Friday, January 21, 2022

The Humble Approach

 

I have very much appreciated the series of books by Fr. John Strickland, where he reviews the 2,000-year history of Christendom (and which I have reviewed here).  One reason I have appreciated these is for the topic covered – a view of Christendom from the East, as offered by this Orthodox priest-historian.

But another reason – and one without which I would have never spent much time in the material – is his humility when discussing and examining Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.  For example, when considering the events of the Papal Reformation, he understands and appreciates the issues being dealt with by Western Christianity. 

He can do this while at the same time pointing to how certain aspects of this Reformation caused Western Christianity to move away from (in his view) Paradise and toward Utopia.

All of this is an introduction to a video interview of Fr. Strickland by Austin Suggs.  The entire interview is worthwhile, but I will point to the concluding segment, in which Suggs asks Strickland:

For someone living in the West that feels this tension – that the West does have some sense of decline – this sense that something is wrong, what can Western Christians do to regain that sense of paradise?  Is there anything short of becoming Orthodox or restoring communion?

Fr. Strickland responds:

As a convinced Orthodox Christian, I would obviously emphasize the value of returning to the original faith of Christianity, but I would not say that the only solution to the problem is universal conversion to Orthodoxy.

As I mentioned before, I don’t like the word “conversion” in this context, applying to a person baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  However, I agree that the only solution is not to be found in a universal return to Orthodox Christianity.

But to continue: Strickland offers that his fourth book will be titled “The Age of Nihilism,” where he will examine the anti-Christian agenda in the West from the last one-hundred-plus years.

The problem is solved as we return to traditional Christianity.  For me, that means Orthodoxy, but I can certainly recognize that Roman Catholicism and Protestantism also have elements of traditional Christianity within them – there is no question about this to me.

Nor to me.  And, I suspect, some Roman Catholics and Protestants can point to some aspects of traditional Christianity better found in these traditions than in Orthodoxy. 

Returning to those first millennium elements of culture – which we share together whether we are Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant – I think returning to that experience of paradise, which springs out of the liturgical sacramental life of the Church – East and West.

This means returning to their own roots which will take them back to an approach to Christianity that is centered upon liturgy, centered upon sacramental communion with God, the experience of God’s presence – of Heavenly immanence – that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near and is filling this world, and that pessimism begins to dissipate insofar as we experience God’s loving, caring presence in this world.

Conclusion

None.  Strickland said it best.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Value of the Protest

 

From Catholic Answers:

Reformation, the, the usual term for the religious movement which made its appearance in Western Europe in the sixteenth century, and which, while ostensibly aiming at an internal renewal of the Church, really led to a great revolt against it, and an abandonment of the principal Christian beliefs.

From Ancient Faith Ministries:

As an Orthodox Christian, it would be easy for me figuratively to peer over the wall between East and West and condescendingly cast a glance over at the “egg that Rome laid.” …Why, therefore, should we pay much mind to schisms from schism, now many times removed?

That Roman Catholics and Protestants are “two sides of the same coin” has become axiomatic in many Orthodox treatments of Western Christianity

Not to belabor the point, but only to set the table properly: regular readers know that I value much in each of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions.  I also do not appreciate the stone-throwing by some against the other, as all of these traditions have plenty of vulnerable glass houses.

What has been clear over the last two years is that it is primarily in Protestant Churches where there has been any meaningful pushback to the draconian and evil Covid policies against the Church specifically and the population more broadly.  The institutional leadership of Catholic, and, from what I have seen, Orthodox, Christianity has all followed government dictates to the letter.

Yes, I know that there are a handful of exceptions in both traditions.  They have notoriety by their rarity, and certainly are not supported at all institutionally. 

Sure, many Protestant churches have also followed the government line, but many haven’t.  Here one can find a list of churches who have signed a declaration, “The Church Must Gather.”  You will note, out of hundreds of churches, only two have the word “Orthodox” in the title, and none have the word “Catholic.”  (Yes, I know this isn’t the most scientific way to identify the traditions, but it will have to do).

Meanwhile, there are fifty with the word Baptist, several Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Reformed.  Many that include the word Harvest, Grace, or Assembly.  Being a Canadian initiative (where the dictates are even more draconian than in the United States), the churches are mostly in Canada, but not all.  (I believe in some, if not all, Canadian provinces, one now needs to be fully jabbed to attend church service.)

Recently a new fight has come to the fore, based on a new law passed in Canada.  The bill is C-4, “An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy).”  From the preamble:

Whereas conversion therapy causes harm to society because, among other things, it is based on and propagates myths and stereotypes about sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, including the myth that heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions;

“Myth” is used in the above to mean an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution.  Of course, there are healthy reasons for myths to survive – for centuries, even millennia:

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

A Diligent Worker

 

1 Corinthians 15: 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be firm, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

I would like to bring attention to a video channel by Dave Palmer: St. Thomas Aquinas for Everyone.  He started this channel a couple of years ago, and he offers exactly what the label says.  Most of the videos are about ten minutes or so, where he explains some aspect of Thomas’s teaching in very simple and easy-to-comprehend language.

As of now, there are about 150 videos, probably averaging only about 50-100 views each, although some have been viewed many more times than this.  Despite the relatively low number of views, he continues to persist – and to the benefit of the handful of those who have found his work.

I think I found him a year or so ago, looking for something on the four types of law as understood by Thomas.  Here is a more recent video, where he asks if the natural law is dead.  The answer, of course, is no.  Sure, just like Nietzsche’s infamous “God is dead,” we (society) may try to act as if this is so, but it isn’t so – and the truth will sooner or later be revealed with a vengeance.

In any case, if you have any interest in an easy-to-understand exposition of Thomas’s work, Palmer offers an excellent resource.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Nobody’s Fault but Mine

 

It's nobody's fault but mine

Nobody's fault but mine

If I don't read it, my soul will be lost

 

I have a Bible in my home

I have a Bible in my home

If I don't read it, my soul will be lost

-          Blind Willie Johnson (Video)

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Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

-          Voltaire

Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age, by Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose

The present age is, in a profound sense, an age of absurdity.

This book offers an appendix, entitled “The Philosophy of the Absurd.”  It was written by Fr. Rose during the time he was working on this chapter on Nihilism, but it is a separate essay.  Nevertheless, it fits nicely with the theme of the chapter; you will find overlap in some of this work.

Fr. Rose offers as an example of striking absurdity Hitler, who could, at the same time, both appreciate and interpret Bach and murder millions.  Hitler’s world may be of the past, but the age of absurdity certainly is not (and even more in 2022 than in the early 1960s).  We have moved into a more advanced – though much quieter – stage of the same disease.

There is nothing so absurd that some philosopher has not already said it.

-          Marcus Tullius Cicero

Philosophers and other supposedly responsible men in governmental, academic, and ecclesiastical circles…usually do no more than rationalize the incoherent state of contemporary man and his world….

“Temporarily quieter,” per Fr. Rose.  And, with the benefit of hindsight, he was quite correct.  Everything around us has become irreconcilable, and to an even greater extreme that anything contemplated sixty years ago.  The totally absurd exists even in the same soul: the tired, but useful, example of men posing as women, and vice versa, should suffice.

The whole world, it almost seems, is divided into those who lead meaningless, futile lives without being aware of it, and those who, being aware of it, are driven to madness and suicide.

Why do men not break out of this trap?  Why do they do nothing more than try to get by, day to day?  Fr. Rose offers that it is because they do not think.  One cannot blame them: the realities of the present day are better left in spaces unexamined.

What is this absurd philosophy?  It is entirely negation – it exists only in opposition to something; its character is wholly determined by that which it desires to negate.  it cannot exist except in opposition to something that is wholly not absurd.

Absurdism cannot be understood apart from its Christian origins.

For the genuine Christian, divine coherence is found in every aspect of life and thought.  Not so for the absurdist, for whom everything falls apart.  The philosophy is not merely an error and self-contradiction.  Yes, it is these, but it is much more. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

What of this Kingdom of Heaven?

 

Beside the divine garden from which I have been driven away, I will build a New Eden for myself which I will populate with mine own kind.  I will station the invisible sentinel Progress at its entrance, and place a flaming sword in his hands.  And he will say to God, “Thou shalt not enter here.”

-          Jules-Antoine Castagnary, 1858 (anti-clerical French republican politician, journalist and progressive art critic)

The Age of Utopia: Christendom from the Renaissance to the Russian Revolution, by John Strickland

This is the third book in the planned four-book series by Fr. John Strickland, in which he takes a sweeping review of 2,000 years of Christendom.  In this book he will follow the line of how secular humanism displaced Christianity in the West – reorienting the culture from a view toward paradise to one of utopia (think paradise without God).  By the time the twentieth century opens, there is nothing of the transcendent left in Western culture.

It is interesting to me that Strickland begins this segment with the Renaissance, and not the Reformation (as one might imagine he would do given that he is tracing Christendom).  The reasons will unfold as I go through the book, but I suspect two factors are at play: first, his narrative arc of secular humanism aligns more appropriately with the Renaissance; second, I believe he sees the Reformation as an inevitable consequence of the earlier Great Schism.

Now, I want to make clear: I do not use terms like “narrative arc” disparagingly.  Every historian comes to his subject with a viewpoint, otherwise the “facts” of history will be overwhelming.  I certainly do the same (albeit, I am no historian).

Which brings me to something I have been thinking about on this topic.  Every historian has an origin story: we are at our current point in history because of X that happened Y years ago.  For example, one will find well-developed narratives regarding the roots of our current Western predicament that point to:

o   The Progressive Era

o   The Enlightenment

o   The Renaissance

o   The Reformation

o   Nominalism

o   The Great Schism

o   The coronation of Charlemagne

o   The acceptance of Christianity by Constantine

o   The birth of Christianity

o   The evolution of philosophy from Plato to Aristotle

Take your pick.  There is some truth to each of these (well, except for the birth of Christianity one), but none of these contain the entire truth.  By saying this, I am not suggesting Strickland sees the entire truth through one lens.  Just something to keep in mind when considering any narrative of history.

So…on to the book. Strickland begins with Petrarch, a fourteenth century scholar and credited as one of the earliest humanists, and his climb to the summit of Mount Ventoux in southern France.  Petrarch arrived on the scene just as Occam’s nominalism was overtaking the universal truths of Aquinas.  Both labeled “scholastic,” but obviously different in terms of metaphysics – and this, not an insignificant difference (and one I will return to, in various forms, often).

The goal of humanism was to restore to man his full potential for life in this world.

It was the preeminence of Aristotelianism as the cause of downgrading the status of the human being in this world.  In a universal and unchanging order, Petrarch believed that personal spiritual growth was stifled. 

Unfortunately, I am unable to make this connection.  Aristotle understood the perfect forms, only that these forms had to be manifest (therefor losing their perfection); as there were perfect forms, however, man could always grow – spiritually or otherwise.

He saw in scholasticism the idea that truth was limited to rational cognition and rote memorization.  It seems to me that this might be a fair criticism post-Occam, but it doesn’t ring true for Thomistic thought – at least not to my understanding. 

“It is better to will the good,” [Petrarch] famously wrote, “than to know the truth.”

He believed that pagan philosophers like Plato and pagan orators Cicero – more so than Christian theologians like Aquinas – were better sources for restoring Christendom and its imperative for transformation.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Vengeance

 

From GBNews.  The discussion is regarding the treatment of Novak Djokovic by the Australian government.  From the host:

Because of what Australians have been put through the last two years, they are angry.  Australians have been treated in an inhumane way by their governments, both federally and at the state level. 

He then goes on to list just a small sampling of this inhumane treatment.

As the government has failed to control the virus, it is like the Australian population wants to punish the outsiders, the “plague rats,” as some of them are describing them, who are coming in on flights.  Since the Australian government has punished Australians with cruelty, Australians want to put that cruelty on visitors.

My thoughts: once the lie is exposed – and it will be exposed – this type of treatment is likely for all who resisted the narrative, the masks, the distancing, the jab.  It will come for all who said this entire narrative is a lie. 

When people figure out that they have been dupes – and worse, that their gullibility has resulted in long-term health consequences for themselves, and, God help them, their children (although many of these parents won’t care), they will not come after the liars.  They will come after those who saw through the lies from the beginning.

Conclusion

Neil Oliver notes that he speaks to many Australians and others who just want this to end, and they aren’t angry about Djokovic, etc.  This will be true for those who are good hearted and just went along because it was easy – the middle forty percent, per Desmet.

But it won’t be true for the thirty percent who are the true believers.  They will be dangerous; they will have vengeance on their heart.

And the state will be on their side.