Basil the Great

St Basil, whose feast is on 1st January, is important because of his principle of tolerance, often called “economy”. It should be taken to heart today- we are much in need of it. The continued squabble over the Council of Crete could do with some “economy” as indeed could the gathering Brexit debate.

Basil was fairly aggressive with a group of Asian Bishops in his disapproval of schismatics and heretics, insisting that they should be rebaptised. He was simply following St Cyprian of Carthage who said much the same a century earlier and this was a precise interpretation of the law (akrebeia). The text is to be found in the 1st Canon. However, he says that for the sake of “economia”(οικονόμια), he will accept the decision of the Asian Bishops. Economy is the discretionary power given to the apostles and specifically to Peter to “bind and loose”(Mtt 16:19, 18:18) and is echoed in the Acts with the line: Acts 15:28, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us”. Laws need to be adjusted and updated. That is why we have parliament and frankly why the Churches have councils.

Economy is about maintaining concord while we build the house of God, or simply accepting that God’s mercy goes beyond the written law. The principle, I think, is a good one- that, no matter how severe or restrictive the rules, when faced with real people and real situations, we should be prepared to bend the rules, adapt them or sweep them aside in the interest of kindness. Kindness may well be abused, but that should not stop us trying.

In Russia, I saw a sign condemning the Ecumenical movement. How absurd is that! Mindless, insular, and out of step with the way things work.

2016-12-18-18-51-09

St metropolitan Philaret of New York echoes St Basil: “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Luke, 3:8), would He not show economia and accept into His Kingdom (His Church) those on whose behalf we beseech His mercy? To say that this is not possible is to deny God’s boundless mercy, to attempt to bind God by the Laws given to us to observe. “( I ) will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19)

With the principle of “economy” we have an excuse to hold two completely conflicting views at the same time. That is the only way forward. It is neither irrational nor irresponsible. It is simply practical.

Here is a picture of the Icon of St Basil the Great according to the Greek tradition. I am following the descriptions of Photios Kontoglou.

basil-the-great

photios again

modern view

The role of Photios in sorting out St Paul!

Here is an icon of Photios, sometimes called Photius in the West and Saint Photios the Great in Orthodoxy

.photios icon

3 files about Homosexuality in the Bible: links below

We have just finished a new educational film about the 6 texts used in the Bible to condemn homosexuality.Because it is only 40 minutes long (it is divided into 3 parts on youtube) Below are parts 1 and 2:

Part 1:

Part 2:

I am afraid there are a number of glosses that i have made and which I will try to correct here over a number of blogs. I am aware that I have not really done justice (slight pun) to the text by Photios that is the lynch-pin of the main argument in the film. The issue I am discussing here occurs in the third part on youtube and the link to that part is here.

Part 3:

What Photios says

I have provided the Greek text of what Photios writes on the film, though it is on-screen fleetingly-

so here it is again:

photios on romans flat

Photios was very interested in the way Greek changes over the years from the various forms of Ancient /Attic Greek used by Homer to the Greek of the Septuagint and then the koine used in the New Testament. Photios was familiar on a day-by-day basis with the Byzantine Greek of the Imperial court and the Church but there was probably yet another more colloquial version of that in the streets of “the city”, H Polis.

Colwell’s rule

So his greatest work is probably his lexicon, which has helped scholars today to work out how words have changed their meanings and how Greek grammar has evolved. This is particularly important if you want to avoid the nonsense of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who wrongly ascribe at best an Attic grammar to the New Testament and at worst some inexperienced mumbo-jumbo. I met a man today who was sitting by the canal reading a bible. I asked which version and he said “the New World Translation”. I could not get away fast enough! There are endless errors in this Jehovah’s witness text, some simply bizarre- like the use of “torture stake” for “cross” because the Jehovah’s witnesses do not accept that Jesus died on a cross and the refusal to translate any words for hell because they do not believe in hell either. Anyway, the crucial passage is John 1:1 (in every manuscript except Codex L which has ὁ Θεός ἦν ὁ Λόγος)-

The Greek:

here is the correct version:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος, καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεός ἦν ὁ Λόγος the last phrase of which is in Greek a form of Yoda-speak:

“And God the word he was” or some such “Star wars” jabber.

yoda

But it should be translated: “the word was God” but is translated by the Jehovah’s witnesses as “the word wasa god”. Origin thinks that John omits the article because he refers to Jesus as God and not to the Father and Origin argues, “the true God is Ho Theos” (Commentary on John Book 2, chapter 2) which comes close to the Jehovah’s witness position of denying the Trinity, but not quite. Later scholars absolutely reject this: Bultmann, for example, is incandescent at the thought that the omitted definite article means only or merely “divine”: Denn man kann doch nicht verstehen: er war ein Gott, ein Gottwesen, als ob θεός ein Gattungsbegriff wäre- (he thinks, instead, that the word THEOS has some special grammatical rules of its own) but there is another solution.

Here it is:

In koine greek, though not in Attic greek, there was an increasing temptation to omit the article when a definite noun (a name) precedes the verb or when a noun should be identified as the predicate.

This is often called “Colwell’s rule” and other instances can be found in Mark 15:39 and Matthew 27:42-

βασιλεὺς Ἰσραήλ ἐστιν.

The rule can be adjusted slightly because the “anthrous” noun, that is a noun without a definite article, can sometimes (as maybe here) simply be a way of establishing importance or prominence. The purpose of this paragraph is not so much to rebutt the Jehovah’s witness but to demonstrate that Greek was at the time when the New Testament was written in a state of flux and that Photios understood this.

In his commentary, therefore, on Romans 2, Photios considers Paul’s use of words very carefully and concludes that Paul was being specific about a particular part of the law/ the Torah.

Tracking down the fragment

Only a fragment of this commentary exists today and is found in a collection of patristic fragments so it is itself a bit obscure. I managed to track down the text but struggled with the translation and called on an old friend in Athens who sent me off to see a man he called Bill who turned out to be the same man who had first “discovered” the text and published a small article on it in the early part of this century. When looking at obscure texts, the chances are that you are dealing with just a handful of people who know about them, translate them and use them. So, I had a fruitful and entertaining correspondence with Professor Bill Berg, the very man responsible for digging up this brilliant little gem. For my part, I was struggling with elements of the paragraph which seemed to me to be deeply anti-semitic and he agreed. So that was that. They are not important to the argument but they suggest that the man who was writing was doing so quickly and with alot of passion. It is not really surprising that this was the man who single-handedly fractured the Church. Many Catholics today dismiss the “filioque” dispute as a linguistic quibble and I remember having a long debate about this over a few weeks in the letters page of the Athens News, but the Greeks and Russians still regard the issues in the filioque as central to their decision to perpetuate the schism. For Photios and the modern Orthodox one of the central issues of the filioque is its origin in the writings of Augustine and this itself taints the theology of Augustine for the Orthodox.certainly. I think this is why there is a slightly different understanding of “original sin” in the East. In the film, I make reference to a number of “Church fathers” among them St John Chrysostom and St Athanasius.

Here is St Athanasius:

athanasiussmall

St John Chrysostom who wrote the text used for the Liturgy every sunday in Orthodoxy has also got a reputation for intollerance. This needs more examination, and again may need to be put in context.

gay chrysostomos small

Romans 2: 26-27:

Back to Romans. The verse Photios is considering is Chapter 2. 26-27.

This is what it looks like in Greek:

ἐὰν οὖν ἡ ἀκροβυστία τὰ δικαιώματα τοῦ νόμου φυλάσσῃ, [a]οὐχ ἡ ἀκροβυστία αὐτοῦ εἰς περιτομὴν λογισθήσεται; καὶ κρινεῖ ἡ ἐκ φύσεως ἀκροβυστία τὸν νόμον τελοῦσα σὲ τὸν διὰ γράμματος καὶ περιτομῆς παραβάτην νόμου.

Ands this is the standard English translation:

So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

Photios says about this:

(Photios’ words in brackets here)

“for the Jews, (them) Paul (he) talks about the Torah (the law); for the uncircumcised, he talks about the ‘justices of the law’ not the whole law but only a specific part.”

Photios has not quite gone all the way but it can be demonstrated by statements in, for instance, the beginning of Luke when Luke describes Zacharia and his wife keeping “all the jobs and justices of the law” that there are two different parts to the Torah and that these two parts were acknowledged as such at the time of Christ. Things change when the Temple falls in AD 70- and Judaism redefines itself as rabbinic or Pharisaic Judaism so this may explain why such a distinction gets lost.

traditional2

The Golden Rule is the King’s Law

“The Golden Rule” (to love one another), broadly speaking, is that part of the Torah which is endorsed by Paul as central to the Christian life and is also flagged up by Jesus. Let me explain!! The measure of our relationship with God is to be found in our relationship with one another. This is defined by Christ in the Golden Rule, (Mtt 7:12: Πάντα οὖν ὅσα [a]ἐὰν θέλητε ἵνα ποιῶσιν ὑμῖν οἱ ἄνθρωποι, οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς ποιεῖτε αὐτοῖς· οὗτος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ νόμος καὶ οἱ προφῆται.) but it is also found in Hillel (Shabbat 31a: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn) and is embedded in Lev xix 18.

In the epistle of James, this is called “the Kingly law”:

james 2:8:

Εἰ μέντοι νόμον τελεῖτε βασιλικὸν κατὰ τὴν γραφήν Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν, καλῶς ποιεῖτε·

Now, a “kingly law” was regarded in the ancient world as something that took precedence over any other existing laws. An example of this can be found in Pergamum (Deissmann) but the idea is fairly straightforward. If Christ had issued the Golden rule as a “kingly law” then that takes precedence over anything else in the Torah. The Golden rule is to deal well with others. It is not about cultic practice. In other words, the Gentile might well be able to keep the “kingly law” (which sums up the whole Torah anyway) in the knowledge that he can not keep the  Torah itself. This happens at a time when elements of Pharasaic Judaism were perhaps getting out of control. People were indulging in the cultic observances as a way to make up for their failing with one another. David Wood suggests that this is the kernel of Paul’s message- that no amount of cultic obedience can erase offences to the Golden rule. That is paramount and trumps the cultic laws, because the “kingly law” is absolute.

In terms of the two types of law, and here I think the film does an adequate enough job in part 3:

paRT 2 NEW IDEAS FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT

 Homosexuality falls into those laws defined as “cultic”: rather than into those laws that support the “Golden Rule”, what Wood calls “the Justices”. Paul might not like Homosexuality (personally) but he does not think it is something that will damn someone to eternal death, particularly if they are mindful of the Golden Rule. What is damning instead is nastiness, and spite and I suppose writing hateful things in a blog. We must be nice to Jehovah’s witnesses when they knock on the door. Be nice but do not necessarily agree with what they say. Islam!! When I began this study, I fully intended to broaden the film with an episode about Islam, partly because I had heard of a (mostly underground) gay mosque in Paris. There is a big debate in Islam about toleration. I think it comes down to three verses from the Koran which I shall print here: The first is from Sura 5.51 which says that Muslims should not be friends with people of other faiths, specifically Jews and Christians.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَتَّخِذُوا الْيَهُودَ وَالنَّصَارَىٰ أَوْلِيَاءَ ۘ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَلَّهُم مِّنكُمْ فَإِنَّهُ مِنْهُمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ

But if this is seen in the light of Surah 5.58, where it judges that “these people” do not take Islam seriously enough –

 وَإِذَا نَادَيْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلَاةِ اتَّخَذُوهَا هُزُوًا وَلَعِبًا ۚ ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَوْمٌ لَّا يَعْقِلُونَ

then, the real position is to be discovered in Surah 60.8:

 عَسَى اللَّهُ أَن يَجْعَلَ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَ الَّذِينَ عَادَيْتُم مِّنْهُم مَّوَدَّةً ۚ وَاللَّهُ قَدِيرٌ ۚ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
which urges Muslims to befriend their enemy.
In other words, if you are confident enough about your own identity, it makes sense to befriend others who either reject that identity or who do not share it. The more we talk with our “enemies”, the more we both learn.
Conclusion
Nothing comes from prejudice and hatred.
A Political postscript:
drawing from earlier this year: debate on Question time about the impact of Gay Marriage:
gay marriage
Humanitarian Mosque
It is worth checking out the following link which is about a “humanitarian Mosque” in South Africa catering to gay muslims. My own instinct is that such division should be unnecessary but the fact that this debate is opening in Islam tells us just how progressive the religion has become. At the same time, of course, there is also all the nonsense promoted by ISIS. It is salutary to think that at the same time that the Crusades were being waged in the name of Christ, there was also St Francis of Assisi. Maybe the fact that the latest Pope has taken the name Francis is a reason to hope for more tolerance in a world that has gone a little crazy.
gay-muslims-find-sanctuary-in-south-africas-peoples-mosque-body-image-1432847175