Friday, 21 June 2013

Finding Wisdom

This is a book I wish I'd found some time ago. Wisdom Songs is a remarkable outpouring of Orthodox Christian wisdom, published in 2011 by Father Silouan, an English priest-monk from the Monastery of St Antony and St Cuthbert, a hermitage within the Romanian jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church, high up in the South-west Shropshire hills. Situated at 1,273 ft, under the Shepherd’s Rock, on the eastern slopes of the Stiperstones. Two sequels, Wisdom and Wonder, and Wisdom, Prophecy and Prayer, are also available – equally wonderful. Father Silouan lives alone, in what was once a miner’s cottage and small holding of twenty acres of pasture and woodland. His life of prayer, silence, liturgy and work is in the tradition of Orthodox monasticism. Priest-monk Silouan began his monastic life in the summer of 1990, in the monastery of St John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights in Essex, established in 1959 by the late Archimandrite Sophrony, disciple of St Silouan the Athonite. Like St Silouan, Fr Sophrony was a monk of the Monastery of St Panteleiomon on Mt Athos in Greece.

The book is wonderful – metaphysically precise, spiritually pellucid, intellectually rich, poetic (if a bit idiosyncratic in style at times) and uplifting. I thought the style a bit too idiosyncratic at first, but then I got used to it.

It is arranged in five "centuries", or series of 100 meditations, on the themes of the Song of Songs, the Holy Name, Holy Wisdom, Mysteries of Glory, and the Wisdom of Stillness. 526 pages. Here is a little taste:
"He is the axis in the midst of of subtle whirling wheels within. His are the sparkling rainbow rings that surround us within. His is the single eye at centre in the inmost heart of all hearts. It is his wisdom that surrounds us like a boundless expanse, for his glory is our firmament. Clear like crystal, translucent and bright, his glory shines through us as light from his throne in the midst. Wheels whirl like winds, all light and winged, resounding through all subtle centres and circles of our being."

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Power of Four

In The Seven Sacraments, All Things Made New, and even Beauty for Truth's Sake, I have written about the importance of the number FOUR in Christian cosmology. Patterns of four are found everywhere, including the four cardinal virtues, the four rivers of paradise, and so on. Over on the Beauty in Education site I have been writing about the four senses of scripture. Now Angelico Press has published a brilliant study by Eduardo P. Olaguer, Jr called The Power of Four: Keys to the Hidden Treasures of the Gospels.

Though brief, the book goes much deeper and more brilliantly into the question of "why four gospels?" than I have ever been able to do. In his Introduction to the book, biblical scholar Gregory Glazov explains that Olaguer "takes as his principal goal the unlocking of the Four Gospels to explain Jesus' identity and mission... by identifying four types of symbolic patterns or keys... that unblock the spiritual treasures contained in the Gospels."

It is much more than the usual association of the Gospels with the four faces of the Cherubim (Lion, Ox, Eagle, Man or Angel). That is only the first key. Another is the correspondence of the Gospels with the four parts of the Old Testament (as understood by Christian writers). A third is a set of four "maps" or rhetorical structures used by the Evangelists to organize their writing (chiasmus, diptych, inclusio, and parataxis). The fourth involves four sets of seven, one for each Gospel: seven mountains (Matthew), seven remembrances (Mark), seven Temple visits (Luke), and seven Signs (John).

This book, and Olaguer's other scripture commentaries, show how much richer the field of exegesis could be if scholarship took the text and the authors of the Bible more seriously. Highly recommended.