Fr Thomas Plant, Tokyo-based Anglican priest and comparative theologian

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Mothering Sunday 2013

Obesity. Alcoholism. Depression. Just some of the symptoms of sick Britain, identified last week as the unhealthiest country in Europe. And so, the government wants to hike taxes to change our behaviour.

We love to think that we are free. Perhaps you get angry when the government sets its mind on curtailing our freedoms. I know I do, when they raise the price of beer to stop us from drinking as much of it. But I always know that actually, however expensive they make it, I’m still going to drink just as much. I’m not saying I’m addicted or anything, but it does raise the question: actually, how free am I, really, when it comes to drinking beer? My freedom is limited, I suppose, by how much money I have in my wallet to spend on the stuff, but if I get as far as four pints, that never seems to matter so much. I’m probably going to carry on, anyway. So in a way, maybe the limits that the government tries to set on my freedom, the external limits to my freedom, are a bit of a red herring. Actually, it’s the decision I’ve made on my own to have four pints that is going to limit my freedom and push me into having a fifth and a couple of whiskey chasers. By making choices, I limit my own freedom.

Part of the problem, I think, is confusing ‘freedom’ with ‘choice.’ The fact that we can make choices does not necessarily mean we have freedom, and in fact, many of the choices we make end up imprisoning us. We think we are free to choose what to eat, how much to drink, how much exercise to take, how much TV to watch, how much time to invest in our work – but the freedom is all too often just an illusion. Our continued choices end up as habits, even at worst addictions. So true freedom cannot just be a matter of choice.

Looking at it a different way, there are choices that we simply can’t make, but we don’t think of them as limits on our freedom. We cannot choose to grow wings or breathe underwater. A man cannot choose to give birth. A woman cannot give birth to an owl. But we don’t, unless we’re a bit mad, view these limitations of choice as restrictions of our freedom. So again, freedom cannot just be about choices.

So what is true freedom? Well, the Church has traditionally thought about this question by looking to Mary. It is Mary, after all, saying “yes” to God’s angel, “be it unto me according to Thy word,” who brought God into the world as the Christ child. And we say that Mary responded freely to God’s command: after all, what kind of God would He be if He forced her? What kind of “love” could God be if the love were not freely given and freely received? If Mary were not free in the matter, God would not be a lover, but a rapist.

That said, we have to be careful not to make Mary’s freedom simply a matter of choice – as though she might have said “no,” so that Christ would not have born and the world would not have been saved. We must not make the Gospel into a novel or a soap opera. It was part of God’s eternal plan that Christ must be born, the world must be saved. Mary had to be the mother of God. And there’s the rub. Somehow we have to reconcile the fact that God planned Christ’s birth and chose Mary, with the fact that Mary freely obeyed God’s command.

The traditional answer to this conundrum takes us back to the distinction between freedom and choice.

First, there is the matter of habits. Mary, formed by the community of the Jewish faith, a member of the race of Israel, was inculcated in good habits, habits of prayer and godly living. She was, as we all are, the product of her upbringing, in her case, upbringing within God’s chosen people.

Secondly, and because of this, Mary’s nature was to obey God. Just as we cannot choose to breathe underwater or fly, it was simply not in her nature to disobey God. But this is not a limit on her freedom, any more than our freedom is limited by our lack of gills or wings. Rather, her true freedom was to follow her true nature.

There’s a lot of talk today about ‘being yourself,’ and maybe there is something to it. What I don’t think it means for a Christian, though, is the sort of ‘being yourself’ in the sense of ‘take me as I am,’ ‘like me or lump me,’ which is basically just an excuse for rudeness. The problem with that sort of ‘being yourself’ is that it rests on a false understanding of what the ‘self’ really is. The Church teaches that we are made in the image of God; that our true self is naturally good and godly. We sin when we fall for the false freedom of choices, choices that pull us away from that good nature, away from our true selves. True freedom is found in following our true divine nature, being our true divine selves.

As the handmaiden or servant of the Lord, obeying His command, Mary was being totally authentic to herself and so totally free. But she was also being just as authentically herself as Mother of God. Many things may stand in the way, but the love of a mother for her child is something fundamentally natural, as is the love the child returns to the mother. I have read one theologian saying that as soon as a baby knows a mother’s love, the baby knows God. In that loving bond, there is complete authenticity – it is true love, and almost automatic, but surely no one would say it was ‘forced.’ It is naturally free. And that love is the model Mary, Mother of God, gives us for our natural, true and free relationship with God, through which we can be ourselves, Our true selves, as He made us to be.

So as we give thanks to God today for our mothers, let us remember the naturally free love that they have given us, that Mary gave Jesus, and Jesus gave us; and so seek to live our lives not by the false freedom of choices but going with God’s flow of self-giving love. For only when we are slaves to divine love will we be truly free.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

“Divine Women” – Dr Bettany Hughes on the BBC

I’ve just watched (rather belatedly) the second episode of Dr Bettany Hughes’ BBC series, ‘Divine Women,’ where she talks about the role of women in the early Church. I can only say – don’t be taken in by it! Especially if you are an advocate of women’s ordination to the priesthood, because the patina of half-truths, omissions and outright fabrications that Dr Hughes presents will only discredit your position. It all sounds so credible, and I’d love to believe it – but sadly, it simply is not.

Even before we get to the detail, the very presentation of the programme shows that Dr Hughes is on a PR exercise designed to pull the wool over viewers’ eyes. Once in a while, I’m sure, the Beeb does still manage to present unbiased, critically balanced documentaries, but this is not one of them. Leaving aside the doom-laden music used whenever anything Hughes deems ‘anti-women’ comes up, or the looks of smug condescension she gives to interviewees she disagrees with, there is a clear bias in the editing of her interviews. She interviews a straw woman of a Roman Catholic academic whose arguments are tossed away with the raise of Dr Hughes’ well-plucked eyebrow; and when the Roman Catholic priest she interviews tells her no more than that women enjoyed prestige and influence in the early Church, Dr Hughes implies that he is suggesting that women were ordained to the priesthood and episcopate. Fr Scott may think such things, but he never said or even implied them – yet this did not stop Dr Hughes from misrepresenting him to her own ends.

It is not only people, but simply matters of fact that Hughes misrepresents, all the while declaring herself an ‘historian.’ In some cases, she even contradicts herself. She bewails the fact that there are no images of women in vestments after the first couple of centuries of the Church, and then shows us the famous image of ‘Episcopa Theodora’ to suggest that women were ordained bishop. She neglects to mention, however, that the image dates to the ninth century, by which time there is absolutely no evidence that women were ordained to any order. Nor does she mention that it was common in those days for a bishop’s wife or even mother to be known as ‘Episcopa.’

On one occasion, she finds an early mosaic of a woman wearing a vestment which she claims is an alb, saying that this vestment was worn only by priests. First, this is not true: other orders also wore albs (and lay servers wear them to this day). Second, the ‘alb’ looks more like a dalmatic, the vestment of a deacon, anyway. The history of these garments is notoriously vague. Certainly, in this and other images, women are clearly adopting positions of influence in the Church, and often seem to be preaching. Yet there is no evidence whatsoever of a woman celebrating the Eucharist. Why do you suppose Dr Hughes fails to mention this?

Her treatment of the apocryphal ‘Acts of Paul and Thecla’ is particularly frustrating. She makes out that this book was left out of the canon of scripture because of later bishops’ misogyny. In fact, it was left out because it was written considerably later than the canonical scriptures and relates to a presbyter called Paul, active around the mid second-century, who had nothing to do with the Apostle Paul. In this case Dr Hughes is dishonest by omission. As far as the viewer is left aware, her (minority) view is the only one.

There are plenty of good arguments for women to be ordained priest and bishop, but Dr Hughes’ montage of half-truths, seductively draped with emotive music and conspiratorial sub-Dan Brown cliffhangers only detracts from them. Dr Hughes presents convenient fringe views as the scholarly consensus, and the joint imprimatur of the BBC and the letters after her name will lead viewers to assume that her view is authoritative. Both she and the BBC owe it to their viewers to exercise far more balance and discretion. History should not be a tool of propaganda, even for a position one agrees with.

As one (no doubt heavily edited) interviewee said, ‘the Church knows her history.’ It is a shame that Dr Hughes either does not, or chooses for convenience to ignore it – and a greater shame on the BBC for airing such blatant propaganda.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

De Botton: “only religion takes sex seriously.”

De Botton recently defended his latest book, Religion for Atheists, in the Spectator from crushing reviews by Terry Eagleton, among others. I haven’t read the book and probably won’t, given that Eagleton’s indictment is far more interesting than de Botton’s rebuffal of it.

That said, de Botton did say one thing in the Spectator article which made me ponder:

“Three of my fellow males admitted they’d recently come through profound periods of internet porn addiction – not the mild curiosity one can expect, the sort where you can’t wait to get home to look up the latest offering and are up till 3a.m. every night. This makes me think that nowadays, only religions really still take sex seriously, in the sense of properly respecting its power to turn us away from our priorities.”

I’d be among the first to admit that the Church has of late been depressingly one-tracked minded, particularly as far as homosexuality, the status of women and contraception go. And of course, one could say that after last year’s abominable scandals among so many churches, religious people should put their own houses in order before they dare to tell anyone else about sex.

Still, I think de Botton has a point. While we may scorns certain religions’ insistence on women covering up, as de Botton puts it, even the ‘glimpse of a pair of knees’ can really turn someone’s life upside down if it leads to adultery or to porn addiction: the loss of family, livelihood and even liberty in the worst of cases. Perhaps I am transferring my own proclivities, but it does seem that sex is one of humanity’s greatest weaknesses of the will.

Much of our culture teaches that sex is little more than a marketing tool or a vehicle of self-expression. Few voices challenge these notions, and outside the religions, very few indeed. I have yet to encounter a convincing secular resistance to the power and sheer danger of human sexuality, and certainly none that affirms the great responsibility that comes with its gift.

Ironically, considering the patriarchal order of so many religions, feminists seem to have a stronger voice within the Church than their counterparts in the secular world, which tends increasingly to laugh off their concerns. If this is not so, then it should be. In a world where the woman’s body has become the ultimate consumer luxury, we need a firm riposte. The religious recognition of sex and each individual person as sacred is one such. It may not be the only one, but as de Botton points out, there are very few voices offering a substantial alternative.

Perhaps I should read his book, after all.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Lay Presidency: Mr Gog’s response

Lay Presidency: Time for Change | ChurchNewspaper.com

According to Atherstone, the Church’s insistence that only a priest may preside at Holy Communion is the last bastion of clericalism that needs to be swept away. The denial of lay presidency, he argues, has ‘no place in today’s church.’ But Mr Gog would suggest the contrary: it is Atherstone’s kind who have no place in the Church of England, and still less in a College training ordinands for Holy Orders.

Just as his ilk tends to veil extreme theology in the modern vesture of pop music, flashy PR, and casual dress, Atherstone clothes regressive theology in an appeal to the spirit of the age. Yet the arguments that he makes are not ’20th century,’ as he claims, but belong to the Puritans of the 16th and 17th. Atherstone is not looking ahead, but back to the Cromwellian Protectorate.  His claims were firmly repudiated by the English Church then, and the repudiation has been continuously endorsed in the successive Books of Common Prayer which remain the touchstone of Anglican doctrine today.

The first giveaway is his use of quotation marks around the word ‘priest,’ the word that has been used without exception in all Anglican ordinals. This was despite the Puritans’ insistence on the term ‘presbyter,’ which went hand-in-hand with their desire to abolish episcopacy. If he wishes to belong to a presbyterian church, then so be it: but the Church of England is not and never should be so.

As for the substantive ‘mistakes’ Atherstone outlines, his assumptions are highly questionable:

1. That “the ministry of the word (which may be entrusted to authorized lay people) is less important than the ministry of the sacraments.”
The Church maintains that, according to biblical witness, the two sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are essential to salvation. We might note that Jesus wrote nothing Himself, but made Himself known in the breaking of the bread and ordered his disciples to go out and baptise. Regardless of one’s eucharistic theology, Laudians and Puritans alike insisted on frequent reception of Holy Communion, with proper preparation and reverence. The sacraments are at the very least as important as the ministry of the Word, and arguably more so.

2. ‘Baptism (which may be administered by a deacon) is less important than the Lord’s Supper.’
Baptism is the precursor to Communion, and not the other way around, and according to the Exhortation in the Book of Common Prayer, it is the Communion ‘whereby alone we obtain remission of our sins, and are made partakers of the Kingdom of heaven.’ Indeed, from the earliest days of the Church, one was baptised in order to be allowed to receive Communion. Surely the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is the central event of Christian history, and its sacrament therefore the most important in Christian worship?

3. ‘The essence of ordination to the presbyterate (or ‘priesthood’) is to allow the minister to lead Holy Communion.’
Half of its essence, at least, as the ordinal by which Atherstone himself was ordained made clear when he was explicitly ordained a ‘priest’ as ‘minister of Word and Sacrament.’ As all candidates for ordination to the priesthood, he was asked by his bishop: ‘will you faithfully minister the doctrine and sacraments of Christ as the Church of England has received them?’ From his article, it seems that he intends to do no such thing. If his understanding of Christian ministry does not involve the ministry of a priest as defined by the Church of England, particularly in its rubrics on the celebration of Holy Communion, then one might ask him how he justified himself being ordained to that Order. Like it or not, and dress it up in what language he may, Atherstone was ordained a priest, and a priest he remains.

4. ‘The presbyter (or ‘priest’) is a different class of Christian.’
 Of course, as is the Reader, the Deacon, the lay youth worker, the organist, the schoolteacher, the shopkeep, the nurse or the bishop. The people of Christ have diverse callings. The priest’s is defined particularly by the celebration of the Holy Communion. As Atherstone points out, that is the only thing distinguishing a priest from the deacon. Remove the distinction, and we remove the orders of priest and deacon altogether. If the abolition of threefold Catholic orders from the English Church is the subtext of Atherstone’s argument, he might have the honestly to declare so openly. Or perhaps he would retain the orders of deacon and presbyter as distinctions of ‘managerial’ rank, though quite how this would escape the allegations of clericalism that he assumes, I do not know.

5. ‘The validity of the sacrament depends upon the person who presides.’
On the contrary, it depends upon God’s Holy Spirit acting through the order of the Church, which in the Church of England follows the historical threefold ministry. It is not at all dependent on who the priest happens to be, but on the fact that he or she is a priest, ordained by an apostolically descended bishop to that specific ministry. A personality cult is far more likely to emerge in a more flexible, congregationalist model of ministry where authority is accorded by little more than popular acclaim. Again, this is a wholesale rejection of the church order in which Atherstone was ordained, and requires far more than a paragraph to defend, just as it surely requires far more than a bullet-point for him to demolish.

6. ‘The Lord’s Supper is a ministerial activity.’
This point is hard to argue, since its sense is so vague. But if it means that it is an activity proper to the minister of a flock, i.e. to a pastor, then again, the ordinal makes it clear that this is so. The duty of the priest there stated is indeed to ‘to preside at the Lord’s table and lead his people in worship, offering with them a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.’ By the early AD 100s, it is clear that only the bishop presided at Communion, and there is no reason to suppose that such was not the case even earlier. This duty was later delegated by the bishop to the presbyter. But never in the history of the Christian church do we find any record of its celebration by lay persons, except by certain gnostic sects repudiated by the Fathers. Our only evidence shows that leadership at the table or altar was connected to leadership of the congregation.
The fact that not only an Anglican priest, but one involved in the training of future clergy, can even dare to write such an article as this shows how fragile the good order of the Church of England has become. There is a battle for its soul which puritanical Evangelicals like Atherstone are keen to win, flushing away not just hundreds of years of post-reformation moderation and balance, but our continuity with the pre-Reformation Church altogether. Atherstone frames the debate in terms of modernity and updating, but in reality, he wants to take us straight back to the tired old debates of the 1600s. Most Anglicans, the real Anglican mainstream, moved beyond that decades ago.

If he and his kind do get their way, we will be back to the age when candles, crosses, vestments and even organs were illegal, and the beauty, order and ecclesiological integrity of the Church of England will be lost forever. No more grand royal weddings in Westminster Abbey: the few who remain in our newly narrow church will be treated to some sort of worship band-driven pop gig-cum-Bible study instead.

I can only ask: if Atherstone objects so much to Anglican church order, then why does he not follow his conscience and leave?  Oh, for a Church without Puritans. 

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Telling people about Jesus

“Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.” 

At a gathering of ordinands from various colleges, I remember one enthusiastic young thing piping up that what he most looked forward to about being ordained was ‘telling people about Jesus.’  I’ll leave it to you to guess which theological college he came from (and no, it’s not in Cambridge).
Back in my atheist days, the last thing I wanted was for someone to come up and ‘tell me about Jesus.’ Nothing could put me off Christianity more. In fact, I still get pretty miffed when people try it on with me even now. Who do they think they are?
For me, the appeal of being ordained is doing the Lord’s work, rather than ‘telling’ people anything.  After all, our Lord Himself did not go around ‘telling people about Jesus,’ and in fact, He often instructed His disciples to do just the opposite. Even after the Resurrection, He made Himself known not through words, but through the breaking of the bread. The depths of that sacrament teach far more about God than any of our pious prattle can manage.
Perhaps if we Christians could stop trying to tell people so much about Jesus and started trying to be more like Him, they would be more inclined to learn about Him. Show the Way, and people will follow.
Or, to paraphrase St Francis: preach the Gospel.  Use words if you have to.
The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

2000 years of darkness

“Not particularly religious? Interested? Spiritual? You’ve thought about eternity for twenty-five minutes and think you’ve come to some interesting conclusions?”

If only I didn’t agree with him.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Public prayer to be outlawed in France

A dark and frightening warning for our future from France.  Say goodbye to any outdoor processions of the Blessed Virgin or the Sacrament through the streets.  Presumably, you could be arrested for saying grace before a meal outside a café or crossing yourself as a hearse passes. They are even threatening to use force. Yet you can wear a belt instead of a skirt or eff and blind as loudly as you like. This, apparently, is less offensive to the French public’s sympathies. How long before France encourages the EU to adopt and impose this oppressive legislation on its member states, I wonder? This is very much a time for solidarity with our Muslim brethren. 



Daily Telegraph: Praying in Paris streets outlawed

Praying in the streets of Paris is against the law starting Friday, after the interior minister warned that police will use force if Muslims, and those of any other faith, disobey the new rule to keep the French capital’s public spaces secular.

Praying in Paris streets outlawed

Claude Guéant promised the new legislation would be followed to the letter Photo: AFP/GETTY
Henry Samuel
By , Paris
5:56PM BST 15 Sep 2011


Claude Guéant said that ban could later be extended to the rest ofFrance, in particular to the Mediterranean cities of Nice and Marseilles, where “the problem persists”.
He promised the new legislation would be followed to the letter as it “hurts the sensitivities of many of our fellow citizens”.
“My vigilance will be unflinching for the law to be applied. Praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism, the minister told Le Figaro newspaper.
“All Muslim leaders are in agreement,” he insisted.
In December when Marine Le Pen, then leader-in-waiting of the far-Right National Front, sparked outrage by likening the practice to the Nazi occupation of Paris in the Second World War “without the tanks or soldiers”. She said it was a “political act of fundamentalists”.
More than half of right-wing sympathisers in France agreed with Marine Le Pen, at least one poll suggested.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s party denounced the comments, but the President called for a debate on Islam and secularism and went on to say that multiculturalism had failed in France.
Following the debate, Mr Guéant promised a countrywide ban “within months”, saying the “street is for driving in, not praying”.
In April, a ban on wearing the full Islamic veil came into force. Holland today became the third European country to ban the burka, after Belgium, despite the fact fewer than 100 Dutch women are thought to wear the face-covering Islamic dress.
Yesterday, Mr Guéant said the prayer problem was limited to two roads in the Goutte d’Or district of Paris’s eastern 19th arrondissement, where “more than a thousand” people blocked the street every Friday.
However, a stroll through several districts in Paris on a Friday suggests that Muslims spill into the streets outside many mosques.
Under an agreement signed this week, believers will be able to use the premises of a vast nearby fire station while awaiting the construction of a bigger mosque.
“We could go as far as using force if necessary (to impose the ban), but it’s a scenario I don’t believe will happen, as dialogue (with local religious leaders) has born fruit,” he said.
Sheikh Mohamed salah Hamza, in charge of one of the Parisian mosques which regularly overflows, said he would obey the new law, but complained: “We are not cattle” and that he was “not entirely satisfied” with the new location. He said he feared many believers would continue to prefer going to the smaller mosque.
Public funding of places of religious worship is banned under a 1905 law separating church and state. Mr Guéant said that there were 2,000 mosques in France with half being built in the past ten years.
France has Europe’s largest Muslim population, with an estimated five million in total.
The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

I have often wondered whether the Church of England might be the spiritual wing of the Labour Party, but I never thought of the Church Times as the Socialist Worker – until 26 August, when a Trotskyite tirade by one Dr Northcott was juxtaposed with Simon Parke preaching that all property is theft.
Presumably the editor thought Northcott’s political musings suitable for publication because of the bit of Christianity tagged on at the end.  Yet it would take a cynic indeed to believe, as Northcott opined, that the wicked Tories want to destroy state education, the NHS and the notion of society, or that their economic policy is intended as a clandestine assault on democracy.  I think I last heard such conspiracy theories from a Marxist undergraduate in 1997.
Dr Northcott is right that capitalism is partly to blame for the recent riots.  But his argument is insufficient because the rioters are also the product of a Labour government which poured unprecedentedly vast (borrowed) funds into welfare, education and the health system.
A more balanced analysis might suggest that we are suffering from the worst elements not just of capitalism, but also of liberalism and socialism.  The best of liberalism instils self-criticism, the worst self-justification; the best of capitalism a work ethic, the worst greed; the best of socialism care for the weak, the worst a sense of entitlement.  Combine that sense of entitlement with a lust for luxuries and the belief that one’s actions are beyond reproach, and you have exactly the ‘sheer criminality’ that the Prime Minister has diagnosed.
Socialists do not have a monopoly on social justice, and many of Dr Northcott’s fellow Christians voted Conservative in the belief that poverty will be lifted only by reducing the dependency of the poor on the State.  Measures to this end include boosting economic prosperity, restoring the nuclear family to its position as the base social unit, and returning to the quality of education lost when grammar schools were closed in the name of leftist ideology.  It is uncharitable to write these off as crypto-neoconservative moneygrabbing.
As an aside, after Dr Pridmore’s drubbing in that week’s Letters, where he dismissed most worship songs as the vacuous trash that they are, he may be pleased to know that many ordinands still believe that the Church should be bringing the best of culture to the poor, rather than the worst to the rich; some rebels even dare secretly to long for the day when the Church of England was still the Tory Party at prayer.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Ordinands, be warned!

A note to fellow Anglican ordinands of more old-fashioned bent: if you think our seminaries are wary of traditionalists, have a look at how they’re treated over the Tiber.

New Liturgical Movement: Fr. Christopher Smith on Seminarians and the Usus Antiquior

Time to change the dust-jacket on those BCPs, English Missals and Sarum Primers, friends. Perhaps we could print our own. Something like ‘Worshipping Niceness’ should do.
The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Dionysius the Areopagite: Who he?

ἔστι τῆς θεολογίας ἡ θεουργία συγκεφαλαίωσις

‘Theurgy is the consummation of theology’ (Ps.-Dionysius, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy 3.5, 432B)
In a General Audience of 14 May 2008, Pope Benedict XVI delivered an address on what he called the ‘rather mysterious figure’ who wrote as Dionysius the Areopagite. To this Dionysius, the Pope attributes a ‘new relevance’ as ‘a great mediator in the modern dialogue between Christianity and the mystical theologies of Asia’. Dionysius describes a negative path of speaking about God – that is, ‘theology’ in its fundamental sense. In this view, God is so far beyond the power of mortal speech and thought that one is limited to describing Him properly not by what He is, but only by what He is not. The Pope supposes a parallel here with what he reads as the extreme apophaticism of Asian thought. An apophatic and mysterious timbre can be seen even in the author of the Dionysian corpus’ refusal to give the reader his true name. He wrote some five centuries after his adopted namesake, whose conversion by S. Paul is recounted in Acts 17. This we surmise from his heavy reliance on the philosophy of Proclus, who died in AD 485. 
Benedict cites two well known hypotheses for Dionysius’ adoption of the pseudonym. The first, which Benedict himself rejects, is that the author wished to give his work a ‘quasi apostolic authority’ (Benedict 2009:80). Going further along this line, Rosemary Arthur suggests that ‘Dionysius’ is in fact a cabal of monophysites hiding behind the pseudonym to protect themselves from persecution by pro-Chalcedonian authorities. To her, this pseudonymity betrays cowardice and a lack of integrity. 

However, Benedict’s second and more charitable reading enjoys greater scholarly consensus to date, namely that the author of the Corpus ‘did not want to glorify his own name … but rather truly to serve the Gospel, to create an ecclesial theology, neither individual nor based on himself.’  This should not be taken just as the anodyne praise or wishful thinking of a devout Catholic. In 2007, Gorazd Kocijančič suggested that Dionysius’ very philosophical method informs his adoption of the pseudonym. Dionysius maintains both the identity of individual beings, himself included, and their unification with the divine in apotheosis. Kocijančič takes as his proof text MT 1.3, 1001A, which describes the ascent of Moses up Mount Sinai as a metaphor for the spiritual journey of deification. At the peak of unity with the divine, Moses is ‘neither oneself nor someone else,’ such that his oneness with the divine ‘does not mean the demise of the radical difference which separates all creation from its Principle.’  The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, the holy order of the Church, has as its purpose the communal achievement of this end, the ‘pulling together’ (symptyxis) of discrete beings into a divine unity which does not replace that order, but consolidates it as community, koinonia. As a participant in this deifying community, moving ever towards greater unity with the saints already in union with the divine, the author of the Corpus becomes ‘Paul’s disciple in the very experience of being deified’ and is therefore ‘ontologically entitled to take over any name: including the name ‘Denys [i.e. Dionysius], the pupil of Paul.’  Yet, crucially, he remains also anonymous: not himself and yet not someone else. Following Kocijančič’s reading, we find even in the basic fact of Dionysius’ pseudonymity a rejection of simple dualism between self and God, and yet also the insistence on their absolute difference. 
Charles Stang, it seems independently, reached a similar conclusion a year later in his doctoral dissertation of 2008, published in 2009. Where Kocijančič’s frame of reference is principally philosophical, Stang draws on theories of pseudonymity within Christian and Jewish theological tradition. Nonetheless, Stang draws from the same passage of the MT as Kocijančič the complementary observation that the Dionysian author’s pseudonymity is itself a ‘path of unknowing God and the self’: 
– – ‘a practice that stretches the self to the point that it splits, renders the self unsaid, that is, unseated from its knowing center, unknown to itself and so better placed, because displaced, to suffer union with “him who has made the shadows his hiding place”‘. 
So, Stang emphasises the ecstastic breakdown of the individual self in openness to divine love, Kocijančič the communal gathering in of many such destabilised selves in the body of the Church. Nevertheless, both differ from Arthur’s reading of Dionysius’ pseudonymity as self-aggrandising and defensive. In common with Pope Benedict, they see it instead as integral to the author’s apophatic theological practice. 
Having established good reasons for Dionysius’ practice of pseudonymity, Benedict goes on to illustrate the significance of Dionysius’ precise choice of moniker. Kocijančič indicates only that Dionysius as a result of his koinonia with the Church en route of apotheosis might have chosen ‘any name,’ without speculating on why he made the choice he did. Arthur seems to accept the thesis, rejected by Benedict, that Dionysius uses the name to aggregate pseudo-apostolic authority, and goes further still, arguing that he owes more to Philo than to S. Paul. Yet Benedict assures us that the author, identifying himself with the Greek philosopher converted at the Areopagus, intended ‘to put Greek wisdom at the service of the Gospel, to foster the encounter of Greek culture and intelligence with the proclamation of Christ.’  Stang consolidates this point, reminding us that Paul’s speech at the Areopagus in Acts 17 gives a scriptural start point for the CD’s characteristic obsession with ἀγνωσία, ‘unknowing’: ‘What therefore you unknowingly worship, this I proclaim to you’ (Acts 17.23). Indeed, Stang writes, Dionysius can legitimately interpret ὃ ἀγνοοῦντες εὐσεβεῖτε to mean ‘what you worship through unknowing,’ that is, through ἀγνωσία (Stang 2009:15). Thus the choice of pseudonym is not incidental, but reflects Dionysius’ concern to baptize pagan Greek learning to Christian ends.  
The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

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