Easter


. . . throughout this time which elapsed between the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension, God’s Providence had this in view, to teach and impress upon both the eyes and hearts of His own people that the Lord Jesus Christ might be acknowledged to have as truly risen, as He was truly born, suffered, and died.  And hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at His death on the cross and backward in believing His Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy.  And truly great and unspeakable was their cause for joy, when in the sight of the holy multitude, above the dignity of all heavenly creatures, the Nature of mankind went up, to pass above the angels’ ranks and to rise beyond the archangels’ heights, and to have Its uplifting limited by no elevation until, received to sit with the Eternal Father, It should be associated on the throne with His glory, to Whose Nature It was united in the Son.  Since then Christ’s Ascension is our uplifting, and the hope of the Body is raised, whither the glory of the Head has gone before, let us exult, dearly-beloved, with worthy joy and delight in the loyal paying of thanks.  For to-day not only are we confirmed as possessors of paradise, but have also in Christ penetrated the heights of heaven, and have gained still greater things through Christ’s unspeakable grace than we had lost through the devil’s malice.  For us, whom our virulent enemy had driven out from the bliss of our first abode, the Son of God has made members of Himself and placed at the right hand of the Father, with Whom He lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Leo the Great, On the Lord’s Ascension (Sermon LXXIII)

A blessed solemnity of the Ascension to all who celebrate it today!

(I was going to say “to all western Christians” and then realised that eastern Catholics also celebrate the Ascension today, or at least I think that they do. And I also realised that not all western Catholics keep it today, as in certain parts of the western Catholic world it is transferred to Sunday, a rather unfortunate development. In any case, a blessed continued celebration of the Easter season!)

. . . by the Divine providence death has been introduced as a dispensation into the nature of man, so that, sin having flowed away at the dissolution of the union of soul and body, man, through the resurrection, might be refashioned, sound, passionless, stainless, and removed from any touch of evil. In the case however of the Author of our Salvation this dispensation of death reached its fulfilment, having entirely accomplished its special purpose. For in His death, not only were things that once were one put asunder, but also things that had been disunited were again brought together; so that in this dissolution of things that had naturally grown together, I mean, the soul and body, our nature might be purified, and this return to union of these severed elements might secure freedom from the contamination of any foreign admixture.

Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, 37

 A blessed Pascha to any Orthodox readers!

But the descent into the water, and the triune immersion of the person in it, involves another mystery. For since the method of our salvation was made effectual not so much by His precepts in the way of teaching as by the deeds of Him Who has realized an actual fellowship with man, and has effected life as a living fact, so that by means of the flesh which He has assumed, and at the same time deified, everything kindred and related may be saved along with it, it was necessary that some means should be devised by which there might be, in the baptismal process, a kind of affinity and likeness between him who follows and Him Who leads the way. … What, then, have we beheld in the case of the Captain of our salvation? A three days’ state of death and then life again. Now some sort of resemblance in us to such things has to be planned. What, then, is the plan by which in us too a resemblance to that which took place in Him is completed? Everything that is affected by death has its proper and natural place, and that is the earth in which it is laid and hidden. Now earth and water have much mutual affinity. Alone of the elements they have weight and gravitate downwards; they mutually abide in each other; they are mutually confined. Seeing, then, the death of the Author of our life subjected Him to burial in earth and was in accord with our common nature, the imitation which we enact of that death is expressed in the neighbouring element. And as He, that Man from above, having taken deadness on Himself, after His being deposited in the earth, returned back to life the third day, so every one who is knitted to Him by virtue of his bodily form, looking forward to the same successful issue, I mean this arriving at life by having, instead of earth, water poured on him, and so submitting to that element, has represented for him in the three movements the three-days-delayed grace of the resurrection.

Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, 35

For Gregory of Nyssa the entire spiritual life is a mystery of death and resurrection. In this respect it is the realisation of the mystery of baptism, which, according to Saint Paul’s doctrine, enables us to die with Christ in order to be resurrected with Him. … Dying to sin and resurrected with Christ, the soul realises concretely the mystery of dying to its sinful tendencies and the bringing to life of the divine energies given to it in baptism.

Jean Daniélou, Platonisme et Théologie Mystique. Doctrine Spirituelle de Saint Grégoire de Nysse (Aubier, 1944) 17

I seem to keep coming back to Gregory of Nyssa, even if I also feel frustrated that I never get down to reading him as systematically as I want to! He somehow seems to go so directly to the heart of the matter. And I suppose that I’m also connecting with his thought on baptism, on death and resurrection, not only because it is Easter time (my apologies to any Orthodox readers, but I suppose that this is not entirely unrelated to Holy Week either) but also because I’m becoming fairly conscious of my own profession in a few weeks’ time. The imagery of monastic profession is fundamentally rooted in the life of baptism, in dying and rising in Christ, not simply as a static once-off event, but as a process of continual and ongoing transformation.

Prior Peter of Daily Bread, which is the only monastic blog that I’m aware of that provides serious – and sometimes quite provocative – theological reflections, is busy with an Easter series on Mystagogy (Mystagogy, Mystagogy Beta, Mystagogy GammaMystagogia Delta and there are hopefully more to come)  in which he explores our being taken up in the Mystery of Christ and transformed 

morphing from glory to glory, deepening our love for God, broadening our love for the Church and the world. To stand still or ‘coast’ in our discipleship might not immediately manifest itself as going backward or falling away, but when we serve a dynamic God and the Lord of History, why should we wish to settle for simple prerequisites?

These are reflections that are well worth reading, if only because they situate this process of transformation not in an abstract “mysticism” (a topic that I might return to again!) but in the liturgical life of the Church.

[Correction to the first line above: It has now become apparent that the anonymous Felix Culpa of Ora et Labora is also a monastic. And of course it was always apparent that he provides serious theological reflections.]

Since, then, there was needed a lifting up from death for the whole of our nature, He stretches forth a hand as it were to prostrate humanity, and stooping down to our dead corpse He came so far within the grasp of death as to touch a state of deadness, and then in His own body to bestow on our nature the principle of the resurrection, raising as He did by His power along with Himself the whole human being. For since from no other source than from the concrete lump of our nature had come that flesh, which was the receptacle of the Godhead and in the resurrection was raised up together with that Godhead, therefore just in the same way as, in the instance of this body of ours, the operation of one of the organs of sense is felt at once by the whole system, as one with that member, so also the resurrection principle of this Member, as though the whole of humankind was a single living being, passes through the entire race, being imparted from the Member to the whole by virtue of the continuity and oneness of the nature. What, then, is there beyond the bounds of probability in what this Revelation teaches us; viz. that He Who stands upright stoops to one who has fallen, in order to lift him up from his prostrate condition?

Gregory of Nyssa,
The Great Catechism, 32

    

paaskaars-drie-14.jpg 

For, in what way could we be partakers of the adoption of sons, unless we had received from Him through the Son that fellowship which refers to Himself, unless His Word, having been made flesh, had entered into communion with us? Wherefore also He passed through every stage of life, restoring to all communion with God. … For it behoved Him who was to destroy sin, and redeem man under the power of death, that He should Himself be made that very same thing which he was, that is, man; who had been drawn by sin into bondage, but was held by death, so that sin should be destroyed by man, and man should go forth from death. For as by the disobedience of the one man who was originally moulded from virgin soil, the many were made sinners, and forfeited life; so was it necessary that, by the obedience of one man, who was originally born from a virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation. Thus, then, was the Word of God made man, as also Moses says: “God, true are His works.” But if, not having been made flesh, He did appear as if flesh, His work was not a true one. But what He did appear, that He also was: God recapitulated in Himself the ancient formation of man, that He might kill sin, deprive death of its power, and vivify man; and therefore His works are true.

Irenaeus, Ad. Haer. III, 18, 7

 

The theory of recapitulation stands at the center of Irenaeus’ theological system and describes best the role of Jesus Christ in His Incarnation. It connotes a re-beginning of the human race, now, however, back in the opposite direction where Adam originally found himself upon his creation. Christ reverses the process that hurtled sin-infected man and the entire cosmos that was under his dominion away from true Light, Life and Incorruption towards sin, chaos and death. God gathers up again in His Logos His entire work by fulfilling it according to His original plan through an intimate association with the living Logos in the individual human being, made according to this Image and Likeness of God that is Christ

George Maloney, SJ, Man, the Divine Icon. The Patristic Doctrine of Man Made according to the Image of God (Pecos, NM: Dove Publications, 1973) 43-44

 

I was supposed to be preparing classes on Saint Irenaeus these last couple of weeks, but my preparation was put on hold due to the necessity of finishing painting the Paschal candle, something that I left far too late! However, I have been conscious of his idea of recapitulation while working on it, of the wonder of our entire humanity being taken up in Christ and thus transformed. Christ does not simply do something for us, but in us; He reconstitutes our entire being, revealing the mystery of humanity to itself, defeating evil in all its manifestations and drawing us up into His Light.

A blessed Easter!

(As an aside: One of the things I have been wondering about in writing on this blog is what to do about inclusive language. This is also a problem in the posts on Zizioulas. I am enough of a – one-time? – feminist to find the generic use of “man” problematic, but I’m not sure that I have the right to edit other people’s work and find constantly inserting sic! rather pedantic. The problem is of course particularly acute when dealing Patristic anthropology and theology, where it is precisely Christ’s taking on of our entire humanity – female as well as male – that is of crucial importance: I think for instance of Gregory of Nazianzus’ “What is unassumed is unhealed”, something that appears to be being undermined in what is sometimes called “New Catholic feminism,” but more on that another time.

While on the subject, it may be worth noting that when I painted the Paschal candle four years ago, I insisted on doing an icon of the Resurrection in which the Risen Christ grasps both Adam and Eve by the hand. I am now less bothered by such “inclusivism,” for what is conveyed is the meeting between the Old Adam and the New Adam and the identification between them. And that is about humanity and has nothing to do with gender. Feminists may find that I’m selling out, but I will also argue tooth and nail with anyone – such as Balthasar and his followers – who tries to assign ontological significance to gender or to suggest that women are any less identified with Christ than anyone else!)

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