Monday, September 25, 2023

Playing by the Enemy’s Rules


As Christians have accepted that they must treat the Church’s authoritative offices with evermore suspicion, they’ve asked themselves—tacitly or otherwise—what it means to “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” in an institution that is largely repudiating His mission (Apocalypse 14:4).

Can Hermetic Magic Rescue the Church? Part II: Behold, The Kingdom of God is Within You, by Sebastian Morello

My review of Part I is here.  In his Part I, Morello laid blame on the failings of the Church that have contributed to the mess in which we find ourselves today – lack of meaning, lack of worship. Lack of valuing life.

What is this “Hermetic Magic”?  It is a combination of the Corpus Hermeticum of Hermes Trismegistus—the central mystery text of esoteric transformation with the traditions of Platonism and Neoplatonism, resulting in “a metaphysical language expressive of the vertical vision of the cosmos common to all religious traditions.”

It is just this that I have explored in, for a layman, significant depth.  It has struck me that the answer both to moving toward liberty and toward recovering from the meaning crisis are to be found here (although I have never previously done any work regarding the Corpus Hermeticum that I recall).

Morello focusses on Aquinas as the one individual in the West who brought all of this together best.  Yes, we are individuals, but we are also tied together by our participation in species with other human beings.  We share an essence with other human beings.  This is so because we participate in a logical likeness in the divine mind.

Put simply: I exist because God thinks of me. But I also exist because God, having created an essence of me from the exemplar idea of me in His mind, has held that created essence together with an ‘act of existence’ in a single substance (that I call myself). In sum: I exist because God thinks of me and wills that I exist.

Which comes to the idea that the world is not only created by the Word, but it is held together and continues to exist due to the Word.

…according to Aquinas were God to stop thinking of the universe for one instant, the whole thing would vanish. Thus, the relation of creation to the Creator is perhaps more like the relation of song to singer.

I have heard this idea quite a bit from Eastern Christian sources, even today.  I don’t recall ever hearing of it from Western sources at any time in recent history.  There is a reason for this:

The Neoplatonic ontology of Aquinas was generally neglected by the Catholic seminary manualists of the last few centuries, bewitched as so many were with the assumptions of rationalism.

It isn’t that Thomas was completely ignored:

For natural theology, they preferred to focus on the famous Five Ways, to which Aquinas devoted one article of the Summa Theologica, and largely ignored the deeper ontology that undergirded the other 2,668 articles of that work.

His “rational,” “logical” proofs, but not anything deeper.  And this is why, in Morello’s view, the Church is failing – not even merely stuck, as the failures grow deeper through time.  The Church (and he is writing of the Catholic Church, but it is true much more broadly) is unable to respond – both to its own crisis of authority and to the loss of meaning in the West.

Morello then goes on to describe the many ways we (Christians) waste time on irrelevant arguments and false divisions.  It strikes me as the same issue plaguing society overall: while our “betters” take over more and more control, we allow ourselves to focus on each other as the enemy instead of on the “betters.”

Thursday, September 21, 2023

He Had to Be


To be in the image of God is to be logikos, a term which can only be translated into English, but very unsatisfactorily, as “rational.”

From the Introduction by C.S. Lewis to On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius

The term logikos can only be properly understood in relation to the Logos; in other words, to be in the image of God can only be understood in relation to God.  Only when in relation to the Logos can we be deemed to be logikos: rational.  If we are to live rationally, we are to pattern our life in accord with the Logos.

Man was created to live in this condition – this condition of relationship to the Logos.  It is in this condition that we are to remain or abide.  It is our nature – and this is linked completely with the presence of the Word of God.

Lewis, in this introduction, cites Athanasius, from Against the Gentiles:

In this way then, as has been said, did the Creator fashion the human race, and such did he wish it to remain.

But then the snake, the forbidden tree, the fall.  We chose what was closer – the body and its sensations.

…they fell into desire for themselves preferring their own things to the contemplation of divine things. …they imprisoned in bodily pleasures their souls…

In our time we get the year-round month of June. 

Continuing with Athanasius, he touches on the nakedness that man realized with the fall:

…not so much naked of clothing, but they had become naked of the contemplation of divine things, and that they had turned their minds in the opposite direction.

As Lewis describes it, we lost the garment of contemplation when we succumbed to our desire.  It is in this way that we were truly naked.  We remain caught in this corruption, save for the salvific work of Christ.  And this begins the hint of why Christ was not merely a perfect man, nor only a divine being, but the God-man – as He had to be.

Athanasius continues by examining the complete order of the creation; in no sense is it a clockwork universe.  Creation, not out of chaos but out of nothing, is not only the one-time handiwork of the Creator – it is held together and continues to exist only because the Creator holds it together.  As Athanasius puts it, “a relapse into non-existence, were it not protected by the Word…”

Were we not protected by the Word in our day, is it so hard to see a relapse into non-existence for humanity?  We are working very hard to destroy everything about us that is human, everything about living on this earth.  Absent the Word, we would succeed.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Saying “Peace” When There is No Peace


Jeremiah 8: 11 They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.

Every generation suffers under its share of Christian leaders doing the work of crushing the Church and supporting the blasphemer.  What is offered below is just one more example – from eighty years ago, but only recently coming to my attention.

But first…Revelation 13 describes two beasts.  The first beast is followed by the whole earth:

3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast.

A unifying and universal leader.

7(b): And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation

The second beast exercises all of the authority of the first beast, and in this capacity introduces a universal economic system:

16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

Now, to the story from eighty years ago.  An interesting piece, describing a 1942 gathering of “375 appointed representatives of 30-odd denominations called together at Ohio Wesleyan University by the Federal Council of Churches.”  The purpose was “to Study the Bases of a Just and Durable Peace,” and its chairman was John Foster Dulles.  Yes, that guy.

What does this conference have to do with the beast from Revelation?  Let’s take a look at some of the resolutions passed by the conference:

·       Ultimately, "a world government of delegated powers."

·       Strong immediate limitations on national sovereignty.

·       International control of all armies & navies.

·       "A universal system of money ... so planned as to prevent inflation and deflation."

·       Worldwide freedom of immigration.

·       A "democratically controlled" international bank "to make development capital available in all parts of the world without the predatory and imperialistic aftermath so characteristic of large-scale private and governmental loans."

A universalizing world system, one primed for the beast.  But this beast will be tamed – even loving and gentle.  No, really.

Just a few more thoughts from this body:

Friday, September 15, 2023

The Burden Rests Squarely in One Place


The West is entrenched in what the philosopher and psychologist John Vervaeke has called a “meaning-crisis”; whilst the institutional Church has entered an authority-crisis. I submit that the Church’s reclaiming of its mission is the only way out of the meaning-crisis of the West—a crisis that the West has successfully exported to almost every part of the globe—and at present the Church remains utterly unfit to take up this mission.

Can Hermetic Magic Rescue the Church? Part I: Acknowledging the Crisis and Breaking the Spell, by Sebastian Morello (as referenced in a Paul VanderKlay video here).

Amen.  A paragraph I have written, in less efficient and effective ways, many times.  There is only one way out of the meaning crisis (and, inherently, to move back toward liberty) in the West, and that is for the Church, and for Christians, to stand up.  Instead, as Morello will offer, the Church has failed and is failing at just the time when it is needed most.

When I say this, I predominantly have in mind the Catholic Church (being, as I am, a Roman Catholic).

But the shortcomings are not limited to the Catholic Church:

The ugly internal power games, moral relativising, and neo-caesaropapism of Orthodox senior clerics, however, have hugely undermined the authority of their offices, and it’s not even worth remarking on the state of the Anglican Communion and the various Protestant sects.

The corruption I have seen in the Orthodox Church I occasionally attend is no different than the corruption in broader society – power over truth and justice.  As for many protestants churches, the worship of militarization and the fifty-first state contribute to a loss of credibility.  Further, flying the flag of the enemies of Christ is a visible sign of how lost many congregations are.

The fact is, all the baptised are in the same boat when it comes to the current crisis: the institution that the Incarnate Word established on earth to lead “all nations” to “all truth” has lost its authority (Mt 28:19, Jn 16:13).

The hierarchy of the Church has almost entirely lost authority in the eyes of the rest of the faithful.

This is because in most cases and for most topics, the Church hierarchy says nothing different than does the culture around it – just not as effectively and not nearly as entertaining.  In other words, why should anyone pay attention?

The progressives never believed that the law of the Church, the dogmas of the Faith, or the moral law had any claim on their intellect or conscience in any case, beyond what they individually chose to accept.

This is no different than the progressives in larger society.  No norms, no culture, no tradition, no objective values, no natural law.

The trads always believed they were bound by such things, but see now that something’s happened to the Church’s government that makes it no longer trustworthy, and thus they look sideways at anything coming out of Rome.

Also the same thing that is happening in larger society.  “What happened to the rules?” the “traditional” conservatives ask.  The ruling progressives are hypocrites.  Etc., etc., etc.

A few years ago, I challenged a bishop over what I judged to be his breaking of employment law and violation of Catholic social doctrine. A priest soon wrote to me, expressing his horror at my lack of “caution” in challenging the “Lord’s anointed.” Interestingly, this priest didn’t tell me that I was wrong, only that the bishop shouldn’t be challenged seemingly on no other grounds than that he was a bishop.

Power.  It is the game the left plays.  It isn’t a question of right or wrong; it is only a question of power.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Subject to Higher Powers

A couple of months ago, Bob Murphy had a conversation with Lawrence Ludlow regarding the interpretation and understanding of Romans 13.  I found it quite worthwhile, including an explanation of why words in Greek or Latin require so many English words for us to grasp at the possible meaning.  Which means that the English word chosen to translate from Greek or Latin must be determined based on context and must be understood in the context and in the way that the same word is used elsewhere.

In any case, anyone interested in a further exposition of this passage – one that has caused no shortage of grief for humanity and for Christians who value liberty – it is a good exposition.  One will also find a comment from our very own RMB!

As background, I have written on this topic several times, including:

·         Christians and Government – this is a review of the relevant chapter from Gerard Casey’s book, Freedom's Progress?: A History of Political Thought

·         Does God Ordain Evil Men – a review of Romans 13: The True Meaning of Submission, by Timothy Baldwin and Chuck Baldwin

·         Enough With Romans 13 – my own thoughts in the immediate aftermath of March 2020.

Then there is this, from RMB: The Church And State In Romans 13

Monday, September 11, 2023

Jordan Peterson on the Difficulty of Breaking Habits

 From Peterson’s Exodus series, episode 5, beginning here:

When you make a habit, what happens…there is a neuro-physiological process.  When you first encounter something novel, so you don’t have habits in that domain, a large part of your brain is metabolically active. 

I have never seen this before.  I have to figure out what to do.

It’s because you’re not very good at it and there is no specialized system developed to deal with that anomalous occurrence.  Then as you practice, less and less of your brain is involved; it moves from the right to the left, then from the left frontal backwards until you build a machine – but it’s not a machine – in the back that automatizes that. 

It becomes a habit.  The interesting thing is that we must do this if we are to function at all in society.  We cannot function by approaching every event or episode as if we had never encountered it before.  In other words, without habits, we couldn’t survive.

So, if you practice a sin, let’s say, you build a machine. 

And this is the point.  Not all habits are good habits (thank you, Captain Obvious mosquito).

But it’s not a machine, because it’s alive.  It’s more like a sub-personality.  And then when you want to take that thing out, it’s not particularly happy.  It will respond in many ways.  The habit couldn’t animate you and shape your perceptions if it wasn’t a spirit.

Our habits allow us to function, so why wouldn’t they fight back if attacked?  Our habits have protected us from harm; our habits have made it easier to manage life.  Our habits believe they are doing us good, and therefore will not go away very peacefully. 

And you build in those habits and you allow the spirit that constitutes those habits to not only inhabit you – its more than that.  Because that little neuro-physiological mechanism, in order for it to grip control of your perception and action, has to shut down all the rest of your brain. 

How often do we not remember what we just did?  An easy example is something like a regular drive to the office.  We arrive, and suddenly realize we remember nothing at all about the drive.

Because otherwise you would do something else.

Well, you might do something else.  But if the habit has been found to be beneficial, you might not.  In other words, if the habit serves its purpose (even if it occasionally causes harm), why would you do something else?

Friday, September 8, 2023

Anselm and the Reformation…


…give or take a few hundred years.

Did the theology of Anselm, so early in the history of Scholasticism, pose a total contrast with the Reformation, or did the heart of Anselm’s theology – the gospel of Jesus Christ – pave a foundation for the Reformation?

The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, by Matthew Barrett

As I have come to learn, and have commented before, Luther’s protest hit a nerve not due to any doctrinal disputes, but due to the corruption in the church – specifically, indulgences. 

A month or so before his infamous ninety-five theses, he posted ninety-seven theses.  None of the ninety-seven had anything to do with indulgences, and the posting made not a dent in the history of Christendom.  The ninety-five, however, had in its sights indulgences – and this is where the initial battle lines were drawn, and from here, further positions on both sides hardened.

Why do I begin here?  If the answer to Barrett’s question is that Anselm paved a foundation for the Reformation, it doesn’t therefore follow that it is somehow a path away from Rome – nor does Barrett suggest this.  The point, as is the case throughout Barrett’s book, is that the doctrines found in the Reformation had roots – roots that trace back to the earliest of Christian understanding of Scripture and the Gospel.

With that laborious introduction out of the way, on to Barrett:

For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand.

-          Anselm, Proslogion

Anselm would use the Scholastic method to come to his understanding.  To get a strawman out of the way… Scholasticism is sometimes caricatured or misunderstood as restricted to specific philosophical content, it is better understood as a method.  Prose and argument based on the dialectic method: concepts, distinctions, definitions, and propositional analysis.

Criticized for debating infinitesimal questions and exercises in speculation, Scholasticism is better understood as seeking truth and seeing the logic in the Christian faith.  Lecture, meditation, a question submitted, and disputation.  This was the framework of the Scholastic dialogue.

Hence, when Luther disputed Scholastic theology (really the theology of the later Scholastics), he did so using the Scholastic method – that of disputation.  The entire purpose of his ninety-five theses was to open the door to disputation.

Anselm, while learning from his teacher Lanfranc, is considered as foundational to the Scholastic method and to the idea of faith seeking understanding.  While some see Scholasticism as dry logic chopping, an encounter with Anselm would certainly disabuse one of this notion.

Lanfranc understood that reason and faith go hand-in-hand.  Reason was not to be the be-all-and-end-all, but where reason exposed legitimate faults in an authoritative position, this must be confronted.  It was to be reason in service of theology.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

In the Beginning Was the Word


Already during his own lifetime, St. Athanasius had become a legendary figure.

From the Introduction by C.S. Lewis to On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius

Bishop of Alexandria for forty-six years, until his death at approximately seventy-four years of age in 373.  During his life, he was exiled five times for a total of seventeen years – a regular victim of the battles regarding Arianism, battles that continued despite the declaration at the Council of Nicaea.

Nicene Christianity exists by virtue of his constancy and vision.

This work, On the Incarnation, is seen by Lewis as perhaps the defining exposition of Nicene theology – the central mystery of Christian theology.  It is the second part of two works, the first being Against the Gentiles.  Lewis will offer an overview of this earlier work:

[Atanasius affirms that] … while [the knowledge of religion and of the truth] can be discovered from the words of the Holy Scripture, “for the sacred and divinely inspired Scriptures are sufficient for the exposition of truth,” there are also many treatises of blessed teachers, which, “if one happens upon them he will gain some notion of the interpretation of the Scriptures and will be able to attain the knowledge he desires.”

And, as Lewis notes, this present work is perhaps the exemplary work in aiding the interpretation of the Scriptures in understanding the Incarnation.  To understand the Incarnation, it all begins with the one who ascended the cross:

… “he who ascended the cross is the Word of God” …

Which leads to something that has been on my mind.  Let’s start with John 1:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

The word “Word” in Greek is logos.  Logos is a tough word to translate; it does not mean “word” in a grammatical sense.  Like many Greek words, it takes several words in English to grasp something of its meaning: discourse, reason, law, put in order, arrange, gather, choose, count, reckon, discern, say, speak, a principle of order and knowledge.

Logos (word) is everything that makes humans human – everything that differentiates man from other living beings on earth.  Sure, other animals put in order – all beings are, after all, made with a purpose, and end, a telos.  But discourse and reason (in any sophisticated sense), are found only in human beings.

The source of this discourse and reason (logos) is what we know as God.  It was through discourse and reason that all things that were made were made.  In Genesis, we are told that God spoke creation into existence.  It was through His Word (discourse and reason) that creation came to be.

Genesis 1: 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 2: 7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

There is no other creature on earth for which these two things are true – two things, but really one thing.  We are made in God’s image – not that God has a nose and arms, but through His breathe.  Through His breathe we have a soul – reason and discourse.  We were given the logos, albeit, of course, we are not perfect nor perfected.  These are what make us image-bearers.