Sunday, 24 February 2013

Priority of prayer

Pope Benedict XVI said in his Sunday Angelus address today, "The Lord is calling me 'out to the mountain' to devote more time to prayer and meditation, but this does not mean I'm abandoning the Church." On the contrary, prayer and especially mystical prayer always takes priority over action and administration (it is the old story of Martha and Mary). Amazingly, at this precise moment in history, the Pope is showing us that this even applies to the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. God is calling the Pope to this, and in his drawing closer to God through apparent withdrawal he will not be failing the Church but supporting her more strongly than ever, as Robert Moynihan has pointed out in his "Report". No doubt this defeat for the Enemy will provoke him to stir up what forces he can in opposition, so let us join our prayers to those of the Pope and allow him to lead us deeper into our faith.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Pavel Florensky

Remarkably, in his General Audience on 13 February 2013, soon after announcing his plans to abdicate the papacy, Pope Benedict made the following statement.
“While the Lord continues to raise up examples of radical conversion, like Pavel Florensky, Etty Hillesum and Dorothy Day, he also constantly challenges those who have been raised in the faith to deeper conversion.”
The three figures mentioned are each in their own way extraordinary (and only one is a Catholic), but I want to concentrate on Pavel Florensky (1882-1937), the Russian Orthodox theologian, priest, philosopher, mathematician, physicist, electrical engineer, inventor and Neomartyr. His name crops up just as unexpectedly in the encyclical of Pope John Paul II on philosophy, Fides Et Ratio, where the Pope is talking of a rich tradition of thinkers of East and West who bring philosophy into conversation with scripture. He writes that "attention to the spiritual journey of these masters can only give greater momentum to both the search for truth and the effort to apply the results of that search to the service of humanity."

It is of particular interest to me that Florensky is mentioned by John Paul II in the same breath as Vladimir Solovyev. Both are Sophiologists – exponents of a theology that personalizes the biblical figure of Wisdom (Sophia), and are sometimes regarded as somewhat unorthodox even by the Orthodox. Florensky's greatest book, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, is a rich masterpiece of speculative thought ranging across many disciplines and written in a style reminiscent of Meditations on the Tarot, as a series of "Letters" to an unknown friend.

Pope Benedict mentioned Florensky on Wednesday mainly as an example of a man brought up in a rabidly secular environment "to the point he felt an outright hostility towards religious teachings taught in school," who nonetheless concluded, "No, you can not live without God," and changed his life to the extent of becoming a monk. But surely there is more to it than that. Why mention this particular convert among so many? There must be a hint here – especially coupled with the mention by John Paul II – that Florensky's actual thought, his theology, is worthy of attention.

Not only was Florensky a convert, a martyr, and an adventurous theologian, but he was a scientist. He exemplified in his own life the fact that there need be no gulf between faith and science. As Pope Benedict has stated on many occasions, the Son of God is the "Logos" or ordering principle of the universe – the same principle that science is trying to discern in its own way and at its own level. The two quests cannot fail to converge, although it would be a mistake to jump prematurely into some kind of false synthesis, an over-hasty conclusion.

In drawing attention to this profound unity in the Logos, Pope Benedict is once again hand in glove with his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, who called for a restored harmony between faith and reason, religion and science. There are other reasons why Florensky is worthy of mention – his wonderful ascetic theology, and the Sophiology on which Bulgakov was to build so beautifully – but this is one of them.