Sunday, 10/2/16

  1. Using pacifism as a weapon
  2. Of “Personal Relationship” with God


If, however, the task at hand is driving a car in an unfamiliar setting, or simply sitting down to take a math test, the adrenalin is not only unnecessary, it is crippling.

Strangely, how we believe works in a similar manner. Our culture has reduced Christian believing to a set of rational propositions. The various doctrines can be described, defined, repeated, even rendered in Latin. But almost nowhere do we bother to think about how we believe those propositions. We can answer the question, “Do you believe in the Incarnation?” But we never bother to ask, “What does it look like to believe the Incarnation?” This disconnect leads to tragic, even paralyzing versions of Christianity.

When I was in high school, my adolescent Christianity was strongly committed to a pacifist position. The country was in the midst of the Vietnam War and passions surrounding the war ran at a very high pitch. We had a Catholic priest visit our school once for a “discussion” of the war. He was a well-known pacifist and very articulate. Our principal, who articulated the opposing view, was a decorated pilot from World War II. During the open discussion following their talks, my passions burned bright.

Afterward, the priest spoke to me. I was expecting some sort of congratulations since I thought I had spoken well for his position. “Stephen,” he said, “There is more than one way to do violence to a man. You use pacifism like a weapon.”

The “truth” of the faith, if divested of noetic insight and held in the grip of the passions, may be the deadliest form of delusion (prelest) known within the Church. St. James identifies this with devastating accuracy:

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe– and tremble! (Jam 2:19)

The demons are perfectly “Orthodox.” Indeed, the demons recognized and confessed Jesus as the Christ long before human beings. In the fathers, fasting without prayer is called the “fast of demons,” for demons never eat anything, but neither do they pray.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Driving By Faith)


What is lost with the sacramental world-view isn’t simply the belief that in the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, but the belief that such a thing is either possible or desirable. For many contemporary Christians, the absence of Christ’s body and blood in their lives in any manner they consider “real,” is simply unnoticed …

With the disappearing of the sacramental world, the presence of God has not been utterly rejected … But, as sacramental reality receded, substitutes were found. The non-sacramental world of the post-Reformation is largely peopled with a distinct collection of individuals, largely conceived as centers of consciousness. Sacramental reality gives way to a psychologized notion of reality. We share ideas, thoughts and feelings, but do not consider ourselves to have sacramental communion with other people or other things. God becomes a Personality among personalities …

This is the basis for the modern notion of a “personal relationship with God.” The phrase is utterly dominant in large parts of modern Christianity. For many, it is considered the absolute minimum requirement for anyone claiming to be a Christian. And yet, the phrase does not appear until sometime in the 20thcentury. It is not simply a new phrase; it describes a new idea.

… The late 18th century, as well as the whole of the 19thcentury, were times in which extreme forms of religious experience became quite common. The various “Great Awakening” movements were marked by crowds swooning and falling down as well as other emotional manifestations. The Holiness and Pentecostal movements had their beginnings in these emotion-laden revivals, often multiplying experiences into new extremes. Today, various irruptions of Pentecostal fervor are greeted as yet one more “new move of the Holy Spirit.”

Doubtless, extreme emotional expressions have been present in Christianity throughout its history. However, only in the modern period have these expressions (and their milder form referenced as a “personal relationship”) replaced sacramental reality as the theological test of God’s truth ….

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Psychology as the New Sacrament)

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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.