13th century text hides words of ArchimedesThe pages of a medieval prayer text also contain words of ancient Greek engineer Archimedes. It takes high-tech imaging to read between the lines.THE book cost $2 million at auction, but large sections are unreadable.
Some of its 348 pages are torn or missing and others are covered with sprawling purple patches of mildew. Sooty edges and water stains indicate a close escape from a fire.
"This manuscript is, by far, the worst of any manuscript I've ever seen," said William Noel, curator of manuscripts for the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, where it now resides. "It's a book that is on its last legs."
The sheepskin parchment originally contained a 10th century Greek text, which was erased by a 13th century scribe who replaced it with prayers. Seven hundred years later, a forger painted gilded pictures of the Evangelists on top of the faded words.
Underneath it all, however, is an exceptional treasure — the oldest surviving copy of works by the ancient Greek mathematician and engineer Archimedes of Syracuse, who lived in the 3rd century BC.
About 80% of the text had been transcribed and translated in the 1910s after it was rediscovered in an Istanbul monastery, but since then much of it became unreadable again because of deterioration.
Fully deciphering its mysteries has had to wait for advanced technologies, some of which had never been applied to ancient manuscripts.
The unusual cast of detectives includes not only the imaging specialists who helped photograph the Dead Sea Scrolls, but also a Stanford University physicist who studies trace metals in spinach with a particle accelerator.
Together, they have been carrying out one of the most remarkable "salvage jobs" in the history of codicology, the study of ancient manuscripts.
Archimedes, it turns out, is only one secret of the text.
AMONG the mathematicians of antiquity, Archimedes was one of the greatest and most cunning.
He was one of the earliest to devise ways to calculate the area beneath curves and was the first to prove that a circle's circumference and diameter are related by the constant pi. He developed the Archimedes Screw to lift water and invented deadly devices, such as the Claw of Archimedes, which was designed to grapple enemy warships.
Archimedes died in 212 BC, when Syracuse was sacked by the Romans. Legend holds that he was drawing figures in the sand. "Don't disturb my circles," he supposedly told the soldier who killed him.
Knowledge of Archimedes' work is derived from three books.
Codex A, transcribed around the 9th century, contained seven major treatises in Greek. Codex B, created around the same time, had at least one additional work by Archimedes and survived only in Latin translation.
Codex C has been an enigma.
It was originally copied down in 10th century Constantinople, now known as Istanbul. Three centuries later, the manuscript was in Palestine. By then, it was no longer a precious vestige of ancient learning but an obscure text that could be put to better use as a prayer book.
A scribe began by unbinding the pages. He washed them with citrus juice or milk and sanded them with a pumice stone. He cut the sheets in half, turned them 90 degrees and stitched the new book down the middle.
The scribe wrote prayers over the blank pages. Codex C had become a "palimpsest" — a recycled book.
The book eventually was brought back to Constantinople, where it sat until the 1890s, when a Greek scholar wrote down a fragment of erased text that he was able to read.
That fragment was brought to the attention of Danish philologist Johan Ludvig Heiberg in 1906, then the foremost authority on Archimedes. Armed with a magnifying glass, he translated everything he could read, publishing his work in 1910.
The palimpsest disappeared amid the chaos of World War I, only resurfacing in 1998, when a French family named Guersan offered it for auction at Christie's in New York. An anonymous book collector paid $2 million and deposited it at the Walters Art Museum for conservation.
Mold had attacked much of the manuscript, and four forged paintings of the Evangelists made in the 20th century covered some of its most important pages.
"That was our worst nightmare," said Abigail Quandt, senior conservator of rare books and manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum.
ROGER L. Easton Jr., a 56-year-old imaging specialist at the Rochester Institute of Technology, had just come off his success revealing hidden text in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Christie's had commissioned him to make ultraviolet images of the palimpsest for the auction catalog, and now he offered his help to the museum.
Easton and his colleagues began their work in 2000. They tinkered with different methods for capturing the image with the ultraviolet light, which makes the parchment glow more whitish.
They then merged those images with another set taken under a tungsten light, which enhanced the reddish hue of the Archimedes text. The resulting "pseudocolor" image made it easier to distinguish the black prayer book writing from the burnt sienna words of Archimedes.
Using this painstaking method, Easton and his team took two years to uncover another 15% of the text.
They were stymied in penetrating the rest.
Two more years passed before Stanford physicist Uwe Bergmann, 43, read a magazine article about the Archimedes palimpsest that mentioned it had originally been written with iron gall ink.
One of Bergmann's projects at Stanford was investigating the process of photosynthesis in plants by using the synchrotron X-rays to image small clusters of manganese atoms in spinach.
"Why not find traces of iron in an ancient book?" he asked.
Bergmann sent an e-mail to the Walters Art Museum, and the museum agreed to a test.
Bergmann set up the palimpsest experiment at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory. Spread over an area the size of a football field, the synchrotron is part of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, a Department of Energy facility set in the foothills of Menlo Park.
The synchrotron hurls electrons at near light speed, forcing them to give off X-rays as they veer around bends. That X-ray beam is channeled away into the laboratories.
Bergmann figured the powerful and precise beam could be used to make iron molecules fluoresce, thus allowing him with a sensitive-enough detector to pick up even the faintest traces of ink.
Bergmann first had to determine the exposure time. Too much time and the powerful synchrotron X-ray could damage the parchment. Then, they adjusted the intensity of the beam, which could be so strong that it blinded the detectors that picked up the glow from the iron gall ink.
After two years of refining their technique, Bergmann and his colleagues began the laborious process of imaging the palimpsest this summer.
Each side of a page, mounted in frame that moved in front of the beam, took 12 hours to record. The machines processed the pages continuously for two weeks.
Beneath a moldy, torn painting of St. John emerged two layers of writing.
On the edge of the first page, they saw a signature dated April 14, 1229: "By the hand of presbyter Ioannes Myronas."
It was the name of the priest who had erased Archimedes.
IN an office near Memorial Church at Stanford, Reviel Netz flicked off the lights. Netz, a slight 38-year-old with dark hair, leaned close to the screen of his laptop.
Bergmann's X-ray work had produced a black-and-white picture of a page from "The Method of Mechanical Theorems," a text found only in the palimpsest.
One phrase — "let them be arranged so they balance on point theta" — had already been translated by Heiberg, although he had had to guess about the word "on," which was unreadable.
Netz, a professor of classics, looked at the X-ray image and nodded. He smiled.
The actual word was "around."
"That's not trivial," he said, explaining that the change altered the meaning of Archimedes' calculations involving an object's center of gravity.
The X-ray image also revealed a section of "The Method" that had been hidden from Heiberg in the fold between pages. It contained part of a discussion on how to calculate the area inside a parabola using a new way of thinking about infinity, Netz said. It appeared to be an early attempt at calculus — nearly 2,000 years before Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz invented the field.
The discoveries may seem small, but they are significant in the understanding of ancient mathematics, Netz said.
One passage he studied several years ago involved the innumerable slices and lines that could be made from a triangular prism similar to a wedge of cheese. Netz said the passage, which was unreadable to Heiberg, showed that Archimedes was grappling with the concept of infinity long before other mathematicians.
For Netz, a specialist in ancient mathematics and cognitive history, the chance to decipher the palimpsest "is the fulfillment of an incredible dream," he said.
One of his biggest breakthroughs involves a quirky part of the palimpsest called the "Stomachion," which literally means "Belly-Teaser."
Stomachions were children's games in which 14 geometrical shapes were rearranged to create new shapes. Heiberg translated fragments of the manuscript but paid little attention to it, thinking it was just a game.
Netz saw a deeper significance. Archimedes asked a more restricted question in his "Stomachion": How many different ways could you combine the 14 triangles to make a square?
Netz believes the fragments address an area of mathematics known as combinatorics that scholars have only recently believed interested the Greeks.
For all the high-tech efforts, there are still gaps remaining in the Archimedes text, perhaps 2%, Netz guessed.
AMONG the jumbled fragments are clues that perhaps the deepest secrets are yet to be found.
A century ago, Heiberg copied down two lines that he couldn't identify. They began: "The youngest had been abroad for so long that the sisters wouldn't even know who was who."
The passage was not Archimedes.
In 2002, scholars were able to cross-reference the quote. It came from "Against Timandros," written by a 4th century BC Athenian orator named Hyperides.
Although Hyperides is little-known now, contemporaries frequently compared him to Demosthenes, an acknowledged master of oratory.
No complete versions exist of "Against Timandros," which Hyperides had written as part of a lawsuit over an inheritance, said Judson Herrman, a classicist at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania.
Further study determined there were 20 pages of Hyperides in the palimpsest, including a previously unknown text called "Against Diondas."
The palimpsest, it turns out, took parchment from seven texts, including what are believed to be a commentary on Aristotle's "On the Soul" and a group of biographies of the saints, plus two still unidentified texts.
The works are even more difficult to discern than the Archimedes because the ink is different and the pages more thoroughly scrubbed.
"I have been cursing all morning," Herrman said of his work on a few lines of Hyperides.
The scientists aren't giving up.
Easton's team recently began experimenting with precisely tuned light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, to illuminate the text. The team also is using angled light to detect the outlines of letters etched in the parchment by the acid in the ink.
The team made progress on a few pages, but it may take decades — or longer — before technologies are developed that can unveil all the texts.
"We'll probably leave something for future scientists to work on," Netz said.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
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Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Orthodox Reunion: Overcoming the Curse of Jurisdictionalism in America
Fr. Josiah Trenham
The Very Reverend Josiah Trenham, Ph.D.
Diocesan Parish Life Conference in El Paso, TX - June 15th, 2006
Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of America
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Your Grace, Basil, Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America; my dear brothers in the sacred priesthood; pious and Christ-loving Deacons; brothers and sisters in Christ:
I greet you with sincere affection in our common Savior, and bring the greetings of His Grace, Joseph, Bishop of Los Angeles and the West to all of you. I am greatly honored to be here in El Paso at the 2nd Parish Life Conference of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America. I have the opportunity to speak to you on a subject most dear to my heart, and I believe to yours also: the unity of the Orthodox Church in America. I have entitled my presentation, "Orthodox Reunion: Overcoming the Curse of Jurisdictionalism in America", but before I begin please allow me to ask your forgiveness ahead of time for my mistakes and inadequacies, and to beg your indulgence. I do not speak from any position of expertise or authority on this subject, but as a concerned priest of the Church grasping for a way forward.Psalm 132 and the Unity of Israel
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing- life forevermore." Psalm 132:1-3
Brothers are meant to dwell together in unity. That is the good life. That is the pleasant life. When men dwell in unity, they are invigorated with strength, and find their union producing immense fruits, exponentially greater collectively than the sum of what they could have produced as separated individuals. The union of all men, for which we pray in every divine service, is the will of God. All men united in Jesus Christ is the desire of the Lord. All earthly races united in the one heavenly race- which is the race of the New Adam, Jesus Christ, the Christian race, in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. This union of all men in the Holy Church is the will of God from all eternity and the purpose of the Almighty, which animates all of His redemptive acts. As a witness and demonstrable expression of the life of the renewed humans, who are Christians, is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. The Church is a miracle of unity for it is the New Man, and as such is the only miracle of unity in the cosmos. In confronting the Church all men are to witness a living organism that defies and transcends human divisions. Sadly today, when most outsiders encounter the Church and hear we are Orthodox Christians, a question immediately follows, "Are you Greek? Are you Russian?" and so by our divisions we have fostered an earthly identification of ethnicity and nationalism that leads the observer to conclude our Church is designed only for particular groups of people, and not for them.
When the holy Church is divided the prescriptive will of God is negated, the light of the holy Gospel itself is eclipsed, and the truth of the Lord is suppressed by man's unrighteousness. Misdirected men, in their lack of proper priorities, hold down the unity of the Church only with great effort, like compressing a great and mighty spring. The unity of the Church, like a powerful spring, is always ready to leap forth, and even when compressed and smothered by men's sins and indifference, this unity resists its suppressors. This is why division cannot last in the Church. It is like a cankerous sore to which the Body dispatches antibodies, and will not ignore until it is healed. Against this power of self-correction lie those who, at least by their actions, would like to make cankerous sores permanent fixtures of the body.
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" Unity is life. Division is death. We might recite the antithesis of Ps. 132 in these words,
Behold how evil and miserable it is for brothers to dwell in division! It is like a sulphuric stench in the nostrils, coming down upon the eyes. It is like the odor of Babylon, coming down upon the parched plains of Sodom; for there the Lord commanded the curse- everlasting death.
Such is the glory of unity, and such is the horror of division. Sadly today such Davidic opinions of the value of brotherly unity appear to be shared by too few. Brotherly unity is esteemed little, and placed beneath many other pseudo-priorities such as the status quo, power, property, ethnic affinities, and national loyalties.
Psalm 132 is one of fifteen Psalms of Ascent, chanted by the people of God as they made their way to the central sanctuary in Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of the Lord. The chanting was of a tangible unity expressed not just in faith, but also in the deeds of a common worship and a common pilgrimage. Can you imagine this hymn being chanted by the pilgrims in any meaningful way if when the pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem they were divided by their 12 tribes, and each tribe was made to go its own different way, to its own different temple, presided over by its own different high priest, sitting in different places for the feast and never experiencing tangible unity?
The thought is ludicrous and grotesque, but has many parallels to contemporary Orthodox Christian life in America. Allow me, dear brothers and sisters, to apply Psalm 132 to our present ecclesiastical miseries in America. We do not presently know the blessings of the unity described by Psalm 132. We do not enjoy the unity for which our Savior shed His precious blood. We do not experience the unity inspired by His Holy Spirit, established by His Holy Apostles, required by the Sacred Canons, and defended by the Holy Fathers. We have a measure of unity- for sure, but incomplete, mangled, and intolerable. We call the unity we possess by various names - a unity of faith sometimes we say, or a eucharistic unity. Some clergy even suggest that the only unity that matters is that various Orthodox in America can commune together. But this compromised and deficient unity does not satisfy our Savior, and is positively dangerous, threatening by its very inconstancy and instability to shatter the unity of faith and chalice that we do have. Orthodox Christians have never imagined historically that a unity of faith or communion could co-exist with a disunity of synod, praxis, and interchange. Two Sundays past we celebrated the Sunday of the Holy and God-bearing Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod in Nicea. We celebrated a common Orthodox faith defended and confessed by a common Orthodox synod. In our present experience we have only half of the equation. We share a common Orthodox faith with our fellow Orthodox Christians throughout America, but we have no common synod. As a result nothing is defended or confessed as it should be, and we are weaklings in the face of encroaching secularism and heresy. Without a common synod we are sitting ducks to lose even our unity of faith.The Trivialization of Disunity
We trivialize our disunity but calling it simply a disunity of jurisdictions or an administrative division -- as though the division we sustain is not a matter of the heart or essence or faith of the Orthodox Church. Jurisdiction and administration ring in our ears as merely external and relatively unimportant divisions, and so the tragedy of our division is belittled. As though our present divisions are merely the unfortunate turns of history, which we must benignly endure until they naturally go away. I beg to differ from such an appraisal. Such tamed and pacified descriptions of Orthodox disunity in America are untrue, inconsistent with Orthodox theology, mask the very serious nature and consequences of our present division, and steal the sense of urgency that the Spirit of God births in the hearts of the faithful in the face of disunity.
And make no mistake. The Spirit of the Living God does not tolerate disunity, which is the un-doer of His divine work and the spoiler of His mighty wonders. He is not going to passively stand aside when the unity He effects has a stake driven into it. The Holy Spirit has always inspired and guided the saints to rail against disunity. King David himself, the inspired author of Ps. 132, was exceedingly zealous to preserve and enhance the unity of the Old Testament Church. While King Saul was reigning and persecuting David, David was exceedingly careful to preserve an attitude of reverence for Saul and not to divide the people. Despite the danger to his very life, let alone the material losses he constantly suffered, David refused to set himself up as a rival monarch and thus effect schism in Israel. He refused to establish his jurisdiction against Saul's jurisdiction. After Saul's death David was received as King only by southern portion of the Kingdom, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Far from being content shepherding just his tribe, David gave himself for seven years and six months to reconciling all the twelve tribes and reunifying the Kingdom. He considered himself weak, though King, as long as the Kingdom was divided. And as long as there is division we will always be weak. For thirty-three more years King David ruled the entire nation, and eventually passed the throne to his son, Solomon.
If King David was so zealous to preserve and deepen the unity of the Church in the Old Covenant, how much more ought the pastors of the Church in the New Covenant be zealous to preserve and deepen the unity of the Church when the Holy Spirit has been poured out and our union with Christ and each other is no longer a union of shadows but of reality?! Since we live after Holy Pentecost, on which day the Spirit was poured out calling all men into unity, as we say in the Festal Kontakion, how can we not be zealous for unity? Where was the spirit of King David in 1921 when competing jurisdictions were first sinfully established in this nation? I am afraid the spirit of unity left our land with the departure from this life of St. Raphael (Hawaweeny), Bishop of Brooklyn, who labored in and for a united American Orthodox Church, and fell asleep in the Lord in 1915. St. Raphael ought to serve as the heavenly patron of American Orthodox unity. His spirit is profoundly expressed in his duly famous words, "I am an Arab by birth, a Greek by primary education, an American by residence, a Russian at heart, and a Slav in soul." Such hierarchic sensitivity to the unity of the Church is desperately lacking at the current time. Where was the spirit of King David in the aftermath of the Ligonier meeting of 1994? How grieved we were when our holy hierarchs, having been so attracted to each other when face to face by a divine magnetism that they could not but declare themselves to be an episcopal assembly -- a forerunner to a common American synod -- and unanimously issued two magnificent common statements: On the Church in North America and On Mission and Evangelism, and then when they encountered opposition from various quarters walked away from the quest for unity at Ligonier, some even renouncing their signatures and one his mere presence? Forgive me, but the immediate aftermath of Ligonier and the days since have been shameful days in which disunity has been tragically increased and expanded, days of sorrowful memory that we wish to consign to oblivion. We look for better days, days of unity and refreshment.
Under King Solomon the unity of Israel was preserved, and deepened and as a unified nation Israel bore witness to the unbelieving peoples throughout the world. Pagan kings and great sages and the whole earth itself journeyed to Israel in those days to behold the Servant of the Lord, Solomon, who ruled a united kingdom in unsurpassed wisdom. Unity is the key to successful witness. Even heretics when united have great strength.
The Mormons may have a theology worthy of disdain, but their unity has made them a powerful force in the world and they increase mightily. American Muslims, Shia and Sunni, have forged a unity in this country that has brought them great strength. American Muslims, by their desire for unity, have overcome far greater obstacles than any two Orthodox jurisdictions have with each other, and have established significant cooperative ventures such as ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), ISNA (Islamic Society of North America), AMC (American Muslim Council), the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the American Muslim Alliance, the Islamic Circle of North America, IMANA Islamic Medical Association of North America), the Muslim Student Association, some 1000 Islamic academies to insure their Muslim children remain Muslim, and a host of Islamic journals and magazines. By their unity these non-Christians without the Holy Spirit have accomplished much. We Orthodox Christians ought to compare our respective numbers closely with American Muslims. There are approximately 1,600 mosques in America, just as there are approximately 1,600 Orthodox church temples in America. They are fairly united. We are significantly divided. Let us see who does the growing in the next decade. And why is it that the Roman Catholics in the United States have been able to care for the pastoral needs of its multiple ethnicities in this country, while on the whole maintaining episcopal and synodal unity? In the face of these examples we are without excuse.
After Solomon's death the throne passed to his son, Rehoboam. It was during King Rehoboam's reign that the rupture and division of the Kingdom took place. It was this disunity which led to Israel's eventual collapse and utter exile. By Rehoboam's sinful disregard of unity the ten northern tribes rejected his rule, and enthroned Jeroboam as King. The fruit of such disunity was immediate and tragic, leading to internal sin, strife, and cultic deviations, and within slightly more than 200 years the 10 northern tribes were taken into exile by the Assyrians -- an exile from which the vast majority would never return. Can you just hear the Israelites in the north saying during these years under Jeroboam and his successors- "when God wills we will be reunited with the southern tribes" or "unity will happen but not in my lifetime" or "we are not mature enough for unity with Jerusalem yet"? I can see King Jeroboam aggressively publicizing these nonsensical quips and propaganda throughout his schismatic kingdom, all the while fearing that he may lose power if reunion with Jerusalem were effected. If any Israelites were saying such things as I suggest during those days they were idiots, and they probably knew themselves to be such as they walked with hooks in their noses into Assyrian lands in A. D. 722, consigned for all time to utter exile and oblivion.
The division of American Orthodox Christians in what we call jurisdictionalism is not just unfortunate, or an unenviable quirk of modern church history. It is a heinous sin, and a lamentable grieving of the Holy Spirit, Who is the divine cement of our unity. Listen to the words written in 1976 by Father Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory, former Dean of St. Vladimir Seminary and one-time member of SCOBA's Commission on Unity in America,
When today, almost two hundred years after the implanting of Orthodoxy on the American continent, one hears endless debates about the future Orthodox unification in America as a remote and not too realistic ideal, to which one ritually pays lip service while in fact opposing its realization, one is amazed by the conscious or unconscious denial of a simple fact: that this unity did exist, was a reality, that the first "epiphany" of Orthodoxy here was not as a jungle of ethnic ecclesiastical colonies, serving primarily if not exclusively the interests of their various "nationalisms" and "Mother Churches," but precisely as a Local Church meant to transcend all "natural" divisions and to share all spiritual values; that this unity was broken and then arbitrarily replaced with the unheard-of principle of "jurisdictional multiplicity" which denies and transgresses every single norm of Orthodox Tradition; that the situation which exists today is thus truly a sin and a tragedy." (emphases his).
A sin and a tragedy. These are his words, and the divisions are worse today in 2006 than they were thirty years ago in 1976. Far worse. We are not moving forwards. For at least 12 years, since the failure following Ligonier, we have been moving backwards. Maybe you consider Fr. Schmemann's statements extreme. If you do, perhaps you have been poisoned by the indifference of persons who are fond of pontificating on the theme of Orthodox unity by saying things like, "It will happen, but not in my lifetime" or "When God wills" or "We are not mature enough for it yet." Fooey and ix-nay on all those statements. Let us examine these quips a bit more closely.
Quip #1. "It will happen, but not in my lifetime."
Really? Says who? Where is it written that the Church will prevail apart from the fidelity of its clergy and laity? Is such faithfulness promised? Did God inspire someone with a prophecy assuring that the American Orthodox Church would overcome its pettiness and triumph over its divisions? I know of no such prophecy. Certainly the Church of Jesus Christ is indefectible and indestructible and will triumph over the world. There is no question about that. But such victory is not promised to every Orthodox person, every Orthodox clergyman, every Orthodox parish, or every Orthodox national church, irrespective of will. God honors our freedom by allowing us to ruin ourselves if we so desire. If a particular Orthodox Christian wishes to jump into the arms of the devil and ruin his life he is free to do so. If an Orthodox parish wants to grieve the Holy Spirit by pride and infighting to the point of dissolving and no longer existing as a parish it is free to do so, as we can see by how many parishes are dying throughout our land. If an Orthodox priest or bishop wants to dance with the demons and embrace heresy and find himself severed from the Body of Christ and defrocked from the holy priesthood he is free to do so. And if a national Church wants to perpetrate division and turn a blind eye to grievous family disunity to the point of rendering itself irrelevant and eventually non-existent it is free to do so. And don't think this has never happened. Read the letters of our Lord Jesus Christ to the particular 1st century churches of Asia Minor found in the Revelation of St. John, chapters two and three. The message of our Lord was clear. Pull yourselves together or I will remove your candlestick. He was telling them to live their faith or be snuffed out. Some of them were.
Orthodox reunion in America (and I choose the word "reunion" carefully since we are striving for the re-establishment of a unity we already had not the creation of something completely new) ... The unity of the Orthodox Church in America will take place in our land when the Church in America wants it to take place in our land. If we repent our divisions and recover ourselves and apply the antidote of humility to the bitter unfolding of recent local church history our disunity will be healed. And we ought stop blaming others for our ills, and accept responsibility for our divisions. If we continue to walk stubbornly according to our own jurisdictional drummers, studiously indifferent to the greater unity of the Church in our land there will never be one American Orthodox Church. God does not force His will upon unwilling children. If we want to continue in sin, He will let us, unless His judgment falls first. But there will be no proper Orthodox unity in our land apart from our commitment to such unity. And frankly, such commitment is seriously lacking at the present. This should greatly concern us, and the voice of faithful clergy and laity should be raised, and the trumpets should be sounding- but, of course, those who somehow have a mystical assurance that "it will happen but not in their lifetime" are not very concerned. Why should they be? They have their bogus assurance.
This improper perspective on church unity in America is also detrimental to our efforts at Orthodox reunion because of the assumption that the divisions we sustain presently are so great that no significant change is possible "within my lifetime." Such notions insure that no great efforts will be taken toward unity by such believers. Tell me- who sacrifices his life for a cause he believes is doomed to failure throughout his lifetime? Who will shed his blood for a cause that he believes will not be very helped by his blood? St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, in his treatise On the Trinity, says it this way, "When anyone entertains no hope of attaining his end, then he either loves lukewarmly or does not love at all, howsoever he may see the excellence of it." As long as we continue to think that the unity of the American Orthodox Church cannot be established in a generation we will continue to love our unity lukewarmly or not at all.
Quip #2. "When God wills."
Now normally such a statement is most beautiful. But in this context it is simply an awful distortion of reality. Is there really any question at all what God wills in this matter? We know His will very clearly. He wills what He commands, and He commands the unity of the Church -- one bishop in one city, one synod in one nation, one local brotherhood of priests, one body of the faithful, and no overlapping jurisdictions. To say "When God wills" in this context of division is to imply that God has something to do with our divisions. It is at best meaningless and at worse a sinful backhanded reproach of the Almighty. A more accurate statement would be "When we will." No one is arguing over what God wills in the matter. Everyone basically agrees. We may not agree on who exactly is to be the head of the American Orthodox Church, but no one is suggesting that we are not to have one synod of bishops in our land. We know this is God's will. That we find ourselves broken into more than 10 different jurisdictions is a commentary on human fallenness not God's will. Can you imagine if someone you know fell into the heinous sin of adultery? For years he refused to stop, and in response to your loving and firm entreaties that he repent he answered you that he would, "When God wills." How ridiculous. God does not will adultery, nor does He will division.
Quip #3. "We are not mature enough yet for church unity."
The unity of the Church is not the reward of maturity, but the expression of it! Mature people do God's will. They do not get mature and then start doing it. The doing of God's will is the maturity. If a Church exists it is by definition as a Church mature enough. If it were not it would not be a Church. And on top of that, disunity is not immaturity -- it is sin. A young national church may not have as many saints, or as many parishes, or as many monasteries, or as many universities, charities, or social influence as an old and more mature Church- but if it is a Church it must be united according to the requirements of our Savior. If it is not, it is deficient in its very churchliness. Besides that, as Father Schmemann so poignantly mentioned, it is a historical fact the Church in America used to have unity. We used to have an ethnically diverse but united synod of bishops. Our unity was lost at a definite moment in time, and our task is to recover it. Orthodox reunion, not Orthodox union, is the call of the hour.The Bitter Fruits of Disunity
While virtually every American Orthodox Christian has some story or other to relate how our divisions have wounded them personally and caused grief it is important I think to face something of a substantial enumeration of the sad fruits of our division. Our division manifests itself in many practical and pastoral ways:
- Some Orthodox jurisdictions receive persons from Latin and certain Protestant bodies into Holy Orthodoxy by baptism and chrismation, some by chrismation alone, and some merely by confession of faith.
- Some Orthodox jurisdictions receive Latin clergy converting to Holy Orthodoxy merely by vesting, while others ordain.
- Some Orthodox jurisdictions recognize all marriages performed outside Holy Orthodoxy as being real marriages (though certainly not sacramental) whether performed for an Orthodox or non-Orthodox, while others recognize no marriages performed outside Holy Orthodoxy whether performed for an Orthodox or a non-Orthodox. This results in someone being denied a fourth marriage in one jurisdiction while being permitted a marriage (and a first one at that!) in another jurisdiction; someone being denied ordination in one jurisdiction because of a previous marriage outside the Church, while being accepted as a candidate for ordination in another jurisdiction; a non-Orthodox married couple having to be married by the Church when they convert one jurisdiction, while in another they are received without a need for an Orthodox marriage service to be performed for them. In some jurisdictions "inter-faith" marriages mean those that are between an Orthodox and a non-Orthodox, while in other an "inter-faith" marriage means a marriage even between two Orthodox Christians from various jurisdictions.
- Some Orthodox jurisdictions bury suicides under certain circumstances, while others forbid the burial of suicides under all circumstances.
- Some Orthodox jurisdictions bury a person who was cremated with all funeral rites in the church temple, others permit only Trisagion Prayers of Mercy in the funeral home, some forbid any prayers anywhere for a person who was cremated.
- Some Orthodox jurisdictions recognize civil divorce as complete and sufficient for ecclesiastical purposes, while others do not recognize civil divorce at all and insist on Church Tribunals, while yet other deal with divorce in other ways.
- Some Orthodox jurisdictions penance a person when he/she is divorced (either by civil or Church court), while others penance a person only after he/she enters into a second or third marriage.
- Some Orthodox jurisdictions accept clergy suspended or even deposed by other Orthodox jurisdictions.
- Some Orthodox jurisdictions ignore bans of excommunication pronounced by hierarchs of other Orthodox jurisdictions.
These divisions of pastoral practice, which are so confusing to our people and to outsiders, are sustained only because our bishops do not meet together in a common synod. And these are simply some of the pastoral anomalies engendered by our divisions that are detrimental to the health of the Orthodox flock. Besides the pastoral pains of division, there are also the very serious theological issues at stake in the elongation and tolerance of our disunity. Is it just my nose, or do others smell the foul stench of the heresy of phyletism lying behind the present indifference to unity? When phyletism was condemned as a heresy by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in A. D. 1872 in the face of Bulgarian attempts to set up an ethnic Bulgarian jurisdiction with the Patriarchate of Constantinople was not just this sort of staking of ethnic divisions within one nation categorically forbidden and castigated as heresy?
Are parallel ethnic dioceses intolerable heresy in the Ottoman Empire, but in America parallel ethnic dioceses are Orthodox, or at least tolerable? I do not understand. Such a perversion of Orthodox ecclesiology was not tolerated for one moment at that time by the Ecumenical Patriarch, and was definitively ruled against within two years while under Ottoman domination. We have been suffering in our canonical chaos already for eighty years. It does not take a neurosurgeon to see that some, evidently, do not care much about our tragic disunity. It is in this light that we should listen carefully to the counsel of His Eminence, Metropolitan Philip: "Nothing will happen unless we make it happen." And, indeed, for a long time nothing has happened, for we have not made it happen. Do we not see the love of ethnic tradition rising above love of the pan-ethnic and transnational Church of Jesus Christ, in which particular nationalisms and ethnic make-ups are but minor matters?
Today, as a result of the long exile from canonical fidelity in which we have been walking, most American Orthodox Christians, when they speak of their "church", sadly, most often mean their jurisdiction in America, not the corporate American Orthodox Church. Jurisdiction has replaced Church in our distorted phronema and divided state of existence. As a result we really have no idea what is going on in American Orthodoxy. If we are Antiochians we may speak about the Church "growing" for instance. But what we really mean is our "jurisdiction" is growing. We are not privy to the fact that some Orthodox jurisdictions are significantly shrinking, and so our missionary optimism is skewed. We may think our Church is prospering financially and taking good care of her clergy, but in reality, overall, the Church in our land may be mired in debt. We simply do not know because we are isolated in our jurisdictions.
In this deformed type of spiritual life we are not able to fully live as members of the Body of Christ. How are we to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice, when the joys and sorrows of the majority of our Orthodox brothers and sisters in our nation, and even in our own cities and towns, remain beyond our knowledge since we are insulated and isolated from the true corporate body by our jurisdictional lines of communication? How many Orthodox failed to pray for the repose of Archbishop Iakovos simply because he was a bishop of another jurisdiction? In our divisions we live apart from the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, since the New Testament makes no promises of a catholicity to jurisdictions, but to a united Church. Our spiritual life is hampered.
What about the massive loss of resources due to our divisions? I have a recurring nightmare at our bi-annual Archdiocesan conventions. In the nightmare our hierarchs are in a terrible accident while they are in a limousine or plane in route to the convention. All are killed, and the Archdiocese is doomed since, as a result of jurisdictionalism, we do not have sufficient celibate candidates to replace our hierarchs. Since our Archdiocese has none of "its own" monasteries in America many of our young people with celibate callings have become monks in the monasteries of other jurisdictions. I have two talented young people from my parish alone that have become monastics of OCA monasteries. Such young people become ineligible to serve our jurisdiction as future bishops because they are in the monasteries of other jurisdictions. This is a fine example of how the fullness of spiritual gifts promised by our Savior to the corporate Church may be lacking to a jurisdiction. Our very catholicity is imperiled by jurisdictionalism.
What are the consequences of willful negligence and disregard of the sacred canons? Since the holy canons make up a portion of Holy Tradition, of the common life in the Holy Spirit which Tradition is, how is the fullness of our Christian life being compromised? Who can live a full spiritual life at all in this sustained compromised ecclesiastical ethos? And then we have the awful abuse of the word diaspora to apply to the American Orthodox faithful as though we are sojourning here in America and hoping to return to some other land on this earth. And what of the appearance in the last 80 years of a completely novel interpretation of Canon 28 of the Holy Fourth Ecumenical Synod about the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the appearance of papal theories of ecclesiology? These are matters of Orthodox faith and practice, not simply crusty matters of church polity. And ought we not draw some conclusions from the fact that our jurisdictional multiplicity in our land was inaugurated by an ecclesiastical personality of the likes of Patriarch Meletios IV (Metaxakis) of Constantinople? Though he was a man of immense energy and made many positive contributions to the Church, by his actions he shattered the unity of Orthodoxy in our land by establishing the Greek Archdiocese, "the first ecclesiastical body to be organized in America on a purely ethnic basis and independently from the canonically established territorial North American Diocese."
There is also the serious crimping of our evangelical witness. We have our lamp under a bushel. Let me give you an example of the bitter fruit of our divisions and how it kills our missionary endeavors. Many Americans are coming face to face with Orthodoxy for the first time. Many of our parishes have significant classes of catechumens each year, despite the fact that we have no formal evangelistic programs. Yet we are not receiving into the Church all that we should be. For example, my parish began to catechize a wonderful family two years ago. Husband, wife, and four children. Very sincere and devoted. Unfortunately, this family has not become Orthodox and now only occasionally visits the parish. When I asked why this was the case the husband said, "I simply find it hard to believe that you are the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church and are so divided." Brothers and sisters, the souls of human beings are in the balance because of our divisions. Before you say, "This family is nuts. They should have gotten over it and not made such a big deal," listen to the statement of SCOBA's Ad Hoc Commission on Unity as reported in the Minutes of the SCOBA Meeting XI in 1970, presented by such lights as Frs. Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff, in which just such a hampered missionary witness is predicted,
The Orthodox Church cannot claim to be the true, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church if she is actually divided into a plurality of mutually independent, competing, and overlapping jurisdictions. This division has long ago ceased to be justified by the peculiarities of Orthodox immigration in America, and has become an open scandal to the faithful, a source of demoralization and dissatisfaction in the laity, and an obstacle to any effort or progress.
And who can blame someone for not wanting to join a divided family? A family where all the uncles almost never meet together, and rarely speak? Imagine the "Smith" family for a moment. Would you not consider it a tragic state of affairs if a family made up of parents, children and grandchildren, while all living in the same city, routinely met together only in select and separated groups? If certain members of the family studiously drove right by the homes of their brothers and sisters and never stopped in, communicated, or regularly gathered? Who would want anything to do with such a family? In many ways this is how a good portion of our Orthodox family is in America. We are a broken family, out of touch, uninterested in each other's lives, and happy to go about our own isolated jurisdictional business. Like two people who are unjustifiably and sinfully divorced- the only solution is reconciliation and remarriage. Time alone simply will not heal the schism, as 85 years have demonstrated.Recommendations for the Accomplishment of Orthodox Church Unity in America
As Galadriel said to Frodo I now suggest to you, brothers and sisters: "The quest stands upon the edge of a knife. One misstep and all may be lost." We have seen in recent church history that the pursuit of unity is more sensitive than anyone really imagined, and fraught with danger on many sides. What will the Mother Churches say? What will the other bishops do? What will the American faithful say? What will the recent immigrants say? Every one has a task to fulfill in the quest for unity, and the Lord God expects every Orthodox man and woman to do his duty in this regard. The Mother Churches have an important role to play; the bishops of the various jurisdictions that constitute SCOBA have an important role. The clergy have their own task, and the faithful a unique calling in this quest.
But if I may be so bold, I suggest that the solution lies primarily and fundamentally in the hands of the bishops in America. On many occasions, when I have suggested unity lies within the will and purview of the bishops I have been countered with comments to the effect that the bishops are often bound by their people's desires. That has not been my experience or observation. If that were true then probably we would have unity already since the people appear to be more committed and desirous of unity than the hierarchs. If the will of the people was so powerful as to hinder the bishops, then why has it not hindered their inactivity in the cause of unity? I suggest that the truth is more simple- that Orthodox bishops, who are to be by definition the very symbols of the unity of the Church, have, in fact, in a most contorted reversal, become the very symbols of disunity in the Church ... and don't seem to be too concerned about it. Where are the initiatives coming from the various synods? Where are the nursing of cross-jurisdictional episcopal unity? Forgive me, but the shepherds are responsible, not the sheep. If the sheep are responsible, it is perhaps that they have not bleated often or loudly enough as to secure the attention of their shepherds.
Towards a practical accomplishment of unity I would like to offer the following suggestions, as ways to move forward. I have designed the following recommendations to be basically unobjectionable from the standpoint of the Mother Churches, that is, I have designed these recommendations in such a way that they do not require anyone's official approval.
- The long-dormant SCOBA Commission on Orthodox Unity, which was established and very active from the inception of SCOBA in 1960 until the grant of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in America in 1970, be re-enlivened in order to address all the issues of unity, beginning with pastoral/canonical matters which directly impact the lives of each and every Orthodox person (clergy or lay) in the United States. This Commission should pursue all areas of unity that do not require official endorsement from our Mother Churches, legal changes, or anything else that may be thrown at us by any naysayers. Chief amongst these should be the establishing of common pastoral practices so as to end our divisions of pastoral economy.
- Each jurisdiction should fund the creation of an official Department of Church Unity that would gather together the most talented and dedicated workers for unity within each jurisdiction in order to promote and further their efforts. Can we be taken seriously about our commitment to missions if we fund no Department of Missions and support no missionaries? Can we be taken seriously about our commitment to church education if we fund no church education, publish no books, and hold no educational conferences? Why would we expect anyone, and God most importantly, to take our commitment to unity seriously if we spend not a single penny on accomplishing it? "Oh sure, we are committed to unity. Really we are! We do no serious thinking about it, publish no material, spend no money on the cause, hold no conferences, but we do spend five minutes every two years at our conventions and pass a resolution saying we want it." Who would be ignorant enough to believe, based on this evidence, that it is a priority? We must put our money where our mouths are: period. If we Antiochians are serious about Church unity we need to show it with $. This department would have numerous duties including at least the following:
I presented this proposal to a leading layman in our Archdiocese several years ago for consideration. His response at that time was that he liked the idea very much, but that it would not happen since it costs too much money. I assured him at that time that our clergy and people care for nothing more zealously than the unity of the Church, and that if we publicized our intention, announced the Metropolitan's pick to head the Department, and then solicited funds we would certainly raise even more than we need. Today I can respond even better by making a very tangible financial proposal to cover the initial costs of the Department. My proposal is simply this: abolish our Department of Communications and give up the idea of having our own separate jurisdictional web site which costs us some $200,000 every year and is one of the most obvious examples of how disunity presents an image of a fractured Orthodoxy to the general public as it pillages our treasuries as we also invest in multiple overlapping ministries. Unite the web sites of the various jurisdictions under an official SCOBA site, pay one webmaster for us all, and save hundreds of thousands of dollars and then use that money to launch of Department of Church Unity!
- Interview extensively all of the hierarchs of the Orthodox Churches in America, discern their thoughts, and gather their opinions and suggestions on unity, in an attempt to reveal the true opinion about Church unity of each. This should be done using a detailed questionnaire. This will enable the Church both gather great wisdom and discern who really cares about unity and who does not. I suggest we may find that some hierarchs are more interested in uniting with Roman Catholics and/or Protestants than with their own Orthodox brethren.
- Those bishops that have promoted worthy initiatives for unity should be highlighted, and their good efforts documented and distributed.
- Report annually to the diocesan assemblies, clergy symposia and/or summer conventions.
- Travel as a delegation to the Holy Synods of the Mother Churches and present our case and seek the support, guidance, and blessing of the Mother Churches.
Each jurisdiction should dedicate their Clergy Symposia (perhaps the next several until it is done) to the theme of the American Orthodox Church. The majority of priests would like nothing better I assure you. Bring in speakers who have thoughts to guide us in accomplishing unity. Study the history of other Churches that have achieved autocephaly. Educate. If the priests are educated, then they will educate their people, and then maybe they could get the bishops interested. By means of Archpastoral Letters call the faithful to consecrate Great Lent (and/or other appropriate fasting seasons) to pray for the accomplishment of Orthodox Church unity in America. Ask the priests and faithful to fast sincerely and beseech the Lord for forgiveness for our divisions and indifference. Create petitions to be added to the Litany of Fervent Supplication in our divine services that supplicate the Holy Trinity for an end to the schisms of the churches in America, and for the speedy establishment of one American Orthodox Church. Thus we ground our quest for church unity in regular prayers. This would raise the consciousness of the clergy and the people significantly. Compare this situation to slavery in America. Abolitionists raised the consciousness of the sin, and kept it raised until it was abolished. We must not just raise the consciousness, we must sustain it until it is fixed. Orthodox jurisdictions should organize joint summer conventions so that we never again have overlapping jurisdictional conventions. At these conventions there can initially be separate rooms used for general assemblies of the various jurisdictions to do their business, but our divine services, teaching times, youth meetings, and social functions, etc. would all be together. Our bishops would meet together. Our priests would fraternize. All would cross-pollinate. What is to stop such an easily accomplished thing except the will to act for unity? And we would save lots of money at that. A new commemorative book ought to be written lauding and memorializing Ligonier 1994, re-publishing its documents, explaining the immense tragedy that has taken place since 1994, and detailing the nature of the sinfulness of church division in our country. We need a simple place to refer to see how our current situation is theologically heretical, canonically irregular, and practically devastating to our witness. Its goal should be to convince the reader that this is not a matter of fixing an unfortunate problem when it is convenient to do so, but of repenting of an intolerable and unnecessary schism. Expose un-Orthodox ecclesiology in the footsteps of St. Raphael of Brooklyn, who wrote several critical exposes (even under a pseudonym) of ecclesiastical injustices, making an exposé of ecclesiastical injustice wherever it is found suppressing and hindering the unity of the Church. St. Paul writes, "Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but even expose them." Remove all ethnic and jurisdictional references in the titles of our churches both in letterhead and church signs and promotional materials. Our churches should be called "St. N. Orthodox Church" or "St. N. Orthodox Christian Church" but no longer "St. Andrew Greek/Russian/Antiochian/Serbian ... Church". Such designations may be necessary for "in house" identification, but they certainly sound confusing, restrictive, uninviting, and foreign to the greater non-Orthodox world. Why are we proclaiming our divisions and encouraging people to think that Orthodoxy is only for foreigners or only for people of a certain ethnic or geographical background? We can and ought be proud of our heritage, but without waving the flag of jurisdictionalism in the face of America. Request of our Orthodox Seminaries to foster serious academic engagement over the quest for Orthodox unity, both engaging each other in cooperative ventures and nourishing the Orthodox phronema in our seminarians on this subject of Orthodox unity. Nurture support for American Orthodox church unity from Orthodox Christians around the world, making the case to them for a strong undivided American Church, and soliciting the good will, financial support, and constructive advice of Orthodox leaders throughout the world who can lend much needed moral support to our efforts. In the 1960s Archbishop Iakovos insisted upon such an effort by SCOBA's Commission on Orthodox Unity in America. Fulfill your personal obligations to pursue unity. These personal obligations should include the following: daily prayer for the unity of the Church, speaking correctly regarding your self-identification as an "Orthodox Christian in America" and not as a Greek, Serb, Arab, or Englishman, or part of some ethnic tradition in Orthodoxy, embracing all Orthodox Christians in your parish from whatever backgrounds they come and working against the formation of ethnic cliques in parishes (by the way- Anglo converts can be just as ethnic and clique-ish as any other group), supporting the use of English in the liturgy, celebrating the patronal feasts of all the Orthodox Churches local to your place of residence regardless of jurisdiction, speaking to your bishop and priest regularly about your sincere desire for their leadership in the quest for unity, financially supporting efforts for unity, encouraging foreign language parishes where such are justified by pastoral need in serving recent immigrants, etc. None of these pursuits require anyone else's cooperation. They can and should be fulfilled as holy obligations by every Orthodox Christian in America.An Encouraging Word in Conclusion
I have not intended to overwhelm you, my dear brothers and sisters. Please forgive me for my mistakes, my ignorance, or my poor judgments. I am not offering any last word on the subject of unity or even anything inspiring or definitive that has not been articulated by those who love the unity of the Church more than I and know the path to reunion better. I have simply made an effort to articulate as best as I can what I believe to be the mind of Christ, which is the mind of the Church, on this pressing subject of the divisions we are sustaining. I know the days are dark, the clouds are overhead, and it looks bleak. But we are not without hope. There is no word sufficient to hymn the Lord's wonders, and He is not a God who turns a deaf ear to the humble petitions of His children, at least not yet I am trusting. The unity, which we can hardly foresee, may simply be hiding close behind the dark clouds, which obscure our vision. No one desires the unity of the Church in our land more than the Lord God Himself.
I leave you with this encouraging story. It comes from the pioneers of our nation, the pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation. The story concerns one indentured servant name John Howland, who was traveling on the Mayflower with his master, the soon-to-be first governor of Plymouth, R. Carver. The journey across the Atlantic Ocean was frightful, and one day the Mayflower encountered a huge gale. Being in danger of sinking, the captain turned the boat against the wind, lowered the sails, and attempted to ride out the storm. All the 102 pilgrims and strangers were sent below deck, and ordered to remain there for their safety's sake. Young John Howland, however, grew restless and so he ventured upstairs and wandered out on the deck. No sooner had he stepped out but a large wave struck him and he was hurled in the wind right off the side of the Mayflower into the stormy sea. The sailors considered him certainly lost, and in truth John was fast being driven by the wind away from the ship and under water. As he was flailing for his life his hand passed over a rope from the mast, which was unfurled and also flailing in the water. With all his strength he grasped on to the rope and help on for dear life. In that position he was suppressed more than 10 feet under water by the storm, when the sailors noticed that the rope was taught and began to hurriedly attempt to pull John Howland out of the deeps up on to the deck. They were successful at getting him above water and then using a fishhook on the end of a long pole they pulled him up on to the deck safe and sound. That John Howland endured, and he went on to outlive all the other pilgrims, to marry a beautiful wife named Elizabeth, to raise ten children of his own, and eighty-eight grandchildren and to contribute significantly to the initial establishment of what would become our dear nation!
Brothers and Sisters! We too are pilgrims seeking to live in the promised land of the Church, and we are in the midst of a great storm, the Tempest Disunity. In many ways it seems that we will never reach the shore, and frankly, at times it appears that we are holding on for dear life to a very thin rope. Do not let go my dear brothers and sisters. It may be that we are on the cusp of being pulled up and out of our distress and of obtaining the very thing we seek, and that soon, as it was in John Howland's case, fruitfulness, the fruitfulness of unity, may be upon us to the true up building of our Church in America. May it be, by the grace of our God, by the prayers of your holy Bishop, and for the salvation of our people.
Fr. Josiah Trenham is pastor of St. Andrew Church in Riverside, California.
From Communio: "The Nuptial Mystery: A Prespective for Systematic Theology?"
Bachelor of Arts
- Trivium + Quadrivium (including logic and arithmetic, geometry)
- For terminal degrees: ethics, introduction to philosophy of nature
- supplemented by literature and history (as supplements, not to displace the primary roles played by rhetoric and logic, which are aimed at preparing one for composition and speech)
Master of Philosophy
- philosophy of nature (including examination and critique of the scientific method; dialectical examination of accumulated data)
- ethics and politics (begin with Aristotle's politics, supplemented by sociological studies of various cultures and economies; includes a historical inquiry into the development of medieval political theory and rights/natural law theory)
- advanced mathematics (including examination and critique of modern number theory, calculus, etc.)
dogmatic theology -- councils and decrees
Monday, January 22, 2007
January 22, 2007 1:00 PM
To the Editor
Dear Professors Lee and George,
Thank you for responding to my letter, which took issue with points raised in your earlier NRO review of my book Challenging Nature. In your response, you continue to insist absolutely — as you have in numerous articles published on this topic — that a human embryo is a human being, while other clumps of human cells are something entirely different. Rather than continuing to debate this claim in prose, it is useful to take a more visual approach, as illustrated by comparing the two pictures below. Both show color-enhanced scanning electron micrographs of clumps of human cells. But before they were frozen for microscopy, one clump was a normal embryo, while the other was a bunch of embryonic stem cells. According to your logic, one clump was a human being, while the other was just a confined group of proteins, DNA, and other molecules. So tell me, Which one is which?
Perhaps you can’t tell the difference by external appearance alone (I certainly can’t). But even if you could look inside with the finest microscope, it almost certainly wouldn’t help because there is almost certainly no molecule, or combination of molecules, whose presence or absence distinguishes all human embryos from embryonic stem cells. At this point, you may retreat to your previous claim that only the real human embryo has “the epigenetic primordia for a functioning brain and nervous system.” I haven’t a clue what the term “epigenetic primordia” means since it has not been used (as far as I know) by any scientist in any of the hundreds of thousands of basic biological research articles published over the last decade.
I know this little exercise won’t change your mind; I present it simply for the benefit of more open-minded NRO readers. Indeed, it is pointless to debate scientific details when even simple words like “life” and “death” are interpreted by you in ways that are foreign to most practicing biologists. So instead, I would like to put to the test your ‘argument from authority’ claim, which holds that the embryo-is-a-human-being proposition “is a fact confirmed by contemporary embryology and attested to by the standard works in the field.” In fact, none of the standard texts you’ve quoted — or any other prominent biology textbook used at major nonsectarian universities — actually states that an “embryo” is a “human being?” (It won’t do to pretend that biologists use the term “human life” as a standard synonym for “human being.” Human cells growing and dividing indefinitely in petri dishes are fully alive — in biological terms — and fully human in their constituent parts, and yet you yourselves do not consider them to be human beings.)
Furthermore, if the embryo-is-a-human-being proposition really is “confirmed by contemporary embryology,” you might expect at least one of the 52 active professors in the two biology departments at the esteemed university where Professor George and I teach to acknowledge this supposedly confirmed “fact.” I challenge Professor George to identify one — just one — Princeton biology professor who shares this viewpoint. (As an incentive, if you can come up with one name, I will buy you both a case of wine from the same vineyard that produced the delightful bottle I shared with Professor George at a pleasant dinner some years ago.)
If your search for like-minded Princeton biologists comes up empty- handed, you might argue that the liberal or libertarian milieu of Ivy League science faculties discourages professors from expressing any truly-held conservative views. But, in fact, many unabashed, culturally conservative academics simply don’t agree with you either. One who takes exception is University of Chicago professor Leon Kass, the former chairman of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, on which Professor George also sits. Kass has written, “I myself would agree that a blastocyst [an embryo that is 4 to 9 days post- fertilization] is not, in a full sense, a human being.” (Toward a More Natural Science, p.104). Not only is Professor Kass an accomplished scholar in the area of bioethics, he also holds both a medical degree and a Harvard Ph.D. in biochemistry. I assume, Professor George, that you’ve had many chances to persuade Professor Kass with your “careful argumentation and the presentation of the relevant biological facts,” and (as far as I can tell), you haven’t succeeded. Indeed, from my admittedly subjective point of view, it seems that most academic biologists, most nonsectarian bioethicists, most physicians, and most university-educated conservatives (forget about liberals and libertarians) don’t agree with you. So what gives. Are they all stupid, ignorant, or disingenuous?
As I stated in my previous letter, there is nothing — no fact or concept — that will ever make you budge from your belief in the unassailable truth of the view that an embryo is a human being. It is this form of absolutism that led me to brand you as fundamentalists, mocked in the title of your original book review. However, since I was not raised or educated in a strictly religious tradition, you could argue that I don’t really understand the difference between fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists. But there’s no need to take my word for it because the self-described practicing-Catholic and conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan reaches exactly the same conclusion about Professor George in his hard-hitting new book, The Conservative Soul. According to Sullivan, George and others who hold his extreme views are fundamentalists. Sullivan explains that “the fundamentalist does not tolerate a diversity of views. There is one truth; and all other pretenders are threats to it, or contradict it . . . Fundamentalists assert a central core idea and then contort or distort reality in order to make it fit their model.” In a world where life and death become entirely divorced from any connection to modern biological understanding, only faith remains. It is faith of a particular type, not science, that drives the belief that the embryo shown in one of the pictures above is a human being, while the other object is not. This sort of faith is not amenable to debate, which is why this will be my final word on the subject.
Lee M. Silver
Patrick Lee and Robert P. George respond: Lee Silver continues to bluster and spin in an effort to depict people who disagree with him as “fundamentalists” who rely on religious faith, rather than science, for their beliefs about matters of biological fact. It is Professor Silver himself, however, who refuses to face up to the scientific facts about human embryos.
The point at issue is whether human embryos are or are not human beings in the embryonic stage of their natural development. We say they are; Silver claims they are not. Here is another way of putting the question: Does the term “human embryo” refer to something distinct from a human being (in the way that terms like “alligator,” “cotton,” and “stone” — or even terms like “human liver” or “human fingernail” — refer to things distinct from human beings), or does it refer to a human being at a certain stage of development (in the way that terms like “infant,” “adolescent,” and “adult” refer to stages of development)?
Plainly, the complete human organism that is now you, the reader, was once an adolescent and before that an infant. Were you once an embryo? If Silver’s view is correct, the answer is “no.” But the truth is that the answer is “yes” — you were once an embryo, just as you were once an adolescent, a child, an infant, and a fetus. The human organism that is now you is the very same organism that began in the embryonic stage and developed by a gradual and gapless process of self-directed growth to the mature stage of a human being. By contrast, you were never a sperm cell or an ovum. The sperm cell and ovum whose union brought you into existence were genetically and functionally parts of other, larger organisms — your parents. But the organism — the new and distinct human individual — who was brought into existence by their union is the organism that is now reading these words.
It is the science of human embryology — not the Bible or any other religious text or authority — that tells us that human embryos are indeed what we say they are and what Silver denies that they are, namely, whole, living individuals of the species Homo sapiens. As complete human organisms, and not mere parts of larger organisms, embryos are radically unlike human gametes, somatic cells, organs, tissues, and the like. If provided with adequate nutrition and a suitable environment, and barring accident or disease, a human embryo will, by internally directing its own integral organic functioning, develop himself or herself from the embryonic into and through the fetal, infant, child, and adolescent stages, and into adulthood with his or her distinctness, unity, and identity fully intact. What happens in successful fertilization or cloning is the production of a new and distinct organism — a complete individual member of the species in the initial (embryonic) stage of its life. None of Lee Silver’s bluster and spin can make that decisive fact disappear.
The basis of Silver’s denial that human embryos are human beings is his remarkable claim that human embryos are equivalent to human embryonic stem cells. He argues that, since nobody believes that stem cells are human beings, no one should believe that embryos are human beings. But Silver’s premise is not only remarkable, it is indefensible. In a previous posting, we identified the errors in Silver’s attempt to defend it by reference to the possibility of tetraploid complementation. Silver has not made any effort to resuscitate his argument or respond to our refutation. We also observed that if Silver’s remarkable claim were true, other scientists — particularly human embryologists and stem cell scientists with greater expertise than Professor Silver — would confirm it. Why have they not? Silver’s answer is as remarkable as his claim itself. He asserts that scientists know the truth, but they are deliberately hiding it from the public for fear that if it were revealed people would demand new restrictions on stem-cell research. There is no polite way to say this: Professor Silver’s suggestion that there is a massive scientific deception or cover up is ridiculous.
Equally ridiculous, and grossly hypocritical, is Silver’s claim that we hold a position that is not amenable to debate. This series of exchanges with Professor Silver began when (in an article in Science and Technology News and in his book Challenging Nature) he accused us of basing our position that human embryos are human beings on a “hidden theology.” Silver claimed that our argument for this position depended on the proposition that a thing either is or is not a human being. In our October 3 NRO article, we provided a formal (and we believe decisive) refutation of the argument by which Silver proposed to show that we were implicitly relying on theology in our argument for the proposition that a human embryo is a human being; but Silver has provided no answer at all to that refutation. Moreover, in that same article we presented two additional philosophical arguments to support the proposition he claimed we were relying on theology to believe. But he has offered no reply whatsoever to those two arguments.
While consistently failing to engage the counterarguments we have advanced against him, Professor Silver did offer three arguments against the conclusion we draw, namely, that human embryos are living members of the species Homo sapiens — human beings in the embryonic stage of development. In our October 19 NRO article we analyzed each of these arguments and showed that each is unsound. But — like the argument we presented against his original charge of “hidden theology” — these arguments too have received no reply whatsoever. That is, Professor Silver has not even attempted to show that our arguments are defective. Nowhere does he even try to demonstrate that we have relied on a false premise or proceeded on the basis of an invalid inference.
Instead, Silver simply reprises his bald assertion that we hold our belief that human embryos are embryonic human beings on faith “entirely divorced from any connection to modern biological understanding.” Yet, we have presented a wealth of evidence, cited standard and authoritative scientific texts, and invited Silver to identify factual or logical errors in our arguments. Where he has attempted to do so, we have responded by identifying with specificity errors of fact and logic in his critique of our claims. We have offered extended and detailed arguments based on experience, science, and philosophy — at no point appealing to any authority save the authority of reason itself. We deal in the currency of reasons and arguments; Silver replies with name-calling and arm-chair psychoanalysis. But these antics cannot obscure the fact that Silver has simply left our arguments unrebutted. Presumably, if Silver had answers to our points he would supply them. As it is, he is reduced to the shabby tactic of labeling us “fundamentalists” and then — in perhaps the most amusing of his diversions — casting about for some authority to validate the charge. What authority does he come up with? To whom does he appeal as an expert to distinguish true Catholicism from fundamentalism? He invokes the authority of the polemicist blogger Andrew Sullivan. Res ipsa loquitur.
It also is surprising to find Professor Silver, of all people, responding to the barrage of biological evidence we have adduced, by appealing to appearances (albeit enhanced by extremely sophisticated magnification) in an effort to salvage his position. Of course, the fact that humans in the embryonic stage don’t look like humans at later developmental stages is simply irrelevant to the question whether they are in fact human beings at an early developmental stage. The fact that Joseph Merrick — the “Elephant man” — didn’t look like other human beings did not mean that he was something other than a human being. Yet, those who relied on appearances for their judgments could not grasp his humanity, prompting him to exclaim: “I am not an animal. I am a human being. I am a man.” Indeed, he was. By the same token, the fact that an embryo looks like certain non-embryonic clumps of cells does not mean that it is the same thing as a non-embryonic growth or cellular system or a collection of stem cells. To suppose otherwise is to imagine that a sleeping human being or a human being in a temporary or long-term coma is the same thing as a corpse, or that fool’s gold is gold, since they can appear to be identical before inquiry establishes that the sleeping or comatose human is alive and that the fool’s gold is actually pyrite.
But no one has ever asserted that embryos and certain non-embryonic entities or collections of cells are always visually distinguishable or that they are different kinds of things only if they are visually distinguishable. Everyone in this debate knows, and has assumed all along, that embryos at very early stages of their development and certain non-embryonic entities or collections of cells can look alike. Our proposition, fully supported by the standard authorities in human embryology (more on that in a moment), is that scientific inquiry — by observation of their manner of behavior and by genetic and epigenetic analysis — can distinguish them as radically different kinds of things.
Of course, we are assuming — on Professor Silver’s word — that what one of the two micrographs depicts is, in fact, not an embryo but a collection of stem cells. We further assume (for otherwise the case would not be interesting or constitute any sort of challenge) that what he describes as a “bunch of embryonic stem cells” is not, in fact, totipotent — that is, the cells do not constitute a complete, functioning human organism that, if provided with a suitable environment, will by an internally directed process develop itself towards the mature stage of a human individual. If what he describes as a “bunch of embryonic stem cells” were, in fact, a complete, functioning human organism generated asexually by, for example, some method of aggregating and manipulating stem cells, then it would be indistinguishable from an embryo for the simple reason that it is one — in the same way that a cloned human embryo is an embryo.
So, assuming that Professor Silver is accurately and fully describing the two micrographs and is not simply begging the question by offering depictions of two embryos generated by different means, then one micrograph depicts a developing human individual in the earliest stage of his or her natural development — an embryo — and the other depicts a collection of cells that merely visually resembles a developing human in the embryonic stage. Science here, as it does in so many other cases, shows that — and where — appearances and reality part ways. Application of scientific methods would enable a competent and properly equipped embryologist/teratologist to distinguish an actual embryo from a non-embryonic growth or cellular mass which merely visually resembles it.
But Professor Silver makes a further assertion. He claims, not just that the two look alike, but that, “Even if you could look inside with the finest microscope, it almost certainly wouldn’t help because there is almost certainly no molecule, or combination of molecules, whose presence or absence distinguishes all human embryos from embryonic stem cells.” But Professor is merely repeating a scientific error that we refuted in our October 19 article. If a group of stem cells is placed within the normal environment for the gestation of an embryo — a receptive uterus — they do not develop themselves toward maturity. By contrast, if a human embryo is placed within a receptive uterus it will internally coordinate several changes within itself to develop itself to the mature stage of a human organism. That means that the two (the group of stem cells vs. the human embryo) do differ in molecular arrangement, patterns of gene expression, and in one or more cytoplasmic factors. It is precisely these differences that are critically required for (and constitute corroborating evidence of) the radically different developmental trajectories of the two groups of cells (only one of which shows itself to be a unitary organism).
Consulting the Authorities
Next, Professor Silver says: “In fact, none of the standard texts you’ve quoted — or any other prominent biology textbook used at major nonsectarian universities — actually states that an ‘embryo’ is a ‘human being.’” In all of our writings on the embryo question we have made it clear — indeed, we have repeatedly, explicitly stated — that by “human being” we mean a whole member of the human species (at any stage of his or her development), or complete human organism (though perhaps at an immature stage). And it is a simple fact that the texts we quoted do teach that human embryos are whole living members of the species Homo sapiens and complete human organisms at the earliest stage of their development. Indeed, these texts identify the coming to be of the human organism — the human individual — with the coming to be of the zygote. Speaking of the zygote formed at fertilization, Keith Moore and T.V. N. Persaud say: “This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual” (p.16, emphasis supplied). Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Mueller say that, at fertilization, “under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte” (p. 8, emphasis supplied). And William Larsen says that the gametes “unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual” (p.1). (Of course, that individual is not an individual spider or goat. Larsen is talking about a human individual. And he is not talking about a mere part of a human individual, like a bit of human tissue or a fingernail or liver. He is talking about a whole, albeit developmentally immature, human individual, viz., a human being.) Bruce Carlson, a distinguished professor of human embryology at the University of Michigan Michigan (a “non-sectarian university,” let us assure Professor Silver, since that kind of thing seems to matter so much to him) and author of a leading text, recently testified under oath as an expert witness in embryology in a case now pending. There he stated explicitly that human embryos are human beings: “the human being is created immediately after fertilization, and the maturation process and growth is a seamless continuum.” Can Professor Silver identify a human embryologist of the stature of Professor Carlson who is prepared to go under oath to contradict him?
In our October 3 NRO article, we began by speaking of “human beings in the embryonic stage of development.” In this same paragraph we said: “The complete human organism — the whole living member of the species Homo sapiens — that is, for example, you the reader, is the same human individual that at an earlier point in his or her life was an adolescent, a child, an infant, a fetus, an embryo.” This is precisely the teaching of Moore and Persaud, O’Rahilly and Mueller, Larsen, Carlson, and other leading human embryologists.
Keeping to the Scientific Question
We have also made it clear that the evaluative question of whether every human individual is a subject of rights is a distinct question from that of whether every human embryo is a human individual. Some philosophers have argued that not all human individuals, or human beings, are persons, and we have presented philosophical arguments to show why that position is mistaken. However, some people use the term “human being” as expressing an evaluative concept, synonymous with “person,” rather than as expressing a biological concept, synonymous with “human individual” or “whole member of the human species.” When Silver says that none of the texts we cited say that human embryos are human beings (or when he challenges us to find one of his Princeton biology colleagues who says that embryos are human beings) he is trading on this linguistic ambiguity and the understandable desire of scientific writers to steer clear of ethical or evaluative questions in describing facts.
But we have made clear that by “human being” we mean the biological reality of a whole, living individual of the human species. And on this the embryology textbook writers are perfectly in line with our view and offer Silver no support at all. The simple question of fact with respect to what the standard embryology texts say is whether they do or do not agree that human embryos, from the zygote stage on, are whole human organisms — whole (though immature) members of the human species. An examination of the short quotations given above, and the longer ones provided in our October 19 NRO article, shows that the standard embryology texts do unequivocally affirm that human embryos are whole human individuals, complete human organisms, individual members of the human species, “human beings” precisely as we have defined the term in our writings. It is what Robert Edwards meant when — speaking of the newly conceived Louise Brown — he straightforwardly and accurately described her as a “microscopic human being.” Writing years after her birth, he noted that the human individual that was by then scampering through the schoolyard was the very same human individual that he had observed in the petri dish: “She was beautiful then,” Edwards declared, “and she is beautiful now.” That embryo was not some pre-human creature that only later became Louise Brown. That was the embryonic Louise Brown — the same individual, the human being — who would a few years later scamper through the schoolyard.
Of course, we have also taken note of the fact that some supporters of abortion and embryo-destructive research acknowledge that human embryos are human beings, but deny that they are “persons,” i.e., individuals possessing inherent dignity and a right to life. Such people typically claim that human beings acquire dignity and rights only after coming into being (if they acquire them at all) and may cease possessing dignity and rights prior to dying. They maintain that some humans (embryos, fetuses, even infants) are not yet persons; others (human beings in permanent comas or those suffering from advanced dementias) are no longer persons; and still others (severely retarded individuals) were never, are not, and never will be persons. They identify “personhood” with possession of the immediately exercisable capacity for a certain level of cognitive functioning. So we have separately argued for the further proposition that every human being, irrespective of age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency possesses inherent dignity and a right to life. The question whether all, or only some, human beings are “persons” is a philosophical one. In this respect, it is unlike the biological question of whether human embryos are human beings. So the arguments we (and others) advance in support of the proposition that all human beings are persons are philosophical, rather than biological, arguments. Even here, though, we do not appeal to religious faith or authority.
Changing His Mind
This takes us to Professor Silver’s attempt to use Dr. Leon Kass as an authority against our view. Silver rightly emphasizes Kass’s standing as an accomplished scholar in bioethics who holds both a medical degree and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biochemistry. He notes that Kass is the former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics and that one of us (Robert George) serves with him on the Council. Silver then quotes Kass as writing, “I myself would agree that a blastocyst [an embryo that is 4 to 9 days post-fertilization] is not, in a full sense, a human being.” Then Silver tauntingly goes in for what he thinks is the kill: “I assume, Professor George, that you’ve had many chances to persuade Professor Kass with your ‘careful argumentation and the relevant biological facts,” and (as far as I can tell), you haven’t succeeded.”
Well, let’s see about that.
We’re delighted that Professor Silver has chosen to bring Leon Kass into this discussion as an authority on the issue in dispute. Kass is a giant among bioethicists and a person whose knowledge of the relevant science is beyond dispute. Moreover, he is a scholar of the highest intellectual integrity: a man who carefully weighs facts and follows arguments wherever they lead — even when the conclusion they generate requires him to revise his position. The quotation Silver is trying to use against us is from an essay written by Kass 28 years ago and reprinted in his 1985 collection entitled Toward a More Natural Science. What Silver does not reveal — we hope it was because he was not aware of it, although that would be odd — is that when Kass republished the essay in 2002 (after his appointment as chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics) in his widely distributed and much discussed book Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity, he added the following sentence to the relevant paragraph: “One could go even further: the in vitro blastocyst is exactly what a human being is at that stage of human development. Only its extracorporeal location is different.”
On the crucial question of biological fact in this dispute, then, Kass turns out to be a witness for our position and against Silver’s. Even more embarrassingly for Professor Silver in view of his taunting claim that George had failed “to persuade Professor Kass with your ‘careful argumentation and the relevant biological facts,’” Kass has explained his reason for revising his text to include an affirmation of the humanity of the embryo. Writing to George, he said that the reason was “precisely because you persuaded me that my earlier formulation [that is, the one quoted so triumphantly by Silver] was inadequate.” Kass’s difference with us — a narrow but important one — is not on the science at all, but rather on the difficult philosophical question. Even here, though, his position is far closer to ours than to Silver’s. Unlike Silver, he believes that human embryos have a high moral status and deserve respect far above what is owed to stem cells, gametes, organs, fingernails, etc. And although he does not regard human beings in the embryonic stage as having moral status equal to that of newborns, he concedes that the question is indeed difficult, that important philosophical arguments for the opposing position have been made, and that he has less than complete confidence in his own position. For that reason, he has firmly, consistently, and publicly taken the view that we should not treat any stage of nascent human life — which, he holds, at all stages should elicit awe and respect — less well than it might deserve.
There is another bioethicist well known to Professor Silver who disagrees with us far more radically on the philosophical question but has asserted with respect to the biological question the very position we hold and Silver denies. In his book Writings on an Ethical Life, published in 2000, Peter Singer stated that the proposition that a human embryo is, as a matter of biological fact, a human being is not only true, but beyond doubt:
It is possible to give “human being” a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to “member of the species Homo sapiens.” Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense, there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and egg is a human being. (emphasis supplied)
Now we don’t know whether Singer continues to hold this view, though the scientific evidence in its support has only strengthened in the six years since he stated it with such certitude. (On the respects in which the evidence has grown even stronger, see Helen Pearson, “Developmental Biology: Your Destiny from Day One,” Nature, Vol. 418, Issue 6893, 2002. Nature, Professor Silver can be assured, is a “non-sectarian” scientific journal.) For purposes of our debate with Professor Silver, it doesn’t matter. For Professor Singer was then, as he is now, an atheist. He, like Silver, supports embryo-destructive research and abortion; indeed, he even goes so far as to say that infanticide can be morally justified. Unlike Silver, however, he is willing frankly to acknowledge the truth about these practices: they involve the deliberate killing of human beings. They are, to use the words of another candid supporter of abortion and embryo-destructive research, legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin, “choices for death.”
Let us conclude with a reply to Professor Silver’s allegation that we fail to identify a test by which our central claim about the embryo’s status as a complete and distinct organism can be verified or falsified. The test of whether a group of cells constitutes a single organism is whether they form a stable body and function as parts of a whole, self-developing, adaptive unit. Contrary to Professor Silver’s supposition, this test is clearly passed by a human embryo, and clearly failed by a group of stem cells. As we noted, if a human embryo is placed within its normal environment, namely, a receptive human uterus, then (barring accidents or disease) it will actively develop itself by a coordinated series of self-directed changes to the mature stage of a human organism. By contrast, if a group of stem cells is placed within a receptive uterus, this does not occur. The test of whether it is a whole (though immature) human organism is whether the direction of its growth (if it has one) is toward the mature stage of that type of organism. The human embryo clearly passes that test, but the group of stem cells fails it.
An embryo and a stem cell are not the same thing, any more than an adult human and a liver or stomach is the same thing. The embryo, like the adult, is a self-integrating whole, a complete member of the species at a certain developmental stage. The stem cell, like the liver, is merely a part. The human embryo, fetus, infant, child, adolescent, and adult differ not as to what they intrinsically are — they are human beings — but in respect of their age, size, stage of development, and condition of dependency.
Once that biological truth is firmly in view, one can then shift to the key ethical question: Do human beings possess inherent and equal dignity? Or does the dignity of a human being depend upon or vary with his or her age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency? Our view, which we have defended in various writings, is that the dignity of human beings is inherent and that all of us, as members of the human family, are created equal.
— Patrick Lee is professor of bioethics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program at Princeton University.