Thursday, 22 July 2010

Human Passion: Enemy or Friend?

Patrick Comerford and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, this afternoon

Patrick Comerford

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware was our lecturer again this afternoon at the summer school organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. In his second lecture today, Metropolitan Kallistos addressed the topic: “Human Passion: Enemy or Friend?”

He asked whether passions are necessarily a bad thing. Passions are mentioned only three times in the New Testament, and always by the Apostle Paul, who speaks of them in the context of the misuse of sexuality, greed and bad desires (see Romans 1: 26; Colossians 3: 5; and I Thessalonians 4: 4-5), although desires are not always bad for him.

Illustrating the need to be correct and accurate in giving Biblical references, he told the story of a priest who once wanted to send a telegram congratulating a woman who was getting married. He wanted to use a Biblical quotation and chose the verse: “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4: 18). Unwisely, he decided to cut down the cost of the telegram to the wedding by merely sending the Biblical reference. However, the Post Office missed the number I and sent a message saying: John 4: 18. She looked up the reference, and read the words of Christ to the Samaritan woman at the well: “For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”

Patristic and philosophical thinking on the Passions

We went on to look at what the Greek Fathers had to say on the passions, and their philosophical background in early Hellenism. There were two philosophical views of passion. The first was the Stoic view, represented by Zeno, who saw passion in negative terms. Zeno calls passion “an excessive, unbalanced impulse.” Passion is a feeling or energy that has got out of control, that is disobedient to reason, that is contrary to nature. So, the Stoics saw the Passions as diseases.

On the other hand, Aristotle saw the passions as neither virtues nor vices, but as neutral impulses. Pathos includes not just physical desire or anger, but also includes friendship, courage and joy.

Plato is similar. In the Dialogues, the charioteer has two horses. The chariot driver represents reason and the pious part of the soul, but he has two horses or forces to harness: the first is noble and well-behaved, representing the higher impulses, such as courage; the impulses of the spirited part of the soul, represented by the second horse or force, are disorderly and ill-trained, denoting the lower desires such as the sexual desires. The charioteer has to control both, and this requires proper balance and harmony. The passions give us the vital energies that enable us to move. Reason needs both the desires and the passions to get moving. The Platonic writings even talk about blessed passion.

Most of the Greek Fathers are negative about the passions, taking the Stoic view of the passions. He referred to the way Clement of Alexandria repeats Zeno’s definition of pathos as an excessive impulse that is disobedient to reason and contrary to nature. The aim of the Christian is to reach apatheia, which does not mean apathy or indifference, but is a state of spiritual freedom where we are not dominated or controlled by these passions, replacing bad energy with good energy.

Evagrius of Pontius in the late fourth century follows Clement in seeing the passions in negative terms, linking them with the demons. He lists eight evil thoughts, demons or passions, which became the source of the western doctrine of the seven deadly sins. Evagrius seeks purification from the passions, but links dispassion with love, and so is not simply negative. “When you have ceased to lust, then you can begin to love.”

In the Macarian Homilies, Macarius agrees with Evagrius when it comes to the passions.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa has a similar view of pathos. The passions are not an original part of human nature. Pathos has no place in the divine image and likeness, but reflects our fallen state. He sees the passions as bestial irrationality, reducing the human person to the level of the brute beats. But he allows that passions may sometimes be turned to good use, and his more affirmative view shows that the inflouence of Aristotle is beginning to come in.

This negative view has continued in the majority thinking in Orthodoxy, he said. He referred to the Romanian theologian, Dimitriu Staniloae for whom passion is an exclusive concern with self and infinite attachment to finite things, and who says there can be no virtue where there is passion.

Sidney Sussex College seen from Green Street this afternoon, with the top of Garden Court, where I am staying, and the spire of All Saints’ Church on Jesus Lane, rising above the buildings of Chapel Court (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

A minority view

But he said he did not necessarily accept majority views, and referred to the inscription Bertrand Russell’s grandmother wrote on the Bible she gave to him: “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23: 2).

Among the minority viewpoints, he referred to was Abba Isaias (died ca 491), who lived in Palestine; he discusses a series of qualities, including desire, zeal (or jealousy), anger, hatred, and pride, which most people regard as passions. For Abba Isaias, all these things are in accordance with nature, a natural part of our personhood as created by God. He says anger is not in itself evil; what matters is the way in which it is used, and what you do with your anger.

We should feel anger with the demons. The focus should not be on repressing passions but on redirecting them. Jealousy is not entirely evil, for it is said in Scripture that God is a jealous God. The other meaning of the word in Greek is zeal or ardour. This has a negative form when we are jealous of other people, but can be positive when we are zealous and enthusiastic for others.

We are loved by God, and must not to hate what God loves. So we can use pride to have a proper self-image and self-worth, for we are created in the image and likeness of God. Pride can have a good use in driving back the demons of self-despair. There is a proper sense of self-love and self-esteem. Abba Isaias says all the passions can be turned to good use.

Theoderet of Cyrus, in The Healing of Hellenic Maladies, says passions such as desire and anger can be positive. Without desire, there is no longing for divine things, no appetite for food and drink or what he calls lawful procreation. Without these passions, we would die from anorexia and humanity would become extinct. Anger can act as a restraint on our desire for things that are despicable and impure.

He found parallels in the rabbinic tradition, which speaks of the evil impulse or yetzer ha-ra (Genesis 6: 5) as created and implanted by God, giving us the impulse of challenge, without which we would lack direction.

Maximos the Confessor, who is sometimes negative about the passions, also speaks of “the blessed passion of divine love.” Love for Maximos is a passion. He says that the passions are not just reprehensible, but can be praiseworthy. Desire and anger mingle together and can correct each other and produce virtue.

In the later Byzantine period, Saint Gregory Palamas (right) speaks of divine and blessed passions. Our aim is not the death of passions but their redirection.

But, Metropolitan Kallistos asked, did Christ have passions?

If the passions are neutral and not sinful, then Christ did have our passions, he said. Saint John of Damascus says Christ assumes only the natural and blameless passions. He points out that Christ was subject to hunger, thirst, weariness and the fear of death.

He says this is not just a linguistic point. The way we use words influences the way we view reality. Surely it makes a difference whether we say we mortify or transfigure the passions. Do we eradicate or educate, destroy or redirect? He would much prefer the approach that says transfigure, and that is the approach he uses in pastoral care and in the sacrament of confession.

He concluded by quoting the poet John Donne, who said in his A Litany: “That our affections kill us not nor die” (John Donne, A Litany, XXVII).

Participants in the IOCS Summer School in the grounds of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, this afternoon

Earlier this afternoon, I took time out to have coffee in Michaelhouse with the Revd Dr Peter Waddell, who has been chaplain of Sidney Sussex for the past four years and who was recently appointed Dean. I don’t know if pleasure counts as one of the passions, it was appositive pleasure to hear the news of his new role.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Does God have feelings and emotions?

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware lecturing at the IOCS Summer School in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, this morning

Patrick Comerford

We are discussing the Passions at this year’s IOCS summer school in Sidney Sussex College this week. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, a former chair of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, asked us this morning: Can we ascribe passion to God? Does God suffer? Does God have feelings and emotions?

He pointed out that the Greek word πάθος (pathos) is linked with the verb πάσχειν (paschein, and talked about to suffer passion as an event that is experienced passively, like sleep – we often say that one is overcome by sleep.

Classical theology, under the influence of Aristotle, answered the questions he posed with a resounding No, saying God is impassible, does not and cannot suffer and cannot have feelings and emotions. This Aristotelian idea of God, the unmoved mover, has generally been accepted by Christian writers, eastern and western, but Metropolitan Kallistos said he is not sure that this influence has been entirely benign.

The entrance to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where the summer school of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies is taking place (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Digressing, in a lecture that was filled with the characteristic humour and passion for which Metropolitan Kallistos is well-known, he told how the famous Dr Spooner of Oxford – who is attributed with sayings such as “you have hissed my mystery lecture” – once preached a sermon, and then returned to the pulpit to tell his bewildered congregation: “Every time I mentioned Aristotle, I meant Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Aristotle had given us the idea that God is pure actuality, with no imperfection, never passive but only active. Therefore, he cannot suffer, be influenced or controlled by anything outside himself. Similarly, Thomas Aquinas says God cannot be conquered by or suffer violence, God is unmovable.

This classical image of God is derived from Aristotle, but not from the Bible, where there is a very different image of God, he said.

In the Old Testament, God is passionate, cares for his people, grieves over their sufferings and their sins (see Genesis 6: 6; Judges 10: 16; Hosea 11: 8; Jeremiah 31: 20). In the New Testament, Jesus Christ feels righteous indignation, despair and sorrow, loss and absence of God. He suffers, but is this only in his human nature, as man? Does he suffer in his divine nature?

The traditional answer is that God suffers, but only as God incarnate, in the human nature of Jesus. Metropolitan Kallistos wondered whether this was an entirely satisfactory answer. He asked, what about the involvement of the pre-incarnate Christ in suffering? He recalled the story of the three young men who were thrown into the fiery furnace, and were seen to be accompanied by a fourth, who was like a son of God (see Daniel 3: 25). This fourth figure is understood to be the pre-incarnate Christ, and there he is involved in the suffering of the three young men. The Book of Revelation speaks of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The implication is that the suffering of Christ on the cross is to be carried right back before the incarnation to the beginning of creation (Revelation 13: 8).

Melitus of Sardis believes the pre-incarnate Christ suffered with the righteous, that he was murdered with Abel, bound with Isaac, exiled with Joseph, exposed with Moses, persecuted in David, and dishonoured in the Prophets, participating with the suffering of the people in the Old Testament. Pascal says Christ will be in agony, even unto the end of the world.

The first action of the Risen Christ is to show the wounds on his hands and on his side (John 20: 20), not just for the sake of recognition, but it may also suggest that even in the glory of the Risen Christ there is still a place for our human suffering. At the Second Coming, we shall recognise him because we see the wounds on his hands and feet. Suffering passes, but the fact of having suffered always remains.

Quoting an early third century source, the story of Perpetua and Felicita, he told how Perpetua, when she was facing martyrdom, said: “There will be another in me who will suffer for me.” When we suffer, the Risen and Glorified Christ co-suffers with us. Augustine had said: “Whatever the Church suffers, He also suffers.”

He quoted from Julian of Norwich, George Herbert and William Temple, as he made his argument that Christ continues to be involved in suffering, right up to the end of the world.

Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is perfect and complete, and we cannot add to it. But the Apostle Paul talks about his sufferings being added to Christ’s suffering, so that Christ is suffering too (see Colossians 1: 24). Christ’s suffering is not limited to his incarnate life He suffered before, and continues to suffer now. We should not limit the suffering of God to the incarnation or to God the Son, for Saint Paul also said: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4: 30). When God the Son suffers his suffering is part of the Trinitarian movement.

Christ became incarnate to share our sufferings. “There was a cross in the heart of God long before one was set up outside the walls of Jerusalem.”

Drawing on the writings of Origen in the Homilies on Ezekiel, he said the pathos of Christ’s suffering is love, and asked: How can you say God is impassible if God is the God of Love? God suffers and God suffers with us because he is a God of Love.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Visiting Nosey Parker in the library at Corpus Christi

Archbishop Matthew Parker (right) at the door of the chapel in Corpus Christi College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I visited the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, this morning as part of the programme for this year’s summer school of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

The Parker Library is named after Archbishop Matthew Parker (1504-1575), who was the Master of Corpus Christi 1544 to 1553, before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury (1559-1575). The library is a treasure house of mediaeval and renaissance manuscripts and early printed books. The magnificent collection was given to Corpus Christi College by Parker and among the books and manuscripts we were shown this morning are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the principal source book for early English history; the Northumbrian Gospel (ca 700), which is a century older than the Book of Kells; and the best manuscript of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde.

The Parker Library ... rebuilt in the 1820s by William Wilkins (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Other important parts of the collection include Middle English, French and Latin texts on subjects ranging from alchemy and astrology to music and medicine. We were shown an early Greek Psalter from Mount Sinai, letters signed by Martin Luther and John Calvin, and a text from Saint Basil in Greek, transcribed by Melanchton, which shows the interest of the reformers in returning to Patristic sources.

The collection comprises over 600 manuscripts, around 480 of which were given by Parker. The archbishop also donated around 1,000 printed volumes. However, we did not see a sixth-century Gospel book from Canterbury, which is the oldest illustrated Latin Gospel book now in existence. It is still used for the enthronement of each new Archbishop of Canterbury, and is brought to and from Cambridge to Canterbury for this service by the Master and one or two college representatives. Archbishop Rowan Williams has asked to borrow it to show to Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Britain in September.

Archbishop Parker (right) at the chapel door in Corpus Christi, seen from a window in the Parker Library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Archbishop Parker, who is celebrated by the college as its greatest benefactor, was so assiduous in acquiring books and manuscripts that he became known as “Nosey Parker.” He donated his library to the college, along with silver plate and the college symbol, the pelican, which appears on the college coat-of-arms-arms and crops up in many places around the college.

The Pelican of Matthew Parker on the altar frontal in the chapel of Corpus Christi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

To guarantee the integrity and safety of his collection, Parker specified in his endowment that should the college ever lose more than a certain number of books, the rest of his collection would pass first to Gonville and Caius College and then – if there were any more losses – to Trinity Hall.

Is it any wonder that every few years, representatives from both these colleges ceremonially inspect the collection at Corpus for any losses?

Parker placed similar conditions on the silver that he gave to Corpus. To this day, Corpus retains the entirety of Parker’s library and his silver collection, as they could not be sold off, in one case, or melted down, in the other, without losing both collections. Corpus was the only Oxbridge college not to sell its silverware in support of either side during the English civil war, and remained neutral. According to college legend, the silver plate was distributed to the fellows to keep it from being requisitioned by the warring factions.

Corpus Christi traditions

After Peterhouse, Corpus is the second-smallest of the traditional colleges of the university and the smallest in terms of the number of undergraduates. Formally known as the College of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary, this is the only Cambridge college founded by the townspeople of Cambridge: it was established in 1352 by the Guilds of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Old Court in Corpus is the oldest of court in any Oxbridge college. The new college acquired all the guild’s lands, ceremonies and revenues, including the annual Corpus Christi procession through the streets to Magdalene Bridge, during which the Eucharistic host was carried by a priest and several of the college’s treasures were carried by the Master and fellows, before returning for an extravagant dinner.

The Old Court in Corpus Christi College is the oldest surviving court in any Oxbridge college (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg says Mass in a corner of the public gardens in Trebizond to mark the Feast of Corpus Christi. After Mass, he holds a procession round the gardens, chanting Ave Verum, stops, preaches a short sermon in English, and says that Corpus Christi is a great Christian festival and holy day, “always kept in the Church of England.”

The procession in Cambridge continued until the Reformation, but in 1535 William Sowode, who was Parker’s predecessor as Master (1523-1544), stopped this tradition. However, the college continues to have a grand dinner on the feast of Corpus Christi.

At first, the college had no chapel, and used Saint Bene’t’s Church next door for worship and liturgies until the beginning of the 16th century. At one time during the Reformation, the college was also known as Saint Bene’t’s ... perhaps in a conscious effort to make a break with the rituals associated with Corpus Christi.

The first college chapel was built by Thomas Cosyn, who was Master from 1487 to 1515, along with a passageway between Old Court and St Bene’t’s Church. The old chapel was demolished to make way for New Court, including the Parker Library, which were designed by William Wilkins and completed in 1827.

The chapel in Corpus Christi College was designed by William Wilkins as a miniature replica of the chapel in King’s College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The chapel now in New Court is part of the 19th century rebuilding of Corpus Christi. It is the third chapel in the college, and was built as a replica of the chapel in nearby King’s College.

Eagles, ducks and time-eaters

The Eagle ... part of college life in Corpus Christi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The student bar in Corpus is called the Pelican, another living connection with Matthew Parker’s rebus. But Corpus also owns the Eagle Pub nearby, where some of us have adjourned for a drink in the evenings. James Watson and Francis Crick are said to have refreshed themselves in this pub while deliberating over the structure of DNA in the Cavendish Laboratory. On discovering the structure of DNA around 1952, it is said, they walked into the Eagle and declared: “We have found the secret of life.” A plaque on the front of the pub recalls the event.

Each spring, for the last few years, a duck has chosen to lay her eggs amongst the plants in Corpus Christi. This is some 200 metres from the River Cam and across Trumpington Street. When the ducklings hatch and are ready to get to the river, the mother duck signals this by walking around the court quacking loudly.

In a scene that would be the envy of any hotel in the Peabody Group, one of the porters then stops traffic on Trumpington Street to allow the duck and her offspring to cross. Across the street, the porters in Saint Catharine’s College then open their college gates and take over responsibility for getting them safely to the river.

The Chronophage or “Time Eater” at Corpus Christi is accurate only once every five minutes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

When the lease of the National Westminster branch bank adjacent to Corpus on the corner of Trumpington Street and King’s Parade expired five years ago, the college reclaimed the premises and began building Library Court, which was completed in 2008. The building, which has received several awards, is best known for the new clock – the Chronophage – which was unveiled by the physicist Stephen Hawking, on 18 September 2008.

The name Chronophage means “Time Eater.” The clock is unusual not only because of its design but because it is accurate only once every five minutes. A few steps away, the National Westminster night safe is still in the wall – time has failed to eat it.

In any case, it was delightful to spend time in Corpus Christi this morning, being a true Nosey Parker in this unique library.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

I never wanted to be a gardener, but ...

The gardens at Sidney Sussex are a haven for everyone taking part in this year’s summer school (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

I have never been interested in gardening. To be frank, I have no interest in ever being a gardener. But gardening is a noble and Christian profession ... on Easter morning, Mary first thought the Risen Christ was the gardener.

Here in Cambridge, the college courts and gardens are secluded and hidden places of calm. In the midst of a very busy tourist season, as I try to listen and study, these gardens and courts are oases of peace and tranquillity.

This year, I’m staying in Garden Court in Sidney Sussex College. The Richard Powell Library is on the ground floor. Unlike Cloister Court and Chapel Court, where I have stayed in previous years, this is an ugly, brash, functional modern building – too ugly to be part of a housing estate in Dagenham.

On the other hand, these rooms mean that I am right beside Mong Hall, where our lectures and seminars are taking place each day. My room looks out onto the King Street Gate and over the busy, lively junction of King Street, Hobson Street and Sussex Street. From most parts of this building, there are also gracious, gentle views across the Master’s Garden and the Fellows’ Garden that have given Garden Court its name.

Despite its brash, modern appearances, Garden Court is located on historic ground. This building stands over the original course of the King’s Ditch, an ancient watercourse that helped to protect 13th century Cambridge against the rebellious robber barons lurking in the Fens.

There is a tradition of maintaining the gardens at Sidney Sussex College that is as old as the college itself, stretching back more than 400 years. The college was founded in 1596, and from the spring of 1598 John Simon was employed here as a gardener. The college statutes that year provided for two gardens, the first for the Master and the second for the Fellows. Another formal garden, similar to the Fellows’ Garden, was laid out on the grounds where Garden Court now stands.

At one stage, some of the present gardens were used as sports grounds and for football matches. It is said that while Oliver Cromwell was an undergraduate at Sidney Sussex, he wasted much of his time playing football in the gardens. He is quoted as having said later he could remember the time when he was more afraid of being tackled in football by a fellow student, John Wainwright, than “of meeting any army since in the field.”

When Cloister Court was built in the early 1890s, the bodies buried in the mediaeval Franciscan cemetery on the site were disturbed and had to be re-interred. But the building of Cloister Court also took away from the Fellows’ Garden much of its original area.

The history of the present gardens begins with the work of the Revd Bertram Tom Dean Smith, who was elected a fellow in 1918 and later became the Dean and Tutor of Sidney Sussex. BTD, as he was known, was a keen and gifted amateur gardener, and he devoted the greater part of his leisure hours to improving and developing the Fellows’ Garden.

Strolling through the gardens this week, I have stumbled across delightful structures such as the classical gate, which holds a child-like secret promise of entry into Jesus Lane, and the view of the spire of All Saints’ Church beside Westcott House.

The Weeping Ash in the Master’s Garden in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Many of the trees in the gardens remember former undergraduates or fellows of Sidney Sussex. One of the most famous trees in the gardens of Sidney Sussex must be the weeping ash in the Master’s Garden, in the circular bed behind the lodge.

Although the Master’s Garden is normally closed to the public, I am told it springs to life at the receptions on degree days for graduands and their families, and during the tea parties given for members of Sidney Sussex returning to Cambridge for the annual gatherings commemorating Lady Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex, and her foundation of the college.

It is said that Sidney glows most brightly in Spring, when the unmanicured areas beneath the trees are flooded with bulbs. Things begin to get busy in March, and every second year an elevation platform has to be hired to prune the Magnolia grandiflora in Hall Court.

The Magnolia grandiflora in Hall Court ... an elevation platform is needed to prune this every second year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

This week, I have appreciated these gardens as a haven for all of us taking part in the summer school organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. In these balmy summer days, the gardens of Sidney Sussex offer each of us peace, tranquillity and quiet places to be at one with the Creator God and with creation and nature.

And in their own ways, these gardens truly are also reminders of that first Easter and the joys of the Resurrection.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.