S. Proclus and his Writings
(The Ecclesiastic, vol. 26, 1864)
It is proposed to give a brief account of some of the orations or sermons of S. Proclus, who was the Patriarch of Constantinople during the middle of the fifth century. We at first perused them for our own profit and pleasure, and afterwards it seemed that a short notice of them would not be without interest for some of our readers. The high price as well as the rarity of the books in which they are published puts them out of the reach of those who either have but small opportunities for collecting books, or who lack the means of procuring large folios.
The name of S. Proclus is so well known to every student of Church history, that we need only dwell upon the leading events of his life. At a very early age he was made a Reader of the Metropolitan Church of Constantinople. While he remained in this office he devoted himself to severe study, not neglecting to cultivate rhetoric at the same time. Atticus, the Patriarch of Constantinople, ordained him both deacon and priest, and afterwards made him his secretary. Upon the death of Atticus, Sisinnius was elevated to the vacant throne, and S. Proclus was appointed Bishop of Cizicus; but the inhabitants of that city refused to admit him to administer in the diocese, not acknowledging the power of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to appoint their bishop. This happened for the best for S. Proclus; he continued to reside at Constantinople, where by his wonderful preaching he made a great name. Nestorius of Antioch, for a short and troubled period, held the Constantinopolitan see after the death of Sisinnius. Maximian was appointed the successor of Nestorius, and on his death, A.d. 434, S. Proclus was consecrated Archbishop of Constantinople. A strong popular party had desired his elevation at each of the three preceding vacancies. The undisputed orthodoxy of S. Proclus was the only bar to his advancement; he was a bitter opponent of Nestorianism in any form. He was a noble supporter of the Catholic dogma that the Blessed Virgin is "Theotokos," Mother of God. The active part that S. Proclus played in the Nestorian controversy is detailed by Mr. Bright in the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of his most graphic and accurate Church History, in which the Tome of S. Proclus is also described. Controversial as was our Patriarch, Socrates (iii. c. 41) speaks of his mild and gentle spirit in a very touching manner; of how his patience was far greater than that of Atticus; of how entirely he preserved the dignity and honour of meekness; of how he restored a gentle spirit to his Church, as if it were a pledge with him. 'One incident in his life we must record in Mr. Bright's own words :—" On January 27, 438, a solemn and touching ceremony absorbed the thoughts of the people of Constantinople. The remains of S. Chrysostom, by their desire and the advice of Proclus, were brought with all honour from Comana to a grave beside his ancient home. The Bosphorus was in a blaze of light; the whole city seemed to pour out its inhabitants. The Emperor, who had been Chrysostom's godson, put his face close to the coffin, and begged the departed soul to forgive Arcadius and Eudoxia." (P. 363.) A noble sight, one great saint paying holy respect and reverence to a departed brother in the faith. S. Proclus held the throne of Constantinople twelve years, dying A.d. 446. His twenty sermons were published in Greek by Vincent Riccard, at Rome, in A.d. 1630. Our text is that of Francis Combefis, who has inserted these orations in the second volume of his "Novum Auctarium of the Bibliotheca Patrum."
F. Combefis has published altogether twenty homilies of S. Proclus; they range over all the seasons of the Christian year. There are several sermons for the Feast of the Annunciation, Christmas, Easter, for Holy Week, and special homilies for the Theophania, the Transfiguration, Palm Sunday, and for the commemoration of individual saints, as SS. Stephen, Andrew, Paul, John Chrysostom. These orations are representative of all the peculiarities of the Eastern style of preaching in its later phases. They are exuberant with energy and life, very glowing in their antitheses; sometimes mystical in their applications, and at others almost logical in their deductions. S. Proclus makes an immense impression upon the mind when he is read for the first time,- he is so fresh, and warm, and vigorous. His words are so peculiar too; the ordinary lexicons are left far behind; the reader is ever and anon thrown back upon his general knowledge of the Greek language, as well as upon any special acquaintance he may have with the Byzantine writers. No translation could reproduce S. Proclus. We have tried several experiments with regard to his literal rendering into English, and let us tone down expression after expression, twist and turn sentences as we may, our sober garb does not adapt itself to him at all; so we have been obliged to give up our attempts, in despair of ever giving the English reader a fair notion of what a homily of S. Proclus is like as a whole. Yet we are not prevented from giving some account of his thoughts in our own words, and we will now show how he treats one or two important points of theology.
The most distinguished feature in all the orations is the varied imagery under which S. Proclus represents the human nature of our Blessed Lord. The controversies of his day, the combined efforts which the Arians or Nestorians made against the Catholic Faith, necessitated him to dwell upon the attributes and the prerogatives of the material body in a most minute and emphatic way. Men then—as, alas! some men do now—divided our Lord's two natures. S. Proclus consistently pleaded for their perfect unity; and his sermons form a noble protest against a spurious spiritualism, which is almost as fatal amongst ourselves in its tendencies now as it was with the Eastern Church during the fifth century. If these sermons were a protest then, they are a protest now against the undue separation of our Blessed Lord's two natures,—against the taking out from the Godhead of that humanity which was for ever taken into it at the Incarnation. The Arian or Semi-Arian heresies, like a slow and silent poison, are doing a dire work in the bosom of the Catholic Church; many of her members positively refrain from calling "the Man Christ Jesus" Very and True God: not directly, oh no! but indirectly; for they go with the Nestorians in holding up the Blessed Virgin Mary as being the Mother of Christ, but either they altogether fail, or with faltering accents and with stammering tongues do they venture to pronounce the Catholic Theotokos—to proclaim Mary as Mother of God. We maintain that it was not any undue reverence for the Virgin Mother that prompted S. Proclus to preach encomium after encomium upon the Blessed Virgin; for with her true Maternity, with her perpetual Virginity, were bound up all the prophecies that went before of "that holy Thing" which should be born of her, and Who should be called "the Son of God." Nay, further, these dogmas were involved in her giving birth to a sinless nature, which could alone atone for the sins of the whole world; to a nature, at the same time, perfectly pure and perfectly human; to that" body" which God said "Thou hast prepared Me." Mary is spoken of by S. Proclus in such glowing terms, not for her own sake only, but because Jesus was the Son of Mary; because God willed that His Co-eternal, Consubstantial Son should be " born of a pure Virgin," should be the holy Offspring of a holy Mother. It is true that we read in S. Proclus of Mary's glory, of her exaltation, but nothing about her intercession for us; that we read about Mary being "blessed among women" and "full of grace," but not of her bodily assumption, nor of her reign in heaven. There is no metaphor too striking, there is no simile too varied, there is no form of expression too rhetorical, but what S. Proclus applies to the Blessed Virgin; yet there is a singleness of purpose in his every sermon—that purpose is, the setting forth with all his powers the work of God made man for the salvation of a lost and fallen world. S. Proclus thought that he honoured the Son when he honoured the Mother that bare that Son. Modern Protestantism reasons after quite another fashion: its proposition is, dishonour the Mother, slight her, pass her by, and then you truly honour the Son. We do not fear to say that it is only by looking at these heavenly mysteries in the light by which they were viewed by S. Proclus that the deep objective mystery of the Incarnation can be fully realized. It is the fashion of the day almost to vapourise away the Incarnation, leaving but as a residue some subjective theory of belief, or reducing the "great mystery of godliness" to a sentimental field of speculation, into which it is not the province of the refined and delicate to inquire too closely.
Some very interesting titles are given to the Blessed Virgin in the first oration which was delivered upon the Feast of the Annunciation—the whole sermon is called " An Encomium upon the All-holy Mary, Mother of God:" the day is spoken of as being a "Virginal Festival" in which is celebrated the merciful and wonderful union of the mother with the maid. The outward manifestations of the Incarnation are connected with the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the typical and other names which she receives being all indicative of new phases under which can be viewed our Lord's relation to our nature. We find her termed, 1. "the undefiled storehouse of virginity;" she was a treasury of all that was pure and chaste, the highest type of womanhood. It was not seen how far our mere human nature could reach till Mary became the limit of spotless humanity. 2. "The spiritual paradise of the Second Adam:" for what the Garden of Eden was to Adam when he lived in it, and delighted in it, that was the Virgin Mother to her yet unborn Son, the closed garden of more modern writers— it should be mentioned that for the short exposition of the titles we, and not S. Proclus, are responsible. In many cases the Saint's own meaning is to be seen at once, but in some others, an acquaintance with other portions of his writings as well as with that of kindred Fathers, is needed to afford a safe clue to the sense. 3. "The workshop of the union of Natures:" from the first moment of the conception the two natures were indissolubly united, "never to be divided:" the manhood was taken into the Godhead at once; the first Ascension of our nature was at this instant of time. 4. "The solemn assembly of covenanted salvation:" the economy of the Incarnation is patristically treated on its covenanted aspect: the Fathers regard the Eternal Son as " swearing unto the Lord, and vowing a vow unto the Almighty God of Jacob." The various elements of grace joined issue with the Virgin, she was chosen to be the recipient of the "power of the Highest." 5. "The bridal couch in which the Word betrothed Himself to the flesh:" the Song of Solomon so figurative, so typical, so mystical, was ever a favourite study with Eastern Fathers, and from here, as in this case, they drew many of their choicest thoughts and applications of things old to things new. Gofridus, an Abbot and Cardinal of the Vllth century, uses the same simile. 6. "The burning bush of nature which the fire of the Divine birth-pang did not consume." At the burning bush did the Eternal Son, before His Incarnation speak with Moses—so from the Virgin, overshadowed by fire of the Holy Ghost did the Son appear—she being preserved and yet God being born. This title is especially valuable as connecting a portion of the Old Testament history with a mystical interpretation suitable for every season of the Christian Church. 7. "That really light cloud which sitting above the cherubim has been laden with a body," (Isa. xix. 1,) containing, yet undeveloped, the presence of the Lord of Glory, veiled and unknown to the common light. 8. "That most pure fleece wet with heavenly dew (Jud. vi. 37) by which the shepherd clothes his sheep:" as S. Proclus says in another place: '' for unless He had clothed me, He could not have saved me." 9. "The single bridge uniting God to men :" because as Son of Man our Lord had a mother and no father: while as Son of God, He had a Father and no mother: the two natures were joined through Mary. 10. "The marvellous loom of the economy in which was woven a seamless vesture of unity, the Holy Ghost being the weaver; the wool-worker was the power of the Highest," which overshadowed her: the wool the ancient fleece of Adam; the woof was the Virgin's undefiled flesh; the comb the unmeasurable grace of Him who begat; the artificer the Word Himself produced. The loom, wool, and weaving are very favourite illustrations of S. Proclus, and they are worked out by him now with a greater and now with less detail. All the illustrations of S. Mary which occur above were reproduced very often in the mediaeval writers—who not being themselves inventive expanded and commented upon the several theological conceptions which had been handed down to them.
Our readers must not be left with the impression that S. Proclus does not fully recognise the Person and Work of our Blessed Lord. In the sermon whence these titles of the Virgin have been taken may be fouud a very noble passage upon our Blessed Lord's two natures. "He did not change natures, but He Who is according to the order of Melchizedek clothed it with His compassion. Truly God put on the form of man, for unless the Word had dwelt in the womb, flesh had not been able to sit upon the holy throne. If it was unseemly for God to enter into the womb that He formed it was equally so for Him to minister to man, and He Who was rich should not have made Himself poor for our sakes. Being impassible by nature through compassion He became altogether subject to suffering. Christ did not become God by advancement (god forbid I) but being God, from this compassion He became man, so we believe. We do not preach human apotheosis, but we confess that God became Incarnate. He who is motherless according to nature is also fatherless according to the earthly dispensation. As a mere man He is not the former: if God alone He would not be the latter; yet is He as God motherless, and as man fatherless." The work of Christ is placed by S. Proclus in a strong contrast with the work of Satan,—" for where the serpent through disobedience poured out poison, there, the Word entering in through obedience, moulded the temple of the body into life. He bore the thorny crown, but He dissolved the sentence of the thorns; He was Himself in the bosom of His Father, yet in the womb of His Mother; in the heavens above He is adored by the angels, in the earth beneath He sat at a common table with the publicans; Him, Whom seraphim dared not look at, Pilate questioned, the servants smote with a reed, creation was awe-stricken. He was nailed upon the cross, yet He did not leave empty the throne of His glory: He was shut up in the sepulchre, yet He stretched out the heavens like a curtain: He was reckoned amongst the dead, ye He despoiled Hades: here He is called by calumny a deceiver, there (Isa. vi. 3) the holy ones doxologize Him: 0 Mystery of Mysteries!"
There seems to be no point in the all-atoning work of our Lord and Saviour that S. Proclus leaves untouched. For instance, S. Proclus gives us several reasons why an angel could not bring redemption to man. Since, he says, "the race of man owed very much on account of sins and lacked the means of payment; for through Adam all be given a note of hand to sin, so the devil has held us as his slaves, he bought us for his own slaves, the charter which he used was our much suffering body. Thus stands the evil one, the forger of sins, fixing upon us the debt, demanding us for punishment, presenting one of two alternatives, either that the death of condemnation must fall upon all, for all have sinned, or, that such a price must be paid as an antidote, that shall be altogether sufficient to liquidate the debt. Man could not, therefore, be saved, because he lay under the debt of sin. An angel was not able to deliver humanity, for he lacked the means to pay so great a price. It remained therefore needful for the sinless God to die for our sins, this was our only deliverance. He, therefore, Who led forth all nature from non-existence into being; He Who lacked nothing by way of supply, devised for those who were condemned a most sure way of life and a most august deliverance from death, and as He Himself knew, He became man, of a Virgin. Willingly being condemned, He delivered from death those who crucified Him, and He changed the lawlessness of those who killed Him into the salvation of those who needed it. Still it was not of mere man to save, for man himself needed salvation." The highest views of the nature and prerogatives of the Blessed Virgin Mary are thus held with the plainest and most scriptural notions of the doctrine of the atonement. We fear such a unity of view as this is rarely to be found in the Catholic Church now. It ought to be so, and by God's grace it will, some day, be so again. The children of the Church are, slowly, with toil, and much contention, through much strife and weariness of spirit, gradually returning to the old paths. May we all be guided to them, and enlightened in our heavenly walk. May we ever hear the voice behind us, saying, " This is the way, walk ye in it, when we turn to the right hand or to the left." The higher we mount, the wider becomes our horizon: in the light of heaven will be realized the perfection of all knowledge.