The Philosophy of Cult (3): Cult at the Center of Classical Culture

Part I: Introduction
Part II: Method

The next parts of the paper I deemed too boring….so I’m skipping to the historical section. Perhaps I will post the whole next week.



An Historical Illustration

a) The Unity of Ancient Religious Culture

Florensky moves on to justify his theoretical solution with an historical illustration. If he is able to show that, from an empirical perspective, religious cult has been the coordinating center of human activity throughout the history of human civilization, it lends credence to his claim that Divine Incarnation is the universal interior logic of human culture.

He first gives a brief rehearsal of the Slavophile critique of Western cultural decadence. The incoherence of modern western, humanistic civilization can be traced to the dissociation of culture and cult. Once the arts and sciences asserted their independence from religion they became superficial and sacrilegious. “Thus they lost their true utility and with it their certainty of their own undeniable necessity” (126). They are no longer “effective realities” but “intentional operations.” Things have become mere objects of practical use, and concepts are not longer links with the divine world but only utilitarian categories: a wholly “secular civilization” (126).[1]

But it was not always so. In the past, cult and culture were intimately linked, and any attempt to part an artistic or intellectual work from its divine source was considered sacrilege: “Historically, the fine arts are rings on the chain, or fledglings from the nest, of a more serious and creative art: the art of divine action, theurgy… the ‘maternal bosom’ of all the arts and sciences. The name for activity that claimed autonomy from theurgy was sacrilege” (125).

Since Florensky is rather impatient about historical particulars in this fragmentary work, we have to fill in the historical material ourselves, and this might be done by taking Greek culture as an example. The Greeks considered every art—even the most menial—to be a gift from the gods. The fine arts in particular were not only directly inspired by divine beings—the Graces and Muses—but participations in divine realities. The harmonic ratios, astronomical science, and the ideal forms of the marble statue are incarnations of the divine music that could harmonize one’s own soul. Artistic production in this view is participation in the divine work, a revelation of nous, a spiritual purification, an extension of divine incarnation. All works of culture—moral, practical, political, intellectual—are united in the one craft of divinization: making men god-like.

b) The Unity of Ancient Religious Culture: Pierre Hadot and Others

Florensky’s reading is supported by scholars of antiquity. In his classic studies of ancient philosophical culture, for example, Pierre Hadot argues that for the ancients, the task of the philosopher was not primarily one of communicating “an encyclopedic knowledge in the form of a system of propositions and of concepts that would reflect, more or less well, the system of the world.”[2] Rather, “the teaching and training of philosophy were intended not simply to develop the intelligence of the disciple, but to transform all aspects of his being.”[3] Ancient philosophy was a set of spiritual exercises aiming at spiritual “metamorphosis” and “transformation.” Each discipline had both a theoretical and spiritual aspect, so that the Stoics spoke of a “lived logic, lived physics, lived ethics”[4] which were the sciences as integrated into the unitary pursuit of wisdom. The disciplines of philosophy were not cut up into parts, but considered “a single act, renewed at every instant, that one can describe, without breaking its unity, as being the exercise of logic as well as of physics or of ethics, according to the directions in which it is exercised.”[5]


Religion as Cult

After this preliminary answer to the problem of cult and culture, Florensky proceeds to the second part of his project, to develop an account of human culture based on the philosophy of cult.

He outlines the three possible accounts of human culture, each depending on which tool-making activity one privileges: concept-terms (notiones), machine-tools (instrumenta), or holy things (sacra).

1) Ideologism: (N –> I, S)

If in its search for the sources of being, the intellect is seduced into seeing itself as the sole source of its own activity—e.g. the cogito or Transcendental Ego—it is led to approve a view of culture in which the primary activity is a system of concepts, elaborated by intellectual geniuses, that transcend the empirical world. All acts of production and religious rites “are a simple application of theoretical structures—scientific, mythological, dogmatic.” One first conceives a project in the rational faculty and then enacts it in the practical and religious realms. Under this category we might identify several modern forms of gnosticism, for which religion is a metaphorical expression of the system of abstract truths, which are the superior discourse.[6]

2) Economic Materialism: (I –> N, S)

This view holds that the formation of human culture is driven by the inexorable laws of economy. The cumulative force of infinite small actions produce conditions that define all man’s intellectual and sacral actions. Conceptual systems and sacred rites are ex post facto justification of existing economic arrangements:

“A world-view is really the a posteriori justification of an economic order that has formed itself using its own instruments and arms, through economic and social relationships that derive from it, while cult is the consecration of this very order, also a posteriori” (135).

3) Concrete Idealism (S –> N, I)

In an act of confidence that is tragically ironic in light of subsequent history—though not untrue to the experience of his generation of Russian philosophers—Florensky claims that economic materialism has become passé, ceding its place to a new, as yet undefined view he ventures to call concrete idealism. The term is borrowed from Soloviev, who is never cited in the text, but Florensky chooses to apply the term instead to the fruit of the Cambridge ritualist school of anthropology.[7] It is: “a theory according to which all existence is determined by a type of ritual, incarnate in religion, from which then derive all practical utility and theoretical concepts” (137).

The rationalist schools of the previous century tended to privilege dogma as the primary expression of faith. They looked on dogma as the expression of pure reason, superior to ritual and life, which are poetic elaborations or even obfuscations, of this primary datum. The new school recognizes the central and dominant role of cult in religion, making dogma, myths, and practices ancillary disciplines. (See Excerpts from The Philosophy of Cult (1): What is orthodoxy?)

Florensky gives several striking examples of the contrary view. The Symbol of Faith should not be seen as a compendious dogmatic summary or a declaration of personal or collective faith, but as a liturgical-sacramental performance of unity with the Trinitarian communion of love and thought. In fact, only in this liturgical, Trinitarian communion of love can a true faith in the Trinity be confessed,[8] and outside of it the creed is barren and without meaning:

“Outside the life of the Church there is neither Symbol of faith nor faith, but only something useless and incomprehensible. Thus outside the liturgy the Symbol of faith can be neither understood nor studied, just as, for example, the activity of the human body cannot be understood or studied from some chemically separated elements that were once integral parts” (146-47).

Doctrine is subsidiary, a “moment of cult” and not an independent reality in its own right. Scripture too is only a “liturgical moment,” and to read it outside the liturgy is as sacriligious as it would be to wear a cassock casually in the street.[9]

But one might object: If cult is a symbolic system constructed by a human community, there must be a prescriptive dogma or rational explanation that precedes it, “gets behind it” and mediates its meaning. Florensky denies that this is the case, for reasons consistent with his Neo-Patristic and symbolist inspirations. The ancients never bothered to describe the “meaning” of their rituals, precisely because their exterior forms were thought to be one with their “meanings,” such as not to require the mediation of concepts. Ancient cult is mute because its symbolic expression was understood to convey its message directly. These views are clearly derived from Florensky’s early exposure to the Russian symbolist movement and from Neo-Platonic accounts of religious cult, though in this context he cites the German Protestant theologian Karl Bähr.[10]

This epistemology, be in Symbolist or Neo-Patristic, is the ultimate reason why cultic objects do not require demonstration. The mode of liturgy—a poetic mode—precludes the necessity of rational explanation by the dogmatist or the scientist because it furnishes the participant a contemplative performance of concreted logoi transcending abstract reason. It is a divine condescension, making its forceful appearance in symbolic forms that speak directly to the mind. The force of this superior symbolic discourse explains why the logos of cultic objects requires no demonstration, and so fulfills the criteria for an activity of fruitful antinomy. It is probable that this solution, little justified in this text, will be unsatisfying to the modern reader.[11]

But once again we must recall that Florensky never promised a comprehensive, fully justified account of cult. The Philosophy of Cult is explicitly predicated on a prior subjective experience of divine fear and creatureliness in the face of the Divine Presence in the liturgy. Only the contemplative soul seized by the holy fear of the ceremonies can adequately exegete their contents and expression, and then only in the context of inspired discourse among friends, in the Platonic sense. Thus the ultimate transcendental precondition for unitive experience is not the symbol-structure itself any more than an a priori principle, but the fearful Advent of the Divine Savior upon the Altar. Florensky is conscious that his fragmentary, lecture-based format, delivered to friends, is a performance of this apophatic truth. Nothing could be further from the Kantian ideal.


[1] There is nothing novel in this Romantic-inspired critique of modernity’s technical logic, found everywhere in Khomyakov, for example, and the German Romantics. It is well expressed by Balthasar: “In a world that no longer has enough confidence in itself ot affirm the beautiful, the proofs of the truth have lost their cogency. …Syllogisms may still dutifully clatter away like rotary presses or computers which infallibly spew out an exact number of answers by the minute. But the logic of these answers is itself a mechanism which no longer captivates anyone. The very conclusions are no longer conclusive” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Introduction to The Glory of the Lord, vol. I, San Francisco: Herder, 1982, pg. 19).

[2] Pierre Hadot, “La philosophie antique: une éthique ou une pratique?,” in Études de philosophie ancienne (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2010), 11; cited in Davidson, 21.

[3] Davidson, 21.

[4] Hadot, “La philosophie antique: une ethique ou une ratique?,” 18–29, cited in Davidson, 24.

[5] “It is the same Logos that produces the world, enlightens the human being in his faculty of reasoning and expresses itself in human discourse, while remaining completely identical with itself at all stages of reality. Therefore, physics has for its object the Logos of universal nature, ethics the Logos of reasonable human nature, logic this same Logos expressing itself in human discourse. From start to finish, it is therefore the same force and the same reality that is at the same tiem creative Nature, Norm of conduct and Rule of discourse” (Hadot, “Les divisions des parties de la philosophie,” in Études de philosophie ancienne, 211.)

[6] C.f. Cyril O’Regan, Gnostic Return in Modernity (New York, State University of New York, 2001).

[7]This new way has been elaborated largely by English anthropologists, among whom he names Spencer, Tylor, Jevons, Grant Allen, Robertson Smith, Andrew Lang and of course Frazer; Durkheim, Toutain, Hubert and Mauss and Reinach as sociologists.

In later scholarship, we might also point out the work of Louis Bouyer—e.g. Rite and Man—where he engages with the same body of scholarship and similarly concludes the priority of ritual to myth; and of Pierre Hadot, Roy Rappaport, and Mary Douglas.

[8] As opposed, e.g., to Cornelius Tiele (1830–1902) who wrote: “In doctrine, whether it be mythological and poetic or dogmatic and philosophic, I find the origin of every religion….Only from here do we come to understand what man thinks about his God and his relationship with Him. Cult, ritual, ceremony teach me nothing when I look at them, unless I have some explanation of their meaning” (f. 60, pp. 150-51).

[9] “Let us clarify our meaning with another example. The apostolic letters and the Holy Gospel are often considered books. The Holy Gospel and the holy apostolic letters are not “books,” but rather moments of liturgical action, derived from the liturgy, where they do not have a simply narrative or purely edificatory meaning, but one even more important: precisely an active, sacramental meaning.

In the same way the “books” of the Old Testament which should be read only in prayer, in an active, liturgical manner, and not a passive, mental, theoretical manner. The Psalter, for example, is a book of exorcism. That is why it is read over the dead, to defend them from the wicked powers of the devil. Some of its psalms, such as “Qui habitas in adiutorio altissimi” (Ps 91 [90]), are principally for exorcism, which is why they are embroidered on cinctures and transcribed in cases when spiritual defense is needed, and are recited for defense against rabid dogs and wicked persons. Upon the exorcistic power of the Psalter is based also the spiritual habit of continually repeating the Psalms from memory, even in the midst of doing other things, as a form of spiritual activity and consecration of one’s whole being through the sacramental words [. . . . ] Not only the Psalter, but all of Sacred Scripture has a cultic meaning, not merely a literary one” (The Philosophy of Cult, 147).

[10] “This is surely because in antiquity real and sensible objects were in general held to be immediate images of ideal and suprasensible things. Signs were at the same time words, or even more comprehensible than words” (K.W.C.F. Bahr, Symbolik des Mosaischen Kultus, vol. I, pp. 35–36; pg. 154).

[11] The problem with this epistemology is that it is perhaps insufficiently attentive to the analogical nature of the lumen fidei, as if the liturgical symbols could speak directly to human intelligence without the mediation of supernatural faith. Elsewhere, however, Florensky discusses the process of ascesis and purgation required to experience the liturgical vision: “The isolations of the hierurgos are his ascents into heaven, a sort of spiritual liberation. But each must limit himself to the measure that is given to him, ascending only to the dimension that is proper to him. If someone tried to go beyond the sphere chosen for him, he would enter an atmosphere so rarified, into an element that the fire had so refined, that he would be suffocated and hurtled with broken wings into the recesses of the earth and the depths of the sea. A new little Icarus, he will tumble into the abyss of chaos and spiritual formlessness” (The Philosophy of Cult, 306).

The Philosophy of Cult (2): Method

Part I: Introduction

Trembling Before the Wholly Other:

Method of the Philosophy of Cult

In the inaugural lecture—“The Fear of God”—Florensky defines his subject and explains his method of procedure. He begins invoking the motivating principles of this new discipline: divine love and holy fear. Elaborating these themes in a way reminiscent of Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy, he describes religious fear as the experience of the completely new, the wholly other:

In the series of sensations that come to us from the world, there intrudes itself one that has nothing in common with the others, is comparable with anything us, something completely other. . . It penetrates like a two-edged sword to the point of separation between the soul and the spirit, up to that point of contact between our noumenic essence and the sphere of phenomena, the objects of earthly comprehension. . . This new thing rends the fabric of the ordinary in a way both mysterious and unusual….What reveals itself is not of this world and thus the whole world suddenly feels unstable, vacillating, weak: the ordinary pales in the face of true Being. And with the ordinary pales also our very existence. We end up seeming like tremulous flames exposed to the winds at the extreme edge of nothingness, as non-beings. It is precisely here where we find our eternal support, in Him Who Is from all the ages. Our greatest humiliation is also our greatest exaltation.[1]

But where Otto and others are less explicit, Florensky is unequivocal: this terrifying encounter between heaven and earth takes a definite concrete shape and specificity in space and time, precisely in religious cult:

There is a source, eternal and active, of this fundamental antinomic movement: the perennial dynamism of the “yes” and “no” of our life. It is a volcanic crater in which the lava is never covered by a rocky crust. It is the open window into our reality, through which other worlds appear. It is a breach in our earthly existence, out of which rivers from another world pour to nourish and strengthen us. In a word, it is cult.[2]

Cult is the terrifying eruption of the divine into the earthly plane, into concrete reality. Thus he is in a position to give a preliminary definition of his subject:

The first, fundamental, and most substantial definition of cult is just this: it is that specific part of reality in which the immanent and the transcendent, earthly things and heavenly, things from here and things from there, the fleeting moment and the eternal, the relative and the absolute, the mortal and the immortal encounter one another.[3]

If it is true that cult is fear and trembling before the advent of the Holy, the Wholly Other, how can the philosopher dare to approach liturgy as one intellectual object among others? What can frail words do when only vital contact with the Other yields true understanding? A comprehensive system is not only inconceivable, but downright impious.

Image result for the wholly other

Nevertheless, the philosopher of cult can make a series of halting approaches, clumsy starts that lapse into silence, a ring of concentric motions around the mystery of the cult, without claiming to define cult Itself. In fact, in one sense the method is an apophatic exercise meant to expose cult’s otherness and incomprehensibility when our language so often tends to domesticate it. Why bother? Florensky is ever frank:

I would never have dared to present these conferences before you, except that for many years now I have been tormented—in a positive sense—by this one thought: that the chief cause of the Church’s current collapse has been the lack of attention to and reflexion it has paid to cult, and that the primary job of theology today is precisely in the comprehension and explanation of cult.[4]

This apophatic method sheds light on the literary form of The Philosophy of Cult. Partly as a result of his devotion to Russian Symbolism,[5] Florensky was acutely sensitive to the relation between literary form and content. His Pillar and Ground of Truth is written in the form of 12 affectionate letters to a mysterious friend, which Rudolf Gustafson interprets as a conscious stylistic choice designed to symbolize the dialogue of mystical love which is the work’s central theme. We may read the fragmentary lecture-style of Philosophy of Cult along the same lines: they are a performative contradiction to rationalist philosophy with its pretensions to exhaustive system and autonomy of individual reason. True, “integral” thinking takes place within a community of friends turned toward the liturgical cult in fear. Their utterances can never claim to capture, much less surpass, the transcendent reality they praise.

[to be continued…]


[1] The Philosophy of Cult, 69–70.

[2] Ibid., 70.

[3] Ibid., 71.

[4] Ibid., 102. Thus Florensky intuited one of the principle labors of the 20th century, in which liturgy was discovered and promoted in scholarship of every confession. At his time, liturgics was virtually unknown in Russia.

[5] See Richard Gustafson’s introduction to Pillar and Ground of Truth, pp. ix–xxiii; and Orvacz, pp. 53–54.

Pavel Florensky’s Philosophy of Cult (1918): Introduction

Fr. Pavel Florensky (1882–1937), Russian priest and polymath, theologian and mystic, sometimes styled the “Leonardo da Vinci of Russia” for the breadth of his intellectual accomplishments, left a great part of his writings for later generations to discover and publish after his secret execution in a Soviet forced labor camp in 1937.

Image result for pavel florensky

From his earliest writings,[1] Florensky had spent his life in a vigorous effort to vindicate the truth of the spiritual tradition of Russian Christianity before the whole cosmos of modern thought. His writing on icons is an emblematic example, wedding highly technical discussions on light waves and the physics of space with a creative recovery of patristic icon theology.[2] His most substantial work, Pillar and Ground of Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy,[3] is of seminal significance for a global understanding of Florensky’s larger project. Called variously a “metaphysics of love,”[4] a “sacral phenomenology,”[5] or “concrete metaphysics,” it is the main source for understanding Florensky’s neo-Patristic gnoseology.

Despite his towering stature in the Russian tradition, he remains little studied in English scholarship, partly because most of his writings remain unavailable in English, partly because the bold erudition of his works makes effective summary difficult.[6]

Of particular importance, his unfinished synthesis on the Christian liturgy, The Philosophy of Cult, remained unavailable inside Russia until 2004 and everywhere else until its first international edition was published in Italian in 2016.[7] This broadly speculative work seeks to establish the study of the phenomena of religious cult as a discipline in its own right, in fact, as the field of research that properly underwrites all other philosophical and empirical disciplines.

The Philosophy of Cult began as a series of lectures given in Moscow at the Academy of the Society of Professors from 1917-1918 and Florensky expanded and revised these manuscripts throughout his life. The final result is therefore an incomplete and sometimes fragmentary collection of essays on various themes, a “lineaments” of what Florensky, conscious of his own limits and the novelty of the subject, hoped would evolve into a proper branch of philosophical study in its own right. The unfinished nature is evident in the uneven texture of the argument, which in places proceeds in unconnected flashes of intuition broken off without rigorous treatment. Readers should consult the Italian edition for further scholarly introduction to the problematics of the text.

In his introduction to the Italian edition, Natalino Valentini places the work in the context of 20th century studies of religion. The century of anthropology and historical Biblical scholarship, symbolism and the Liturgical Movement, yielded many probing studies on the nature of the liturgy using various methodological approaches. But Florensky’s work is unique for the breadth and the integrity of its method, making his recovery a pressing concern for theology:

“[In the twentieth century] there are a number of splendid theological treatises on the liturgical mystery and its symbology (R. Guardini, H.U. von Balthasar, O. Casel, E. Przywara, H. de Lubac, J. Ratzinger, etc.). And yet few (perhaps with the exception of the writings of Guardini and the brilliant intuitions of Simone Weil and Maria Zambrano) have tried to explore the essence of the Christian liturgical cult using a rigorously philosophical method. This challenge was met by Florensky, who considered it from a point of view at once logico-phenomenological and ontological, taking into account both the anthropological basis and the sapiential-mystic view of the divine mysteries…illuminated by Scripture and the living Tradition of the Church, all in a constant critical dialogue with modernity.”[8]

To properly contextualize Florensky’s work, we must understand it as a stream of Russian Religious Thought, and more precisely of the Slavophile movement that formed a major tributary of Russian Religious Thought in the 19th century,[9] and of which we risk a simplifying account here.

Image result for pavel florensky
Philosophers Pavel Florensky and Sergei Bulgakov, a painting by Mikhail Nesterov (1917). Florensky is on the left.

Taking inspiration from Romantic and Idealist reactions to the Enlightenment, especially Schelling and Hegel, the Slavophiles attempted to offer a root and branch critique of modern Western culture from a unique Russian perspective. Convinced that it was Russia’s “national task” to redeem the West from its religious and philosophical errors, they opposed a distinctly Orthodox, integrally Christian worldview against a European intellectual milieu they viewed as fragmented and colonized by heresy.

Pioneers such as Khireevsky, Khomyakov, Soloviev and Bukharev proposed philosophies and theologies creatively elaborated from the Greek Patristic and Russian traditions and centered on a basic cluster of terms. Rejecting individualism and rationalism, they developed a more communitarian theory of “integral knowledge,” expanding reason to include spiritual Absolute Spirit of God, in turn accessible only through lived experience within the orthodox communion of the Church, a communion of love conceived on the Jerusalem model—sobornost. In Florensky’s own words, “living religious experience [is] the sole legitimate way to gain knowledge of the dogmas.”[10]

In his foundational doctoral thesis, Soloviev had urged what became the shared inspiration of Russian thought, “the need for a synthesis of faith and reason for further progress in creative thinking.”[11] Because Western modernity had “reached its limits,” “there was a need for a distinct, fresh approach, a synthesis of scientific or formal and theological knowledge that is of the Absolute.”[12]

It would not be unfair to describe the Slavophile project as a modern updating of the traditional Greek polemic against Western Christianity. In the modern version, the West’s spiritual disunity begins in the act of inserting the filioque, when the pope broke the ancient communion of the churches and put himself above the received tradition in an act of voluntary autonomy. No longer nourished in Trinitarian union, the dissociative tendencies of fallen reason, inherent already in the Roman Church, come to fruition in Protestantism and the fully autonomous cultural formations that spring from it.

Florensky’s philosophy of cult should be seen in this light as the quest, part of Russia’s “national task,” to propose a total alternative, a complete reclamation of philosophy and culture for the orthodox Christian communion. Florensky views Western rationalism, epitomized in Kant, as an explicit “heretical reconstruction”[13] of the inherited Platonic tradition. By appropriating Platonic categories and intentionally inverting them, the Protestant Kant turns philosophy into a weapon against the Christian liturgical worldview and into an idolatrous cult of self-positing, autonomous reason. By exposing this idolatrous posture and at the same time pointing out the ultimately religious, liturgical geneology of rationalist philosophy, Florensky shows that philosophy cannot escape its own origins, and must eventually return to them: the rebirth envisioned by Soloviev.

In short, Florensky reads modern philosophy as an ecclesiological heresy and the plight of modern art and science as the natural result of the spiritual disunity that comes with schism from Trinitarian communion. Into this well-trod ground of Slavophile polemic and his own novel neo-Patristic mystical approach, Florensky plumbs the resources of modern anthropology, phenomenology, offers an original linguistic analysis of Kantian philosophy that tries to prove that escaping from the cultic framework is an impossibility for Western philosophy after Plato. Philosophy is cult.

[to be continued…]


[1] Pavel Florensky, Early Religious Writings, 1903-1909, trans. Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 2017).

[2] Iconostasis, trans. Donald Sheehan and Olga Andrejev (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996).

[3]The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, trans. Boris Jakim. Princeton (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1997).

[4] Robert Slesinski, Pavel Florensky: A Metaphysics of Love (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984).

[5] Oliver Smith, “Pavel Florenski (1882–1937) –An Aesthetics of Holiness,” in Creation and Salvation Volume 2: A Companion on Recent Theological Movements, ed. Ernst M. Conradie, pp. 19–24.

[6] Recent exceptions include chapters in Johannes Miroslave Oravecz, God as Love: The Concept and Spiritual Aspects of Agape in Modern Russian Religious Thought (Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdman’s, 2014), pp. 264–291; and in Andrew Louth, Modern Orthodox Thinkers: From the Philokalia to the Present (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2014), pp. 27–41; and consideration in Jennifer Martin, Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Critical Appropriation of Russian Religious Thought (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2014). For the more abundant literature in European languages, the reader is directed to the bibliography.

[7] Florensky, Pavel A, La Filosophia del Culto, a cura di Natalino Valentini, trans. Leonardo Marcello Pignataro (Milano: Edizioni San Paolo, 2004). All translations from this text are my own.

[8] Natalino Valentini, Introduction to La Filosophia del Culto (Milano: Edizioni San Paolo, 2004), 11–12.

[9] For an overview of the streams of Russian Religious Thought see “The Development and Principal Characteristics of Russian Religious Thought in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” in Oravecz, 11–76. For a collection of primary texts from the founders of Russian religious thought, see Alexander Schmemann, Ultimate Questions: An Anthology of Modern Russian Religious Thought (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977); and Ivan Kireevskii and Boris Jakim, On Spiritual Unity: A Slavophile Reader, (Hudson, NY: Lindisfarn Books, 1998); and Judith Kornblatt and Richard Gustafson, Russian Religious Thought (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996). See also Aidan Nichols, Light from the East: Authors and Themes in Orthodox Theology (London: Bloomsbury, 1999).

[10] Ibid., 5.

[11] N. Zernov, Eastern Christendom: A Study of the Origin and Development of the Eastern Orthodox Church (London: GPPS, 1961), 200.

[12] Oravecz, 46.

[13] The concept of “heretical reconstruction” is not Florensky’s, but borrowed from Radical Orthodox thinkers such as Milbank and Pickstock. Alisdair MacIntyre’s theory of “severence” and Taylor’s “mutation” describe essentially the same critique of modernity, as a development in more or less conscious opposition to the classical-medieval synthesis.

Przywara, Eucharist and Work (2)

Father Erich Przywara, S.J. (1889–1972) was one of the most prolific theologians of the twentieth century whose wide-ranging contributions to theology and philosophy were esteemed by men of such stature as Ratzinger, von Balthasar, and Karl Barth. Though often appreciated for his philosophical contributions relating to the analogy of being, he also played a small part in the Liturgical Movement, both as a critic of what he perceived to be the aestheticizing tendencies of the Benedictine approach and as a contributor in a more Jesuit vein.

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  1. Eucharist and Work

In his first published volume, Eucharistie und Arbeit (1917), Przywara offers a fervent meditation on the nature of Christian work seen as a consequence of Eucharistic reception.

The Eucharist is the conduit through which Christ’s divine power seizes our mortal coil and transforms it into an instrument of his great Work of universal redemption: “For he wanders no more on Earth, as once he did in Galilee, in his visible Person. Now the Lord goes teaching and healing around the world through the work of the souls who receive him.”

a) Christ-Work

Taking his starting point in St. Paul’s litany of apostolic labors (2 Cor 11), Przywara shows how Eucharistic reception implies the thoroughgoing expression and performance of a Eucharistic logic in every aspect of our lives, the gradual transformation of our narrowly circumscribed human actions into the divine acts bearing the stamp of Christ’s universal redemptive mission in the Eucharist.

And Christ-work is a fiery work indeed. Przywara’s “downright Old-Testament” understanding of God blazes forth in his untiring condemnation of soft Christianity, with Biblical language mediated through the searing imagery of his Romantic German:

“God does not give his grace as a sweet indulgence or a bed of roses: a firebrand is he, blazing in heart and hands, until in the smithy of the human will the holy deed of work is hammered out, a sword of St. Michael, that flashed and smote in the battles of Heaven.

The work of Christ: not a dainty little chore; not work such as even the pagan in whom Christ does not live could perform; work that is worthy of a son of God who lives in you—Christ-work.

That is why the life of these souls must be a life of Christ, and their work a work of Christ.

This life and this work alone are to be the measure of your Eucharistic movement and the only authentic entrance card to the Eucharistic World Congress.

It is no sign of the true Christ to place our hands quietly in our lap and leave all the work up to God;

Boldly intervening, valiantly pressing forward, ceaselessly struggling onward—

This is the Eucharistic personality; for him there is no fear, no hesitation, no standing still, no resting satisfied; “more, always more”, this is his fiery watchword; precisely because the will of God is the foundation of the soul, its power is inexhaustible and its struggle is tireless; for as God is endless, so is his will endless, endless in width and depth and height.”

b) Holiness and Exterior Work

Work is only fruitful when it proceeds from holiness, which is the image of Christ in the soul, carefully hewn out in asceticism. Furthermore, personal holiness achieves its end in the formation of a Eucharistic culture, when man reaches out to carve Christ’s image into culture:

“Man’s soul must form its interior world according to his Image, so that it may renew the outer world in Him; all the outer work of culture must be rooted in the interior work of holiness, and all interior work toward holiness must radiate outward into the practical work of genuine culture, which in turn culminates in the sanctification of all humanity.”

c) The Universal Character of Eucharistic Work

The Eucharist configures and fires the soul toward the performance of divine acts: fashioning a “Eucharistic personality.” But inasmuch as Christ’s divine act of redemption was universal in scope, so the Christian worker working in sympathy with the Eucharist must also allow himself to be stretched into a universal, “Eucharistic personality,” a kenotic übermensch

“The universal savior of a universal work stretches the narrow individual soul into the dimensions of a world soul and its individual work into world-work. Through this widening of the individual soul and its work springs the growing Union of the one Body, which as the ‘body of Christ’ grows up into the image of Christ, but not into a frame of Christ, which is the aim of the limited individual soul’s work, but rather into a complete image of Christ: ‘to the measure of the full stature of Christ.’

The Eucharistic personality works to bring out the ideal form of Christ in every age and person, like a master craftsman who plies a block of marble. This work is universal in space, intruding itself—as Christ—into every cranny of the universe, excluding no task or circumstance in its embrace.

“So for Eucharistic exterior work there is no circumstance or field of work that could be unwonted, unholy, meaningless, or unprofitable.

Only one thing is unwonted: not to see Christ in everyone.

Only one thing is unholy: not to do everything for Christ.

Only that work that does not have Christ as its beginning, its content, and its end is meaningless and unprofitable.”

It is also universal in time. Each age has its work, and it would be a denial of the Eucharist’s universal power if one were to deem one age more apt that another:

“So Eucharistic exterior work, that is the exterior work of the Christian, knows no artificial distinction of times. It neither flees from the present into an idealized past, nor loses itself in the fantastical Fata Morgana of a “coming age,” wasting precious years of work. It is not fettered by the notions and working methods of an age narrowly circumscribed. It knows that no time is ideally good, and no time excessively bad, that no time is wholly a progress and that no time is wholly a decline. It rejoices with the hearts of its contemporaries, extending its able hands to help them, and cheerfully as a bell-stroke its chisel blow resounds, carving out a fresh image of Christ from precious marble.”

d) The Eucharist and Suffering

It is unavoidable that the Eucharistic personality, like Christ, will suffer for its work. Opposed by the complacent majority who resist this incorporation into the divine Act, he must live a life of suffering and rejection, a constant Golgotha.

“It is practically impossible for the Everyman to overcome his limitations, his distaste for what is new, his natural inclinations. The masses’ Crucifige in Pilate’s Praetorium is their resounding salute to anyone who out of sacred spiritual obligation does not follow the paths of everyone else.”

As a result, he will find himself opposed at every turn. But this opposition is the heart of the Eucharistic logic:

“This is the spirit of Christ for those elect souls, that on the heights of their spiritual vision they dig a well of endless capacity for sacrifice and death, a constant Gethsemane and Golgotha, and that they enlarge themselves to an extent of boundless love and goodness for their uncomprehending and envious persecutors.”

The Eucharistic personality–the “leader-soul”–should even expect to find himself opposed. But this opposition is mean to purify his work of any traces of self-love:

“A community in which a particular tradition of mediocrity stifled all fresh initiative would be the opposite of a “Body of Christ.” The disputes that emerge from the disagreement between the independent spirit and the mediocre majority are not meant to suppress or eliminate him, but by means of the mediocre majority’s formation, to foster his selfless understanding and humble submission.

The Eucharistic soul’s greater capacity to give must flow into a greater love for the persecuting majority:

“Christ, living in the leader soul, leads it ever deeper into the depths of a perfect self-abandonment, expands dark nights of austerity before it and demands an ever mightier love from the well-springs of its sufferings. It must smite the water of life from rocks of opposition, the blaze of its charity must be darkened by the heavenly night of its life.”

The duty of the “Everyman” is to make himself disposable to the Eucharistic soul, who is the “leader soul” of his age, the master craftsman who fleshes out Christ’s Eucharistic image in every soul, institution, time, and place, until all is led into the captivity of Christ.

Crusader Liturgy: The Feast of the Liberation of Jerusalem

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Taking of Jerusalem 1099. In the background the Passio Christi (Source)

When, on the Ides of July of the year of the most fructiferous Incarnation of Our Lord 1099, after nearly four years of bellicose pilgrimage and a month-long exhausting siege, the Crusaders finally broke through the inner ramparts of Jerusalem and poured into the holy city, freeing it from centuries-long occupation by the Mohammedan horde, their surpassing joy could only find liturgical expression in the office of Easter Day, which was celebrated, however out of season, in the church of the Holy Sepulchre. Hæc dies quam fecit Dominus, exsultemus et lætemur in ea—the words of the Gradual resounded in that venerable basilica, as Raymond of Aguilers, chaplain of the Lord Raymond of Saint-Gilles, Count of Toulouse and later Count of Tripoli, recounts in his Historia Francorum qui ceperunt Iherusalem. The mediæval mind easily understood the deliverance of Jerusalem from the infidels as a type of the deliverance of mankind in Our Lord’s glorious Resurrection; a new day, demanding a canticum novum. Raymond’s fond memories of the event wax exuberant in his chronicle:

A new day, a new joy, and new and perpetual delight! The fulfilment of labour and devotion: new words, new songs were sounded forth by all. This day, I say, which shall be celebrated for centuries to come, transformed our pains and travails into joy and exultation. This day, I say, was the harrowing of all heathendom, the consolation of Christendom, the renewal of our faith. “This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us be glad and rejoice therein”, for therein the Lord illumined and blessed His people. […] This day, the Ides of July, shall be celebrated to the praise and glory of God’s name […] In this day we sang the office of the Resurrection, for on this day, He Who arose from the dead by His power, uplifted us by His grace. 1  

In the ensuing octave, the triumphant knights roamed around the holy places of the city, venerating the relics, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles, and they solemnly celebrated the Octave Day on 22 July, choosing the worthy Godfrey of Bouillon as their ruler. They thenceforth established 15 July as a liturgical feast day to commemorate the liberation of the holy city, as the chroniclers attest, among them William of Tyre, e.g.:

In order that the memory of this great deed might be better preserved, a general decree was issued which met with the approval and sanction of all. It was ordained that this day be held sacred and set apart from all others as the time when, for the glory and praise of the Christian name, there should be recounted all that had been foretold by the prophets concerning this event. On this day intercession should always be made to the Lord for the souls of those by whose commendable and successful labours the city beloved of God had been restored to the ancient freedom of the Christian faith. 2  

Early in Godfrey’s reign, a canonical chapter was established in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, and a proper liturgical use slowly developed, especially after that body was reformed and placed under the Augustinian rule in 1114. The use of the Holy Sepulchre was based, as one would expect given the origin of its immigrant churchmen, mostly on northern French uses, especially those of Chartres, Bayeux, Évreux, and Séez. This use would in turn form the basis of those of the religious orders that emanated from the Holy Land, including the Carmelites and the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. 

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The liturgical sources variously dub the feast of 15 July the Festivitas sancte hierusalem, or Festivitas hierusalem quando capta fuit a Christianis (or a Francis), or In liberatione sancte civitatis Ierusalem (de manibus turchorum). The admirable victory of the First Crusade was thus fixed into the framework of the history of salvation, being both the fulfilment of prophecies, as William of Tyre states in the aforesaid excerpt, and the anagogical harbinger of the ultimate victory: the Christians’ entry into the heavenly Jerusalem. 

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John of Patmos watches the descent of New Jerusalem from God in a 14th century tapestry (Source)

The Mass opens with the famous introit borrowed from the Fourth Sunday of Lent: Letare Iherusalem et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam, gaudete cum leticia, qui in tristicia fuistis, ut exultetis, et saciemini ab uberibus consolacionis vestre, with the verse from the eminently apposite psalm 121. Preaching on this feast day shortly after the reconquest, Fulcher of Chartres repeated these verses from Isaias, and gave the continuation of the prophecy, concluding with the declaration that the Crusader triumph was its fulfilment: Hec omnia oculis nostris vidimus. Ekkehard of Aura agreed that the prophecy applied to the epic of the Crusaders, writing (rather abstrusely):

These, and a thousand other prognostics of the sort, albeit that they refer through anagogy to what is above—our mother Jerusalem—encourage the weaker members, who have drunk from the breasts of the consolation of those things written and to be written, to undergo dangers even historically by an actual journey because of such a contemplation or partaking in joy3.

William of Tyre, too, claimed the reconquest of Jerusalem was the literal fulfilment of Isaias’ oracle: ita ut illud prophete impletum ad litteram videretur oraculum «letamini cum Ierusalem et exultate in ea omnes qui diligitis eam».

But by fulfilling the ancient prophecy, the victory of 15 July itself became the type of a more lasting kind of victory. The very use of an Advent introit points to the Second Coming, and the collect, secret, and postcommunion emphasize this eschatological theme:

Collect: Almighty God, who by thy marvellous strength hast torn thy city Jerusalem from the hands of the paynims and restored it to the Christians, help us in thy mercy, we beseech thee, and grant that we who with yearly devotion celebrate this solemnity may deserve to attain the joys of the heavenly Jerusalem. Through our Lord, &c. (Omnipotens Deus, qui virtute tua mirabili Ierusalem civitatem tuam de manu paganorum eruisti et Christianis reddidisti, adesto, quesumus, nobis propitius, et concede ut qui hanc sollennitatem annua recolimus devotione, ad superne Ierusalem gaudia pervenire mereamur. Per Dominum.)

Secret: Mercifully accept, O Lord, we beseech thee, this host which we humbly offer thee, and make us worthy of its mystery, that we who celebrate this day when the city of Jerusalem was freed from the hands of the paynim may at last deserve to become fellow-citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. Through our Lord, &c. (Hanc, Domine, quesumus, hostiam quam tibi supplices offerimus dignanter suscipe, et eius misterio nos dignos effice, ut qui de Ierusalem civitate de manu paganorum eruta hunc diem agimus celebrem, celestis Ierusalem concives fieri tandem mereamur. Per Dominum.)

Postcommunion: May the sacrifice we have received, O Lord, profit to the salvation of our body and soul, so that we who rejoice in the liberty of thy city Jerusalem may deserve to be counted heirs of the heavenly Jerusalem. Through our Lord, &c. (Quod sumpsimus, Domine, sacrificium ad corporis et anime nobis proficiat salutem, ut qui de civitatis tue Ierusalem libertate gaudemus, in celesti Ierusalem hereditari mereamur. Per Dominum.)

The orations for the “Missa de Jerusalem” in a sacramentary of the Holy Sepulchre written in the second quarter of the 12th century.

The Epistle pericope is Isaias 60, 1-6 (“Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee” &c.), the first line whereof forms the verse of the Gradual, Omnes de Saba, taken from the feast of the Epiphany. Ekkehard mentions this passage together with that of the introit as one of prophecies that the Crusaders’ feat had made “visible history”4. The Alleluia responsory, which seems to have fluctuated between Te decet hymnus and Qui confidunt, both lifted from Sundays after Pentecost, are taken from psalm verses germane to the liberation of Jerusalem. This was followed by a brash sequence, Manu plaudant, which will have to be discussed in a future post.

The Gospel lesson comes from Matthew 21, 1-9: Our Lord’s glorious entry into Jerusalem before His Passion, acclaimed as the Son of David by the Hebrew children. The pugnacious Offertory of the Third Sunday after Epiphany, Dextera Domini fecit virtutem, was chaunted thereafter and, during communion, the antiphon from the Second Sunday in Advent: “Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high: and behold the joy that cometh to thee from God.”

As the church of the Holy Sepulchre grew too small for the needs of the new Crusader Kingdom, and as it merited embellishment in any case, a considerable rebuilding was undertaken which concluded with the re-dedication of the church on 15 July 1149, the quinquagenary of the liberation, by the Lord Fulcher of Angoulême, Patriarch of Jerusalem. This prelate seems to have undertaken some revision of the Latin Jerusalemite liturgy, which especially affected the 15 July, now the bicephalous celebration of both the liberation and the dedication of the church of the Holy Sepulchre—Liberatio sancti civitatis Iherusalem de manibus Turchorum et Dedicatio ecclesie domnici sepulcri—with two Masses and Offices. In the basilica itself, the Dedication seems to have been celebrated exclusively, except for the morrow-mass, which was that of the Liberation. The collect of the Liberation, however was changed: “Almighty and everlasting God, builder and guardian of the heavenly city of Jerusalem, protect from on high this place with its inhabitants, that it might be in itself an abode of safety and peace”4; this was borrowed from a preëxisting collect. The change of focus of this new collect is also evinced by the introduction of antiphons into the Office borrowed from the office of the Dedication that tended to refer to the dignity of the church of the Holy Sepulchre rather than the glorious liberation of the city.

The ordinals indicate that in the basilica a festive procession took place after the morrow-mass of the Liberation; whether this was introduced with the 1149 revisions or was a continuation of an earlier practice is unknown. The procession set out from the church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Temple, and upon arriving at its entrance they sang prayers taken from the office of the Dedication. They then set forth to the “place where the city was captured”, i.e. the place where the wall was breached on 15 July 1099, and held another station, a sermon was preached, and a blessing given; perhaps the sermon by Fulcher of Chartres mentioned above was delivered in these circumstances. Thus the procession connected the Old Testament (the Temple) with the New (the Holy Sepulchre) and with the Crusader victory (the city wall). Finally the canons and the faithful returned to the Holy Sepulchre for Tierce. The rest of the office in the basilica was composed mainly from elements taken from the office of the Dedication according to the use of Chartres. One presumes, however, that in the other churches of the diocese of Jerusalem the Mass and Office of the Liberation were celebrated instead.

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The Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem. Fresco by St. Theophan of Crete. Meteora, Church of St. Nicholas (Source)

Alas, Christian rule of Jerusalem did not last the century. In 1187, the city fell to Saladin, and, although the liturgical use of the Holy Sepulchre survived in the remainder of the Crusader states and within certain religious orders, the celebration of the feasts of the Liberation of Jerusalem and the Dedication of the Holy Sepulchre seem to have been mostly abandoned. It only reappears in one manuscript after 1187, which dates from the odd episode when Jerusalem briefly returned to Christian hands thanks to the machinations of the excommunicate Emperor Frederick II. In this manuscript, the Mass is entitled Missa pro libertate ierusalem de manu paganorum, and the Gospel pericope from Matthew 21 has been replaced with the verses in Luke 19 wherein Our Lord weeps for Jerusalem. It has therefore been argued, with undeniable verisimilitude, that the old Liberation Mass was transformed into a Mass to ask for the recapture of Jerusalem. But in any case, even this proved short-lived.

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Although notices marking the liberation of Jerusalem on 15 July appear in the kalendars of several Western liturgical books, few Western churches adopted the feast as it was celebrated in Jerusalem. It does appear in a 14th century missal from the Hospitaller priory in Autun, under the title In festo deliberacionis Iherusalem. Liturgical books from Tours, Nantes, and the Abbeys of St Mesmin (near Orléans) and Beaulieu (near Loches) feature a feast of the Holy Sepulchre on 15 July, although it does not make explicit reference to the Liberation, and its propers antedated the First Crusade. A feast for the Liberatio Iherusalem appears with a Mass and Office in liturgical books from the cathedral of St Étienne of Bourges dating from the 13th to the 15th centuries. Its propers are composed of elements from office of the Dedication and also from the Easter liturgy: a fascinating reminder of the Paschal joy that seized the Crusaders on those happy Ides of July 1099.

Our hearty acknowledgements to the reader who provided us with some of the necessary bibliographic material for this post. 


1. Nova dies, novum gaudium, nova et perpetua leticia; laboris atque devotionis consummatio, nova verba nova cantica, ab universis exigebat. Hęc, inquam, dies celebris in omni seculo venturo, omnes dolores atque labores gaudium et exultationem fecit. Dies hęc, inquam, tocius paganitatis exinanicio, christianitatis confirmatio, et fidei nostrae renovatio. Hęc dies quam fecit Dominus, exultemus et letemur in ea, quia in hac illuxit et benedixit Dominus populo suo […] Hęc dies celebratur Idus Iulii, ad laudem et gloriam nominis Christi. […] In hac die cantavimus officium de resurrectione, quia in hac die ille qui sua virtute a mortuis resurrexit, per gratiam suam nos resuscitavit. 

2. Ad maiorem autem tanti facti memoriam ex communi decreto sancitum omnium voto susceptum et approbatum est, ut hic dies apud omnes solemnis et inter celebres celebrior perpetuo haberetur, in qua, ad laudem et gloriam nominis christiani, quicquid in prophetis de hoc facto quasi vaticinium predictum fuerat, referatur: et pro eorum animabus fiat ad Dominum intercessio, quorum labore commendabili et favorabili apud omnes predicta Deo amabilis civitas et fidei christiane et pristine restituta est libertati. 

3. Hec et huiusmodi mille pesagia licet per anagogen ad illam quę sursum est matrem nostram Hierusalem referantur, tamen infirmioribus membris ab uberibus consolationis prescriptę vel scribende potatis pro tanti contemplatione vel participatione gaudii periculis se tradere etiam hystorialiter practica discursione cohortantur. 

4. Versis in hystorias visibiles eatenus mysticis prophetiis.

5. Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, edificator et custos Iherusalem civitatis superne, custodi locum istum cum habitatoribus suis: ut sit in eo domicilium incolumitatis et pacis. Per Dominum.