Tuesday, May 18, 2021

How the West Was One

 

(No, my choice of words is not in error.)

Picking up where we left off….

In a single act, Pope Leo’s coronation of Charlemagne changed all of that.  Christendom still may have possessed only one Church, but now there were two Roman Empires to claim her.

The Age of Paradise: Christendom from Pentecost to the First Millennium, by John Strickland

Charlemagne was crowned emperor by the pope.  This created two Roman Empires.  Until now, there was one empire, with its seat of power in the East: the New Rome of Constantinople.  But Charlemagne was not of the East, not recognized as Emperor of any regions in the East.  Hence, a second Roman Empire, headed by Charlemagne, and located…well, we will come to this.

As a result of the pope’s action, the door was now open to a wholesale reconfiguration of Western Christian romanitas.

The term “romanitas” is used to describe the Roman-ness of Christian civilization.  This identity spanned East and West, dating back to the conversion of Constantine.  Strickland offers:

The loss of western territories to the barbarian invasions of the fifth century had not greatly undermined romanitas, despite claims by modern historians since the time of the so-called Enlightenment.

This is a very interesting statement, and one that should have been obvious to me had I put the two-plus-two together of that which I already knew of history.  After all, Constantinople remained, whatever happened in the West; Constantinople was Roman; Constantinople was Christian.  There were no “Dark Ages” in the East, at least not at this time.  (Of course, to refer to the period as “Dark Ages” in either East or West was an error, at best.)

However, the East was not directly influenced by the Germanic (barbarian) tribes, and it was through these tribes that differences in East and West – theologically, politically, and culturally – would become apparent.  Looking back through history, it is clear how these differences played out regarding government and liberty. 

The root of this appears to be the differences in the tribal customs that separated East and West, and, perhaps, the relatively more important and longer lasting role of Islam in the East.  Perhaps as I get into further volumes of Strickland’s works, this issue will become more clear.

I have previously focused solely on the meaning of Charlemagne’s crowning within the context of the Western Empire: Charlemagne’s annual wars used to consolidate his authority over various recalcitrant European tribes, most famously the Saxons.  Strickland will tell the story of the time through the eyes of wider Christendom.

Charlemagne’s central project was to establish a Christian state, defined by a culture that was Frankish – and definitely not “Greek,” a term used pejoratively, as those in the East considered themselves as Roman, not Greek.

At the heart if this movement was a principle Charlemagne called “correction” (correctio).

It was an act of reformation, growing out of the conviction that it was the duty of a Christian ruler to supervise the religious life of his subjects – and to intervene when necessary.  For Charlemagne, this meant dealing with the ignorance of many of his subjects.

Outside of the monastic centers, in the vast swaths of rural territories, little Christian instruction occurred.  The illiterate parish clergy offered little help.  Christians were still offering to the pagan god Thor; children were baptized in the name of the Fatherland, and of the daughter, and of the Holy Spirit – an issue of incorrect Latin grammar, yet still an issue.

Such ambitions required a new capital.  This would eventually be Aachen, the Future Rome (ventura Roma).  Old Rome was no longer the capital, New Rome was not under Charlemagne’s domain – in any case, from the view of the West, it was corrupted beyond hope; even now, a woman was sitting on the throne, the Empress Irene.

Friday, May 14, 2021

According to the Flesh

 

Ephesians 6: 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

It is growing ever more evident that this is the battle confronting us today, or maybe it is only that I am growing more aware of it.  The last year, certainly, between the reaction to a virus and the reaction to the mobs and the (let's call these) irregularities in the election, has made this overwhelmingly clear.

It is also clear that these principalities and powers are not limited to some sort of invisible spirits, but inhabit real flesh-and-blood humans.  This, of course, we have seen often in history.  But it was always “those guys,” in the communist or fascist countries, in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire, or the leaders of the so-called “Axis of Evil.”  Never the leaders of the so-called free world.

I have been thinking about the reaction to events of the last year by many Christian leaders.  A few have been quite courageous – a recent example is the very strong Canadian Pastor Artur Pawlowski; there are others.  Some churches have quietly remained open, with few, if any, restrictions placed on those who wish to worship.  These examples appear to be found primarily, if not solely, in churches unaffiliated or very loosely affiliated with a larger institution.

Most have followed, lock-step, with whatever the local, state, or federal authorities allow.  Remember, this included cancelling Holy Week last year.  Had these institutions stood on their faith and calling, the story of 2020 and 2021 would have been quite different.  Instead, they cowed under the call of these principalities and powers, the rulers of darkness of this world.

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“But, according to Romans 13, we must obey those in authority.”  The damage done to both Christians and to freedom by accepting this monstrous understanding of the text is significant.  Understanding that “higher powers,” or “superior powers,” inherently means government is a road certain to lead to both physical and spiritual death.

1 John 4: 1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

I will not further develop my thoughts in this post.  I have done so several times before, most recently here.

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Ephesians 5: 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them

There are numerous passages in the Bible about seeking wisdom and truth.  I think these two verses speak best within the context of this post.  Much of the world, Christians included, has been consumed by a spirit of fear – and a fear not based on wisdom and truth, but based on propaganda and brainwashing; empty words.

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Romans 8: 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

The last year has demonstrated that the highest value most people hold, including the vast majority of Christian leaders, is to avoid death – once wisdom and truth are thrown out of the window, and the total ignorance of society in science and reasoning is taken as a given.  Avoiding death has also taken over as the highest value in many churches – certainly higher than coming together to worship on any random Sunday, but even so high as to keep the doors closed on Easter week.

Church leaders and many of their parishioners have set their minds on things of the flesh, especially inexcusable when considering the total ignorance and gullibility when it comes to the reason for their fear of death.

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Colossians 3: 1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

By placing the avoidance of death as the highest value, many Christians have not been seeking the things above in the last year; perhaps this is just a continuation of not seeking things above for many years.  They have been focused on the things that are on earth.  Not having died to the world, they have not been raised up with Christ.

With no evidence in support of the claim of the high risk of death, and significant evidence in contradiction, many Christians have turned away from God and turned toward man and flesh.

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We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise.  We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.  We castrate and bid the geldings to be fruitful.

So writes C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man.  The chests have been so hollowed out that the fear of death overrules all other values.  But we all die, eventually.  Is it any wonder that, without any higher value, Western man is living through a meaning crisis?

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The First Iconoclasts…

 

…of Christendom.  No, this will not be a story of the Reformation.

The Age of Paradise: Christendom from Pentecost to the First Millennium, by John Strickland

By the middle of the eighth century, the southern territories of Christendom had been all but consumed by the conquests of the Umayyad Caliphate….

It will also not be a story of iconoclasm by the Muslims. 

But first, a backstory.  By this point, the integrity of the Roman Empire had been greatly compromised.  Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa were all overrun by Muslim armies.  Despite having second-class status, the Christians in these lands were granted some toleration as they constituted the majority in these lands and were necessary for effective administration.

They also had religious autonomy, however they could not convert Muslims, build new churches, even maintain existing churches.  The cross could not be displayed, and bells could not be rung.  Even with this, many of the Christian clergy supported this Arab colonization:

Bishops enjoyed a privileged status under the caliphate, being assigned the responsibility of overseeing their fellow dhimmis.

A large number of these bishops were Monophysites, persecuted under Byzantine rule; they saw the Arabs as a lesser evil.  Becoming both agents and victims of this long-term subjugation, resistance to the pressures of apostasy would dissolve.  The Syrian and Coptic churches survive to this day, but the numbers are rather insignificant.

The rest of Christendom would have suffered a similar fate if not for two men: Byzantine Emperor Leo III in the East, and Charles Martel in the West.  In 718, the Arab forces against Byzantium finally relented; in 732, Martel was victorious in the Battle of Tours.  European Christendom was saved, only to fall into another internally divisive period.

For Muslims and Jews, the making of images was precluded; however, icons were prevalent throughout Christendom.  This would change under Emperor Leo III, who formed the conviction that the widespread use of icons was causing the empire to lose its faith.  Leo decided in 726 to launch Christendom’s first iconoclastic movement, preceding the Reformation by about 800 years.

It began with the icon of Christ Pantocrator, standing at the top of the Chalke Gate.  As the workers assembled to remove it, a riot broke out; the foreman of the crew was lynched.  This did not dissuade Leo.  He continued, persecuting and deposing any bishops who opposed him – no separation of church and emperor here.

Leo died in 740.  His son and heir, Constantine V, only increased the policy; he convened a council of his bishops – not an ecumenical council, despite the claim.  Suffice it to say, the vast majority of bishops did not agree with the conclusion. 

The iconoclastic argument was refuted by John of Damascus.  How did John manage this?  He argued that as God commanded the Israelites to make graven images of cherubim, icons were acceptable.  But what of Jesus?  His humanity was as real as his divinity; the transcendent God had entered creation and assumed human form.  It was this human form that was captured; the Incarnation was at the center of the defense of icons.  In 787, at the Seventh Ecumenical Council, John’s arguments carried the day.

But this did not last long.  Constantine VI and his mother, Irene, offered the latest chapter in Byzantine court intrigue.  He an iconoclast, she an iconophile.  As he was young, the two would be co-emperors – but such an arrangement wouldn’t last long.

In 790, Constantine would move to remove Irene from power, acting with great cruelty, blinding his enemies at the court, including his own uncle.  His actions led to a return to iconoclasm, despite the ruling of the recent council. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Separation of Church and State

 

Significantly, for the first time ever the pope ignored the requirement that the emperor issue the summons to such a council and assumed responsibility for it himself.

The Age of Paradise: Christendom from Pentecost to the First Millennium, by John Strickland

The pope who called the Lateran Council was Theodore, but he died before the council was convened; the new pope, Martin, would preside over the council; the year was 649.  Never before was an ecumenical council called without being convened by the Roman Emperor.  This was a council was called by the bishop in Rome without the authority of the emperor in Constantinople.

The immediate issue was that of Monothelitism, but for purposes of this post the issue is secondary.  It is sufficient to note that this doctrine was developed as some sort of middle ground regarding the nature of Christ, an issue that divided the Church in the East.  The emperor, looking for ways to reunite the empire, sought support for a compromise position – hence, this doctrine, which satisfied almost no one.

More relevant is this issue of independence and separation, and how it played out in this first example of what would become a meaningful feature in the Western tradition and seemingly completely absent in the Eastern.

The act was the beginning of what might be called the heroic papacy, a self-conscious effort by successive popes to wrest doctrinal authority from caesaropapist emperors and to establish it instead as the prerogative of Rome.

Ironic, in that both the pope who called the synod and the author of the canons of the council, Maximos the Confessor, were both from the east.  These Eastern patristics would elevate the status of Rome and the papacy to a heroic status, a position never before occupied by any of the major bishoprics before.

Maximos was given complete leeway in setting the agenda for the council; his Greek theological credentials were impeccable.  And he did not work alone, as a large team of Greek monks and theologians assisted him, having travelled from the east; altogether, one hundred bishops were present.  And, it must be reiterated, all without imperial authority.

This council would reject Monothelitism as a heresy.  In the long run, this decision was vindicated, as demonstrated more than thirty years later, in 680-681, in the Sixth Ecumenical Council convened by Constantine IV in Constantinople. 

But things didn’t go so well in the short run; obviously, the emperor was not happy.  Both Maximos and Martin would pay dearly for their defense of Orthodoxy – a position contrary to the emperor’s wishes and at a synod called without the emperor’s authority.  They were both abducted in Rome and brought to trial in Constantinople:

Both were tortured; Martin was publicly flogged on the streets of Constantinople, and Maximos had his right hand chopped off and his tongue cut out to prevent continued theological influence.  Both died in exile, reviled by a caeseropapist state that demanded the final word in defining Christian doctrine.

Meanwhile, developments in the West would begin to offer a glimpse of an entirely different evangelism, and a further manifestation of the roots that would come to separate Eastern and Western governance.

Christianity began its spread in the Mediterranean basin, with people acculturated to Roman and Greek tradition.

As early as the fourth century, Christianity had indeed broken free of the empire in the East, being planted first in Armenia, and then, even more distantly, in Georgia.

Later, an even more distinct eastern Syrian form would emerge in the pagan Persian empire.  But in the West, Christianity would appropriate Roman civilization even while transforming it.  While initially spread in Latin, the Scriptures would be translated into native languages – Ulfilas, for example, with the Goths in the fourth century…

…though notably he elected to exclude the Books of Kings in fear that his militant audience would use these works to justify conquest.  The decision had little effect….

Thursday, May 6, 2021

A Covenant with Death

 

“If I wasn't a devil myself, I'd give

Me up to the Devil this very minute.”

-          Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Isaiah 28: 14 Wherefore hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem.

15 Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:

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Ephesians 6: 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

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Isaiah 28: 16 Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.

17 Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.

18 And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.

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Ephesians 6: 13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Child Sacrifice

 

Sacrifice, a religious rite in which an object is offered to a divinity in order to establish, maintain, or restore a right relationship of a human being to the sacred order.

While the original use of the term was in the context of a religious act, the word is used more broadly today. 

The term has acquired a popular and frequently secular use to describe some sort of renunciation or giving up of something valuable in order that something more valuable might be obtained.

In a secular context, it really isn’t much different than what was meant in the historic, religious context.  Why would we sacrifice to the gods?  Ultimately with the hope to gain something in the future (a good crop, victory over enemies, eternal life in heaven) better than we otherwise would have received (a hailstorm, defeat at the hands of enemies, eternity in hell).  It always was, and remains today, giving up something of value in the hopes of attaining something more valuable in the future.

Desperation blinds me

And through these bloodstained eyes I see the light

A better life is worth this sacrifice

-          The X Aspect, Dream Theater

Sacrifice is not an exchange of a good for a good; that is a trade.  It is the exchange of a good for a hope, or a certainty for a possibility; one gives something up and may, or may not, receive that which he hopes for in return.  We sacrifice today in order to have the possibility to achieve, in some manner or another, a better life tomorrow.  But no guarantee.

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Genesis 22: 1 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”

“God endorses child sacrifice!”  How many times are Christians beat over the head with this passage?  “What does it say about the followers of such a God?”  “What kind of God is that?”  I will come back to these questions.

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Lesley Stahl: We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Madelaine Albright: I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.

The children were sacrificed for the hope that a better future would result.  Secondary, for the purposes of this post, is for whom or in what manner we might find this better future.  But child sacrifice it was – for the benefit of someone’s future.

As an aside, Albright has since written that she shouldn’t have put it that way, instead she should have pointed out that “Saddam Hussein could have prevented any child from suffering simply by meeting his obligations.”  So, it was Saddam’s fault. 

She would continue: “Nothing matters more than the lives of innocent people.”

Except for those we sacrifice.

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Depending on the source, it is estimated that something more than 40 million abortions are performed each year; one estimate is as high as 70 million.  To what are these children sacrificed other than for a life better than the mother (and, potentially, the father) perceived it otherwise would have been had the child been born. 

It is a hope, of course; there is no guarantee.  A sacrifice. 

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Critical theory (also capitalized as Critical Theory) is an approach to social philosophy that focuses on reflective assessment and critique of society and culture in order to reveal and challenge power structures.

Hey, I am all for challenging today’s power structures, with one key difference – I offer some thoughts on what might replace these current power structures, or hierarchies.  Critical theorists critique society and culture, and offer as a replacement to current hierarchies…nothing.

[Jürgen] Habermas also replaces the expressive totality of a fully democratic society with the ideal of “undamaged intersubjectivity” and of universal solidarity established through “communication free from domination.”

“Free from domination” means no hierarchy; no hierarchy means no value system – nothing is or can be valued as more or better than any other thing.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Returning to Form?

 

I refer to a couple of earlier posts where I have commented on the return of Jordan Peterson (here and here).  In the first, he noted that he had a good amount of his bravery beaten out of him, which is certainly understandable.  Both he and his conversation partner, Douglas Murray, were far more timid than either had been on previous occasions; this came in the aftermath of the US election, events at the capitol, etc.  In the second, Peterson offers that we must put our faith in man – this contrary to his previous messages that we look to something higher, above man.

Peterson has recently released a conversation with Paul Rossi of Grace Church High School.  I have not listened to many of his conversations since these first two (although the one with Jonathan Pageau was quite worthwhile).

Returning to the current video…Rossi recently wrote an essay, published by Bari Weiss: I Refuse to Stand By While My Students Are Indoctrinated.  (The backstory to these events can be found here.)

Before the discussion begins, there is an “advertisement” (I don’t know what else to call it) from an organization called FAIR: Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (beginning here). It includes comments and endorsements from people like Coleman Hughes, Steven Pinker, John McWhorter, Bari Weiss, and Glenn Loury.  If you are familiar at all with any of these names, you will understand something of this organization – these individuals have spoken out against the destructive turn that the conversation of race has taken in the United States (beyond this, I know nothing about the organization).

If you are not familiar with Rossi’s essay, it is worth reading.  In the essay, he raises concerns about how his students – and all students at his school – are being indoctrinated into race hatred and resentment (I have no better terms for this).  Hatred toward one’s self, if one is white; resentment toward everyone by everyone, regardless of skin color or nationality.  Needless to say, he has been chastised by his school.

The discussion between Peterson and Rossi is over two hours.  Much of the first half is Peterson asking Rossi for the background story – how he came to such a point, the road he travelled, etc.  Further, Peterson acts as a psychologist would: why do you think you believed such and such, what was going on inside you when this or that happened?

The second part gets more into the particulars.  Included in this part is a recorded conversation between Rossi and George Davison, the headmaster of the school.  The introduction to this recording by Peterson and Rossi, as well as the recorded portion played, are worth listening to – even if you don’t listen to any of the rest of the discussion.  It begins here; it will take only about four minutes or so of your time.

Conclusion

Peterson, at least I this conversation, is returning to form.  It is a good thing if this continues, as he has had a way of moving the conversation regarding both the destructive intolerance of society and the value of the Christian narrative as well as about anyone in the last five years.

Yes, he has his shortcomings and faults.  He, like all of us, is only human.