Friday, May 29, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
While sexual ethics are not, by any means, the whole of moral concern, they have become so for contemporary culture. Even as other areas of human life come more and more under societal, and even governmental, control, human sexuality seems to be something of a cultural free zone. Where political power is brought to bear at all it is in the service of imposing of sexual freedom grounded in individualistic desire. Contraception, abortion, divorce, to name only three, are all in the service of undoing and even defiling the natural symbolic connection between human sexuality and community. No longer do we see society embodied in procreation. Instead of new life as a gift from a gracious God and the fruit of conjugal love between man and a woman, we come to see procreation more and more as the expression of our own mastery over the human bodies. No longer is a child a gift given to us or not as God (or the gods) decide.
Shorn of gratitude and its connection to what is beyond the person, sexuality has become an instrument of mere self-expression. Culturally, human sexuality no longer reminds us that even in our most intimate desires and moments, we are meant for something larger than ourselves or even each other. Now it seems, that which is larger, that which is shared, has come to serve intimate human desires and moments. But in this service, what is larger is made smaller and cheaper.
Where in traditional societies, immanence and transcendence existed in an ordered partnership (hierarchy) each with its own place and integrity relative to the other, we now see a new hierarchy being proposed in which transcendence is to serve immanence. In doing so, however, transcendence has ceased to what orders human affairs and so both have ceased to be themselves. Returning to what I said above, in this submission of the transcendent to the immanent, the communal to the individual, I see a parody of the Incarnation.
St Paul says of the Incarnate Son,
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:5-11)
The self-emptying (kenosis) of the Son is in the service of human transcendence, deification (theosis) in the traditional language of the Christian East. Or, to borrow from Hasidic spirituality, my self-contraction is always in the service of your self-expression; I make myself small so that you can grow larger.
Alas, where have now come to a place culturally (and safer sex and condom education are illustrative of this) where we have lose sight of the anthropological fact that I do not grow except by the gift of another's self-limitation. It is “ your” kenosis that makes possible “my” transcendence. And the first step of that transcendence is gratitude for the great gift of your self-limitation.
This all reflects an anthropological vision that is greatly at odds with contemporary understandings of the person. In place of an anthropology of mutual kenotic self-limitation as the means of our shared self-discover and self-expression, contemporary secular culture offers an autarkic anthropology that sees the self-discovery and self-expression of others (whether human or divine) as obstacles to my will. What you have, you have taken from me and so my self-realization must, necessarily, proceed along the path of your destruction or at least submission to my control.
While traditional (and Christian) societies often fail to realize the anthropological vision I have outlined, secular autarky has proven itself to be deadly efficient and terrifying popular in embodying its own anthropology.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Looking at the stats, I see that Koinonia has this week broken 200 subscribers1 Thank you to all of you who take the time to read here. And a special thank you to those who have put up with the buggy comment system. God willing, that will be corrected in the next few days.
For radically individualist, for those who hold to what Robert Bellah and his colleagues in Habits of the Heart call ontological individualism, the traditional notion of community is at once both attractive and frightening. A traditional life is attractive in that it offers an end to loneliness, to a life of isolation in which the person is left to his or her own ever diminishing physical and spiritual resources. But a traditional life is also frightening in that admission to such a life is never something I can simply will; I cannot in the strict sense choose this life, I can only be admitted by the invitation of a hospitable other. The love embodied by a traditional society is not mine. Rather life in as a member of a community is, in the strict sense, outside of my control, it a gift that is first and freely given and only then before can I receive it.
And, once received, it limits my autarkic mode of self-presence and self-expression. Contemporary culture is an autarky predicated as it is on an (illusory) ontology of self-sufficiency; traditional societies, for all their differences in religion and even morality, are based on an ontology of what Western Medieval philosophers describe as primary and secondary contingency, on our radical dependence on God and our proximate dependence upon humanity.
Self-discover and self-expression (including in the sexual dimension) remains an essential developmental goal for the human person in both contemporary and traditional societies. And, and again in both, these are done not simply within social structures but with others.
Where contemporary secular culture deviates, however, is on the goal, or teleos, of human self-discovery and expression. In the autarky that is secular culture, human development is directed toward a self-sufficiency that beings and ends in the individual while in traditional societies, our self-sufficiency is in the service of the community and indeed remains inchoate if it is not in the hospitable and gracious service of the community.
Safer sex and condom education, to return to where I began, seem to me to appeal (rightly I think) to self-interest. We hear similar appeals to self-interest in the Scriptures. For example, in Jeremiah, God instructs His prophet:
"Now you shall say to this people, 'Thus says the LORD: "Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him. For I have set My face against this city for adversity and not for good," says the LORD. "It shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire."' (21.8-10)
But where traditional forms of self-interest and expression, to repeat what I said above, are grounded in and return to an appreciative and obedient service of the community, contemporary appeals to self-interest are typically set in opposition to the community. No where is this difference as clearly seen then in matters of sexual ethics.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The social nature of the human person is to say rather a bit more that the I simple fact that the human person is a member of something called the the human community in general sense. Bracketing for a moment ontological considerations, it is to say that our being arises not simply out out of a concrete sexual community constituted by a particular man and a particular woman, that is our mother and father.
The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas reminds us with his usual poetry, that this community is primordially an ethical community. The fecundity of the human is not merely biological, he observes, but moral; a woman becomes a mother through an act of hospitality by which she welcomes into her the intimacy of her own body a stranger whose presence will necessarily reconstitute her life transforming her from a biological to a moral agent.
In most traditional societies, and especially within the Christian community, this biological fecundity is a natural symbol for humanity. To be human is to be a being whose existence transcends the brute givenness of biology and really that whole order described with such precision by the empirical natural sciences. Before all else, I am a being whose being comes to from outside and as a gift from a hospitable other. And I, in turn, become most full myself when (in imitation of my mother) I embody concretely my own willingness not to simply to welcome the stranger into my life, but to allow my life to be reformed and transformed by the presence of the stranger.
For both the pious Jew and the committed Christian, that stranger is not simply a human other but the divine Other. I become who I am by an act of hospitality and care not only for strangers, but the Stranger, Who is God. While I cannot explicate it fully here, it can be argued that the human community as a whole is fundamentally feminine and that while women are by nature maternal, men are only analogically paternal.
Certainly cultural factors play a large role in the development of gender, gender roles as social constructs are themselves grounded in the sexual differences of male and female. The gender roles of a given society may more or less accurately reflect these biological difference, even as they may revere they respect these differences. But it seems to me that we can neither deny the real biological difference between male and female nor can we rid ourselves of gender roles for men and women. The denial of these biological and social differences requires that an anthropological vision that is at odds with most traditional cultures and especially with the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Within the Christian tradition specifically, Levinas' analysis of human fecundity and the maternal hospitality of all human beings leads quickly and directly to a consideration of the incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus Christ. Human sexuality and reproduction point beyond themselves to a communion that is both ground in the Most Holy Trinity and which embraces the whole created order.
Even if other traditional societies are not themselves predicated on faith in Jesus Christ, there is (or so it seems to me) these societies share a “family” resemblance with the radically communalism that is at the anthropological heart of the Christian tradition. While not universal, nevertheless the communalism of traditional societies stands in stark contrast to the radical individualism and physical reductionism that has come to evermore characterize contemporary Western culture in both North America and Europe.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Several weeks ago, I posted a reflection on the ineffectiveness of condoms in preventing the spread of AIDS in Africa (see Mirror of Justice: Harvard's Dr. Green on the Pope, Aids, and Condoms in Africa). What caught my eye about the original report was the agreement on the matter between Pope Benedict XVI and Harvard scientist and AIDS researcher, Dr. Edward Green.
Somewhat to my surprise (and delight) Dr Green left a comment on my post asking me to say a bit more on what I see as the anthropological contradiction at the heart of most safer sex education programs. So this week, I will in fact try and say a bit more about this.
Specifically, in the main most safer sex advocates would assume that the person is (or should be) free of any external constrains on his or her behavior. At the same time their educational outreach is predicated on the notion that shared or cultural norms (in the current case, the use of a condom) ought to intervene between desire and action; indeed the public health norms of the program should determine the person's behavior rather than the person's own desires. Or to put the matter differently, the person should desire for him or herself what public health officials desire for him/her. In either case what safer sex and condom education advances and seeks justifies for public health reasons is the virtue of chastity even if they do not advance the as it is usually understood in the Christian tradition.
However noble the goals, safer sex and condom education programs are (I would suggest) contain an inherent anthropological contradiction. While understood in clearly different ways, both the Christian tradition and safer sex educators are advocating for some form of chastity. But while the Christian advocate for chastity argues from within a concrete tradition that sees tradition itself as having a normative and even determinative role for human behavior, in the main those advocating for safer sex practices reject the notion that personal behavior should be shaped by tradition.
Within traditional societies I think it likely safer sex education advocates would be perceived as an attempting to replace the traditional culture with a culture grounded in contemporary scientific theories of physical health. Let me please be clear, I am not rejecting the findings of modern science, far from it. But if I may risk the ironic use of an idiom, safer sex advocates have thrown the baby out with the bath water. In their zeal to protect the health of those at risk of HIV/AIDS they have neglected to see the disconnection between their public health goals and their neglect—and at times open hostility—to the anthropological fact that the human person is foundationally a traditional being. The irony of this becomes all the more biting when we realize that sexual activity is in and of itself a more or less natural symbol of the fact of my human being not a being-in-itself, but a being-with-others.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Christ is Risen!
Thank you for your thoughtful comments ( here). I appreciate why you think I have been unfair to the EP and the GOA—a my comments where rather pointed. Let me see if I can explain my position with a bit more clarity (and charity).
As Chrys mentioned in his own comment ( here), I think the existence of the ACROD and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA (and the Albanian diocese) rather makes my point. My objection is not to the existence of so-called ethnic jurisdictions under the Ecumenical Throne (or in the OCA dioceses). It is rather that these communities (under the EP) exist as parallel communities. It strikes a bit too much like “separate but equal,” rather than as a model of an administratively unified Church.
Now if, and here I'm thinking of Metropolitan Jonah's proposal that you referenced, the primates of these communities met as a Synod to oversee the life of the American Churches under the Ecumenical Throne (as happens in the OCA) that would be, in my view, a healthier situation. But these bishops of these Churches do not meet as a local synod and so all I see (and I'm open to being corrected) from the EP is more of the same ethnic based jurisdictionalism.
To this I would add that I have not seen any evidence that the GOA has invested any of its considerable resources in growing the smaller communities under the EP. What I have seen is that thanks to the existence of these independent communities under the EP results in the EP getting four seats on SCOBA with relatively little investment on the part of the Ecumenical Throne. Forgive me, but I am always a bit skeptical about any exercise of power that is not matched a comparable investment of resources. (Or as a friend of my puts it, don't trust people who don't have “skin in the game.)
All of this is an application of what Jesus says that those in authority must lord it over others. Rather they must serve the least. What I haven't seen is any evidence from the EP or the GOA of willingness to be of service to even to its own smaller communities.
I would very much in favor of Metropolitan Jonah's plan of all the bishops in America meeting as a local synod while maintaining their associations with the various Mother Churches. I also would support that synod being under the presidency of the Exarch of the Ecumenical Throne (currently Archbishop Demetrios).
Regarding the canonical status of the other jurisdictions relative to the OCA, my point was not that these communities are uncanonical but that they have a vested interest in not acknowledging the autocephaly of the OCA. To repeat what I said in my post, acknowledging the OCA's autocephaly means that the Churches of the Old World would be encroaching on the canonical territory of a sister Church.
As I said in a recent email to a friend, I don't disagree that there are substantive arguments to be made against the claims of the OCA. The essay by Fr Oliver Herbel, “ Jurisdictional Disunity and the Russian Mission,” on OCANEWS has done that in fact quite well.
My concern in all of this two-fold.
First, I think the argument made by Holy Cross faculty regarding the primacy of the EP is flawed not only historically but also (and in a way more importantly) practically. As I said, I simply have not seen a commitment to lead from either the EP or the GOA. Giving orders? Yes, certainly. But leadership seems rather lacking. While I I don't fault the HC faculty for coming to the defense of the EP, I think their unwillingness to acknowledge the shortcomings of the EP and his lack of leadership in the States only furthers the estrangement that afflicts the Church.
Second, this is not to say that leadership is an abundant supply in the other jurisdictions. Far from it in fact. In the main we seem more willing to tend to our own patches and ignore each other rather than cooperate with one another.
This I think is why Metropolitan Jonah has provoked such a reaction, he's willing to lead when others are not. His suggestion that ALL the bishops meet as American Synod while maintaining their relationship with the "Old County" may or may not be a viable way forward. It is however an idea worth debating.
The Orthodox Church in this country has tremendous spiritual and material wealth. Unfortunately, our internal divisions cause us to waste that wealth. Yes, we do well enough when the concern is our own parishes--but beyond that we seem rather lacking in our moral, philanthropic and evangelical witness.
Again, thank you for your comments.
Monday, May 11, 2009
History to one side, I would take exception to what seems to me to be the faculty's condescending tone toward the OCA. This tone is much in evidence when they say that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has "exercised restraint and has not broken communion with this jurisdiction” (i.e., the OCA). These words and the use of scare quotes when referring to the OCA and its autocephaly does not suggest, to me at least, restraint but provocative spirit.
In the first place, whether a majority of the autocephalous Church do or do not accept the autocephaly of the OCA is not the point. Truth is not subject to a majority vote!
Further, and at the risk of generating more heat then light, it seems that the Churches that do not accept the autocephaly of the OCA have a vested interest in not doing so. If the OCA's status is accepted, then they have find themselves with parishes and dioceses on the canonical territory of another Church. Put another way, if the OCA is canonical, then by their presence here Ecumenical Patriarchate et. al. are themselves up to charges that they have violated the canons and that it is the OCA that has "exercised restraint" by not breaking communion with these jurisdictions.
Stepping back a bit, and as I posted this on AOI, as long as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (with the consent and encouragement of the Ecumenical Throne) sees its primary mission as caring for the Greek community it is not fit for leadership here in America and pretending otherwise is a waste of resources and detrimental to our wtiness to the Gospel. I don't fault the Holy Cross faculty for defending the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Nor do I fault the clergy and faithful of the GOA for wanting to care for their own. Both of these are certainly worthy goals.
But I'm not Greek and to be painfully honest about the matter I have no particular interesting in focusing my ministry as a priest around caring for the Greek community. There's nothing wrong with what the GOA wants to do, but if this is their primary mission let them take a secondary role in the life of the Church in America. And the same, I am sorry to say, must be said for the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the universal level.
If they want to take a leadership role, what should they do? A good start would be for the Ecumenical Throne to demonstrate the desire and the ability to care for the whole Church in America and not simply the Greek community.
The let them demonstrate do so by doing what thousands of American who have joined the Orthodox Church have done, subordinate their own language and culture to the Gospel. Let the GOA lead by demonstrating through the use of their time, talent and treasure that they are will and able to promote the well being of those who are not Greek. One way to do this would be to commit themselves here in America to do what they have done in overseas missions: Create indigenious English language, non-Greek, Orthodox Christian communities.
After 12 years in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese I simply have not seen from Archdiocese (or Ecumenical Patriarchate) provide effective leadership in America. While I do not call into question the faith and commitment to Christ of the bishops, clergy and laity of the Greek community here and abroad, as long as the primary concern for the GOA the needs of the Greek community (which include the preservation of Greek cultural identity and language), the needs of those of us who are not Greek will simply take a backseat.
Put another way, as long the primary mission of the GOA is caring for the Greek community, then non-Greeks and their pastoral and cultural needs will remain secondary. If caring for the Greek community is primary, pastoral care for non-Greek Orthodox Christians, to say nothing of philanthropic outreach, evangelism and home missions will always come second. Having been a missionary I got to tell you, you cannot be effective in bring people to Christ and His Church under these circumstances.
You can read the rest of the faculty's response either on the AOI blog ( here) or on the Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of the Theology web page ( here).
Saturday, May 09, 2009
I thought we already established this fact, but this cool video proves it again: It shows what would happen if the Enterprise arrived to an alternative San Francisco, occupied by the Evil Galactic Empire.
Too bad the video gets ruined by the crappy explosion at the end. I'm sure JJ Abrams would approve, though.
Friday, May 08, 2009
Let me switch gears here and return to filling in a bit more of the psychological content of jurisdictionalism. These comments are offered in response to something that Robert posted a few days ago. He writes:
Without naming names, it would be helpful to take this discussion out of the theoretical and into the practical of our present day situation. Veiled references to a minority group of broken and wounded individuals just leave me a bit puzzled.
First, forgive me for being unclear. I do not have a discrete group or groups in mind when I speak about a minority of individuals within a parish, diocese or jurisdiction.
Rather, I think that in any community, whether we are talking about cradle Orthodox, converts, laity or clergy, there are broken individuals whose attraction to Orthodoxy while often sincere is also mixed with an attempt to avoid intimate human relationships.
To be stereotypical, think about a parish composed primarily of converts in which the vast majority of the community's energy is focused on keeping a strict liturgical cycle. Or, and again to traffic in stereotype, think about a a community of cradle Orthodox that is internally divided into self-selected factions based on village or geographic region from the "Old Country." In both cases the people substitute a formal category external to the person for a bond of love which is always person.
So in the first case, the deal we make is this, we'll have a beautiful liturgical life, but we will never speak to each other except superficially and then only in insofar as we must to arrange the service schedule. In the second case, we remain indifferent to those parishioners who are not from our region (or our families) in the Old Country. Again what matters is not person but some standard external to the person. In effect, the parish is not a community of persons but a mere association of strangers whose interactions are purely formal and always mediated by some structure external to the person.
You see this kind of behavior in families in which there is some type of abuse—physical, sexual, emotional or chemical. In order to keep the painful truth of Dad's alcoholism, for example, at bay we speak about anything else and everything else. Yes, dear old Dad might be asleep drunk in the middle of the living room floor, but we simply walk around him. (And when I worked in mental health, I heard just this story more than once.)
What I'm getting at is this, while we need to care for these individuals, we must be attentive that we not allow those who come to the Church to avoid healthy, intimate human relationships to set the tone and the agenda of the Church. And under no circumstances should they be placed in lay or ordained leadership positions.
There are, sadly, some people who are so psychologically wounded that normal, healthy forms of human intimacy are painful and even impossible. When these people seek out the Church, they often do so not for healing but in order to find in the formality and structure of the Church as means of escaping intimacy and love. What they seek is not communion but collusion.
If given the opportunity to do so, they may very well create for themselves a well ordered, theologically sound, liturgical perfect community that is, tragically, spiritually dead. Or they might create, as the late Fr Alexander Schmemann would have it, a museum to the past glories of Byzantanium or Holy Rus, But again for all its beauty and fidelity to history, it is not a living community but a diorama.
I know this sounds harsh but we need to guard against what I see is a growing tendency to emphasize tradition over person. This is simply wrong. Why? Because instead of being lead by Holy Tradition into an ever deeper encounter with God and neighbor, they use Holy Tradition as an escape, a shield from what they (wrongly) perceive to be a hostile God and a hostile neighbor. When this happens, rather than being a hospital for sinners, the Church becomes a source of new and deeper wounds.
As always, your comments, questions and criticism are not only welcome, they are actively sought.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
James the Thickhead's Comments and the Psychology of Jurisdictionalism
My post on the psychological roots of jurisdictionalism seems to have struck a cord with people. Let me say upfront, I most think of my blog as a way to think out loud about the psychological and pastoral issues that interest me. For this reason, my posts are more often then not “though experiments” that I'm offering to people for their comments and criticism.
Doing scholarship this way is important if we want our reflection on the life of the Church to be a work of the Church and not merely—as some of you have rightly pointed out about my recent posts—the theoretical reflections of one individual.
In their recent comments, both James the Thickheaded and Robert have helped me clarify my own thinking on the psychological structure of jurisdictionalism. Today, I will respond to James and tomorrow to Robert.
James is right I think when he says:
I am puzzled by the analysis of the problem as psychological primarily rather than sociological. Surely the two are related, but this seems a failure - as a friend is wont to put it - to learn to play nicely in the sandbox. Is that psychological or social? I think the latter... though it may stem from other internal causes. Is it insecurity? Sure. But it may be more consistent with studies of behavior problems due to economic status rather than theology. I'm aware of quite a few of the former studies... but not so many on the latter.
Let all thinkers, I have my own biases, personal and methodological. And my bias tend toward emphasizing the psychological rather than the sociological.
While I wouldn't discount the economic factors, it seems to me that jurisdictionalism is too broad a reality in the Church to be simply a matter of economic or social setting. It interests me, for example, that jurisdictionalism is not simply an Orthodox problem. We see it as well in the Catholic Church with not only overlapping Eastern Catholic dioceses (e.g., Melkites, Ruthenians, Ukrainian and Romanian Catholics all using the Byzantine rite in the same geographical territory) but also the overlapping of Latin and Eastern Catholic Diocese (e.g., in the Middle East and Eastern Europe). And there is now the variety of continuing Anglican communities in the North America that are outposts of dioceses that are overseas and in communion with one another.
Again, while I wouldn't discount theology, it seems to me that jurisdictionalism is an increasing equal opportunity temptation for communities with different ecclesiological models and sacramental theologies.
Granted, individuals and communities can have a variety of motives for how they organize themselves. And I would grant as well that often these different motivations are not only contradictory when looked at between traditions, there is often inconsistencies, contradictions and outright failure even within a given community. That said, consistency is not necessarily a virtue and inconsistency, by the same token, is not necessarily a vice.
But it does seem to me interesting that Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican communities ALL seem to have embraced some form of jurisdictionalism. I'm not sure what to make of this except to make not of it and to wonder if we might want to at least consider if we share a common shortcoming.
As always, your comments, questions and criticism are not only welcome, they are actively sought.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
An interesting thesis; but you have not given us the evidence that leads you to your diagnosis. It would be helpful if you would describe the behaviors and expressions that are symptomatic of avoidant personality disorder.
Saturday, May 02, 2009
Offered without comment, but with great joy.
h/t: Secondhand Smoke
Friday, May 01, 2009
Just about 100 days ago, on January 27, Russian Orthodox Church leaders chose a new Patriarch to succeed the later Patriarch Alexi II, who had died on December 5, 2008. His name: Kirill (photo). What has Kirill done since his election, and what are the prospects for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI?
By Robert Moynihan
(Photo: The new Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, center, puts on his vestments during the enthronement service in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Russia, Sunday, February 1, 2009. Patriarch Kirill took charge of the Russian Orthodox Church, becoming the first leader of the world's largest Orthodox church to take office after the fall of the Soviet Union. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)
Well, it looks like my blog's been nominated for an Eastern Christian New Media Award! Who would have thought?
Anyway, do surf over the the site http://ecawards.blogspot.com/ and vote for your favorite Eastern Christian blog--and hey, if its me, so much the better.
Image via WikipediaThe post, “American Religious Culture,” generated several comments. One commentator, Matt, seemed especially taken with my description of that culture.
Not to every one, my friends, does it belong to philosophize about God; not to every one; the Subject is not so cheap and low; and I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits. (#3)
The saint then proceeds to explain what he means.
Theological discussion, he say, “is permitted only to those who have been examined, and are passed masters in meditation, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at the very least are being purified.” Gregory makes this argument because, as do many of the fathers, understand theology as grounded in, and returning to, the life of prayer, liturgical and personal.
Such an understanding of theology doesn't preclude (as I said to Matt in response to his initial question about the quote) theological scholarship in the contemporary sense. It does however relativize the intellectual and academic study of theology placing as it does the primary emphasis on the sanctity of the person.
And so Matt, at the risk of being niggling, I think you are only partially correct in your assertion when you comment that “that one can be merely ascetic. Untrained ascetics are still, well, untrained. Asceticism does not substitute for formal training and training does not substitute for asceticism.” While I understand (I think) your concern that we not fall into anti-intellectualism, theological obscurantism or fideism (all of which are not unknown in either the Christian East or West), I would have to disagree with the idea that untrained ascetics are untrained.
You assume, or so it seems to me, a understanding of theology that places a primacy on academic training rather than asceticism. Anyone who knows me (or reads this blog) will attest, I am not anti-intellectual and I value not only the intellectual life in general but also its the intellectual tradition of the Christian East and West.
But fidelity to that tradition (I have come to understand more and more) means a personal commitment to the practice of the traditional ascetical disciplines of the Church. While often more honored in the breech by Orthodox Christians (as Steven Hayes points out in his own comment on the original blog post), they have almost wholly disappeared among Western Christians both Protestant and Catholic.
Matt let me shift gears here a bit.
In your comment you allude to the importance in Western culture of monastic theology and an ascetically based theolog:
I fully understand that prayer and obedience are key to understanding any truth, theological or not. St. Bede the Venerable spent his days in a Benedictine monastery praying long before he recorded his brilliant history. Indeed, the Benedictine Order has, in my opinion, given us the most brilliant minds of all time. Why? Because they are shaped by silence, obedience, and prayer. Almost all of the scholars until the mid-1500s were ordained to at least the minor orders, and produced great works of literature still read today. Asceticism clearly benefits the mind.
I certainly agree with what you say above, but again I most point out that the monastic ideal you point to (what Fr Georges Florovsky in his own critique of Reformation theology calls the ascetic ideal of the New Testament) is one that has become foreign even to self-professed traditional Catholics.
Much as when I hear Orthodox talk about the “Western captivity” of Orthodox theology, I am inclined to dismiss your assertion that “that most of the problems inherent in modernity and the modern understanding of everything from God to peanut butter is a result of the Protestant assertion that we can all discover truth for ourselves, without reliance on either a [ecclesiastical] hierarchy or formal [academic?] training.”
While beyond my pay grade, I think a closer reading of the multiple traditions within the broad rubric of the Reformation would show a variety of attitudes towards ecclesiastical hierarchy (even if they are more or less united around a rejection of the hierarchy of the Roman Church).
I don't in anyway disagree that contemporary American Christianity tends to be anti-hierarchical, it certainly is. And yes, certainly, this attitude is a matter of pastoral concern for Catholic and Orthodox Christians in this country as well. In any event, Matt's I don't think that what seems to be your insistence on the primacy of academic (and specifically, philosophical) training is the way out.
I both agree and disagree with you when you write that
America is a nation in which everyone thinks himself to be a philosopher, while almost no one has any philosophy training (and those that do are trained in relativistic mumbo-jumbo, not Aristotelian or Scholastic truths).
First of all I am not a proponent of the anti-Aristotelian anti-Scholastic polemics that are popular in some Orthodox circles. That said, however, it seems to me that strictly speaking there are no “ Aristotelian or Scholastic truths,” even if the are true things that we can see by studying Aristotle and the Scholastic authors.
I wouldn't deny what Pope Benedict XVI calls the “tyranny of relativism,” I think the problem you point to is not fundamentally a lack of philosophical education (though no doubt this along with a lack of good catechesis) is part of the problem) but rather the almost wholesale abandonment by Christians of the historical asccetical ideal.
We need to come back to asceticism (I think) because no matter how the philosophical or theological, the different challenges face by not only Orthodox Christians in America but also Catholic and Protestant Christians can only be met by the active pursuit of sanctity. It was this single minded devotion to holiness that allowed the flowering of the intellectual life that you (rightly) praise. BUT, scholarship—theological or otherwise—is not the point of the monastic life. And this is so because scholarship is not the goal of the Christian life (though it may be part of the vocation of a particular Christian).
Matt let me conclude by answering your finally question: “Would you agree with me on that one or are we talking past one another?”
Matt, I would agree with part of what you write. But from my point of view, you seem to want to argue for the primacy—or at least a parity—between academics and asceticism. If this what you are doing (and may have misunderstood where you're coming from) then I think we I think we may have a rather basic disagreement.
Be that as it may, thank you for taking the time to respond to my post and I look forward to a continued discussion.
And, as always, your (and everyone's) comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcome they are actively sought.
My recent series of posts on the situation of the American Orthodox Church has generated several, very thoughtful and challenging responses from people. First, let me thank everyone who took the time to read what I've written and to offer their comments whether in the comment box here, privately via email or on my Facebook page (if you wish, do send me a friend request). Second, I would like to respond, briefly, to to some of the comments that you have offered. My rationale for responding here is two-fold.
First, and somewhat prosaically, my comment software is still a bit wonky. It is getting better, but I am still not getting all your comments in a timely fashion. As a result rather than reading what you write as soon as you post it, I have to go and scan through the comments manually on JS-Kit's web page. Second, as I said above, the comments I have received are particularly substantial and merit I think fuller responses than I can do in the combo box.
My procedure for responding will be as follows.
I will put in the title the of the post both the name of the commentator and the post to which /he is responding. So, for example, “John Smith On 'The Nature of Suffering.'” In the body of my response I will include links both to the original post and the person's comments. As I said because the comments seem to me to be especially good, I plan to do this over the next week or so.
Hopefully this system will not only compensate for technical problems with the comment box but also generate some good conversation and discussion.
Needless to say and as always, your comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcome but actively sought out.