Posted: Saturday, November 27, 2010 (8:52 pm), by John W Gillis
Quote of the Day for Saturday, November 27th, 2010:
Hans Urs von Balthasar on Saint Francis and the transcending power of holiness over-against a stifling traditionalism, in Razing the Bastions (1952), from a translation published by Ignatius in 1993 (p.32):
The true peaks rise as the distance grows; we must take care not to consider our own age as an age without salvation or saints. Everything depends on that awareness that we have of our Christianity. For Francis, to be a Christian was something just as immense, certain and startlingly glorious as to be a human being, a youth, a man. And because being a Christian is eternal being and eternal youth, without danger of withering and resignation, his immediate joy was deeper. Not one single year separated him from Christ, the one who had become flesh; from the manger; from the Cross. For him, not one speck of dust had settled on the freshness of the wonder in the passage of time. The hodie of the liturgy on the great feasts was the hodie of his life. Is there a saint who has had any other Christian consciousness of time?
This is a powerful little book (103 pgs.) that is taking me a long time to read, because I am stopping on almost every page to dwell on something Balthasar says.
To really encounter and embrace the eternity that characterizes the life of Christ we share in as Christians is both bracing and mesmerizing. The unity of the Church across time and space, while it may be readily available to consciousness during Eucharistic worship, is otherwise all too easy to lose sight of in the daily hub-bub.
But with the liturgical year ending today, and the new year beginning this evening, it strikes me that this sense of connectedness can can also be facilitated by even petty traditions. Tomorrow being the 1st Sunday of Advent, the afternoon will be time to pull down the seasonal decorations from the garage, and go through the annual process of setting the house up for Advent. It’s a small thing, and it can get corny, but it serves as an opening both for the kids – and us – to reconnect with our own shared past, and for all of us to share in the drama of waiting and preparation that the Church has practiced for two millennia.
It may not be the kind of transcendent presence to Christ that Balthasar ascribed to Francis, but it’s a start. I suspect Francis would appreciate our poverty.
Posted: Wednesday, March 5, 2008 (10:13 pm), by John W Gillis
Yesterday, I wrote that I’ve been spending some of my commute time listening to the Modern Scholar series from Recorded Books – specifically the volumes from Thomas F Madden, a Medievalist and chair of the History department at Saint Louis University. The lecture set I probably learned the most from was Empire of Gold: A History of the Byzantine Empire. I knew very little about this culture, and the lectures helped me to piece quite a few things together – in both the political and religious spheres.
As the lectures wound down, I must confess that I was growing a bit weary of the Michaels, Constantines, Alexioses, and others. In part, that may have been because the lectures could sometimes move through several reigns in the space of a minute or two – lending a sense of having a revolving door leading to the throne room. But I also had a sense of frustration at the way imperial politics and palace intrigues seemed to lead almost invariably toward the eventual demise of this culture, which was so drenched in Christianity. I get a similar – but much more profound – discomfort reading the book of the prophet Jeremiah. What was especially frustrating to listen to was the ways unity between the Greek and Latin churches was repeatedly torpedoed by various circumstances – even when unity had been formally agreed upon.
So it was with a palpable sadness that I listened to Madden describe the Fall of Constantinople. The worst of it, though, was listening to his description of the preceding evening. As Madden tells it, it was clear to all involved on the night of Monday, May 28th, 1543, that the city would fall the following day, and that the Roman Empire was about to come to an end. So the defenders of the city gathered in the great cathedral, Hagia Sophia, and celebrated the Divine Liturgy. This included, not only the Emperor Constantine XI and his men (Greeks), but also the Venetians and Genoese (Latins) who had come or stayed to defend this bulwark of Christendom.
I was flabbergasted when I heard that. When all was finally lost, when the Muslims were poised to take permanent possession of, not only Constantinople, but also of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria – of all the major patriarchates of ancient Christianity except Rome – the Greeks and the Latins in the great city decided it was time to put aside their doctrinal differences, and share the Eucharist together. There had been struggles over union going on for some time, and maybe the sharing of Communion was not as unusual as I suspect it was at that time. But still, I can only wonder how differently history would have played out had the Greek and Latin churches not been at such cross-purposes over the preceding 800 years or so. What a shame. What a shame.