Month: March 2013

St. Theodore on Icons

If merely mental contemplation were sufficient, it would have been sufficient for Him to come to us in a merely mental way; and consequently we would have been cheated by the appearance both of His deeds, if He did not come in the body, and of His sufferings, which were undeniably like ours. But enough of this! As flesh He suffered in the flesh, He ate and drank likewise, and did all the other things which every man does, except for sin. And so what seems dishonor to your way of thinking is actually true honor to the greatly honored and exceedingly glorious Word. Would you please stop ignorantly dragging out scriptural verses to use against us, taking the words spoken against the pagans in regard to the forms of idols, and misapplying them to the icon of Christ? For what person with any sense does not understand the difference between an idol and an icon? That the one is darkness, and the other light? That the one is deceptive, the other infallible? That the one belongs to polytheism, but the other is the clearest evidence of the divine economy?

St. Theodore the Studite, On the Holy Icons, “First Refutation of the Iconoclasts,” 7

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Icons and ecology

To many modern Christians the question of icon-veneration may seem a marginal issue in theology. To St. Theodore [the Studite], it was clear that iconoclasm is a serious error, which alienates its followers from God as much as any other heresy. That is to say, an iconoclast effectively denies God’s incarnation which alone makes human salvation possible. If Christ could not be portrayed both before and after His resurrection, then He was not truly man, humanity was not truly united with God, and no human beings could expect to become “partakers of the divine nature.” A modern namesake of St. Theodore’s provides striking parallels to this attack on iconoclasm. Theodore Roszak criticizes western Christianity for limiting the self-revelation of God to the spoken word (as in Judaism) and the eucharistic gifts (as in iconoclasm). Because God was not seen in any other material objects, world was understood as mere matter. Where there is no “sacramental consciousness,” there is no restraint on scientific analysis and technological exploitation of the cosmos. The desacralized world has become the object of the first true idolatry for those who have lost all awareness of God (pagans always believed that the gods were more than their images). So a good case can be made that the spiritual sickness of the West, which has spread to so much of the world, had its origin not in Christianity per se but in a heretical misunderstanding of the Christian doctrine of icons.

Catharine P. Roth, Introduction to St. Theodore the Studite, On the Holy Icons

The spiritual life and the Holy Spirit

The Spirit does not take up His abode in someone’s life through a physical approach; how could a corporeal being approach the Bodiless one? Instead, the Spirit comes to us when we withdraw ourselves from evil passions, which have crept into the soul through its friendship with the flesh, alienating us from a close relationship with God. Only when a man has been cleansed from the shame of his evil, and has returned to his natural beauty, and the original form of the Royal Image has been restored in him, is it possible for him to approach the Paraclete. Then, like the sun, He will show you in Himself the image of the invisible, and with purified eyes you will see the image of the invisible, and with purified eyes you will see in this blessed image the unspeakable beauty of its prototype. Through Him hearts are lifted up, the infirm are held by the hand, and those who who progress are brought to perfection. He shines upon those who are cleansed from every spot, and makes them spiritual men through fellowship with Himself. So too Spirit-bearing souls, illumined by Him, finally become spiritual themselves, and their grace is sent forth to others. From this comes knowledge of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of hidden things, distribution of wonderful gifts, heavenly citizenship, a place in the choir of angels, endless joy in the presence of God, becoming like God, and, the highest of all desires, becoming God.

St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, ch. 9

Review: In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion

In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion
In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion by Scott Atran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Atran offers an innovative and interesting look at religious thought. Rather than adopting an extreme stance on the existence of God or other similar metaphysical persons and concepts or the usefulness of religion for human life and attempting to defend this position through haphazard scholarship and polemic as have perhaps most thinkers who have addressed these issues, Atran adopts an explicitly agnostic stance and instead attempts to explore the relation between human evolution and religion, concluding that, no matters its truth or use-value, religion is part of human evolutionary psychology and is here to stay. Along the way, Atran provides a number of fascinating experiments, anecdotes, observations, and arguments to make his case and to criticize and critique other theories. No matter one’s disagree or agreement with Atran’s theory, this book provides a wealth of knowledge, a great deal of insight, and a plethora of fuel for thought.

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Review: On the Holy Spirit

On the Holy Spirit
On the Holy Spirit by St. Basil the Great

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is perhaps one of the most interesting and perpetually relevant Patristic writings from the period of the Arian controversy. While St. Basil’s discussions of certain intricacies of Greek grammar and theological terminology may overwhelm a reader who is new to the writings of the Church Fathers, so much of this book is fascinating and enlightening that it is worth the struggle through the more difficult passages. Of particular interest to the modern reader are St. Basil’s discussions of the place of the Holy Spirit in Christian morality, some of his historical notes on the treatment of the Holy Spirit (and, for this reader, on the liturgical practices) of the earlier Fathers and as St. Basil observed them in various places in the Christian world, and, perhaps more than all else, of the place and importance of tradition in the belief and practice of the fourth century Church. In spite of the sometimes difficult terminology, I recommend this book as a good entryway into Patristics.

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Review: Ethics: Classical Western Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives

Ethics: Classical Western Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives
Ethics: Classical Western Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives by James P. Sterba

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is an excellent introduction to the great texts and concepts from both historical and contemporary ethics. It is especially helpful to see the common texts of Western thought contrasted and compared with texts from other traditions of philosophical thought, including the Chinese, the Indian, and various Native American traditions. I think the selections and the editorial comments were all very fair and very relevant. If you are looking for a good introduction to the primary texts of ethical thought, this is the place to start.

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