Sunday, 8/14/16

  1. It is as it is because we are as we are
  2. What the Creed doesn’t say
  3. Yuuuuge!
  4. Martyrdom

1

Discussing the Mercy Seat in Leviticus 16:18-22, Fr. Stephen Freeman writes:

[T]here is not a hint of contractual/legal imagery here at all. Sins are not abstract infractions of the law in the modern legal sense but are quite concrete. They cause people to be unclean; they can be cleansed by blood; they are put on the head of a goat and sent away.

Such imagery, particularly if treated in a literal manner, simply baffles the modern mind. As I have noted repeatedly, the modern mind has somehow made abstractions its reality, while treating its true concrete existence as a metaphor, something that, at best, only gives rise to abstraction.

In the Old Testament … the Law of God seems to have something quite substantive about it within itself:

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward. (Psa 19:7-11 NKJ)

In the modern mind, such a passage only means that God did a good job in willing His law, and those laws reflect the goodness of His will. But the laws remain abstractions, simply the expression of His will. And, true to voluntarism, they only gain their power through the force and violence with which God backs them up.

“…by them is Your servant warned…and there is great reward.”

Up until the Middle Ages, the notion of law, whether Hebrew, Greek, etc., was generally grounded in a notion of realism, that is, the truth of a law was inherent in how things are and how they are made. The law can be discerned because it is not simply the product of a will. God’s will is expressed in how He created the world, but not by arbitrary rules enforced through sheer acts of force or violence.

However, in the Middle Ages, in the rise of nominalism (cf. William of Ockham), a new theory of law came into the discussion, one in which law is simply the arbitrary act of a will. Modernity has seen the steady erosion of realism (as well as the notion of natural law) and its replacement with a radical nominalism. The most extreme statement of this latter view can be seen in Anthony Kennedy’s famous dictum in a Supreme Court decision regarding abortion:

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

This extreme expression of voluntarism reveals the element of absurdity in pure voluntarism. Some might argue that the flaw in Kennedy’s statement lies in his attribution of this possibility to human beings, when it belongs to God alone. But it is the nominalists of modernity, including the Christian nominalists, who taught modernity how to reason in such a manner.

The Old Testament speaks of the Law in very substantive terms, much the same way that later Old Testament writings speak of Wisdom. The Law is far more than a commandment. The commandment describes something very concrete, something that reveals how the world actually is as well as how human beings and all creation works. It is no more arbitrary than DNA is arbitrary. It is, if you will, the DNA of the universe.

Sin is thus not primarily a willful breaking of Another’s will. It is not a transgression of something external to us, enforced only through the threat of violence or force. It is a violation of the very constitution of our being and of the world around us ….

(The Seat of Mercy and the End of the Legal View) I’ve had to resist highlighting half of this. Seriously, read the whole article when you’re not distracted.

With no claim whatever that this was Fr. Stephen’s core point, I was stricken by his example from Justice Kennedy’s notorious “Mystery Passage”:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

This extreme expression of voluntarism reveals the element of absurdity in pure voluntarism. Some might argue that the flaw in Kennedy’s statement lies in his attribution of this possibility to human beings, when it belongs to God alone. But it is the nominalists of modernity, including the Christian nominalists, who taught modernity how to reason in such a manner.

The commandment describes something very concrete, something that reveals how the world actually is as well as how human beings and all creation works. It is no more arbitrary than DNA is arbitrary. It is, if you will, the DNA of the universe.

The eventuality of “God said it; I believe it; that settles it” is Justice Kennedy’s odious babbling about the liberty of we who can (because, after all, we are created in God’s image with Godlike powers) just make stuff our own private reality, untethered from anything that’s simply true.

Truth is, though, this terrible error about God’s will and his law seems to be the center of gravity in American Christianity today. Time and again, I hear people addressing issues of public policy “biblically” by what justifiably can be called Bible-thumping: a proof-text read in pseudo-prophetic tones, followed by — sitting down and smirking triumphantly. Only this and nothing more. That’s worse than useless; it’s counter-productive.

But my point is not about how to address political questions effectively. Rather, it is this: God’s law isn’t arbitrary; it is as it is because we are as we are.

2

When the Creed says, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man,” it is speaking about salvation. It does not say, “Who, in order to pay the penalty that was due…” Such language can be used and has been used, but it is not at the heart of the Conciliar words of the Church. It is not recited every Sunday.

So how does Christ save us in terms of being? In essence (no pun intended), He became what we were in order to make us what He is. He became man, entering and restoring the full communion which we had broken. The Lord and Giver of Life, the Author of our Being entered into dying humanity. He took our dying humanity on Himself and entered into the very depths of that death (“suffered death and was buried”). He then raised that same dying humanity into His own eternal life. This is our forgiveness of sins. If sin is death, then resurrection is forgiveness …

There are some who have pushed the moral language into the language of the Trinity, such that what is important is the Son’s propitiation of the Father’s wrath. Such terms find no place within the Conciliar thought of the Church and can (and have) created problems. It is not that such terms have no use nor that they have never been used by any of the Fathers at any time. But they have a long history of being misused and distorting and obscuring the foundational doctrines of the Church.

In my own life, I personally found the language of being, when applied to my salvation, to explain the meaning of Scripture more thoroughly and connect my daily life and actions to the most fundamental doctrines of the Church. It allowed me to read St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Gregory, St. Maximus and a host of others without feeling that I had come to something foreign. It more than adequately addresses moral questions, whereas moral language cannot address anything else and creates problems and heresies when it is imported into the language of the Trinity. I should add that I have worked within this for nearly 30 years and have found nothing within Scripture than cannot be understood within the ontological understanding and that doing so frequently takes you deeper into understanding what is actually going on. It also forces you to ask the questions of “how does this relate to everything else?”

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Being Saved – The Ontological Approach — bold added)

3

If you’ve made it this far, are you sure you’ve halfway digested the two prior items?

These aren’t interesting little differences between Orthodoxy and what most well-intentioned Christians believe by default today in the West. They are huge — a degree of huge that make it tempting, wisely or not, to view a move from Catholicism or Protestantism to Orthodoxy as a conversion — a move have not regretted, even for a second, making 19 years ago.

4

She would have to be a saint because that was the occupation that included everything you could know; and yet she knew she would never be a saint … but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.

(Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories)

The sorrow Christians experience, even in this renewed period of persecution and martyrdom throughout the Middle East, is tempered with the knowledge that Christ conquered the permanency of death by His death, and that His resurrection will be our resurrection. We look to the future with the same faith of the saints and martyrs that have gone on before us, and we’ve experienced the truth of Jesus Christ’s teachings, for our hearts of been transformed by the power of His message. Our sins have been forgiven, and we are guests at the Eucharistic banquet, awaiting our time when the gates of paradise will be opened to us. We fear nothing, just like the martyrs, because we know the truth of the Holy Resurrection of Christ our God.

(Abbot Tryphon)

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It took me a while to give the Fr. Stephen articles, and my reactions, due attention, so this is running pretty late Sunday. I don’t expect to blog Monday.

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.