Our political talk is so very predictable. I’m glad I encountered Michael Oakeshott on the Rule of Law and the Liberal Order to stretch my imagination.
Civil association; enterprise association; nomocracy; telocracy. Not familiar concepts, but they appear useful. “Useful” as in “Oakeschott may change my mind about something very important politically.”
Oakeschott reportedly viewed Constitutions as giving shape to our whole civil association, not just defining and limiting powers of government.
Adherence to the rule of law is fundamental to the spirit of civil association. We rely, Oakeshott argues, upon law as the background condition for making our exercise of freedom equitable, unpretentious, orderly and assured.
I commend it as a mind-stretcher. I hope to get back to it for a second reading after the first reading has steeped a bit.
“The Tragedy of Dogma,” a podcast I heard Monday, surely comes from some arch-liberal, right? Actually, no.
Orthodoxy is known for her doctrinal conservatism, for her strict adherence to the decrees of the ecumenical councils and the dogmatic writings of the Church Fathers. So what I am about to say may seem a bit counter-intuitive. Dogma represents a profound tragedy within the life of the Church. What I mean is this: The dogmatic teachings of the Church are a direct result of sin and of the loss of faith. Or to put it another way, if Christians, from the very beginning, had devoted themselves to the therapeutic method of asceticism and prayer, given by our Lord and his apostles, there would never have been a need for conciliar definition or words like homo-ousios, or hypostatic union.
The reason for this is simple: The Orthodox method of therapeia is diametrically opposed to trying to understand God, or figure out why or how He does what He does ….
[H]eresies are detours from the straight and narrow way. If enough people start taking a detour, the Church puts up one of those traffic courses with the orange light and prominent sign that says, Danger, Road Closed. You see, that is what doctrinal statements are, and that is all they are. They are warning signs that tell us not to go down a particular path. Dogma does not define God. Dogma does not explain God or His ways. Dogma does one thing, and one thing only. It warns us away from false paths. It warns us back onto the straight and narrow way.
While it never would have occurred to me to label dogma a “tragedy,” I fully agree with this counterintuitive description of why dogma gets formulated and the function it serves.
When dogma becomes central, faith has morphed into ideology. And ideology is a chronic disease, in my (ideological) experience. We’re always trying to tame God somehow, and turning Him into an ideology is one very popular way.
It’s sometimes said that so-and-so “is so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.” Not so Saint John Maximovitch, also known as St. John the Barefoot:
He himself taught that, for all the “mysticism” of our Orthodox Church that is found in the Lives of the Saints and the writings of the Holy Fathers, the true Orthodox person always has both feet firmly on the ground, facing whatever situation is right in front of him. It is in accepting given situations, which requires a loving heart, that one encounters God.
Father Seraphim Rose on Saint John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco. Father Seraphim reposed in the Lord 30 years ago this past Sunday. (H/T Orthodox Echoes)
I don’t think social utility is the ultimate purpose of true religion, but there’s plenty of hints, starting no later than the surface meaning of the Good Samaritan parable, that it will be at least incidentally utile.
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