Editor’s Note: In the Russian Orthodox Church, there are already a number of Western Rite congregations. They have a website which explains what the Western Rite is. An additional website also contains helpful explanations.
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon is the rector of All Saints Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also the senior editor of Touchstone magazine. At the 50th Biennial Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese Convention, he gave a presentation about the Western Rite in the Orthodox Church. This article is an excerpt from that talk. Though the discussion gets rather technical at times, his explanation should be of interest to those who are curious about the Western Rite.
Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts are open, all desires are known, and from Whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love Thee and worthily magnify Thy holy Name through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Now, the topic I was given was: “How the introduction of a Western Rite into the Orthodox Church might be a benefit to the whole Church.”
In order to discuss that, I have to sort of look at the Eastern Rite of the Church. In other words, it seems to be that if the Western Rite is going to be a benefit, there is a supposition that something is missing in the Eastern Rite. In fact, I believe that’s so. I will argue that case today.
Let me begin by asking a fairly simple question, by way of getting you thinking: If you used the word homoousios in the Orthodox Church, what does that mean to people? What does it mean? Anybody?
The word is used in the Creed with respect to the Eternal Word. It is sometimes used at the end of the doxological formulations with respect to the Holy Spirit, and it’s sometimes used simply with respect to the Holy Trinity: “Glory to the holy, consubstantial, life-creating, and undivided Trinity.” Will you all agree with me that that is the accepted meaning of the word and what is normally conveyed? Is there anything else? No other uses? You’re sure?
The Christian Church uses the word homoousios in two ways: With respect to the life of the Holy Trinity, and respect to the Incarnation. The Council of Chalcedon said that God’s Eternal Son is of one homoousios with the Father with respect to His divinity, and with respect to His humanity, is one with us.
I have felt for over a decade that most Orthodox Christians that I have ever met are emotional monophysites. They are very, very well aware of the consubstantiality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and have not given a speck of thought to the consubstantiality of God’s Eternal Word with us. But in fact, when we read the Scriptures normally, the far greater emphasis is on the Word’s consubstantiality with us.
Last August, I got a call from Thomas Nelson Press, the largest Evangelical press in the English language. They called me last August and wanted me to write a book. I said, “Yeah. I’ll be glad to write a book. What do want it on?”
He said, “Jesus.”
I said, “Well, I can’t do that. I can’t write on Jesus. Gideon, yeah. Sampson. Definitely Sampson. Joshua, perhaps. You know, anybody who sort of laid about and put down Philistines. I can write on them, but I couldn’t write on Jesus.”
Then I said, “What possessed you to think I could write a book on Jesus?”
They said, “Well, we’ve been listening to your podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio, and you have an approach to Jesus which is new, fresh, and imaginative.”
I said, “In that case, I’m certainly not going to publish it, because it’s definitely heresy.”
New, fresh, and imaginative! I mean, those were the three major adjectives with respect to heresy!
I said, “Spell that out for me.”
He said, “Well you treat Jesus as a human being.”
I said, “And Evangelicals don’t?”
“No, they don’t. They don’t treat Jesus as a human being.”
I said, “Gosh!” I said, “This is Chalcedonian theology.”
The formula that I took as my model in writing my book . . . the expression that grabbed me, that I wanted as a guiding light, was the expression politeia theandrikè [Πολιτεία θεανδρικε], a “God-man-ly” way of life. Of course, I am taking that expression from St. Gregory Palamas. Most Evangelicals don’t seem to be as familiar with him as they probably need to be.
So I wrote the book, and they accepted the book. They told me they were going to title it “Jesus In the Flesh.” I thought, “Well, that seems a little bit pleonastic.” I would have thought there’s no other way you can get Him except in the flesh, but I went along with that.
So, when I sent the manuscript in, they called me back: “We’ve changed the title of the book.”
I said, “What are you going to call it now?”
They said, “The Jesus We Missed.”
I said, “Who’s we, white man?”
“I didn’t miss Him! The Church didn’t miss Him!”
He said, “No, but we did!”
They were determined to have that title, and I felt most uncomfortable with this. I said, “There’s nothing in the book that justifies that title.” For one thing, I certainly did not write any of the book on revisionist Christology. All my lights are St. Gregory the Theologian, Irenaeus — most especially Irenaeus — and Ambrose, John Chrysostom, and the sermons of Gregory Palamas. This is my approach to the Gospels. There’s nothing in the book that justifies “The Jesus We Missed.” I said, “We are going to have to get something in the book or somebody’s going to say, ‘Speak for those who missed Him.'” . . .
Anyway, when we say that He is one with us, we’re saying something about Christian prayer. . . . What does the New Testament suggest as the most formal component of Christian worship? It appears to me it is the image of Christ as mesités (μεσίτης), Christ as mediator, as go-between. In order to go between, He has to be — in the reasoning of the Fathers of the Church — He had to be of one substance: one being with the Father and of one being with us. . . .
The one thing I do not see in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom — the one thing most obvious to me, in serving the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom — is that it is pre-Chalcedonian, and that the Christology is fixed at about the year 390. Very little later theology has been brought to bear on the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
The only 5th Century theology I can see in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is the introduction of the word Theotokos, which John Chrysostom would have avoided – did avoid – like the plague. No Alexandrian, no Antiochian, would ever use the word Theotokos, and you won’t find the word anywhere within the words of John Chrysostom, because they don’t use it. . . . It was introduced into the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom after 431. I’m not sure how long after, but it gradually got introduced. Just that introduction and the marvelous hymn of Justinian, the Monogenes (Μονογενὴς), which is used after the second antiphon in the Divine Liturgy. As far as I can see, those are the only major theological introductions into the service.
That means that the Liturgy is fixed — the Eastern liturgy — the Eucharistic Liturgy is fixed in the late 4th Century, in which anything that faintly resembles the mediation of Christ in our worship has been removed for the fear of subordinationism. What I see in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is the colossal fear of subordinationism, so that the normal way of talking about our relationship to Christ in the New Testament, the One who intercedes for us, the One in Whose Name we pray, have all been reduced.
Just compare the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, for example, with the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus. Now, that may not be fair, because the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus is so early (roughly 210, I think). There, in fact, when it speaks of the mediation of Christ, they don’t even use the standard Greek word there. They use the word pais (παισ).
The Christians of the 2nd Century certainly weren’t talking this way anymore. The word pais (παισ) with regard to Jesus almost never appears except in liturgical texts. Of course, that’s the simplest application of Baumstark’s Law: The more solemn the occasion, the more ancient the formulations. As you see, that’s a very clear example, the use of pais [παισ] in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus.
The West has preserved the mediation of Christ very strongly. This is the normal ending, for example, of all the leonine callings: per Dominum nostrum, Iesum Chrisum, filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnant.
That is New Testament Christology, pure and simple, whereas in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the word dia [δια] only appears twice, and there it is not through Jesus. It is “through the compassion of Thine only-begotten Son with Whom Thou art blessed . . .” Everything possible has been done — in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom — to put Father, Son, and Holy Spirit up there and us down here. And as far as I know, the word mesites [μεσιτεύω] is not used in the Eastern Liturgy at all except in the feminine form. Then, only once or twice. In the feminine form, it refers to the Virgin Mary in the sense of an intercessor.
So that, my brethren, first is the major thing that the Western Rite reintroduces into the total experience of the worship of the Church, is the strong sense that we have an advocate with the Father: Jesus Christ. The most solemn place that appears in the Western Rite is at the end of the anaphora, before the Our Father.
Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso, est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti, in unitate Spiritus Sancti, omnis honor et gloria, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen
I must tell you that when we became Eastern Orthodox, I have still not recovered from the loss of that formula. I just find that formula so completely satisfying, and there is nothing vaguely comparable to that in the Eastern Liturgy.
I was talking to some folks about this, and the question has arisen each time: “Can’t we reform the Eastern Liturgy and bring these in?”
I said, “I wouldn’t go anywhere near that!” That’s not what I have in mind at all.
Now, let me talk about Chalcedon. We keep talking about how all the seven Ecumenical Councils were in the East. That is geographically true, but only geographically true. It appears to me that one could make the case that Chalcedon was foisted onto the East by the West. It was the collusion of Leo of Rome and Flavian of Constantinople — who was an Antiochian — this sort of collusion, and they managed to pull it off and create colossal problems.
I don’t know anybody that has explored this adequately. I’ve explored it a little bit but certainly not adequately, because one would have to be a scholar in order to do that, and I am a parish priest who reads when he has time. But let me say some things about the background of Chalcedon.
Here, I am going to have to talk about the greatest of the Western Fathers: Augustine of Hippo, recommended by name by three Ecumenical Councils, but still whose name might not be mentioned as recently as a talk yesterday when a prayer of his was read, and he wasn’t given credit for it. Behind Chalcedon, I see a mammoth stature of Augustine, and I don’t know anybody who’s actually explored that influence. “Influence” doesn’t even touch it. The heavy reading that Leo of Rome did in Augustine, and how much there is of Augustine in the tome of Leo, and consequently in the doctrinal formulation of Chalcedon. . .
Now, the mediation of Christ is the central idea in the Christology of Augustine. If one’s only knowledge of Augustine is one’s reading of the works of Romanides and other people who haven’t read Augustine (including the professors at our seminaries), one would not have any idea that Augustine had any importance in the history of Christology. They would complain about his speculations on the Trinity. They would complain about his very negative attitude towards fallen man and all that sort of thing. When I listen to the criticism of Augustine, it strikes me that there’s something like complaining about the broken door knob on the 17th floor of the Sears Tower, and that’s all they know about the Sears Tower is that there’s a broken doorknob on the 17th floor. Well, just skip the 17th floor. I mean, all the other floors are just great.
Although his formulation of the ontological and personal structure of Christ tends to be expressed in rhetorical rather than in technical or philosophical terms, we do find exceptions to this pattern in the latter part of Augustine’s ministry, that is to say from about 410 until 430. He dies the year before the Council of Ephesus.
The last twenty years of Augustine’s ministry, he’s starting to think philosophically about the person of Christ. For example, decades prior to Chalcedon in 451, in Sermon 294, he speaks of Jesus as Una Persona In Utraque Natura: one person in both natures. And he affirmed (This is in Sermon 186.), “He who is God is the very One who is man not by confusion of nature,” (notice how that formula would later appear in Chalcedon?), “but in in unitate personae,” (in one hypostasis). That’s also in Book Ten of the Enchiridion and several places, three places, in the De Trinitate. In Sermon 293, Augustine says, “Jesus Christ is totus Deus et totus homo.” The same expression appears in Book 19 of his Tractate on John.
Summing up his Christology near the end of his life, in 430, Augustine wrote (This is the De Prædestinatione Sanctorum, Book 24), “God’s Son assumed our humanity in an incomparable union in such wise that He who assumed and that which was assumed is una persona in chordae Trinitatus” (one Person in the heart of the Trinity).
If Augustine were a precursor to Ephesus and Chalcedon, however, he was also the heir of Nicaea. After spending his youth imagining Jesus — and this is from Book 7 of The Confessions — imagining Jesus only as a man of excellent wisdom with no one to equal, Augustine at last learned the correct Nicene Christology during the catechumenate that preceded his baptism in 387, and he had a pretty good instructor in his catechumenate. We also know from Book 8 and Book 10 of The Confessions that it was during this pre-baptismal catechesis that he began to read Athanasius. In fact, he quotes Athanasius’s Life of Anthony, doesn’t he, in The Confessions itself?
Like Athanasius, Augustine approached the mystery of the incarnation under the perspective of soteriology, specifically, man’s deliverance from mortality and his liberation to immortality, his movement from death to life. Now here, I’m moving somewhat towards Augustine’s soteriology, about which the East knows absolutely nothing. I’m appalled when I hear Anselmian ideas being applied to Augustine, as though somehow or another Anselm is just mirroring Augustine. It is not true at all! Augustine’s soteriology is totally different from Anselm’s soteriology.
We see this in Augustine’s analysis of the mediation of Christ. When he treats of Jesus as our mediator, he does so, as I say, like Athanasius, in terms of man’s passage from death to life. That’s what redemption means: Passing from death to life. I don’t see a single line of light between Augustine and the Cappadocian Fathers on this question. It is the passage from death to life. “God’s son is the mediator,” says Augustine, “between mortality and immortality.” The one mediator between God and man is the medium between mortality and immortality. He is at once mortal and immortal.
“He assumed the first from us,” wrote Augustine, “in order to give us the second.” This is from the Consensus of the Gospels, Book One.
“God’s Son took away our mortality through His death,” in Enchiridion 33.
In the Enarrationes in Psalmos 103, “And confer His immortality upon us through His Resurrection.”
City of God, from Book Nine and Ten: “In His Passion,” wrote Augustine, “Christ became the Sacrifice, and in His Resurrection, He restored” (inovavit, made new) “that which had been killed and offered as a first-fruit to God.”
This is the Enarrationes in Psalmos 129: “In His Incarnation, He was born in the flesh in order to die and rise in the flesh.” Now that is straight out of Irenaeus of Lyons.
Augustine returned to this theme repeatedly. By the way, let me put in a parenthesis there. Irenaeus is much better known in the West than the East. There’s a reason that he’s preserved in Latin. And that may be why I think we mess up St. Paul so badly, because the real, the very first Pauline synthesis is Irenaeus. He’s the one who synthesizes the high anakephalaiosis of the Christology of the captivity epistles. With the Resurrection motif, in 1 Corinthians 15, Irenaeus puts these together in a marvelous Pauline synthesis. The East sort of lost that, by the very fact that you don’t have any — there are very few fragmentary texts of Irenaeus in Greek. [Meanwhile,] in the West, that is extremely important.
Augustine returns to this, you see. This is in Book Nine of the City of God:
“We need a mediator who — united to us — should be low by the mortality of His body, should — at the same time — be able to give us truly divine help in cleansing and liberating us by means of the immortal righteousness of his spirit, whereby he remained heavenly even while on earth.”
For Augustine (and I’m taking this one from his Treatise Against Cresconium the Donatist):
“The redemptive mediation of Christ was enacted, not in the single event of the Cross, but in the full Christian mystery, from the first moment of the Incarnation until the final glorification of the Risen Lord.”
I hope you see here some Maximos the Confessor there, remembering that Maximos the Confessor spent a lot of time down exactly where Augustine is preaching, and not that long after. The redemption takes place, as you know, in Maximos, and then later on in Nicholas Cabasilas. In the Incarnation, in the redemption on the Cross, in the Resurrection.
In the Incarnation, He breaks down the enmity of the separation of natures. He assumes our nature, and now we can take on His. On the Cross, He destroys sin. In the Resurrection, He destroys death. That’s the tripodic soteriology in Nicholas Cabasilas’s Life In Christ.
Augustine’s perspective on this matter was historical. Now here, I see a strong similarity between Augustine, and Irenaeus & Gregory the Theologian, who talk about the sanctification of each stage of your life. (It’s interesting that Irenaeus considers 33 pretty old.)
For Augustine, the mediation between God and man was effected in all those historical events: Christ’s birth, His Crucifixion, His death, and His Resurrection, by which He in our flesh took away our sinful mortality and conferred upon us His godly immortality. This is from Book 23 of the Tractatus on John.
Let me tell you: I believe very often we are short-changing the Incarnation, simply by saying that the Incarnation takes place when the ovum of the Virgin Mary is fertilized by the Holy Spirit. That won’t do. That’s why I’m not that thrilled about the word Theotokos. I am just not that thrilled about the word Theotokos. She’s more than a bearer. She’s the Mitéra tou Theou [Μητέρα του Θεού]. She mothers him. Sh
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