Pascha — Christ is Risen!

He is risen indeed!

Or in a few more words (by St. John Chrysostom):

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

A Remark on Candles, Incense, and Crossing Self

Recently a young man who frequently visits our parish asked why we light candles during services. He didn’t mean the altar candles, but many people purchase candles and light them near the icons of Christ or the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary, from the Greek literally Birthgiver of God). The short answer is that a candle it to represent, on our behalf, the light of Christ. This is however, while technically correct, not really the answer. Orthodox (and Roman Catholic) Christians in their worship practice do a lot of things mainline Protestants have either quit doing because they don’t remember that Christians did these things from the first century or have rejected them. Things like prostrations, metanias (bowing at the waist), kissing icons, burning candles and incense, crossing oneself, kneeling, standing to pray, using a prayer rope, and so on are the sorts of things that have been rejected.

Early protestants rejected these things, in the most part arguing that our faith is in our mind, these things are a distraction from “true” worship. Many were stripped of artwork and icons, their services pared down and minimized (repetitions removed). I think the mistake here is forgetting that we embodied. Repetition and the act of doing things physically to connect our bodies motion to our minds thoughts is an important tool to learn a thing better.

Here is an example from my recent swimming experience. First some background, a little over 3 years ago I started swimming regularly for exercise. I’ve been improving a lot, last spring and this fall I had lessons with some of the local age group competitive swim coaches. This winter I joined US masters swimming and have now participated in 2 races and am working hard for my last of the season in April. And here’s the point that connects this to prior two paragraphs. After my first meet, for my primary event I identified two mistakes I’d made that I wanted to work on, to correct. One of them was my turns. I needed to improve my “breath control” to hold the underwater part after the turn fully even on the 7th turn of the 200. So I worked on that every day in practice with variety of drills. The second problem I had was that I “went out” too fast in the first two lengths, and couldn’t hold the tempo/speed I wanted to sustain for the last lengths. To work on this I spent a lot of time in visualizations. Fixing the four 50s, the 8 25s of my 200 in my mind rehearsing how it would go and how I would take it easy and smooth the first two lengths. The 2nd meet was fairly successful. I dropped 4 seconds from my earlier 200 time, but … while my turns were much much improved … I still was too fast in the first 50. My mental only exercise didn’t do very well at all in the heat of the moment to calm myself and hold to what I had rehearsed in my mind.

We are not bodiless. We need to practice with our bodies and minds working together, not just with our minds. Those things noted above, done in worship that are doing exactly that, all involve motion and intent.

So the lesson is, try crossing  yourself when you mention the trinity in worship or when you hear something that connects with you personally …  it will help make you a better swimmer. uhm, wait. That’s not right but you know what I mean.

Of Heresy and Marital Ontology

Well, Doug just posted some excellent thoughts on marriage and the recent High Court ruling. Here’s my 2 cents (the going rate I might add, a bargain? You decide)

Over and over and over from the Christian opposition to SSM we hear that they (we) oppose same sex marriage (and indeed relationships) because homosexual sex is sinful. This is the wrong reason, I think. Yah yah, that’s a sin. But … look at it this way. If you have one individual, in one universe he gets married to another dude. In another he doesn’t. It’s not unlikely that he has a similar quantity of sex in both universes, but in the first … its less random, less disconnected, with fare fewer people, and possibly ultimately less sinful. That homosexual sex is sinful isn’t what is wrong with same sex marriage. It’s not like you and I don’t breed sin in our lives like Fibonacci’s rabbits ourselves (don’t look at me like that). What is wrong with it is that it promotes and continues to solidify a wrong conception of what marriage is about (this post says more about this point better than I could, so go read it, then come back).

If you study church history, you will discover that every historical Christological heresy (the nature of Christ, human, divine and such) was and often is still being recapitulated as an ecclesiastical heresy (That is to say, what is the Church?). There is a good reason for this. The reason for that is pretty obvious when it comes down to it. The body of Christ on earth (after Ascension) is in fact, the Church. So there should be no surprise that heresies (wrong notions) of “what is this called Christ” copy over to heresies of what is this same thing (Christ) here still on earth. What does this have to do with marriage? Well, for the current marital discussions we recall Paul teaches us, in marriage after some subtle instructions on how to treat with each other, that the husband is to the wife as Christ is to the Church. Furthermore that this relationship is a mystery. Now, first off, don’t get too worked up about the term “mystery”. Remember the best definition of mystery is a thing that you can’t explain very well, or at all, in words but must experience to understand. But the connection to Christology is the same. We are discovering that these Christological hersesies? Well, they are recapitulating as “What is marriage” heresies for exactly the same reason. Fortunately, as in the prior paragraph, another author at the site linked above explains that point from the Orthodox perspective far better than I can.

Ultimately this is the reason Christians, cannot back down on the marriage question (for there is little question about balancing the small good of perhaps less sin, if the consequence and mechanism for that is promulgating heresy). This thing the state and for that matter the left elite and many others calls marriage. How they define it. How they understand it. Well, it’s a is indeed a”thing”. But that “thing” isn’t the same as what we understand the word marriage to mean. It might have been better if the Supreme court had nationalized a legal structure called fleem. In which two persons, the glissord and the fleeger are contractually (until they choose to dissolve the fleem) bound together and enjoy the following state privileges (and it will be up to the legislature now to go to their chambers and define for us what privileges are granted to those joined in fleemhood.) Well, actually they did exactly that. But instead they chose to confuse all of us and not use a new word. They didn’t call it fleem or even iglifu. They used a word that used to and for many still does mean something completely different. Keep that in mind in the discussions that follow.

A Wrong (but very common) Notion

Take two sets of actions and deeds, in the first set we have “things which are moral” in the second “things which are legal”. There may be overlap. Observing the fights about various things in our (mostly urban/rural cultural divide for which party serves as proxy) like marriage, divorce, abortion and so on .. many if not most people confuse the two and figure what overlap there is (most killing for example) is intentional and what is moral and what is legal in a “good” society would be a very close if not exact match. This. Is. Wrong. Very wrong. It is an unconstitutional and un-American idea.

Here’s the thing. The purpose of the law is to structure our society to promote life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (and happiness != pleasure but the meaning Aristotle and the like intended).  This structuring of law as constructed in our country leaves morality out of the metaphysical framework underpinning it. “Life, liberty and the pursuit …” is not the 10 commandments. It isn’t a call to act rightly. It isn’t a prescription of how to act or think. Our law is not encoded so that we will be righteous by what ever meta-ethic you or I live by. But free, alive, and able to pursue excellence.

This isn’t precisely true however. You notice our founders made particular exceptions for freedom of religion and the law subsequently has made a point to encourage religious practice. Many, especially of the academic left and press think religion and it’s place in our society is a relic and it’s time has passed. It might be worth noting a really good start in this discussion which shouldn’t be ignored is first to read through this discussion. Then argue from there.

This realization that law and morals (personal ethics) are independent has consequences. For example,

  1. For most, what is moral should take precedence. If you must do something because it is right, you must do it even if it is illegal.
  2. Take abortion as an example. If you think abortion is immoral, don’t do it and don’t advise those around you to do it. If you want to argue that it should be illegal those arguments shouldn’t center on how it is immoral but how it doesn’t exactly give a chance at, erm, life, liberty and pursuits to those who are among the weakest and smallest in our midst (there’s a Rawlsian argument to be made there). You could point out that excluding people from personhood based on particulars of their existence and not the ontology of their being has a very poor history of human rights vis a vis the 20th century. There may be good arguments on the other side of this question, but they are not known to me so I won’t attempt that. Similar “life &c” argument can be made with respect to most, if not all, of those things over with the rural/urban cultural divide quarrels.
  3. Moral instruction for children, an essential responsibility of parents, is quintessential. This is the most important thing a parent can impart to their child. Why? Because the civil environment (law) does not do that. But you can’t be happy (see link above) without ethics. After all ethics can be succinctly coined as a study in what is good (and doing that). Without know what excellence is, how can you be happy?

Getting It Exactly Wrong: Extremism

Often you’ll hear or see someone making the statement, the “problem” is extremism. Sometimes the term extremism is replaced with fundamentalism. There is a problem with this statement, if you examine what is meant by that, nobody believes it and contrary to being the problem, extremism is exactly what we are supposed to be doing. Extremism is not a vice, it is a virtue. More than that, pretty much everyone would agree that this is so.

Examine common extremists, Olympic athletes, professional athletes, and the top researchers in physics, mathematics and chemistry are all what we would regard as extremists. They have devoted their entire life, to borrow from the Bible have, devoted their pursuit of their goal with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. What they are doing is how extremism is defined. They are taking their pursuit of excellence, be it a time in the dash or a proof of an abstract concept … it consumes their attention, their life. Breaks from that pursuit are (typically) intentionally taken to bank their coals, to spur them to higher and greater efforts when they return. I’d mention politicians, who can often also show great zeal in their extreme efforts mostly in the pursuit of … (yikes).

Oh, comes the objection (from the marginalia), but we mean religious extremism is what is bad. Hmm. So, secular extremism is good, religious extremism bad? Except that isn’t quite so. The most common example of religious extremism a common religious in these parts, are monks. Monastics, like those athletes, devote themselves entirely to God, withdrawing from the world. Horrible they are not. Secular extremism is also bad when the thing pursued is a vice (alcoholism for example).

This may yield a clue.  Extremism may be seen as human in pursuit of particular excellence (as opposed to general excellence). One concentrates on one thing, as exclusively as possible and devotes ones life to that. If the thing for which you pursue is is a vice, or generically “is bad”, then this form of extremism is harmful. But pursuing vice is bad, in and of itself, that is the loci of the “badness” of extremism to the cause of a vice, not the extremism itself.

See also “arete” or what the ancient Greek’s would have recognized as common extremism.

Next up: why fundamentalism, is also not problematic.

The Great Canon (continued)

So, some selected passages from tonight (Tuesday’s) canon. (tonight’s link is to Tuesday’s canon, and is the translation we used in our service tonight)

(from the 3rd ode)

In You, the Destroyer of death, have I found the Fountain of Life, and now from the heart cry out before my death: “I have sinned. Be merciful and save me!”

I have sinned, Lord, I have sinned against You, but be merciful to me, though there is no one whose sins I have not surpassed.

I have imitated those who in the days of Noah indulged themselves and like them I deserve to perish in a flood.

(later, ode five)

The midwives, though instructed by Pharaoh to kill the male infants of the Hebrews, obeyed their God instead. Now that you, my hopeless soul, have been spared death like Moses, like him also be nourished on the wisdom of the Lord.

By killing the oppressive Egyptian, Moses severed his bond to Pharaoh. But you, O my hopeless soul, have not even begun to attack the wickedness of your mind. If you have not accomplished even this much, how can you expect to pass through the time of repentance, which alone can drive away our sinful passions?

(ode seven)

You have heard of Absalom and how he rebelled against his father David, and know how he defiled his father’s bed. So why do you still imitate his wild impulses and his love of pleasure?

By following Satan your freedom has become enslaved to your body, O my soul, as when on Ahitophel’s advice, Absalom revolted against his father. But Christ has scattered the Enemy’s counsel that you might at all costs be saved.

Solomon was mighty and full of wisdom yet did wrong before the Lord when he turned to idols. And you, my soul, resemble him in your evil life.

Solomon was carried away by gratification of his lust. Alas, he who loved Wisdom now makes love to prostitutes and finds himself estranged from God. But in your every thought you have imitated him, O my soul, through your disgraceful love of luxury.


The parallelism I noticed to night is interesting. The text of Ode one from Monday night, is logically connected to the Ode one of the following night, not the next ode on the same night. Kinda of an inducement to pay attention, eh? An example of that? Here is the last stanza from Ode nine of Monday night,

After He had fasted forty days in the wilderness, hunger revealed the Lord’s human nature. Therefore, O my soul, do not despair if the Enemy attacks you, for it is only through prayer an fasting that he shall be defeated.

and here is the first of Ode nine of Tuesday:

The Devil showed stones to Christ which He could turn into bread, then led Him to the top of a mountain to show Him at a glance all the kingdoms of this world. O my soul, fear the Devil’s craftiness: watch and pray to God at every hour!

Where in the World (was Mark tonight)

At the Great Canon of St. Andrew. The Great Canon is, to put it mildly, a penitential 2×4 swung by a gorilla hitting you right between the eyes. An introduction can be found here.

Here are the first few meditations from the first (of 9) “odes”:

Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, for my present lamentation? But in Thy compassion grant me release from my falls.

Come, wretched soul, with your flesh, confess to the Creator of all. In future refrain from your former brutishness, and offer to God tears in repentance.

Having rivaled the first-created Adam by my transgression, I realize that I am stripped naked of God and of the everlasting kingdom and bliss through my sins. (Genesis 3)

Alas, wretched soul! Why are you like the first Eve? For you have wickedly looked and been bitterly wounded, and you have touched the tree and rashly tasted the forbidden food.

The place of bodily Eve has been taken for me by the Eve of my mind in the shape of a passionate thought in the flesh, showing me sweet things, yet ever making me taste and swallow bitter things.

Adam was rightly exiled from Eden for not keeping Thy one commandment, O Savior. But what shall I suffer who am always rejecting Thy living words?

It’s not unrelenting. For example, from tonight as well, “Thou art the good Shepherd; seek me, Thy lamb, and neglect not me who have gone astray.”

Most if not all slavic and OCA Orthodox churches will be doing the Canon every evening this week through Thursday night. If you have the time and ecumenical inclination and wish a spiritual penitential push, visit and worship with them. You will be welcomed.


Better You Than Me (literally)

So. In the next few essay’s I’m going to begin a small series commenting on my reading the book (of essays coincidentally enough) by Christos Yannaras titled “The Meaning of Reality: Essays on Existence and Communion, Eros and History”. My plan is to go through this book essay by essay. Some essay’s I’ll separate a precis post (summary) and follow that with one or more posts with remarks refering back to that post. What follows (below the fold) is the remarks on the first essay titled, “A Reference to Alyosha Karamazov”. This is short (3 1/2 pages) and I’ll perhaps to combine summary and remarks in one post. This opens with a quote from the Brothers’ Karamazov (from which, obviously, the character Alyosha is drawn).

  • I understand it only too well: it’s the innards and the belly that long to love. You put it wonderfully, and I am terribly glad you have such an appetite for life,” Alyosha cried. “I have always thought that, before anything else, people should learn to love life in this world”
  • “To love life more than the meaning of life?”
  • “Yes that’s right. That’s the way it should be; love should come before logic, just as you said. Only then will man be able to understand the meaning of life.”

And so we begin (below the fold) Continue reading →

Ethics to Ponder

Monday Mr Burgess-Jackson posted a short ethics question:

You are a doctor. You have five patients, each of whom is about to die due to a failing organ of some kind. You have another patient who is healthy.

The only way that you can save the lives of the first five patients is to transplant five of this young man’s organs (against his will) into the bodies of the other five patients. If you do this, the young man will die, but the other five patients will live.

Is it appropriate for you to perform this transplant in order to save five of your patients?

I’d like to propose a variant, because I don’t think the doctor (“do no harm”) should ever consider this as given.

Consider the ethics of both patient and doctor.  Let’s change the patient in question (the one) slightly, the one patient is elderly and has been diagnosed (and checked by two independent doctors) with early onset Alzheimer’s which is and will progress. The patient does have very healthy organs. He has been tissue typed, matched, and have contacted, corresponded, befriended and dined with the five recipients in question. Then he goes to the doctor and request that the organs be taken to save lives now.

Consider the ethics from both from the point of view of the doctor and patient.

Should the doctor perform the operation? Is it appropriate for the patient to request this operation?  Was the patient’s request appropriate?

The patient is (and doctor) are Christian. Is this suicide or sacrifice? Charity or selfishness.  Dying so that others might live, or just avoiding the degradation and life of your sense of self decaying? Should it go forward in the context of Christian ethics, which opposes euthenasia?

Confused About The Other PoV

Well I’ve come to a point where I’ve been far enough from the abortion debate, which the Philadelphia kerfuffle has brought back to the front burner, that I feel I can’t muster a coherent argument for abortion at all. So, what I’m going to try to do here is mention the two or three points/arguments that I know for that case and see if anyone out there can fill in the gaps or offer argument not mentioned that are stronger. Continue reading →

Continuing Musings on Government and Spirit

Much if not most of the hard divisions between right and left these days goes back to the often mentioned (by me) Habermas/Ratzinger debate. Mr Lieter has tossed a book into the fray, which was discussed in First Things. Mr Lieter questions the practice of government protection/privilege of religion, alas apparently without establishing a clear victory for the Habermas side of the debate previously noted. This continues the prior essay in which I started out in the essay with the idea that thinking personal moral beliefs (which we will abbreviate in the following as EMS for ethical/moral/spiritual which in turn follows Dimitru Staniloae’s book which notes that spiritual = moral/ethical far more closely than in Eastern than Western thought patterns). One of the discoveries, for me, was that my assumption on the start of penning that former essay was that the American assumption with which I was raised, namely that personal EMS notions do not mix with legal/state ones is likely flawed. However, I did not address or question (yet) the fitness of that the separation question (or for a future essay perhaps whether the suspicion that I have that the correctness of this separation is a key aspect of the left/right divide).

So, let’s follow a bit with the idea that the core notion in many if not most of the societal debates we are having right now hinge on the place in public square for personal or communal EMS thought. The two extreme positions in this debate are those which maintain that EMS is required or that it should be completely divorced from the public square, law, and government. There are arguments for both, but what is missed is by the extremists is that alternatives exist. But first, let’s examine the actual not pretended extremes. Far too often both sides are guilty of painting a straw man extreme as the nominal “other” side. But alas, for both sides, more moderate positions exist on both sides at which points the debate should be centering but isn’t. Perhaps because demonizing the opposition is far easier than confronting more reasonable ideas.

So we are going to identify six “positions” in the Habermas/Ratzinger political spectrum. There are two extreme straw man positions, there are two extreme positions which are held by many (not straw men) and there are two moderate positions on each side. Habermas and Ratzinger in their debate argued around the two moderate positions, btw.

The extreme H (Habermas) position is to insist on complete divorce/separation from the ethical/spiritual and government. Those things which are moral or ethical should not be used as reasons in government or law. Examples of this are rampant. Just witness the allergic reaction by some to incidental expressions of religion by government (10 commandment or Christmas displays for example which might occur on state properties). This side would hold that your particular ethical/spiritual/moral beliefs are personal. They shouldn’t be used as arguments or even mentioned in the halls of state (in Babylon after all where particular notions must always give way to abstract or consequential ones, which are all that are left after the ethical/spiritual ones are removed from play). What then is the extreme straw-man H stance, that would be the one where expressions of public EMS beliefs are illegal, where priests get sent to mine minerals in Kolyma in the archipelago. It is a real historical non-fictional existence, just one that nobody reasonable on the H side of the debate is actually advocating, hence it’s a straw man.

That same (dominant) voice would hold that the other extreme is some sort of theocratic backwoods unenlightened, inwards looking space. But this isn’t so. That too is a straw man. Yes in fact there have been mono-religious oppressive states.  So what?  This is the bogey man raised by many arguing against the R case, but again it’s a straw man. What then is the extreme R position that isn’t a straw man? I don’t know. Nobody debating against the R position argues against it, they move directly to the “theocracy” bugbear. Few, if any, in the US argue for anything I’d identify as a extreme R position? Comments or assistance in this regard might help some, I have a weak suggestion below … is that right?

So then, what in fact is the opposite number. Well, read the debate. What is the normal moderate Ratzinger state? It is one where the government realizes that the spiritual/moral/ethical life is *required* for a Democratic state to continue. What then is concluded? Just that therefore the members of that same state should find it natural to foster an environment where that life is encouraged and nurtured so that their society might prosper.

In some countries (very few in number) the religious beliefs of its constituents are predominantly of the same faith. This isn’t the case in Babylon, a community in which people from many nations, many people come together in one society. So the question at hand for those honestly participating in the H/R debate is to consider what these two states look like, for in fact they aren’t as different as one might pretend, the only difference is quite minor.

Both states (the moderate H and R) are by the thesis the argument are democratic. They have similar institutions, the only difference is that the H position holds that independent ethical/moral/spiritual (EMS) institutions are not required to keep the democratic regime functioning and the R position is that they are required. The extreme H position is that the EMS institutions, should be held at arms length, the moderate one that they should be given no advantage and not protected (the extreme straw man H position is that EMS institutions should be held as harmful and perhaps made illegal). The R extreme is that EMS institutions have legal standing and powers, the moderate R position is that that members of the society should realize that these institutions are essential, need to be protected, fostered, and nurtured and as noted, the extreme straw man R side is an actual not pretended theocracy.

So now that we have set the stage, …. the next essay might consider how this might affect our actual debates if cast from a moderate on moderate stances instead of straw man on moderate in either direction.

Category Errors Considered

Note: I started writing this with the notion that the category error alluded to below was a mistake and a sidelight hiding behind the issues being argued. As I continued in writing I have come to believe that the category error is both the primary reason for the arguments and further is a fundamental problem which is well known.

Much wroth, fury, words, and accusations of ignorance, bigotry, and perversion have crossed from both sides in the recent decades long struggle by various factions in the debates about marriage and who might be married rightly. A few observations

  1. Defenders of SSM remark that this sort of marriage is private and affects none outside of the marriage. Yet, if this were so, then why would not civil unions suffice? The logical answers is because this reply is a lie. It does in fact affect others and in this lies a category error to which I alluded in this essay’s title.
  2. To read the papers and hear the debates this is an important issue. Yet, why is that? Why is that more important than other issues. As that famous statistician Bjorn Lomberg  pointed out that getting vitamin supplements to the third world would saves tens if not hundreds of millions of lives (and would be cheaper and more effective than most of the aid we send to the third world), world-wide millions are affected by human trafficking indeed the numbers trafficked within the states is comparable to those affected by SSM … and those affected are mostly well educated affluent couples. Yet what debates are heard? 

How are these issues a sidelight issue and the other a hot button issue? I suspect my  I offer it is because those entrenched against SSM are also committing that same category error. What is the error of category to which I allude? Simply the following, laws and lawmakers are not our spiritual guides. Note, the use of the term “spiritual” is not the normal one, but one which I will continue in this essay and perhaps in further essays. 

So let me digress for a moment. Spiritual? What is that? In the introduction to Dimitru Staniloae’s book (Orthodox Spirituality), it is pointed out that in the EasternChristian doctrine, your spiritual life and its tending is perhaps better translated as your ethical life and its care. Spiritual health and ethical well being are synonyms. 

What is legal or not and what is righteous (in good spirit or a good moral/ethical decision) are independent. This is a founding principle of American jurisprudence. (Or is it?) It certainly is the assumption now. Mr Daschle defended a Senatorial philandering colleague by pointing while he while he was dishonest he didn’t break any laws. The correct reaction to this is that the colleague got his priorities exactly backwards, i.e., it is more important to be ethical than stay on the right side of the law.

Laws are not ethics. Laws and what lawmakers conspire to create has very little to do with ethics and instead its primary purpose is to provide a framework. This framework provides so that peoples may live harmoniously alongside each other in an ordered way.  So that, when conflicts between people arise, there is an orderly way of handling those same conflicts. Personal ethics overrides and sits over the law. For the most part, there is no conflict, most of our choices, our ethical decisions do not lead us toward choices which are illegal. Where they do, it is right, it is correct to choose the ethical over the legal. On the other hand, there are things you may do legally which however are not ethical. Even where there is no conflict, normally ethics binds our actions tighter than the law.

Solzhenitsyn warns that this separation that is part of modern Western democracies (and was part of the former Soviet state) is an error. That itself is an interesting counter point. So it seems likely that this why this debate is important is not what it is about, but sort of the issue is the ground on which it is being made. What is at stake is perhaps not about the particulars of whether certain young dinks (dual income no kids) can have their relationship legalized or not but really what is being debated here and in other forums is whether law should be neutral or be admitted to have spiritual (ethical) content or should it not. Kant (and our founders) explored law devoid of ethics, can a safe lawful republic of demons (not angels) be constructed or not. Perhaps it can. Perhaps it can’t. The question at hand is should it? Recall the Ratzinger/Habermas debate, debating whether a democratic society can be constructed and sustain itself independent of religion, i.e., “does it need things outside itself to sustain itself.” Ratzinger and Solzhenitsyn think not. Bertrand de Jouvenal pointed out in his meta-political science musings about what he termed Babylon (the large multicultural state) envies the unity of the small state. My reading of Solzhenitsyn (and Jouvenal) is that a solution exists. If the larger federal state limit itself to promoting commerce and unity between smaller entities within itself, while foster their ability to form strong local identity, laws and praxis then you could have the best of both worlds. You can find local loyalties and ties and bonds within the framework a larger multicultural state.

Both sides of the cultural debate miss this point. Both sides wish to apply the same laws and sensibilities in artists boroughs of San Francisco, in Amish villages in Ohio, in rural Lutheran Wisconsin, and so on. Why? Why try? It seems wrong to insist that behavioral norms universal.

Locally laws can be tied to spirit. Federally, the are not, but there they run to the Habermas separation of Spirit and law. It seems to me laws about birth, death, marriage are those which the federal level should keep its hands away, to set aside for local regions to coin their own practices, to tie their own view of ethics and spirit what is allowed, to what is righteous in their region.

Instead of insisting that laws be spiritual or devoid of spiritual considerations is wrong. Federal laws laws which bind us all, might be best be light and aim only to promote commerce, unity, and ease frictions. Local laws … let them tangle and wind the ways the local choose. That is, after all, nothing more than freedom.

Dr Freud Sketched to Eastern Sensibilities

Dr Freud famously sketched the person as consisting internally as ego, super-ego and id. In Eastern Orthodox tradition you find discussions of nous, spirit and soul. Nous is your intellect, your soul motivates you to action … and the spirit is your moral sense and decision making processes. Not entirely dissimilar to the Freudian breakout (and my definitions are inexact … as all such definitions by necessity are). Take that in conjunction with the difference in personhood on East/West and there’s grist for some thought (again rougly West locates person in attributes of the individual and the East personhood is defined by his/her relationships).

In part this means “spirituality” in the Eastern lexicon has very little to do with new age touchy-feely notions … but something completely different. Of what relevance.

Well, Lent begins in mid-March for the East, and I’m going to read this book for Lent. I’ll be blogging about my progress through it and this difference noted came from the introduction.

Marriage: A Short Exposition

Alasadair MacIntyre in his book Whose Justice Whose Rationality demonstrates using ancient political divisions to illustrate how, when meta-ethical differences between groups arise conversation between those groups is difficult. Well, perhaps “difficult” is putting it mildly. We see this today as it unfolds in conversations between those in different sides of the political aisle. Highly paid commenter Boonton on this blog noted recently that the only good arguments concerning SSM are on the pro-SSM side, there are no arguments and only avoidance of the same seen from the right. My response was that the left side of the aisle perceives it this way because they insist on a “small playground”, only debating this issue in the context of their particular meta-ethical context and refusing to step outside. And yes, by analogy, if you assume flat 2-dimensional Euclidean geometry there is no good way to dispute that the the interior angle of a triangle sum to pi. But all geometries are not 2-d Euclidean, in fact the world we live is not. So what follows will be an attempt to bridge that divide, to give a glimpse to the left the basics of the marriage debate as seen from the right. Be warned however, in crossing this bridge there are always hermenuetical difficulties, when speaking across meta-ethical and foundational divisions the same words can be viewed from different context and what is said can easily be misunderstood. That is to say, bear with me … and this gets a little longer than the usual essay … so the rest is below the fold…

Continue reading →

Secular vs Religion and the Public Square

On and off again I refer to the little book published that consists of the debate between Jurgen Habermas (eminent German philosopher) and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict). The title of this book is Dialectics of Secularization. Mr Habermas opens, sets the stage and gives a brief argument (streching 30 pages of a small format book) … and Cardinal Ratzinger replies in like length. This book is published by Ignatius Press (2006) and is quite inexpensive (and available on Amazon). It was, of course, originally published in German.

The Question:

Does the free, secularized state exist on the basis of normative presuppositions that it itself cannot guarantee? This question expresses a doubt about whetherthe democratic constitutional state can renew from its own resources the normative presuppositions of its existence; it also expresses the assumption that such a state is depenedent on the ethical traditions of a local nature.

Mr Habermas takes the affirmative, and of course Mr Ratzinger the negative. Continue reading →

Deism and the Personal God

The Greek conception of deity and eternity from the golden age of Greece through the coming of Christianity was one rooted in Eternity. Platonic notions of the Ideals, abstracted but concrete (in an idealic realm) and atomic these anchor reality. The Universe was (in their view) eternal and any creator or originator had too be as well unchanging and eternal as those ideals.  The truths of these claims were established by the inexorable logic of a philosophical framework on which their civilization/culture was based. Modern deism is very close to these notions with the exception that creation is not, as the Greeks apprehended, eternal but has a beginning (and likely an end). It might be noted I’m unaware of how modern deists deal with the conflict between a God which creates a universe and is at the same time unchanging and eternal (or perhaps the unchanging part is dropped).

The Jewish concepts of deity was concrete by comparison. Rooted in history, prophecy, promise and compact. If not personal it was apprended and comprehended by persons. The history and its narrative validated its truth. A God which speaks to a people or persons in an individual way was seen as incompatible and very different in character from the Greek Ideal for God (or gods).

Modern arguments as they appear between deists, atheists and Christians bring up notions of deity that can be  brought into sympathy with both of these two very different notions. That this is impossible is a common mistake that is made in the modern discussion that surround these notions which the following might be viewed as an attempt to bring the Christian viewpoint on the nature of deity into relief (and to contrast with the above). Continue reading →

Standing at the Precipice


I had been enrolled in the local diocesan late-vocations education program … but dropped out for the next cycle because I’ve been a little too busy. Anyhow, the last assignment (which I didn’t go to class to deliver) had as part of the homework an assignment to delivery a short 5 minute homily on Baptism. This is intended to be given to the parents, god-parents/sponsors, family and witnesses  just after a Baptism. Orthodox Christians practice infant Baptism, so this talk is geared in that regard (below the fold). 

So. Are you sweating? Is your heart racing? Are your knees weak? If not, they probably should be. Why, you ask? Well, you’ve just done one of the most  awful, dreadful things that a Christian might do, that is participated in a Baptism of a human. You scoff? Well, let’s take a moment to consider the things we’ve just done. Remember when I said Baptism is awful and dreadful? That means you should be filled with awe and dread. Recall the words of Scripture, “Fear (or awe) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Why is this the case? Well, consider the following notions.

First we’ve taken your precious young baby child and exorcised her. Look out the window (or at least in your minds eye) and notice that in the wide world out there that Satan and his demons have no small influence. That exorcism that we did is akin to walking our baby into to the bears den and kicking that old bear in the teeth, banging on a drum and making a loud clamor.

Secondly right after doing that, as if that wasn’t enough, we’ve gone ahead and Baptized the child with Water and the Spirit, marking her as Christ’s own. So minutes after getting the adversary’s attention we’ve painted a big fat target on her back, marking her out for them as their enemy. Just to make sure they don’t mistake who their opponent might be.

And then finally, as if that wasn’t enough we’ve anointed her with Chrism. Marking her as not just any ordinary run of the mill worshiper of God, but a princess of the Kingdom, anointed into the service of God in a princely way, just as Samuel anointed Saul and David as Kings of the Chosen of God.

And is she ready for that attention? She’s a baby, for heaven’s sake (literally). She’s going to need help. Remember the words of Elijah, who sought the word of God in the tempest and didn’t hear it. He sought it in the roaring inferno and forest fires and didn’t hear it. He looked far and wide in the awesome works of the nature and man and didn’t find it. He found it in a quiet cave, in a very small voice. Look again at that tempest, that fire, and the world. You will find the word of the enemy there.

There’s a wonderful little book, about a priest in the Soviet Gulag, Father Arseny. In that book a vision Fr Arseny had is recounted in which he is granted to see, in each of the people of the camp, that flame within them. In some strong, in others it was weak. This flame he saw was the Spirit of God within burning within those around him. It is our task to nurture this Spirit in everyone around us. You might consider that this task, this nurturing of God in us and our neighbors, is really in essence the only task we have from God to do on this green earth. That spirit of God is a hard thing to nurture in this world. It is however, what we need to concentrate on doing for this little one. So that she can grow up with that flame as a fire raging within to withstand and to live up to the promise made to day marking her as a princess of that Kingdom riding out to oppose that bear we kicked today.

Now, lest you go out thinking that you’ve just made a terrible mistake and you want to run from here (and me) as fast as you possibly can. Remember there are a few things in our favor, chief among them is that Christ is Risen!  (this, btw, is the Paschal declamation. The response is “Indeed He is risen!”)

So. Whaddya think?


What is this Thing Called Sin?

And no, this is meant not bo be a definitive answer for y’all. However, recently the Weekend Fisher has written a short post comparing it to losing face

Recently in a Dogmatic theology class a quote from, if I recall, one of the Cappadoccian fathers had offered that your sin “like” a veil being drawn between you and God. People in the class reacted positively, as if this was interesting and insightful way of stating it. However, this was for me problematic, because my understanding was that sin was basically defined pretty much in that way. So the question might be why is that an interesting observation if it is also basically the definition for sin. A week later, our instructor came back with a definition for sin that she managed to find, which was that sin is “taking your attention away from God.” 

So, for y’all what is your working definition for what is this thing called sin? 

Connecting Wednesday Matins and Catholic Episcopal Scandals

Tonight (Tuesday Night) during Palm/Holy week in the Orthodox tradition the Wednesday morning Matins service is held. Toward the end of this service the Hymn of Cassia (Kassia, Kassiani) is sung. 

Sensing Thy divinity, O Lord, a woman of many sins
takes it upon herself to become a myrrh-bearer,
And in deep mourning brings before Thee fragrant oil
in anticipation of Thy burial; crying:
“Woe to me! For night is unto me, oestrus of lechery,
a dark and moonless eros of sin.
Receive the wellsprings of my tears,
O Thou who gatherest the waters of the oceans into clouds.
Bend to me, to the sorrows of my heart,
O Thou who bendedst down the heavens in Thy ineffable self-emptying.
I will kiss Thine immaculate feet
and dry them with the locks of my hair;
Those very feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise
and hid herself in fear.
Who shall reckon the multitude of my sins,
or the abysses of Thy judgment, O Saviour of my soul?
Do not ignore Thy handmaiden,
O Thou whose mercy is endless.”

During the service, elsewhere in the service (in verse) the story of the harlot washing Jesus feet with Myrrh at the Pharisee’s house is interwoven with comparisons with Judas as he prepares his betrayal.

Recently, in the news, more accounts of scandals in the Catholic episcopacy have apparently resurfaced. Those who feel this is an indictment against Christianity and the Church in general forget that the Church is not a collection of good people gathering together to do good works. A better description would be more akin to a hospital for the wounded, who are ministered not by the well, but are tended by other whom are just as wounded. Those who pretend they are well, might not seek a hospital.

Re-read the prayer above. This poem/hymn is the heartfelt plea of a ascetic monastic nun. She was a Saint, but this is the cry of her heart (and not on account her view of someone else’s). Like last night’s gospel reading (the Woe to you Pharisees and Scribes, Hypocrites!) … the protagonist is not some other whom we might look down upon, but us. The distinction (made clearly in the service) is not that she sins “more than us” but that she repents (and we so often do not).

One of the more outrageous conceits found even among Orthodox (who should know better) is to regard those outside of the Church as “more” sinful than those inside. Perhaps we might be more aware of how we fall short of the mark.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Of Belief and Reason

Frequent commenter at this site, the Jewish Atheist recently noted that he’d written an essay on his blog. In this post, he coins two categories of belief, which he coins “load bearing” and “cosmetic”. Roughly speaking, to my reading, load bearing beliefs are those you can support via the epistemic methods to which he ascribes (and perhaps assumes either are our should be universal) and cosmetic ones are those which, knowingly or unknowingly, dishonestly hold as the reason for your belief but which under inspection are not really the reason.

Alasdair MacIntyre has a book (actually several) titled Whose Justice Which Rationality, which offers some interesting perspective on this issue. For much of the time, what you might title “cosmetic”, irrational, or “not the real reason” a person holds a belief, what is really going on is that they are working from different premises. Ethical differences cannot often (or even usually) be resolved by logical analysis.  Continue reading →

Scripture Is Not Magic

Catholicism and Protestants have as one of their primary disagreements the roles of Scripture and Tradition as authority in the Church. Metropolitan John Ziziolas writes in Lectures,

From the Reformation on, Western theologians asked whether divine revelation has one source or two. Protestants rejected the authority of tradition of the Church and introduced the principal of ‘sola scriptura‘, Scripture on its own, without the experience of all previous generations of the Church in expounding that Scripture. […] The West tends to regard Scripture and doctrine as two distinct sources and tries to arbitrate between what it understands as their rival claims.

There are two reasons why Western churches saw the relationship of Scripture and doctrine as a problem. The West tended to regard revelation as primarily rational or intellectual, and the Scriptures and the Church simply as repositories of truths, available as individual units of inert information. In the Orthodox tradition, however, Scripture and the Church are regarded as the testimonies of those prophets and people who have experience the truth of Christ. But truth is not a matter of objective, logical proposals, but of personal relationships between God, man, and the world.

St. Siluan was quoted as saying that if Scripture were lost, the Athonite monastics and the Church itself could and would recreate it without loss. Why and how? Because Scripture is a record of relationships between “God, man, and the world.” These relationships are not historical or accidental and frozen but living and vibrant in today’s world just as recorded in Scripture. 

I think as well that the misunderstanding of what mystery means is important here, where the Eastern view is that mystery is something that you experience but cannot put into words and the West regards it as a part of their belief/faith which cannot be understood and therefore must be kept at arms length. 

America’s “Original Sin”

Mr Schraub talks race. Before I get to the claim that slavery is America’s “Original Sin” I’d note that Mr Schraub says that the toxicity of being labeled racist makes “true dialog” about what constitutes racism impossible. ‘Cept that’s not really true. Racism is pretty a pretty simple thing to define. Racism is when one makes decisions or assessments based on race, e.g., voting for Mr Obama on account of his racial makeup. And yes, that makes most “race” activists racist themselves, which on reflection is quite obvious. Those who are conscious and likely to notice race are those more likely to make decisions based purely on that. Racism is felt quite universally to be a bad thing, yet given its prevalence, especially amongst those most vocal about the evils of racism and the neutrality of the definition given, perhaps what Mr Schraub is hinting at is that we need a better discussion of why racism is wrong. If one were to assume that the progressive/left is more racially conscious than the right … and therefore more racist is born up by the data linked last week that highlighted the finding that Black elected officials when elected from a mixed race district were more likely to be Republican than Democrat and those who were Democrat were more often from majority Black districts. In past conversations, Mr Schraub noted that race theorists indeed are aware that their work might serve to heighten and strengthen malign race consciousness that they hope to combat. Yes, but the personal imperatives of personal employment in their chosen field seems to defeat that idea quite handily. 

However, the primary point of this essay is to examine original sin in the context of American history.

St. Augustine of Hippo is perhaps the primary theologian influencing thought regarding Original Sin in the Western strand of Christian theological thought. There are a lot of parallels between that theology and strands of thought about slavery and race in America. Both notions suffer however, from the same sort of mistake. St. Augustine, in summary, taught that Adam’s primordial sin in the garden passes on to all of us. Adam as proto-human committed the sin of disobedience. All men, from birth, share in that guilt. From this viewpoint then, the importance of Penal Substitution and Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross becomes a linchpin of Western soteriology. 

This is however, a quite unnatural way to view justice. If my father steals, I and my children do not share in his guilt. The weight and import (the guilt if you will) of his crime, legal or moral, do not pass to his children. We don’t even consider that in sexual crimes, if a child results, that the child of that act is legally or morally impugned or tainted by that act (well, we don’t justifiably view the child in that way). This is the crux of Augustine’s error.

A better way of viewing Original Sin, which is the prevailing view in the Eastern/non-Augustinian strands of Christian theology, was that we do not inherit guilt or sin from Adam. What we inherit is his exile. Adam, by not being repentant, was cast from the Garden and God’s presence. The consequences of that are estrangement from God and death entering the world. He was exiled. We, as his descendants, share his exile (and to the point, not his guilt). To look at the example from a criminal point of view as was done above, if my parents were exiled as a result of my father’s crime, then I grow up in that place of exile. I inherit the consequence, that is my residence, not the guilt or blame. I and my children are not accountable for this act. From a theological perspective this means in the East, it is the Resurrection which is the dominant soteriological event, not the crucifixion. 

Take this back to the notions about American, race, and slavery. Guilt is, contra-Augustine, not heritable. The social conditions and ethnic consequences do exist. However, nobody living today is accountable for the actions begun in the 16th century by Bartolomé de las Casas and the social mechanisms that unfolded from those social/economic innovations. Perhaps it is the prevalence of St. Augustine’s error found so prevalently that allows those who consider slavery America’s “Original Sin” implies that guilt and things like reparations logically follow. They, alas, don’t. 


Another Just War Theory

In my late-vocations class were were informed that during late antiquity in the Eastern (very Christian influenced) Roman empire there was an operational just war theory. That theory was quite simple and was as follows. 

War is never just. 

Now this is an interesting theory of war to be held by a Empire which was almost continuously at war (mostly for defense) for 800 years or so. This merely points out that the conclusion that war is not just is not equivalent to the claim that war is at times necessary. 

War not being just however, did not mean war was not practice or even should not be practiced. Those engaged in war, because of its inherent injustice, were excluded from Eucharist for a period of five years (if the war was not deemed defensive, in which case it was three years). I think there are some problems with this theory as presented about how the Eastern Roman Empire viewed justice vis a vis war, in that I’m pretty sure that clerical presence was found alongside the army. What was its purpose if these soldiers were all “out of communion” during wartime? 

On Opinion and Quality of Judgement

Recently I was asked my opinion on anthropogenic global warming. In the ensuing discussion, there was criticism of my rejection of “the majority opinion of ‘experts'” as a good or valid method to base my position. Having rejected that, I was asked by what means, if not the majority of experts, would I personal espouse as how to base your belief or understanding of the truth behind a matter which is in contention. In the following, first I lay out a number of different methods that people use to form opinions, next I briefly describe the two methods I try to follow.  Continue reading →

Ms Rice and Our Divided Church

Some ink (some virtual) has been spilled on novelist Ms Rice announcing that she has “left the Church” but not left Christ. Recently I have been reading and studying the five theological orations by St. Gregory the Theologian (also known as St. Gregory of Nazianzus where he was Bishop for a time). These orations (or homilies) in an important sense define what it means to be an orthodox Christian today. In the time just prior to the convening of the 2nd Ecumenical council in Constantinople, the majority of those in the area and expected in attendance were (roughly speaking) Arian in sympathy. St. Gregory just before this council gave in short succession, just outside the city, a series of 5 orations and the matter was settled in the cause of orthodoxy. And for the following 800 or so years, these lectures were the primary pedagogical examples of the art of rhetoric for those studying the art of the rhetor in the Eastern Roman world. An American analogy might be Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, after which the case for the Civil war was arguably settled and subsequently this has been a speech studied by debators and rhetors as a jewel of the art.

What does this have to do with Ms Rice and her disillusionment with the earthly Church? Her situation came to mind when I read this (from the 1st homily of this set, which is Oration #27 in oeuvre of St. Gregory). He wrote (spoke):

Such is the situation: this infection [to much bitter disputation and argument over theological detail] is unchecked and intolerable; “the great mystery” of our faith is in danger becoming a mere social accomplishment. [emphasis mine]

Later in that homily he writes (speaking again against bitter theological quarrels):

But first we must consider: what is this disorder of the tongue that leads us to compete in garrulity? what is this alarming disease, this appetite that can never be sated? Why do we keep our hands bound and out tongues armed?

Do we commend hospitality? Do we admire brotherly love, wifely affection, virginity, feeding the poor, singing psalms, night-long vigils, penitence? Do we mortify the body with fasting? Do we through prayer, take up our abode with God? Do we subordinate the inferior element in us to the better — I mean, the dust to the spirit, as we should if we have returned the right verdict on the alloy of the two which is our nature? Do we make life a meditation of death? Do we establish our mastery over our passions, mindful of the nobility of our second birth? … 

So, what might this have to do with Ms Rice? Well, it might be said that her disappointment with the Church was that it wasn’t good enough as a social accomplishment. It might be offered, in the Church’s defense, that to complain of the failings of others and their tarnished social accomplishments is something like fretting about the log in my brother’s eye. Recall 1st Timothy 1:15. 

The orations can be found in this small paperback: On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius



Considering Open Communion

Many of the more liberal Protestants churches these days practice an “open communion”, in which they welcome anyone professing to be Christian to share Eucharist with them. Apparently the ECUSA doesn’t even require Baptism for participation in Eucharist. I don’t know what the common practice is at other Evangelical churches, Baptist or the conservative reformed churches might be … but my particular church (Eastern Orthodox) does not practice this. To share Eucharist in the Orthodox church one must be a member in good standing, have confessed recently, and fasted from food and water (on Sunday) since midnight.  In the Didache, Chapter 14 we find (wiki on the Didache is here): 

And coming together on the Lord’s day of the Lord, break bread and give thanks, confessing beforehand your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. And everyone having a quarrel with his fellow member, do not let [them] gather with you until they have reconciled so that your sacrifice may not be defiled. For this is what was said by the Lord: “In every place and time, offer me a pure sacrifice because I am a great king,” says the Lord, “and my name [is] great among the nations.”

It seems to me this teaching is both based in Scripture and applicable to the notion of open communion. There are in fact non-trivial doctrinal differences between our churches. That we might approach these irenically does not belie the underlying seriousness and importance in working to resolve these differences. However, the word “quarrel” is important. We do not gather together and share communion until we are reconciled so that our sacrifice might not be defiled, not the least of which by our quarrel.  So I’m curious, if your Church practices open communion … why? By what reasoning do you justify that practice? What tradition? 

This Thing Called Theology

I’ve recently acquired this little book by the Met. John Zizioulas, Lectures in Christian Dogmatics. One of the important points made by Met. Zizioulas is that (Orthodox) theological thinking often is just a paraphrasing and restating of what has been already set out and stated by the Fathers. In his words, 

It is unfortunate that much of today’s Orthodox theology is in fact nothing but history — a theologically uncommitted scholar could have done this kind of ‘theology’ just as well or even better. Although this kind of ‘theology’ claims to be faithful to the Fathers and tradition is in fact contrary to the method followed by the Fathers themselves. For the Fathers worked in constant dialogue with the intellectual trends of their time to interpret the Christian faith to the world around them. This is precisely the task of Orthodox theology in our time too. 

So, with that in mind, I’m going to begin reading through this book and discussing some small points I encounter on the way (as time permits). Met. Zizioulas begins by defining and discussing what is meant by these terms. What is Theology? How might we define it. He begins:

Theology starts in the worship of God and in the Church’s experience of communion with God. Our experience of this communion involves a whole range of relationships, so theology is not simply about a religious, moral or psychological experience, but about our whole experience of life in this communion. Theology touches on life, death and our very being, and shows how our personal identity is constituted through relationships, ans so through love and freedom. What makes man different from any other creature? Can humans be truly free? Do they want to be free? Can humans be free to love?

Theology is concerned with life and survival, and therefore with salvation. The Church articulates its theology, not simply to add to our knowledge of God or the world, but so that we may gain the life which can never be brought to an end. Christian doctrine tells us there is redemption for us and for the world, and each particular doctrine articulates some aspect of this redemption. We have to inquire how each doctrine contributes to knowledge of our salvation. Rather than isolating each doctrine, we have to set each doctrine out in the context of all other doctrines. Theology seeks a living comprehension of the Christian faith, of our place in the world and relationship with one another. It does not just want to preserve the statements of the Church as they were originally made, but also to provide the best contemporary expression of the teaching of the Church.

Well, that is quite a bit to chew on. What might be offered to start. One thing might be said right off. He goes on in the following to define what he means by doctrine and dogmas. On reflection this begins not so much by defining what theology is, but of what the process examines and consists. What questions does it address, what concerns does theology approach is what is posed here. 

An Ecumenical Question

Throughout Church history, theological controversy has been one of the enduring features. Name any communion or denomination and you will find one which has struggled with this matter. St. Maximus the Confessor was imprisoned, exiled and lost his tongue and compared to many he got off easy. For that matter, I’d be willing to guess that among those reading this very essay, if they are Christian, have themselves had discussions, often perhaps heated, of this sort. As the title indicates, I’m leading towards a question but to start I’m going to preface that with a few remarks.

Two fragments from Scripture are perhaps relevant. (1 Corinthians 13:12) “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”  For the second passage, Romans 2 offers that Jesus not men will be the final judge. 

We may argue about our view of the theology, Christology, soteriology, or whatever topic, but we all must admit we only see dimly the truths to which we attest. Who is right in these argument? From the second it might be said that these arguments will only be settled at the eschaton.

My question then is why then might we argue? What is the core reason for which we dispute. What is at stake? I’d be very curious to hear a variety of responses to this.

For myself, my answer might be as follows. Trinitarian theology and Christology, the parables and teachings of Jesus, Paul, James and so on are beautiful. They possess symmetry and a poetry have no little impact. Teachings that obscure this beauty … that is problematic. Why? Because it hinders others from seeing it. The core problem is not that you will be judged adversely if you’re a Calvinist and if at the eschaton Calvin’s teaching was fraught with error (and no, please don’t take this as a generic attack on Calvinism, the “if” is important there). The problem might be with Calvinism is whether his teachings obscures or conceals some important part of the Gospel. 

The New Testament and Dialectical Methods

This last weekend our N.T. class delivered homilies based on New Testament passages. I’m drawing on parts of one of the other student’s homilies for what follows.

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:23-17)

and take quick read of of the story of Jesus encounter with St. Photina Equal to the Apostles (who is known to the Western traditions as the Samaritan woman at the well) The passage is from John 8,  ESV here

Here’s the point. Look at the structure of the conversation between Jesus and the priests and elders. The elders when asked a question by Jesus when and discussed this among themselves and considered what answer is right or true but instead what would be the implications of their possible answers. Truth was not the consideration, but instead the rhetorical imperatives of trying to win the debate. Contrast with the conversation from John 8. St. Photina does not consider the ramifactions of her conclusions regarding the outcome of the encounter but instead looks only to the correctness of the statements being made.
Consider that comparison in the light of dialectic in the public square and for that matter in your own life, e.g., yourself.