Charles Twombly – Last Supper or First Supper: The Mystical Supper in the Christian East

Tintoretto - Last Supper First Eucharist
Tintoretto – The Last Supper                     The First Eucharist – Greek ikon

What Protestants and Catholics alike refer to as the Last Supper is frequently called something else by our friends in the Eastern Christian world. Orthodox Christians often refer to Jesus’ meal with his disciples right before his trial and execution as the Mystical Supper. What’s the difference?

Well, let’s look at the image I’ve brought with me. It’s a reproduction of a Byzantine icon in which the disciples of Jesus are arrayed much like they’d be in Western portrayals. We see them here facing outward, as if they were about to have a group photo. In this panorama, there is no Mary Magdalene, no da Vinci code. What we do have is a big Jesus in the center with twelve men (six on each side) spread around the table with a big open space in the foreground.

One doesn’t need to be an expert in Western art to notice this isn’t the kind of picture one would expect from a Renaissance painter or from the art that has flowed more or less continuously from the Renaissance ever since. The figures look somewhat primitive, almost cartoonish. They have individual features, but the individuality is marked more by stereotypical traits (beards or the absence of beards, and so forth). The growing sophistication of Renaissance paintings and sculpture which moves more and more toward photographic likeness is not only missing; it is avoided, quite intentionally. Continue reading “Charles Twombly – Last Supper or First Supper: The Mystical Supper in the Christian East”

Was John Stott interested in Orthodoxy?

translating Stott1
Translating for John Stott in Oradea, Romania, 1994

This blog post was prompted by a recent text written on his blog by my virtual friend Carson Clark, who argued, controversially, as he often does, that ‘it seems to him’, ‘Christians need to stop affirming the centrality of the cross’.

Intrigued? Good. Here is Carson’s (I believe) convincing argument:

In the christian life it shouldn’t be the crucifixion, then the rest of Jesus’ story around it. Instead it should be the crucifixion alongside everything else. This alternative framework in no way mitigates the importance or necessity of the crucifixion. It’s not removing the crucifixion from the center. It’s rather putting the putting the other elements beside it in the center.

And he concludes:

I propose a substitution. Instead of the “centrality of the cross,” I suggest the “centrality of Christ”–all of His story recorded in the New Testament, including His incarnation, life and ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension as well as His anticipated Second Coming. Surely the Bible’s entire redemptive narrative points to, culminates in, and centers on Jesus.

On his Facebook wall, Carson invites me and our common virtual friend Charles Twombly, to comment on this, and also includes in the discussion John Stott’s book The Cross of Jesus Christ and his relationship with Orthodoxy.

Here is my response. After a short comment on James R. Payton’s book Light from the Christian East. An Introduction to the Orthodox Tradition, I write:

Returning to your initial discussion on the evangelical ‘centrality of the cross’. I have to say I fully agree. Let me translate here what I have written on my blog on my own theological identity (the text there is in Romanian and I have never translated it; maybe I should). What I do there, among other things, is to present modified definitions of Bebbington’s four descriptions of evangelicalism. Here is how I redefine crucicentrism.

Trinitarian Christocentrism – a theology rooted in the reality of the Holy Trinity, made accessible to us in the person of Christ, the son of God – fully God and fully human, who was revealed to us through his incarnation for us in history, through the virgin Mary; through his sinless life; through his sacrifice in our place on the cross; through his resurrection which overcame death; and through his ascension, which made possible the coming of the Holy Spirit, through whom Christ is ever present in and with us,in order to sanctify and transform us, as members of his mystical body, the Church, according to his image.

I admit it is quite convoluted, but, as you can see, my main contention is that the entire work of Christ, the Son of the Father, from his incarnation in the power of the Spirit, to the sending of the Spirit following his ascension – not just the redemptive sacrifice on the cross – should be at the centre of our theology.

Charles responds too to Carson’s invitations, commenting on Stott:

Danut knew “Uncle John” better than I did (being one of his “boys”), but we’re both strong admirers, I’m sure. Stott must be measured in terms of his time: he worked within the limits of his experience (as we all do).

While studying theology at Cambridge, he basically skipped the lectures and studied on his own since he was out of sympathy with many of his teachers. A shame in a way, since CH Dodd and Charles Moule were among them.

Eastern Orthodoxy wasn’t on his radar, I’d guess, even though there was a thriving interchange between Orthodox and Anglicans in England in those days, represented most especially by the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius.

Interestingly, Michael Harper (a one-time curate of Stott’s at All Souls) moved on to be a major leader in Britain’s charismatic movement and then moved on again, years later, to become an Antiochean Orthodox and prominent in the “move East” of Brits and others. Not sure Stott paid much attention to either of these.

I think he had the “English disease” when it came to theology. Despite his great book on the cross, his interests and reading were almost wholly exegetical (as represented by the books in his study, which I examined–see next paragraph). Historical or systematic theology was not high on the priorities list.

My most precious memory of him was the forty-five minutes he gave to me in ’73 when I visited his townhouse and discussed with him my possible call to the “priesthood” (a term he didn’t like). He is a great hero to me, though I’ve moved in different directions.

I must confess I have the same feelings as Charles for ‘uncle John’. I have great respect and admiration for him, but I have moved theologically in a quite different direction than him.

Here is what I have added, in response to Charles’s comments:

Yes, Charles, as a Langham scholar, I had the undeserved privilege to meet uncle John a number of times in my life, twice of these in his home close to All Souls in Langham Place, which was my church during my theological studies.

John Stott
Talking with uncle John is his office

The first time I have visited him together with another Langham scholar, my friend Silviu Rogobete, who wrote his PhD on Staniloae’s ‘ontology of love’.

Stott & Tofana
Uncle John & Fr Stelian Tofana

The second time I have visited uncle John with another dear friend, the Orthodox Fr. Stelian Tofana, the most important Romanian Biblical scholar, who was supported financially by John Stott to spend two months at Tyndale House in Cambridge. One Sunday, since I was myself working on my doctorate at London School of Theology, uncle John suggested that I should bring Fr. Stelian to meet with him.
Besides these visits, I have listened to him many times preaching, both in Romania, before the fall of communism, and after, when I translated for him during his visit at Emmanuel University in Oradea, where I was teaching, and many other times at All Souls.

I was always fascinated with his sermons. He impressed me as a person who was coming from the presence of God – that is what I would call a prophet. He was clear, warm and confident in his sermons. When he preached at All Souls, the church was absolutely full – sanctuary, balconies and the hall downstairs.

I must confess I was never attracted by his books. They seemed to dry to me compared with his live sermons. I think he could have done better with a less stiff editor (whoever that was).

Although he was very knowledgeable theologically, uncle Stott never pretended to be more that a Bible teacher. I tend to agree. This was not a statement of humility (although he was a very humble man), but one of reality.

I never got the impression that Stott was interested at all in Orthodox theology or, as Charles rightly says, generally in systematic or historical theology. We all have our blind spots, don’t we?

Charles Twombly – Pelagius and His Nemesis, Augustine: A Tale of Two Temperaments

Pelagius1  Augustine_of_Hippo
Pelagius and Augustine

Pelagius was an amiable chap,
A nice man on the whole.
He thought that we had all the stuff
We needed for our soul.
The sacraments were extra help
That some need more than others;
But most of us can do just fine,
Especially with good mothers.

Augustine had a good mom too,
Though she could scheme and plan.
Might be the reason he took off
To live in another land.
Now they live in America
But still live far away;
‘Gus now lives in Florida;
Monica’s near LA. Continue reading “Charles Twombly – Pelagius and His Nemesis, Augustine: A Tale of Two Temperaments”

The Reading List | Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University

The Reading List | Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University.

Here is an essential reading list for Americans (thanks Charles Twombly for the link). I imagine one written by/for Romanians would be slightly different.

What would you add to it from a Romanian perspective. As essential reading, I mean.

I for one, to ‘prime the pump’, I would add

Andrei Plesu, Minima moralia

John Updike – Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours. Continue reading “John Updike – Seven Stanzas at Easter”

Fast Track – Around the World in Under 5 Minutes

A stunning video and an irresistible teaser for those who love travelling.

Thanks to Charles Twombly for this link.

Terry Eagleton and Arnold Eisen on the Radicalism of the New Testament

This is an extraordinary conversation. Thanks to Charles Twombly for this link.

Here are a few details about the partners in this enlightening dialogue, from the youtube page: Continue reading “Terry Eagleton and Arnold Eisen on the Radicalism of the New Testament”