Friday, December 30, 2011

On the Futility of Councils

For my part, if I am to write the truth, my inclination is to avoid all assemblies of bishops, because I have never seen any council come to a good end, nor turn out to be a solution of evils. On the contrary, it usually increases them. You always find there love of contention and love of power (I hope you will not think me a bore, for writing like this), which beggar description; and, while sitting in judgement on others, a man might well be convicted of ill-doing himself long before he should put down the ill-doings of his opponents. So I retired into myself; and came to the conclusion that the only security for one's soul lies in keeping quiet. . . .

Gregory the Theologian (Epistle 130) to Procopius, excusing his absence from a council called by Theodosius I to meet in Constantinople in 382
Translated by B. J. Kidd, edited by J. Stevenson

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lyrics for Advent

We are now in the midst of a cluster of feasts honoring Christ's mother. Today we commemorated Mary's conception in the Byzantine churches. Most Catholics observed the same feast yesterday, and they will celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Monday. This Sunday in the Byzantine Rite we commemorate the ancestors of Christ.

Earlier this week I heard the Lovemongers' cover of this song by Patty Griffin. You can hear a live recording of it by Patty with Natalie Maines here.


Mary you're covered in roses, you're covered in ashes
You're covered in rain
You're covered in babies, you're covered in slashes
You're covered in wilderness, you're covered in stains
You cast aside the sheet, you cast aside the shroud
Of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay, Mary

Jesus says Mother I couldn't stay another day longer
Flys right by me and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin' his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

Mary she moves behind me
She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
Everytime the snow drifts, everytime the sand shifts
Even when the night lifts, she's always there

Jesus said Mother I couldn't stay another day longer
Flys right by me and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin' his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

Mary you're covered in roses, you're covered in ruin
You're covered in secrets
You're covered in treetops, you're covered in birds
Who can sing a million songs without any words
You cast aside the sheets, you cast aside the shroud
Of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay
Mary, Mary, Mary

Patty Griffin
One Big Love Music/Chrome Dog Music (ASCAP)
From the 1998 album Flaming Red

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Obama's Jobs Bill: More of the Same

As an economist, I found President Obama's job-creation proposals predictably disappointing. Both the proposed tax cuts and the proposed new programs can be classified as fiscal stimulus. According to Keynesian orthodoxy, such stimulus can hasten the end of a recession by increasing demand, which induces increased production, which in turn necessitates increased employment. But fiscal stimulus, like all Keynesian policy, is oriented only to the short run. (In defense of his short-run orientation, Keynes famously said, "In the long run we're all dead.") Both the Bush stimulus of 2008 and the Obama stimulus of 2009 were arguably reasonable Keynesian attempts to hasten the end of what looked like a severe but otherwise normal recession.

But if this were a normal recession susceptible to cure by stimulus spending, by now those efforts would already have gotten us back to normal (say 5% unemployment and 3% real annual growth). The fact that the economy has not returned to a normal growth path shows that this is not just a normal, cyclical recession. Rather, it is a symptom of more serious structural problems in our economy. President Obama's policies have not just failed to address these long-term problems, but they are actually making them worse. Until we address those problems, stimulus spending will not get the economy moving again. The impact of stimulus spending under current circumstances will be like that of the Cash for Clunkers program – a quick boost whose impact will evaporate without a trace as soon as the program ends.

In appealing for support from Republicans, President Obama reminded them that they had supported President Bush's stimulus in 2008, implying that because they had done so once they were obligated for the sake of consistency to do so again. But he passed over in silence their near-unanimous opposition to his own politically larded 2009 stimulus plan. Given the failure of both stimulus programs, it would be perfectly reasonable for Congress to choose not to throw good money after bad with another stimulus program. At the very least, Congress should demand that the President explain why his previous stimulus did not end the recession and why he thinks it will be different this time.

On Monday the President dropped the other shoe: he gave us the details on how he wants to pay for his jobs program. Again, it sounded disappointingly familiar – the same tax increases that he has proposed repeatedly before, and that Congress has rejected. This combination of taxes and class warfare might appeal to the Democratic base that Obama has been in danger of losing, but it will be a non-starter in the House. The negative impact on jobs of the proposed tax increases might actually outweigh any beneficial impact from the payroll tax cuts, making the President's jobs proposal a net destroyer of jobs.

There are many things our government could do to create jobs without spending a single additional dollar of federal money. Here are a few: 1) rein in the out-of-control NLRB, which is actively obstructing the creation of non-union jobs; 2) enact the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama that President Obama is holding up in an effort to extort concessions from Congress; and 3) repeal Obamacare. The fact that the Democrats will not countenance these sure-fire job creators shows that they care more about their special-interest constituencies than about jobs for unemployed workers. This rule is proven by the one recent exception: President Obama delayed implementation of some onerous EPA regulations, which might very well help businesses create jobs – and other Democrats threw a fit.

The House could move ahead with another reform without waiting for the President – a reform that would help businesses to create jobs and might even draw support from some Democrats: reform the corporate income tax. The universal recipe for tax reform is to broaden the tax base and reduce tax rates. Broadening the tax base means making more dollars subject to taxation – most often by closing loopholes. This would make the tax fall more evenly on all corporations instead of exempting those with good lobbyists who can persuade Congress to enact custom-made loopholes for them. This, in combination with lower tax rates, would reduce the distortionary effect of the tax and help to channel money to more productive uses, which would inevitably result in more jobs. If Congress could succeed in reforming the corporate income tax, perhaps it would be emboldened to take on the personal income tax next.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Afterlife of Theological Formulae

Proposition: Once a theological formula is published, its interpretation cannot be limited to its original purpose and context.

Exhibit 1. The Nicene Creed was formulated to rule out Arianism. This is made explicit in the final section, which anathematizes those who employ Arian formulae and terminology:
Those who say, ‘There was when he was not’, and ‘Before being begotten he was not’, and that he came into being from things that are not, or assert that the Son of God is from another hypostasis or substance or is changeable or alterable, these the catholic and apostolic church anathematizes.
But once that heresy had been extinguished (at least in the eastern Mediterranean – it hung on among some German tribes for another three centuries), the anti-Arian creed was not set aside. Rather, it became a touchstone of Orthodoxy. Its most prominent exponent, Athanasius, was elevated to sainthood as his generation’s paragon of orthodoxy, while Arius became forever the archetypal heretic. Adherence to “the faith of Nicaea” came to distinguish orthodox Christians not only from Arius, but also from later heretics, like Eunomius, Apollinarius, and Nestorius.

Since the Arian controversy had begun as an intra-Alexandrian affair before it spread abroad, certain assumptions shared by Arius and his local Alexandrian opponents were embedded in the arguments of both sides, as well as in the Nicene resolution. Athanasius’s successors Cyril and (especially) Dioscorus tried to interpret Nicaea not just as a negative statement ruling out Arianism, but as a positive statement enshrining the local peculiarities of Alexandrian Christology for the entire Church. (This might explain why Cyril was a stickler for the exact creedal formula approved by Nicaea, in opposition to the many other “Nicene” creeds in use in the early fifth century, which assimilated key Nicene phrases to existing local baptismal creeds.)

Exhibit 2. In his Letter to Acacius of Beroea (Ep. 33), Cyril of Alexandria defended his Twelve Anathemas by insisting that they were to be read only in opposition to Nestorius:
But the force of the statements was written only against the teachings of Nestorius. For they throw out what he said and wrote in error. Those who anathematize and deny his evil teaching will cease to object to the documents which have been written by us. For they see that the meaning of the statements only goes against his blasphemies. (John I. McEnerney, trans., St. Cyril of Alexandria: Letters 1-50, The Fathers of the Church 76 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1985), 133.)
But neither his theological allies nor his opponents read Cyril’s Anathemas in such a circumscribed, negative way. They read the Anathemas as a more general Christological statement with positive implications, seeing them either as an essential supplement to the Creed of 325 or as a revival of the heresy of Apollinarius (on whose writings Cyril had unwittingly drawn in formulating them). After the Reunion of 433, though Cyril never explicitly renounced the Anathemas, neither did he continue to emphasize them, and they faded into the background for the last decade of his life. But after his death, those who proclaimed themselves loyal to the memory of Cyril (a very selective memory that ignored the historical Cyril’s commitment to the Reunion of 433) denounced the terms of the Reunion and revived the Anathemas as a litmus test of orthodoxy. Eventually, long after the Nestorian heresy had been driven out of the Church, the Second Council of Constantinople (553) elevated Cyril’s Third Letter to Nestorius with the Twelve Anathemas to dogmatic status in an unsuccessful attempt to placate the enemies of Chalcedon.

Exhibit 3. In an appendix to his Tome to the Armenians, Proclus of Constantinople condemned selected passages from the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia. When he demanded that the Syrian bishops formally endorse both the Tome and the appended condemnations, they objected that the passages from Theodore had been removed from their proper literary, historical, and theological context. In his polemics against the Arians, the Syrian bishops said, Theodore had been driven to a
certain great distinction (i.e., between the natures in Christ), not coming to it from a depraved understanding, but deciding to use that mode of expression more efficaciously against the heretics, and he was not ignoring nor denying the total unity, far from it, for all his books are full of this mode of expression, but he was dividing the properties of the natures more fully as the fight which he had against the heretics dictates that he should do. (Nicholas Constas, Proclus of Constantinople and the Cult of the Virgin in Late Antiquity: Homilies 1-5, Texts and Translations, Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 66 (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 117.)
But some Antiochene bishops, like Ibas of Edessa, did not restrict their reading of Theodore’s polemical extracts to an anti-Arian context any more than his enemies did.

This idea was a by-product of my thesis on the Formula of Reunion (433). It might find its way into my thesis in some form.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

County 4-H Fair

Last Sunday, while I was visiting my parents in Indiana, I attended the local 4-H fair. There was an open house at the agricultural museum with demonstrations including soap making, rope making, and a 19th-century one-room school. I went back again the next day for the annual gathering of my mom's family at the fair. We had lunch in the ag museum and then talked until well into the afternoon. I took some photos, mostly of old tractors.

My uncle's 1920s John Deere tractors
My uncle's 1950s Ford tractors, modified with V-8 engines
Art deco tractor #1: 1952 Oliver
Art deco tractor #2: 1956 Cockshutt
1940s Allis-Chalmers
1939 McCormick-Deering Farmall
Tractor ride for the kids
1935 Silver King

Other modes of transportation on display in the ag museum.
Small covered wagon
1901 Oldsmobile

Forty years ago my cousins dominated the dairy barn at the fair. Today their kids dominate . . . the small animal barn.
My cousins' chickens
My cousin's rabbits
Newly hatched chicks in the incubator

Saturday, July 23, 2011


From the beginning, I have blogged under my long-time on-line alias Roland. In fact, I originally planned to name my blog Oliphant: The Horn of Roland. I was pretty upset when I found the name Oliphant was already taken. The resulting frustration launched me into a small crisis in which I questioned the purpose and content of my intended blog. I realized it would have a primarily religious/theological focus, and I came up with a more fitting title. But it did not then occur to me to switch to a different alias.

I first used the name Roland my first summer in grad school. It was a hot summer, with frequent record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures, and I was living in a cheap room without air conditioning. So I spent my afternoons studying in the comfort of a lounge in the student union. Every once in a while, for a break, I would go the basement and play the video game Tutankham. When I got a high score and had to come up with a name, I spontaneously chose Roland, inspired by the Warren Zevon song, “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”. Years later, I revived the name for my high scores in Tetris on a friend’s computer and subsequently began using it in various on-line contexts.

About a decade ago, not long after 9/11, I read The Song of Roland, the medieval French epic poem based loosely on the 778 Battle of Roncesvalles, and I began to assimilate my on-line persona more to this older Roland by choosing appropriately medieval-looking avatars, or by using the name Roland778 when Roland was already taken.

At the same time, in other on-line contexts I was using the alias Arimathean. Long before my chrismation, when Joseph of Arimathea formally became my patron saint, I had considered him my patron. Within a year of starting my blog, I realized this would have been a more appropriate alias (thus my avatar, which is a mosaic image of Joseph of Arimathea), but I had already begun to establish myself in the blogosphere as Roland. So I decided to wait for a more opportune time to make the switch.

For the past two years while I have been studying theology, I haven’t had much time for blogging (or recreational reading or TV or movies . . .). In the few forums where I have been active, I have mostly been using Arimathean, so Roland is now less likely to be missed. So, as of today, my handle in the blogosphere is changing to Arimathean (though I will continue to go by Roland in some non-blogging contexts).

Speaking of recreational reading . . . My first post-seminary novel brought together both of my on-line personae. The hero of Judith Tarr’s Kingdom of the Grail is Roland, who is a descendant of Merlin and Nimue. Nimue, in turn, is the sister of Parsifal, the Grail King, whom one can infer to be descended from . . . Joseph of Arimathea (though he is not mentioned by name in the book). The novel’s execution was not as good as the concept – it too often followed the conventions of the romance genre rather than historical fantasy.

I am also adopting another change. I recently read a Slate article about “logical punctuation”. Until now, for my whole literate life I have slavishly followed the convention of placing commas and periods inside quotation marks. Unlike nearly all other grammar and punctuation rules, this one never made sense to me, and I was always ready to disparage it whenever the opportunity arose, even while following it scrupulously and enforcing it as an editor. In the Slate article, I learned that this is not the universal English language rule my teachers would have me believe. Rather, it is a peculiarly American rule. The rest of the English-speaking world follows the more logical convention of placing commas and periods after the closing quotation mark (unless the punctuation is logically a part of the quote). On-line, it appears that most Americans are now punctuating like Brits. Wikipedia and other sites have adopted logical punctuation as their standard. And even the old guard has conceded that when quotes enclose a URL any following punctuation should be placed outside the closing quote so that no one tries to paste it into the address bar of his browser as if it were part of the address. For now the conflict continues, but it is already clear that the prescriptivist-traditionalist American copy editors are doomed. I’m happy to join the winning side.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Albanian Iconography

Last year when I posted my photos from Albania, I promised a follow-up post focusing on iconography. Reading about the Albanian adventures of this year’s missiology class inspired me to resume work on that post.

As with my previous Albania post, I drew heavily on the photos taken by other members of the expedition. The pictures will be organized roughly in the order of our itinerary in Albania. My narration will be minimal.

In addition to iconography in the narrow sense, I will feature other aspects of church art, particularly wood carving. And besides traditional ecclesiastical iconography, I will include some less traditional religious art. You can click on any picture to see it full-size.

Our first stop was Annunciation Cathedral, Tirana.

St. Anastasios

The archbishop’s throne

The baptistery chapel

St. Constantine

The Theotokos

St. Panteleimon

Two days later, we stopped at two schools on our way to Shen Vlash Monastery.

The Resurrection of Christ is a popular subject in new Albanian iconography.

At Shen Vlash

The refectory

The monastery chapel

Shen Vlash (aka St. Blaise)

The chapel at the diagnostic clinic.

Framed art at the student center

Nazareth Center houses various ecclesiastical arts, including the creation and restoration of icons and wordworking.

On our way to Korça we stopped for a fish supper at this restaurant in Shen Naumi.

The next day we visited the Metropoly.

Then we spent the rest of the morning sightseeing in Korça, starting with this church.

St. Haralambos

Inside a small shrine

The old cathedral

Monastery of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Voskopoja

St. Ignatius

St. Nicholas

St. Katherine

Monastery of Ss. Peter & Paul, Vithkuq

The new cathedral in Korça

Church of St. Anna

Shen Naumi (St. Nahum)

Prophet Elijah

Chapel of St. Elijah, high above Korça

Church of the Resurrection, Pogradec

St. Marena

The Last Judgment

Exaltation of the Holy Cross