Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Greeley’

Uncreated Star of Bethlehem

Five years ago I alluded to this, but I’ve just seen concise discussion of it from no less than the Father of the Church St. John Chrysostom, and from certain Old Testament prophecies ‘in its Light.’

It also makes me think of how some non-Orthodox “got saved” by God….  The Apolytikion (a hymn) given on this page brings home the point.  The Magi are commemorated as Saints on Dec. 25.  (Recall that Orthodoxy commemorates the Magi’s Adoration of the Incarnate YHWH not on Jan. 6 but at Christmas; our Great Feast of Theophany [Epiphany] focuses on His Baptism in the Jordan by St. John the Forerunner [Baptist].)  OrthodoxWiki mentions the memory of their eventual baptism by St. Thomas the Apostle to the Indo-Iranians, and service to The Church as Bishops.

What about the mentions of an angel?  Readers of this blog may recall our discussions of the uncreated Logos-Angel from many Old Testament theophanies … highlighted in the writings of Greek-American theologian Fr. John S. Romanides (†2001) … so this need not be a problem, especially because Orthodoxy reminds us that the Divine Hypostatic Logos is not circumscribed by His Incarnation, ie, not ‘completely contained’ in or limited by His Human Body.  Could He appear as Infant and “Angel” at the same time?  Unusual perhaps, but I don’t see why not, although I must confess I haven’t seen this explicitly discussed anywhere yet.

One Web source I read said Western European pagans, even before Christianization, appreciated this, as it were their ‘cameo’ appearance at the very beginning of Christianity’s New Testament.  Similarly, I can say that even as a blond Western Catholic child here in the States, I was fascinated by and appreciated my family’s small wood-and-hay(?) Nativity set featuring non-Mediterranean-looking “kings”: a blond, an African, and an East Asian!*  I also read that extracanonical accounts ‘internationalizing’ them are quite old indeed.  Well, they do “represent the Gentiles,” and foreshadow many more of our ancestors’ conversions to the Faith….  For some reason I thought of the “White” one as some aged King of England — I didn’t know then that that title and State didn’t exist during Christ’s life on Earth!

I couldn’t leave this off without a plug for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s “Christmas Star” (or another picture of it).  One night during college, around 1985-86, I was driving around town lost (though sober)** and someone told me I almost knocked it down or something!  It sits atop Wyandotte Hill/South Mountain, one of Penna.’s many long, skinny, relatively-low,*** ridge-like mountains, that divides the Lehigh Valley from the main Philadelphia area, as well as from my undergraduate school campus just south of Bethlehem.

And, twelve “kings”?  Catholic priest / sociologist / novelist Andrew Greeley’s Russian (Orthodox) lay student / artist / mystic / beauty / love interest in his 1997 Christmas / spiritual classic Star Bright! (available here) alludes to a 12-magi tradition, without many details except to say something I haven’t encountered personally in Orthodoxy yet, that “We Russians know there were 12 kings” (or words to that effect).  But an English translation of the apocryphal Syriac Revelation of the Magi has recently come out, and it names twelve.  Furthermore, if one Amazon reviewer reports correctly, if you have any Western European ancestry, you may have one or more Magi in your family tree.  How’s that for Gentile foreshadowing?!  Other reviews lead me to doctrinal caution about the Revelation [Apocalypse??] of the Magi, but also hint (seemingly unknowingly) at o/Orthodox Uncreated Energies Theology perhaps.  But some of the kings named by the Armenian reviewer have names or associations I might have encountered a long time ago while tracing my Norman Irish ancestors (Hibernicized McCoogs) into traditional medieval West European royal and noble genealogies … the kind today’s experts say are dubious, but were part of our cultures for most of the last thousand years if not longer … and geneticists now say we might all share in some way.  (Something like some Assyrian kings back there too, being Semites, traditionally then Kin of God!)  (This is another review I saw of it, from a Catholic perspective.)

PS: Many Years to Fr. Greeley!  Glad to see he’s doing better some!  Thank God!

(*–The one with the wind-up music box playing “Silent Night.”)

(**–If you can read and comprehend this without getting a headache, you’re a better driver than I was!)

(***–Compared to, say, the Adirondacks, or the Rockies.)

The sociologist and novelist, not the boxer … though he’s always been a fighter too!  Over the weekend his coat got caught in a taxi door in the Chicago area and he was dragged a bit, suffering a skull fracture.  (I’m sure he’s wondered since then if coats should be made of such strong stuff!)  He’s critical-but-stable in a Lutheran hospital’s surgical ICU.

His fiction as well as nonfiction have helped me learn about my Irish and Catholic background(s) in ways my working-class status couldn’t otherwise afford — no bagpipes or jigging growing up, no trips to The Old Country….  If anyone stood a chance of keeping me in the Catholic Church, it would’ve been he.  As I was returning to it in ’98 after 7 years among the Quakers and Mennonites, I asked him in an email, “What if I don’t agree with everything the Pope says?”  He responded, “Who does?”

Intriguingly, in recent years the religious resurrection of formerly-Communist Eastern Europe caught his attention as a sociologist of religion, and formed the backdrop of at least two of his novels — The Bishop Goes to THE University, about the apparent locked-room murder of a Russian monk at the U. of Chicago (it’s always apparent, isn’t it?!); and the stellar Star Bright!: A Christmas Story, which latter you must buy and read — meditatively — before the Nativity According to the Flesh of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, especially if you’re American, Irish, and/or of Catholic background!  Fr. Greeley’s information about Orthodoxy isn’t perfect, but passable.  Star Bright! is not a murder mystery, but one of the blossoming romance between a Chicagoan Irish Catholic college Russian Studies major and an artist and art history major from Russia, a mystical young lady raised there without religion in the final years of Communist rule, who embraced Orthodoxy as a teen, ie, just a few years prior.  I imagine she’s a stand-in for her entire country / church, though sadly, an American Russian Studies major certainly isn’t, for our country, yet.  Atypically for Greeley, although the girl is “luminous,” the boy is not described as great-looking, which he pointed out to me when I chided him once for making most of his good characters good-looking and his evil characters ugly.  Also, this novel contains almost no sexual material — just one mild, and as always sincere, grope above the waistline, IIRC, as well as evocative allusions to an alleged tradition of “Christmas love,” around which the novel turns.  No violence, but some US Irish Catholic family holiday conflict; as one character complains, “It’s too bad Christ had to be born at Christmas!”  IMHO a true Western-style spiritual classic, though of a lay, not clerical / Religious, orientation … and an acceptable little dip into Russian / Orthodox faith too.  The pair even visit a traveling exhibit of Alaskan and Siberian Orthodox artifacts, complete with references to Saints Herman and Innocent of Alaska, serenaded by a recording of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary choir: I believe this is the coffee-table book based on the actual exhibition, put together for the 200th anniversary of the 1794 Valaam Monastery (Russia) mission to Native Alaska that formally brought Orthodoxy to the Americas to stay.

As for The Bishop Goes to THE University (a Blackie Ryan mystery), my most memorable line comes from Bishop Blackie’s boss, Sean Cardinal Cronin of Chicago, after attending the monk’s lengthy funeral liturgy (probably liturgies): “Three hours, Blackwood!”  His Eminence was not amused!

O Holy Father, heavenly Physician of our souls and bodies, Who hast sent Thine only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to heal all our ailments and deliver us from death, do Thou visit and heal Thy servant, Father Andrew, granting him release from pain and restoration to health and vigor, that he may give thanks unto Thee and bless Thy holy Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.  Amen.  (From the service of the Orthodox Mystery of Anointing.)

What follows is extracted from this blog post I know nothing else about, which is why I’m giving you what I got out of it here instead of sending you there to try and pinpoint it.  The book-author discussed, Rodney Stark, a sociologist (and BTW, according to Wikipedia he’s not “a Mormon fanatic” as one of the Commenters over there alleges, FWIW, although we could all learn something from Mormons’ sense of mutual aid, as well as, of course, evangelization), AFAIK became big in seminaries in the ’90s not only with the book mentioned but also his co-authored one with Roger Finke about how the U.S. is so “religious” because it’s a religious free market rather than one with a legally-established faith like most European countries (which fellow socio Andrew Greeley’s research also supports, so it must be right! 😉 ).

This extract first caught my attention because of something I read in a letter to the Orthodox Again magazine a few years ago citing pre-Hitler numbers estimating that in the first century of Christianity possibly some 90 percent or more of the world’s Jews placed their faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, ie, became Christians.  (And as we know from Scripture and Church history, many of them remained identifiably “Jewish” Christians in one way or another for some time afterward.)  I didn’t know how to take that source, and half-feared it might be some Anti-Semitic (ie, anti-Jewish) screed rather than serious scholarship.  But Stark seems to come to a similar conclusion (remembering he’s not a historian but a sociologist – counting people is what they major in!).  So again, FWIW.

I don’t necessarily buy everything in this excerpt, but Big Picture, it suggests alot to me about evangelization in general, as well as other Christian and Orthodox ideals.

Here’s the blog text, pasted as is (except Stark is now teaching at Baylor University instead of U-Dub), text coloring added:

Christianity, emerged from Judaism, introducing a set of revealed truths and practices  to its adherents. Many of these beliefs and practices differed significantly from what the Greek religions and Judaism had held. In The Rise of Christianity (Princeton University Press, 1996) by Rodney Stark, professor of sociology and comparative religion at the University of Washington, gives us a new perspective on the formative years of Christianity. I mention Stark”s study because he is a scholar without an ax to grind against Christians and his research approaches the subject without any preconceptions. In one of the more startling conclusions from his research, Stark says that contrary to the current wisdom, the mission to the Jews of the early Christians was largely successful and continued right up to the year 300. According to Stark, the some four or five million Jews of the Diaspora had “adjusted to life in the Diaspora in ways that made them very marginal vis-a-vis the Jews of Jerusalem, hence the need as early as the third century for the Torah to be translated into Greek for the Jews outside of Israel (the Septuagint).”  For Jews who lived in the Hellenic world, “Christianity offered to retain much of the religious content of both cultures and to resolve the contradictions between them.” 

It should be noted that most of the new converts to Christianity came from the Hellenized peoples of the East especially the Greeks rather than from Judaism, because Christianity had much more in common with the freedom imposed by the Greek mind than the legality of Judaism.  Christianity preached the possibility of a worthwhile and even happy existence for slaves, the weak, the poor, the ugly, even barbarians, people Aristotle  and Plato would not have regarded as capable of a happy life and people the Jews would not have regarded as those like themselves chosen by God.  During the major upheavals of the fourth century Christianity emerged as the dominant movement. The new faith engaged in both dialogue and conflict with Greco-Roman culture. Christians found themselves in conflict with pagan society and even with themselves.  Change, heresy, reformations, compromises, violence, persecutions were characteristics of the fourth century but they did not stop there.

Now was the spread of Christianity a “miracle” or just coincidental based on a combinations of existing facts?  Believers like me will lean toward the miraculous.  {snip}  …I will let Stark offer the conclusions formed by his research. I stress here that historians, even those who can offer us the benefit of their research studies, can’t be sure that they have all the right answers.  They are making an educated guess. Stark points out that in 165, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, an epidemic struck that carried away during the course of fifteen years up to a third of the total population of the empire, including Marcus Aurelius himself. In 251 a similar epidemic, most likely of measles, struck again with similar results. Historians generally acknowledge that these epidemics produced a depopulation which led in part to the decline of the Roman empire, more than the normally attributed cause of “moral degeneration.” Stark points out that these epidemics favored the rapid rise of Christianity for three reasons. One, that Christianity offered a more satisfactory account of “why bad things happen to good people,” based on the centrality of the suffering and Cross of Christ than any form of classical paganism. Second, “Christian values of love and charity, from the beginning, had been translated into norms of social service and community solidarity. When disasters struck, the Christians were better able to cope, and this resulted in substantially higher rates of survival. This meant that in the aftermath of each epidemic, Christians made up a larger and larger percentage of the population even without new converts.” Last, these epidemics left large numbers of people without the interpersonal bonds that would have prevented them from becoming Christians, thus encouraging conversion. He says, “in a sense paganism did indeed ‘topple over dead’ or at least acquired its fatal illness during these epidemics, falling victim to its relative inability to confront these crises socially or spiritually, an inability suddenly revealed by the example of its upstart challenger.”  His words not mine.

Stark introduces a number of other elements in Christianity’s rise to prominence. It was an urban phenomenon based in the teeming cities of the Roman Empire especially in the East. Stark underlines the fact that Christianity brought a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable: “To cities filled with homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.”  Contrary to popular belief,  despite Christianity’s drawing power  for the poor and slaves, it also attracted the upper and middle classes in appreciable numbers.

Christianity was unusually appealing to pagan women” because “within the Christian subculture women enjoyed far higher status than did women in the Greco-Roman world at large.” He shows that Christianity recognized women as equal to men, children of God with the same supernatural destiny. Moreover the Christian moral code of prohibition against polygamy, divorce, birth control, abortion, and infanticide contributed to the well-being of women, changing their status from powerless serfs in bondage to men, to women with dignity and rights in both the Church and the State. Go to any Church service on any given day and you will understand the importance of women within the body of the Church.

Stark establishes four conclusions based on his study. One, Christianity rapidly produced a substantial surplus of females as a result of Christian prohibitions against infanticide (normally directed against girl infants), abortion (often producing the death of the mother), and the high rate of conversion to Christianity among women. Second, as already pointed out, Christian women enjoyed substantially higher status within Christian society than women did in the world at large, which made Christianity highly attractive to them. Third, the surplus of Christian women and of pagan men produced many marriages that led to the secondary conversions of pagan men to the Faith, a phenomenon that continues today.  Finally, the abundance of Christian women resulted in higher birthrates; superior fertility contributed to the rise of Christianity. 

Why did Christianity grow then? According to Stark, “It grew because Christians constituted an intense community, able to generate the ‘invincible obstinacy’ that so offended the younger Pliny but yielded immense religious rewards. And the primary means of its growth was through the united and motivated efforts of the growing numbers of Christian believers, who invited their friends, relatives, and neighbors to share the ‘good news’.” At the heart of this willingness to share one’s faith was the revealed word of God, as taught by the Church.  Acceptance of Christian doctrine was based on an article of faith. “Central doctrines of Christianity prompted and sustained attractive, liberating, and effective social relations and organization.” The chief doctrine, of course, which was radically new to a pagan world groaning under a host of miseries was that “because God loves humanity, Christians may not please God unless they love one another.”

An interesting brief talk with Metropolitan HERMAN (Swaiko) by the newspaper of the OCA’s Archdiocese of Canada addresses succinctly his views on Orthodoxy here, and ‘Why Orthodoxy at all?’:

“The Orthodox Church is the light of faith in the Word of God in the darkness of whimsical opinions, the pillar of morality amidst the quicksand of relativist societies. Our purpose is to transform the modern world, rather than conform to it, as the Scripture tells us.”

I’m intrigued to hear him promote parochial schools too. I’m a product of Latin parochial schools, and know at least some Eastern Catholic parishes have had them as well. I also know that in the Catholic Church in the U.S. parochial schools are seen as in trouble because of increasing costs and shrinking enrollment, though I haven’t researched why this is – fewer religious Sisters to teach and support for little money, and the end of the Baby Boom?? And I believe OCA parishes tend to have 100-200 households or fewer, a fraction of many Latin parishes; what about getting Orthodox parishes of numerous jurisdictions in a vicinity to collaborate on a shared school? There are also other models available today than the traditional Catholic parochial school, such as what might be called ‘joint homeschooling,’ co-operative schools, cyberschools, etc. Just brainstorming here.

Years ago Andrew Greeley discovered that graduates of Latin parochial schools tended to give more money to that Church as adults than Latin graduates of public schools, even alumni of the weekly religious ed programs called CCD. Or as he put it – ‘half-jest and full earnest’ – parochial schools were profit centers – data not widely accepted by U.S. Catholic bishops, he complains. I think it’s fair to say he believes they’ve been overcome by an ill-advised form of ‘political correctness’ opposed to parish schools for some reason.

Perhaps I should clarify two things. First, when I’m talking about “Latin schools” here, I mean parish schools of the Latin Church, not, for instance, this place. Secondly, the parochial schools Greeley and I are talking about were comprehensive educational institutions, September thru June, Monday thru Friday, 8am-3pm, all typical elementary educational subjects (Kindergarten or 1st Grade thru 8th), not just Religion, and actually very little ancestral-homeland culture, and in my experience, no languages besides English. Just ‘normal education’ in a faith context. (This would apply to pan-ethnic parishes, ie, most Latin Church parishes in this country from my childhood and still today. Ethnic parishes – whether ‘old ethnic’ ones like Polish and Italian, or newer ones like Latino or Asian here in the Northeast – might emphasize their ethnic culture more, I’m not certain. However, even in my theoretically-pan-ethnic school – mostly Irish, Poles, Italians, and Germans – we were taught a little about these and other cultures, usually around holiday traditions.) One might place them in-between public schools and “private schools” / academies. They didn’t aspire to extraordinary academic greatness like the latter, but did alright by us generally anyway. (Statistically, Irish Catholics have been the best-educated non-Jewish group in the U.S. for at least a century!) They were located right in the neighborhood or community where the parishioners lived, usually right on or near the parish grounds. School life included weekly class Masses during Advent and Lent, all-school Masses on First Fridays and other occasions, altar servers being released from class for weekday Masses and funerals, days-off for Holydays of Obligation as days of rest and attendance at Mass (comparable to Orthodox Great Feasts), “pagan babies,” the Rosary, Stations of the Cross during Lent, First Confession and Communion classes (1st-2nd Grades), Confirmation class (4th Grade then), memorized Questions and Answers cribbed from the old Baltimore Catechism combined with a Vatican II ‘brand new attitude'(!), morning prayers, lunchtime Angelus and Grace Before Meals, class visits by the parish priests and sometimes other priests and Religious, as well as other religious and secular activities. There was also a little bit of promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, yielding just in the last generation or two, one bishop, at least one missionary priest to East Africa (keep in mind the celibacy requirement), and at least two short-lived other vocations – one of whom ended up an Orthodox layman. 😉

My parochial school in Philadelphia charged no tuition as such to parishioners while I was there in the early-mid 1970s, completely supported by all parishioners and not only those with children currently enrolled – and these were working-class folks, few if any wealthy. Later they felt they had to start charging tuition on top of the parishioner support, very small at first, growing into hundreds, then a couple thousand, dollars; at the same time their Sisters’ community shrank to nothing, replaced mostly by laywomen and men with their own residences and expenses and sometimes families, and not professing a Vow of Poverty. Currently its basic costs seem to be around $4,000.00 per year. For comparison purposes, the same rate at a nearby Catholic academy seems to be around $9,500.00, so even now, the parochial school is running less than half the cost to students of the truly “private” school.

Here in the Latin Archdiocese of Philadelphia (the five counties of southeastern Pennsylvania) the parochial schools were theoretically open to non-Catholics in the ’70s if not before, at that time charging them tuition closer to actual cost, saying that as “non-parishioners” they didn’t have the opportunity to support the school indirectly through Sunday collections and such. Since then, especially in parts of the City, as Catholics moved to the suburbs, non-Catholic enrollment grew, and the schools were also seen as a community service ministry, a relatively affordable quality alternative to the public schools; I believe they continued to teach Catholic Religion classes, because they always had, but without knowingly pressuring non-Catholic children to convert. As the non-Catholics of their communities, generally poorer Protestant African-Americans, increased in their enrollment, some scholarship funding was raised at some times and places; sometimes partnerships were established with better-off suburban parishes, area corporations, and other benefactors. But the truth be told, Philadelphia has not been completely immune from the wave of parochial school closures and consolidations seen elsewhere in the U.S. Catholic Church in the last decade or so; as you can see on their website, my own alma mater has been merged with several nearby parishes’ schools, and one or two of them have been closed in the process. (One slated for closure, belonging to an ethnic Polish parish – canonically completely under the control of the local Archbishop – appealed to Polish Pope John Paul II anyway, and was ‘saved.’)

BTW, by the time I entered parochial school, it really had stopped being the “horror story” you hear about from Baby Boomers, mostly. Say what you will about Vatican II, it provided a healthful-feeling breath of fresh air to many quarters of the Latin Church.

One other thing: Philadelphia has a historical claim to having invented the Catholic parochial school system. The See’s 4th bishop, St. John Neumann (1852-60), spearheaded the establishment of dozens of parish elementary schools in the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and Delaware, as well as the adoption of similar school systems in other dioceses throughout the U.S. IIRC, in the 1970s most of the more than 300 parishes of this Archdiocese – by then taking in just the five counties (the rest spun-off into their own dioceses) – had schools. They are considered a system because they have a single diocesewide superintendant of schools (currently a layman with a doctorate) and central administration, here not unlike a sizable public school district. In fact – here’s a childhood memory – they used to close for snow only all together – even if the hills of Manayunk where I lived – William Penn thought of them as Little Switzerland – were far harder to navigate than the flatlands elsewhere – and less often than the city public schools! (Grrr! 😉 ) As you can see at the link, each school is not left to fend for itself, reinvent the wheel, etc. But each school remains parochial because of its vital and necessary relationship to one or more local parishes and their clergy, staff, parishioners, and liturgical and prayer-life, as I’ve outlined above. They’re not just outposts of the Archdiocesan Chancery or Cardinal’s Office or something, like most public school systems are of the Board of Ed, Superintendant’s Office, or City Hall. Fr. Greeley points to “social capital,” the way that Catholic communities (neighborhoods, or more mobile suburban social ‘communities of choice’), parishes, and schools, all serving the same group of people, join forces to reinforce Catholic faith in them. (And don’t believe what some say; Catholics have been consistently about a quarter of the U.S. population for at least a century; they’re not losing ground … myself and my godmother excepted of course!)