Friday, July 04, 2008

Divine Liturgy Wordle!!!!

Time for another Wrodle. This time based on the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom.

Unless noted otherwise, everything posted here is © 2008 Gregory R Jensen.

“For I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6.6)

With this post, I am bringing to an end my thoughts on the psychology of polemics. You can find the other posts in this series here, here, here, here, here , here, here, and (finally!) here. As I mentioned, in these reflections I am writing as much, if not more, to myself than to anyone else. What little self-knowledge I have rather clear tells me that reconciliation and forgiveness are not necessarily what I desire. Power, authority, prestige, yes certainly. But humility and a life of being merciful and compassionate—being myself not simply an agent of reconciliation but a man of forgiveness—well this I don't desire nearly as I should.

In my last post, I suggested that hidden within our polemics is a desire for reconciliation. That desire is obscured, however, because we often live not by desire (as Levinas uses the term) but by need and need is grounded in our physical nature. David Joplin in his essay "Levinas on Desire, Dialogue and the Other" writes that because "needs are satiable, they mark out a kind of 'restricted economy,' or system seeking a homeostatic balance." While we always seek to satisfy our needs, our desires have a different focus, for desire "is an aspiration that the Desirable--the absolutely Other—animates." Need tends to be self-referential, desire, transcendent. Likewise, polemics tend to be restrictive, reconciliation expansive.

Bishop Hilarion of the Moscow Patriarchate in an insightful paper, "The Patristic Heritage and Modernity," asks "But why should faith be 'patristic'?" And having asked he proceeds to answer his own question. "Might this imply that Orthodoxy must be necessarily styled as in the 'patriarchal days of old'? Or is it that, as Christians, we should always be turned towards the past instead of living in the present or working for the future? Should perhaps some "golden age" in which the great Fathers of the church lived, the 4th century for instance, be our ideal, a bearing to guide us? Or, finally, could this imply that the formation of our theological and ecclesial tradition has been completed during the "patristic era", and that, subsequently, nothing new may take place in Orthodox theology and Orthodox church life in general?"

He continues by saying that "If this were so – there are many who think exactly this - it would mean that our principal task is to watch over what remains of the Byzantine and Russian heritage, and vigilantly guard Orthodoxy against the infectious trends of modern times. Some act in precisely this way: fearfully rejecting the challenges of modernity, they dedicate all their time to preserving what they perceive as the traditional teaching of the Orthodox Church, explaining that in the present times of 'universal apostasy' no creative understanding of Tradition is needed, since everything already has been understood and demonstrated by the fathers centuries earlier. Such supporters of "protective Orthodoxy" like, as a rule, to refer to the 'teachings of the holy fathers'. Yet in reality they do not know patristic doctrine: they make use of isolated patristic notions to justify their own theories and ideas without studying patristic theology in all its pluriformity and totality."

While his Grace argues for the need to preserve the inheritance of the fathers, he also argues for the need to "invest the talent of the patristic heritage." If we seek to invest the treasures of the fathers, "we find ourselves confronted by a tremendous task indeed, comprising not only the study of the works of the Fathers, but also their interpretation in the light of contemporary experience; it similarly requires an interpretation of our contemporary experience in the light of the teaching of the Fathers. This not only means studying the Fathers; the task before us is also to think patristically and to live patristically. For we will not be able to understand the fathers, if we have not shared their experience and endeavours, at least to a certain degree."

As a theological matter, at best polemics tend to be concerned with preservation, reconciliation (or so I would assert) with investment—in drawing new, as yet undisclosed, riches from our tradition. But as his Grace suggests, this is not an easy task and given the risk requires not only faith in God but also a fair amount of courage.

Where might we find that courage?

Earlier I argued that the intellect serves the heart as its guardian—the intellect is essential in helping keep from the heart images that would corrupt us from within. While guarding the heart is essential, it is insufficient, the heart must be purified by prayer and fasting so that, purified by grace and our own efforts, we can see God. Under no circumstances, however, can we allow the intellect to lead the heart.

Guarded by the intellect, and purified by pray and fasting, mercy emerges in the heart. Though I am far from it, my thinking on the psychology of polemics has reminded me that I need to have a merciful heart. As St Isaac the Syrian says.

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person's heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

What so concerns me about polemics is the ease with which even the very best of intentions are used to justify an indifference, and even hostility, to mercy.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Zemanta Pixie

Christianity and the History of Freedom - The Acton Institute

Our 4th of July message comes this year from the Acton Institute and Kevin E. Schmiesing, Ph.D., "Christianity and the History of Freedom" (Acton Commentary, July 2, 2008):

For Americans the Fourth of July marks national independence, but the holiday has become symbolic of a more universal cause: human liberty. The development of human freedom, in theory and in practice, is in large measure the story of Christianity.

How we understand the past influences how we live in the present, which is why debates about history can be so rancorous. Whether Christianity is a vehicle of oppression or a force for liberation is a question whose answer has remained contentious for two millennia.

For many, Christianity is oppressive. For them, the Christian religion is associated with the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Puritanical moralism. It conjures images of witch hunts, the scarlet letter, and “Hitler’s pope.”

Contemporary Christians cannot ignore these associations. What truth they contain must be acknowledged. But the critics of Christianity cannot have it both ways. If evil done in the name of Christ is to be highlighted, then so must the good. Antislavery crusades, orphanages and hospitals, protection of the weak and innocent—these too have marked the historical record of Christianity.

Christianity’s impact on civilization has occupied some of history’s greatest minds, who have both reflected and influenced their respective zeitgeists. Augustine defended the followers of Christ against the accusation that they were to blame for the decline of the Roman Empire; fourteen centuries later British historian Edward Gibbon revived the charge, giving voice to his age’s skepticism toward revealed religion.

Another and better informed English historian, Lord Acton, addressed the problem in the late nineteenth century. The result, The History of Freedom in Christianity, was a masterpiece of historical summary, distilling almost two thousand years into a single story of the gradual unfolding of human liberty. Acton reversed the Enlightenment narrative that he had inherited. The rise of Christianity did not smother the flame of liberty burning brightly in Greece and Rome only to be rekindled as medieval superstition gave way to the benevolent reason of Voltaire, Hume, and Kant. Instead, Christianity took the embers of freedom, flickering dimly in an ancient world characterized by the domination of the weak by the strong, and—slowly and haltingly—fanned it into a blaze that emancipated humanity from its bonds, internal and external.

Christianity’s confrontation with culture was not a matter of the truth about God and man transported whole into civilization via religion. Beginning in sources prior to Christianity—Judaism and classical Greece—and continuing in secular political, economic, and social movements, Christianity interacted with the world and honed its own understanding of human nature and God’s will for mankind on this earth.

Christianity’s signal achievement, as Acton recognized, was the creation of space for human freedom vis-à-vis the institution that has, in fact, been the gravest threat to liberty throughout history: the state. The story is admittedly complicated by Church officials’ sometime collaboration with state oppression. Yet a fair reading of history must credit the ideas as well as the institutions of the Christian faith with the leading role in curtailing the totalitarian tendency—government’s inclination to usurp ever greater power over an ever larger swath of human existence.

In our own day, we find the Church again serving in this capacity. It is the foremost voice defending those whose rights are threatened by neglect or direct attack: religious minorities, vulnerable women and children trapped in slavery, the infirm and the unborn. In education, health care, and family life, religious individuals and organizations resist the tyranny of state aggrandizement.

The twenty-first century’s version of Enlightenment distortion has manifested itself in the tendentious arguments of the New Atheist movement, whose avatars Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins have declared Christianity to be, among other things, the enemy of human liberty. As is too often the case, these purported champions of freedom are the opposite of what they claim. Harris, for one, says religious beliefs of certain kinds should be capital crimes: “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them” (The End of Faith). Harris’s focus is on belief that promotes violence, but his concept of justice is itself dangerous, neglecting the conventional distinction between thought and act (the latter being punishable). It is not altogether clear, moreover, that in Harris’s reading of history and theology, orthodox Christianity does not qualify as “dangerous.”

New challenges to an accurate understanding of faith and freedom require new rejoinders. The Acton Institute’s striking film, The Birth of Freedom, is such a response. Like Lord Acton, it sweeps through history, revealing the contours of humanity’s struggle for freedom. “Christian Europe got rid of slavery,” says one of the documentary’s featured commentators, sociologist Rodney Stark. “That’s a story that’s seldom told, and it’s a shame.”

Christ came to set captives free, the scriptures say. The work is not yet complete, but the record of accomplishment is impressive.

Hat tip: Dr. Philip Blosser, at The Pertinacious Papist Musing on Catholicism.
Zemanta Pixie