishop, so faithful to his episcopal duties. And he did so out of abandoned service to the People of God.

Pray for us, St. Nicholas of Myra!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Practical Solution For Ending the Great Schisms

I have been, in my life, a Protestant, a Catholic, and now an Eastern Orthodox. As a result,  I believe I have a unique perspective on how to end, on a practical and achievable level,  the Schism between these Christian communities.

I was born and baptized into the Lutheran Tradition in 1966. In my adulthood, I came to believe that the Protestant movement, while sincerely intending the reform of Christianity, had largely erred through its Sola Scriptura methodology and wrongly rejected significant and legitimate aspects of historical Christianity.

And for that reason, I was received into Communion with the Roman Catholic Church in 1991. 

For reasons not pertinent to the point of this post, I entered the Eastern Orthodox Communion in 2003.

But the point I make is that I am a Christian. I fell in love with Jesus as a youth in the Lutheran Church. 

It is inappropriate to say that I "converted" to Catholicism or then to Orthodoxy. I converted to Christianity on a certain day in the Spring of 1985 when, reading the Gospel of Matthew, I truly met Jesus. And the Lutheran upbringing I had prior to that point, made it possible for me to find that faith. And I am grateful for my Lutheran heritage.

I'm not a "Convert" to the Orthodox Church. I am a Lutheran Christian through and through. I could never change what I am. It's in my blood. But I am a Lutheran Christian who believes that the Historical Church, as lived still through the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, is a more authentic experience of Christianity than what my Protestant forebears perpetuated. 

Even so, I left the Protestant Communion as a Christian. I entered other Communions as a Christian, not a convert.

And this is the key to ending the Schisms between the Catholic and Orthodox and Protestant Communions.

The theologians in charge of formal dialogue between the various ecclesial bodies will never achieve any meaningful rapprochement because their goals are inappropriately lofty.

As an example, the Catholic and Orthodox dialogue acts as though they need to fully solve and resolve all the issues that led to the Schism a thousand years ago. And since they can't do so, the Schism can apparently never end. 

But yet, the points of disagreement this dialogue studies were already in place within the Eastern and Western Churches for hundreds of years prior to the Schism. These points of disagreement were in place in the Eastern and Western Churches while they were still sharing Communion.

So why do we now think that we cannot restore Communion until these issues are resolved?

As one born a Lutheran, turned Catholic, and then turned Orthodox, it is evident to me that Rome is now bending over backwards to tell the Orthodox that they need not fear the terms of a reunited Church.

We Orthodox are actually in the sin of judgement over our ancestors who were willing to share Communion with the Western Church despite disagreements we now claim are impediments to unity.

So here's my proposal for we how can effectively end the Schism in a real and meaningful way without compromising the integrity of the beliefs of our individual Communions.  

Catholic Canon Law already declares that Catholic ministers can administer the Sacraments to members of Oriental Churches who approach of their own will (Canon 844.3) and other Christians in danger of death (Canon 844.4).

The Orthodox Church should, at the upcoming Council, adopt the following canon regarding non-Orthodox:

*Pastors are authorized, on a case-by-case basis, to administer the Sacraments to members of other Communions who are validly baptized, are legitimate members of their Orthodox parish, and who share the Orthodox belief in those Sacraments.

The Roman Catholic Church should adopt the following canon:

*Pastors are authorized, on a case-by-case basis, to administer the Sacraments to members of other Communions who are validly baptized, are legitimate members of their Catholic parish, and who share the Catholic belief in those Sacraments.

Now, you may wonder, who in the world is being described by this Canon?

Let me tell you, it fully describes two people at my little Russian Orthodox Church. It describes the Roman Catholic spouse of an Orthodox member and it also describes a Lutheran man who is Orthodox in heart but feels he cannot convert due to a vow to his late mother.

If the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches both adopted the Canon I describe here, it would be a significant measure that would constitute an end to the Schisms. 

It would not be a full end to Schisms on the level of the Churches. But it would be an end to the Schisms at a much more important level. It would be an end to the Schisms at the level of people and families...

What Does the Bible Say About the Church? The New and Everlasting Covenant

What Does the Bible Say About the Church? The New and Everlasting Covenant

The author of the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews describes Jesus as the fulfillment of the New and Everlasting Covenant. (Hebrews 8:8; 13:20). The New and Everlasting Covenant is an allusion to the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31; Jeremiah 32:40). And the ways in which that Prophet describes the characteristics and qualities of the New and Everlasting Covenant teach us about the Church of Jesus, which is the Community living the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Regarding the New Covenant, Jeremiah writes:

“It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers...for they broke my covenant and I ignored them, says the Lord.”

(Jer 31:32)

This is already a crucially important fact about the nature of the New Covenant, the nature of the Church. Unlike the previous covenant, which resulted in a break between the People and their God, that will not be possible in the New Covenant.

We then learn that in this New Covenant, “I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts.” (Jer 31:33)

He is describing here a community that will not turn away from the terms of the covenant because it is not written on Stone Tablets lying in some Ark. It is within them.

Regarding the Everlasting Covenant, Jeremiah writes:

“I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.”

(Jer 32:40)

“I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.”

In the Everlasting Covenant, God instills into the hearts of the faithful his fear, h is reverence. He does this so that the Church will have the quality of indefectibility, the inability to turn away from him.

The belief that the Church in ancient times or the Middle Ages fell into serious errors of belief or practice is not compatible with Jeremiah’s teaching on the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth (John 16:13). And so, if the Church lives out the New and Everlasting Covenant described by Jeremiah, then whatever that Church came to believe and practice, is true. And it is not a problem if any of those teachings or practices are not always found directly described in the Bible itself. Because, according to these passages of Jeremiah, the Church cannot break this covenant. The Church, after all, cannot turn away from God. The Church did not turn away from God.