Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Ed Sullivan Canon (Response to "Meeting Michelle" Part 2)

You may have heard of the "Vincentian Canon," which is named for St. Vincent of Lerins, who famously said:
"But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation? For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.
Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense "Catholic," which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors" (Commonitory 2:4-5).
St. Vincent's definition here of Catholicity has been universally accepted, but it is certainly true that, for example, both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians claim to accept it, but obviously would not agree on whether the Roman doctrines regarding the Papacy or the Filioque fit this definition.

I would like to propose a canon that I believe is a reasonable extrapolation from St. Vincent's, however. This canon will not settle the issues between Rome and Orthodoxy, but it is a quick way of dealing with some of the slam dunk questions that have arisen in our time. If a doctrine or Biblical interpretation was not believed by anyone, anywhere,  or at any time, prior to the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, it obviously is, by definition, contrary to St. Vincent's canon, and so can safely and swiftly be rejected by Christians as being contrary to the faith.

Let us look then at the recent article by Fr. Richard René. "Meeting Michelle: Pastoral and Theological Reflections on a Transgender Inmate."

We see a pattern in this essay, which we have noted before. As Sergey Khudiev wrote, in response to a previous statement by Fr. Robert Arida, which was likewise replete with studied ambiguity, liberal Protestants have “a particularity which entails a tendency to explain themselves with rhetorical questions, vague allusions and highly mysterious phrases from which you can with more or less justification guess at their positions, but are unable to explain clearly” ("Let Your Yea Be Yea and Your Nay Be Nay", July 5, 2011 <>).

Making use of some obscure sounding quotations from St. Maximus adds to this smokescreen, but in Tikhon Pino's response to this essay, he has shown rather conclusively, that Fr. Richard's appeal to St. Maximus the Confessor to support the suggestion that maybe there is some basis for transgenderism in Orthodox theology, is without any actual basis.

Fr. Richard concluded his essay with the following quotation from St. Maximus:
“The one who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of detachment knows no distinction between one’s own and another’s, between faithful and unfaithful, between slave and freeman, or indeed between male and female. But having risen above the tyranny of the passions and looking to the one nature of men he regards all equally and is equally disposed toward all.” (Chapters on Love, 2.30).
Now the obvious reason this quote was so used is because it makes reference to St. Paul's words in Galatians 3:27-28:
"For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."
He obviously could have quoted directly from St. Paul, but most people have a Bible, but do not have a collection of the works of St. Maximus. This quote, along with the other dust kicked up by his attempt to make St. Maximus suggest something he clearly never would have imagined, no doubt leaves many readers scratching their heads and wondering if St. Maximus might really provide some basis for a man claiming to be a woman, trapped in a man's body.

If one were to take the most extreme possible interpretation of St. Paul's words, you might argue that St. Paul was saying that we no longer have any sex distinctions at all. But Fr. Richard's man named "Michelle" is not identifying as a genderless person united with Christ. He is a man who wants to believe, and have us believe, that he is really a woman.

Obviously, St. Paul was not suggesting that gender distinctions cease because we are in Christ. Throughout his epistles he repeatedly states his expectation that men and women behave properly in accordance with their sex.

The only reference in St. Paul's writings that we can find to people who today would be called "transgendered," is in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [malakoi], nor sodomites [i.e., homosexuals, arsenokoitai],  nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
To better understand the meaning of the word "malakoi," let me cite Anthony C. Thiselton's highly respected commentary on 1 Corinthians:
"[Robin] Scroggs allows [in his book The New Testament and Homosexuality] that while μαλακός may mean unmanly in general terms, more characteristically it is used of "the youth who consciously imitated feminine styles and ways." This all too readily slips into "passive homosexual activity" whether for pleasure or for pay.  From the classical period to Philo extreme distaste is expressed in Greek and hellenistic literature for the effeminate male who uses cosmetics and the coiffuring of the hair, for which Philo sometimes uses the term ανδρόγυνος, male-female (e.g. De Specialibus Legibus 3.37). These Issues lie behind the astonishing array of English translations in our versions.
In general there is broad (but not unanimous) agreement that μαλακοὶ in 1 Cor 6:9-10 denotes "the passive... partner... in male homosexual relations" (Barrett), but whereas Scrogg argues that it refers to the call boy who prostitutes his services to an older male, usually for pay, many others tend to regard the evidence for restricting the term to pederasty linked with male prostitution as at best indecisive and at worst unconvincing. Scroggs depends for his view on the background of pederastic practices in Graeco-Roman society (whether voluntary, or for payment) and the impact of this culture for the pejorative reactions in hellenistic Judaism (especially Philo)"  (The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns Publishing Company, 2000) p. 448f).
Robert Gagnon, in his book The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, (which was endorsed by both Brevard Childs and Bruce Metzger (certainly among the most influential scholars in their fields (Old Testament and New Testament, respectively)), after discussing the conclusions of other scholars on this word, says this:
"In my own reading, the meaning of malakoi in 1 Cor 6:9 probably lies somewhere in between "only prostituting passive homosexuals" and "effeminate heterosexual and homosexual males." Because the word has a broad range of meaning in Greek literature, what it specifically means for any given writer will vary. However, here, Paul places this vice alongside a list of offenses that lead to exclusion from the kingdom. This suggests he refers to an offense more serious than simply a "limp wrist" (contra Martin).... Immoral sexual intercourse, then, would appear to be an identifying mark of the malakoi. Furthermore, the epithet "soft" itself suggests males playing the female role in sexual intercourse with other males" (The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), p. 307f, he discusses the term extensively, especially in pp. 306 -312).
There are no Church Fathers that read Galatians 3:28 as suggesting transgenderism. St. Augustine, for example, says:
"In this faith there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female; since all have been baptized, all are one in Christ Jesus. And if this is accomplished by faith, by which we walk righteously in this life, how much more perfectly and completely will it be accomplished by sight itself, when we see face to face (1 Cor. 13:12)? For now, although we have the first-fruits of the spirit (Rom. 8:23), which is life, on account of the righteousness of faith, yet because the body is still dead on account of sin, that difference, whether of peoples or of legal status or of sex, while indeed already removed in the unity of the faith, remains in this moral life. That this order is to be observed on this life's journey is the teaching of the apostles, who hand down very salutary rules as to how Christians should live together with regard to differences of people (Jews and Greeks), status (masters and slaves), sex (husbands and wives), and the like; and it is also the teaching of the Lord himself..." (Augustine's Commentary on Galatians, Eric Plumer, trans., (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003), p 173ff.).
So let's now apply the Ed Sullivan canon here. Has anyone, anywhere, at anytime prior to the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, ever suggested that that St. Paul was teaching that because we are all one in Christ, and in that relationship and context there is neither male nor female, therefore a person who is biologically male can therefore identify as a female? Nope. Not a single person.

Now one is free to believe that the Church has been wrong on this all along, but one cannot be a legitimate Orthodox Christian and come to that conclusion.

Update: Fr. Maximos Constas, the translator of St. Maximus the Confessor's Ambigua, has a text available on Academia, with the following prefacing remarks:

"In his Chapters on Love II.30, St Maximos the Confessor cites Galatians 3:28, which states that in Christ there is "neither male nor female." This passage, along with St Maximos's remarks in Amb. 41 and elsewhere, have led to conflicting interpretations of the Confessor's views on gender. The commentary presented here is by Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra, and is taken from The Mystical Marriage: Spiritual Life According to St Maximos the Confessor (Columbia: Newrome Press, 2018). Elder Aimilianos was an astute and insightful reader of St Maximos, and his interpretation merits careful consideration.'

The text can be downloaded here: