Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Finding answers in the Transfiguration

The Transfiguration, an early-15th century icon attributed to Theophanes the Greek ... Metropolitan Kallistos spoke this morning of the Transfiguration as an answer to secularism

Patrick Comerford

There is no answer to secularism that does not take account of the Cross, as well taking account of the Transfiguration and the Resurrection, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia said this morning.

Metropolitan Kallistos was the second speaker this morning at the summer school of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge. He was speaking in Sidney Sussex College on the topic: “Our Orthodox Answer to Secularism I: The Transfiguration of Christ.”

He recalled that when the American writer Gertrude Stein was dying, she asked: “What is the answer?” She paused, laughed, and then asked: “What is the question?” And so she died.

Metropolitan Kallistos said he was concerned more with the answer to secularism than he was with questions about secularism.

He outlined three possible Christian responses to secularism.

He identified the first response as “Pietism.” Faced with aggressive, unsympathetic secularism, there are those who would build a wall around their Christian faith and life, and limit it to a narrow area that they regard as religious, excluding everything else as having no value.

Pietism does not get involved in broader, philosophical, cultural and artistic movements of our time, undertakes no risks, remains within a chosen “sanctuary,” and sets a deep chasm between the Church and the World. This is opting out of the challenge of secularism, and not attempting an answer, he said, adding that he finds this among many English converts to Orthodoxy – “they become Church mice.”

At the opposite extreme, secular Christianity was an option that found popular expression at the end of the 20th century, and he said it distorted what Dietrich Bonhoeffer was trying to achieve. The slogans of this response included, “Christianity come of age,” or “live in the world as if there was no God.”

Secular Christianity finds no challenge in secularism, and embraces it on its own terms. But this is a fallen world, and there is a need for repentance and metánoia (μετάνοια) and a radical change of mind. Secular Christians have left out that need for a change of mind, he said.

He then offered a third option between these two extremes, summed up in the word “Transfiguration.”

He spoke of the need for an ascetic transformation of the secular world and ourselves in it if Christ’s unceasing presence is to be made manifest. We are to see the world to come, the future kingdom, which is not another world entirely different, but this world as it is called to truly be. But there needs to be repentance and metánoia (μετάνοια) and a radical change of mind, there needs to be ascetic transformation, he said

Referring to Revelation 21: 5, where Christ tells the Seer of Partmos: “Behold, I make all things new” – not: “Behold, I make all new things.”

Christ rose from the dead not in a new body but in the self-same body in which he suffered and died. His body is transformed, so that he is not immediately recognised on the road to Emmaus, and he is able to pass through locked doors. He is there in the same body, but it has become different, a spiritual body, which does not mean dematerialised. He eats in front of the disciples, he is not a ghost, his body is filled with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s saying “Behold, I make all things new” applies to himself.

We do not seek a new and different world, but seek to Christianise and transfigure this one. The Transfiguration provides a guideline for confronting the secular world.

He retold a story from Leo Tolstoy, Three Questions. The central figure is set a task of answering three questions:

What is the most important moment? The most important moment is now, the past is gone, and the future does not exist yet.

Who is the most important person? This person who is before you in this very instant.

What is the most important task? This task which you are engaged in here and now.

The light which shone from Christ on the mountaintop is not a physical and created light, but an eternal and uncreated light, a divine light, the light of the Godhead, the light of the Holy Trinity.

The Early Fathers of the Church saw the preparation for Christ in Judaism. But they also found a preparation for Christ in Hellenism. He suggested this offers a model for our approach to secularism today.

The experience on Mount Tabor confirms Peter’s confession of faith which reveals Christ as the Son of the Living God. Yet Christ remains fully human as ever he was, as fully human as you or I, and his humanity is not abolished. But the Godhead shines through his body and from it.

In Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead. But at other points in his life, the glory is hidden beneath the veil of his flesh. What we see in Christ on Mount Tabor is human nature, our human nature, taken up into God and filled with the light of God. “So this should be our attitude to the secular world,” he said.

But, he asked, how can it be taken up with Christ and filled with glory?

The Transfiguration is a disclosure not only of what God is but of what we are. The New Adam shows us human nature as it was before the fall. Transfiguration looks back to the beginning, but also looks forward to the end, to the final glory of Christ’s second coming, because through the incarnation Christ raised human nature to a new level, opening new possibilities. The incarnation is a new beginning for the human race, and in the Transfiguration we see not only our human nature at the beginning, but as it can be in and through Christ at the end.

Secular Christianity rests satisfied with our human nature as it is now. But he wants us to look to our potentialities, as seen in the Transfiguration of Christ.

What does the Transfiguration tell us about the world? The light of the Transfiguration embraces all created things, nothing is irredeemably secular, all created things can be bathed in the light of the Transfiguration. “That is our answer to secularism.”

The Transfiguration is a pre-figuration of the transfiguration of the cosmos, he said. “That is what we have to say to secularism.”

But with the Transfiguration comes the invitation to bear the cross with Christ. Peter, James and John were on Mount Tabor and in Gethsemane. We must understand the Passion of Christ and the Transfiguration in the light of each other, for they are not two separate mysteries, but aspects of the one single mystery. Mount Tabor and Mount Calvary go together; and glory and suffering go together.

If we are to undertake the task of transfiguration, we cannot leave our cross behind. If we are to bring the secular, fallen world into the glory of Christ, that has to be through self-emptying kenosis, cross-bearing and suffering. There is no answer to secularism that does not take account of the Cross, as well taking account of the Transfiguration and the Resurrection.

In the question and answer time that followed, there was an interesting discussion about the Eucharist as the Transfiguration of the created order, as the offering of human culture to God, and as the feeding of God’s people with the Transfigured-Resurrected Christ.

Metropolitan Kallistos continues his discussion later this evening after Vespers with a second lecture: “Our Orthodox Answer to Secularism II: ‘Pray without Ceasing’.”

Metropolitan Kallistos, who is a regular speaker at the summer school, is the Metropolitan Bishop of Diokleia and an Assistant Bishop in the Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain in the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Until 2001, he was the Spalding Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford.

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

Can Christians celebrate the collapse of neo-liberalism?

The tower in the chapel in Jesus College, Cambridge ... the Revd Dr John Hughes of Jesus College spoke on Christian Social Teaching and the Economic Crisis at the summer school this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The global financial crisis has brought about a questioning of dominant neo-liberalism, and has raised theological questions about the ultimate ends of the economy, we were told this morning [26 July] by the Revd Dr John Hughes, Dean of Jesus College and the Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge.

Dr Hughes was speaking in Sidney Sussex College at the 12th summer school of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies on the topic: “Beyond the Secular Market: Christian Social Teaching and the Economic Crisis.”

Dr Hughes is part of the Radical Orthodoxy movement, which is rooted in the Cambridge theological tradition, providing a critique of the violence of secular social theories. Its main figures include John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward.

Dr Hughes argued this morning that the free market has long been bound up with secularism, and set out how Christian theology has responded to this, arguing that the markets need morals.

The market was once seen as the answer to everything and, until the recent crisis, the market was untouchable and went unquestioned. But the crisis has seen a widespread rejection of the myth of a morally neutral free market and of the neoliberal utilitarian fantasy.

Since 2008-2009, it has been recognised that the marked is not an end in itself, and a new consensus has emerged.

Prior to 2009 summit, Gordon Brown spoke in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, about a society that is free but not laissez faire, pointing out that markets cannot self-regulate but can self-destruct. About the same time, David Cameron had spoken in Davos in 2009 about markets without morality, and capitalism without a conscience, saying the markets are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. Cameron had argued that we need to shape capitalism to suit needs of society.

Looking at the significance of this language, Dr Hughes said the politics of virtue may be on the rise, and that questions that ask what the market is for are quasi-theological questions.

The market is fundamentally cultural, therefore we did not have to end up here. The present crisis was not a natural happening, but was due to specific, ideological decisions.

He sees the beginnings of a new consensus in favour of tighter financial regulation in the hope of preventing this happening again. However, Christian concerns about usury are related to feelings about the injustice of large profits being made through de facto gambling. Is the financial crisis a strange aberration or is it deeply symptomatic of capitalism, he wondered. Do we need not just a pruning of excesses, but a new political economy?

He looked at the emergence of new thinking on both the left and the right about the moralising of the market. He traced this on the left in the thinking from Compass, and on the right in the writings of Philip Blond, the Anglican theologian and English political thinker, who is the director of the think tank ResPublica, and who is known for his articulation of ‘Red Tory’ thinking.

But he also found an articulate radical Christian response to the economic crisis and the crisis in capitalism in the writings of Archbishop Rowan Williams, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos, and especially in Pope Benedict’s 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (‘Love in Truth’).

He described the encyclical Caritas in Veritate as radical in its reflection on economic and social issues and problems and its concern for the problems of globalisation. In the encyclical, Pope Benedict argues that both Love and Truth are essential elements of an effective response to the current economic crisis, and attacks free market fundamentalism, and talks of new models of business and enterprise.

He said Christians should celebrate the collapse of neo-liberalism and its economics, and sees Christian social tradition enjoying a revival and offering fresh insights.

Dr Hughes is the newly-elected Dean of Jesus College, Cambridge, and a member of the Faculty of Divinity in Cambridge University. He studied theology in Cambridge under Janet Soskice and in Oxford under Oliver O’Donovan, before completing a PhD on ‘Theologies of Work’ with Catherine Pickstock and Jeremy Morris, published as The End of Work (Blackwell: 2007).

He teaches philosophy and ethics, with a particular interest in aesthetics and political thought. His has published a paper on the Russian theologian Sergei Bulgakov in Sobornost, and has written a chapter in a forthcoming volume on the Crisis of Global Capitalism. He is working on a project on the role of divine ideas in the doctrine of creation.

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

Remembering two translators of the Bible at Sidney Sussex

The interior of the chapel in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge ... as warden, Samuel Ward left the chapel without being consecrated and used a simple table in the middle of the chapel as the altar

Patrick Comerford

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible in 1611, and I have been invited to an exhibition and reception in Lambeth Palace later today to mark this anniversary. However, I have also been reminded this week that last month Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, recently celebrated that same anniversary with special lectures, readings.

Two of the first Masters of Sidney Sussex were involved in translating the Authorised Version: Bishop James Montagu, the first Master of Sidney Sussex, was King James I’s editor; while Samuel Ward, Montagu’s successor but one as Master, was one of the team of translators.

The alabaster effigy and monument of Bishop James Montagu in Bath Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

James Montagu (c.1568-1618), right, was a member of the Second Oxford Company, involved in translating the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Book of Revelation.

But, despite being a member of this Oxford company, Montagu was intimately associated with Cambridge. In 1596, he became the first Master of Sidney Sussex College, probably because he was related to the founder of the college, Lady Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex: his grandmother, Lucy Sidney, was her sister.

Montagu laid the foundation stone of Sidney Sussex College, and remained here until 1608.

In 1603, he became the Dean of the Chapel Royal and Dean of Lichfield Cathedral. Then, in rapid succession, he became Dean of Worcester in 1604, Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1608, and Bishop of Winchester in 1616. He is buried in an alabaster tomb in Bath Abbey.


The Montagu coat-of-arms arms above Costa coffee shop in Montagu House on the corner of Sidney Street and Sussex Street ... part of Sidney Sussex College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Samuel Ward, right, who was a member of the “Second Cambridge Company,” responsible for translating the Apocrypha, was the Master of Sidney Sussex College from 1610 until his death in 1643, and is buried in the chapel of Sidney Sussex.

Ward was a Puritan diarist, but throughout his career he was known for his moderate Calvinist views and he remained strongly attached to the Church of England.

He was born in Bishop Middleham in Co Durham, and was a scholar of Christ’s College, Cambridge, where in 1592 he was admitted BA.

In 1595, he was elected to a fellowship at Emmanuel College under the first Master, Laurence Chaderton (1537-1640), who was a leading figure in the radical Puritan movement.

In 1599, Ward was elected a Fellow of the newly-founded Sidney Sussex College. Soon after, he was appointed a chaplain to King James I, and he was one of the scholars appointed to take charge of the translation and preparation of the King James Version of the Bible. He was also a friend of James Ussher, and assisted the Irish Archbishop in his patristic researches.

In1608, his old friend at Sidney Sussex, James Montagu, by now Bishop of Bath and Wells, made Ward his chaplain. Two years later, in 1610, Ward was elected Master of Sidney Sussex College and he received the degree DD (Doctor of Divinity). As Master of Sidney Sussex, however, his college chapel remained unconsecrated, and the altar remained an unadorned table in the middle of the chapel.

Ward remained ambitious for high office in the Church of England. In 1615, having failed to have secure an appointment as Archdeacon of Bath, Ward was made a prebendary of Wells Cathedral and Archdeacon of Taunton, and in 1618, he became a prebendary of York. He was one of the English delegates who attended the Synod of Dort in 1619. In 1623, he was appointed Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge.

When the first English Civil War broke out, Ward felt his oath of allegiance to the crown did not allow him to take the Solemn League and Covenant, and he opposed the Presbyterian party. In 1643, he was imprisoned in Saint John’s College, Cambridge.

However, his health deteriorated, and eventually he was allowed to retire to Sidney Sussex College. On 30 August 1643, he took ill at a chapel service in Sidney Sussex, and he died here on 7 September 1643. His funeral took place on 30 November, and the funeral oration was delivered in the University Church, Great Saint Mary’s, by the public orator, Henry Molle, while the sermon was preached by Ward’s friend and admirer, Ralph Browning. Ward was buried in the college chapel in Sidney Sussex.

While Ward was Master of Sidney Sussex, Oliver Cromwell was a student from 1616 to 1617, although Cromwell never stayed to finish his degree. Ward’s other students at Sidney Sussex included the theologian Thomas Fuller, the Parliamentarian general, Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester, and the theologian Richard Holdsworth, who became Master of Emmanuel College.

The plaque in the ante-chapel in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph; Patrick Comerford)

Cromwell’s head, it is said, is buried here in the chapel of Sidney Sussex College. Perhaps this is appropriate, given that this is the very chapel that Samuel Ward tried to prevent being consecrated, and it is from here that Ward once sent a shrivelled head to James I, hoping the skull would entertain the king.