Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ex sese et non ex consensu Ecclesiae

For not from his Apostolic Confession does he glorify his Throne, but from his Apostolic Throne seeks to establish his dignity, and from his dignity, his Confession. The truth is the other way.

~Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs, A Reply to the Epistle of Pope Pius IX, "to the Easterns," §11, 1848

Catholic polemics

From A Word From the Desert:
The man who cries out against evil men, who does not pray for them, will never know the grace of God.

St. Silouan the Athonite +1938
Catholics tend to moralize exhortations like this, as if he's saying God merely wants us to be more charitable ideally or by force of will, like our moms wanting us to eat our vegetables. Then the legalistic approach kicks in: God's justice may punish us for not being more charitable but God knows we're nothing but sinners (in this life) and has waved the magic wand of forgiveness from the Cross because He loves us, so we don't have to sweat charity too much (in this life), especially when "speaking the truth to power" (in this life) demands forceful protest against evildoers (like that "bastard Obama"). Sometimes we have the further gall to presume Purgatory voids out all negative spiritual consequence (in the afterlife) from our lack of charity (in this life) because what's the Great Laundry Room in the Sky for if not to clean up our little sins like not being charitable enough to enemies? Often this is accompanied by giggly joking about how "I'm so going to hell." (Catholic irreverence is more often than not a disguise for cognitive dissonance.) Usually it goes completely unnoticed that this attitude is patently un-Scriptural and un-Patristic and that it's all quite cloyingly blasphemous, not to mention sophomoric. I'm not even going to get into the "two-storey universe" this attitude implies.

But St. Silouan spoke his words quite literally and without any guile. We render ourselves incapable of receiving, knowing, experiencing, becoming, participating in God, if we, like the "godless anti-Christs" we criticize, cry out against evil but never pray in the heart for evildoers. Bearing hatred on the inside for anyone is to commit murder, literally in the Kingdom. Even worse, it is murder of our own very souls because it reinforces our slavery to hatred and its many vicious kinsmen.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sobriety and novelty

When speaking to gung-ho Western Christians today, it's hard to avoid being smacked in the face with their passionate enthusiasms and hobbyhorses, whether it's the latest church plant, the latest papal encyclical or book, the latest theological speculation or cultural fad, the latest activist, collectivist, do-gooder "movement of the Spirit."

Whether Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox, in much of Christian America there's a certain lust for the spiritual high, a yearning for a special knowledge or experience of God that only the select few are granted, a grasping for a liberation from mundane, commonplace existence, a longing to be swept up to the heavens by some new group identity. Nothing new here. Academics call it gnostic elitism or something like that.

But I've grown to appreciate the Eastern Church's emphasis on vigilant sobriety of the mind and heart. I'm deeply drawn to their quasi-instinctive resistance to fads, a resistance which, it is important to note, is not new and intimately tied to the plain teaching of Christ and the Apostles. Western traditionalists are resistant to fads only to the extent they can distinguish an old fad from a tradition, which is to say not very resistant.

At any rate, it's always good to watch Eastern Christians practice what they preach. From Orthodox media, I've heard mostly enthusiastic praise for Fr. Seraphim Rose, who has been touted as the Eastern Thomas Merton (never sure if we're supposed to take that as compliment to Rose). So it's encouraging to see intellectual sobriety applied by one Orthodox towards a specifically Orthodox phenom.
I do not promote Fr Seraphim Rose because he represents a very rigorous form of Orthodoxy that is also committed to excessive speculation, especially about the afterlife. His ideas fuel a kind of Orthodox elitism which causes people to look down on others as being not truly Orthodox.

Fr Seraphim's ideas also are taken up by those who feel they must live as radically Orthodox as possible, and startle the world with their extreme expressions of otherworldliness.

For me, the heart of Orthodoxy is Christ, and the life in Christ is the Orthodox way, following behind the Master, doing what we see Him doing, saying what He says.


I said “I do not promote” Fr Seraphim Rose, and neither do I condemn him. Whether his ideas are false or true, our good and loving God knows, who holds us all tenderly and forgivingly in His hands. As for the man, I hope he is what all who follow Christ are.
His note against condemning Fr. Rose is crucial as well. The typical traditionalist will be vigilant against all deviations or extrapolations from the tradition, but he will usually be quick to judge and condemn, invariably causing an equally forceful defense and digging in of heels from the innovators.

The sobriety comes into play when we refrain from impassioned, unilateral judgment and condemnation, which only has the appearance of vigilant defense of the tradition, but remains lacking in vigilance towards one's own ego. Fidelity to tradition must be in the first place vigilant and sober against oneself.