- No suburban BenOp is possible
- Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi
- Can we, in our culture, serve God?
- Mystery, fullness, glory
- Abbreviating God
I want to note at the outset that many of Rod Dreher’s suggestions (The Benedict Option) are quite laudable and worth thinking about. This article concentrates on one particular aspect: the acquisition of virtue in the context of American suburban life. Dreher himself mentions the need for proximity and stability. These matters are even more vital than he suggests. Also, it must be said that conservative American Christianity (which seems to be Dreher’s chosen audience) is not the same thing as Christian civilization. American Christianity was itself already a form of barbarism of long standing – not productive of a “civilization.” Indeed, Charles Taylor makes it clear that secular modernity (Dreher’s and MacIntyre’s true “barbarians”) is the product of secularized Protestantism. If every secular liberal bogeyman disappeared tomorrow and left a pristine conservative America, it would soon reproduce them. They are its natural-born children.
Every aspect of a suburb’s existence is designed to serve and nurture consumers …
My most immediate community is structured to nurture the virtues of individualism …
St. Benedict’s communities “worked,” because what grew up around them were very natural, villages and towns, integrated in the life of parish and monastery. Of necessity, the economies were small, as though E.F. Schumacher himself had served as economic advisor to St. Benedict.1 Benedict’s entire work presumes poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability. The villages of Benedictine Europe embodied these virtues in large measure in accordance with their circumstances.
We must understand that you cannot have a suburban version of the Benedictine Option. Place, habit, economy and a host of “unintentional” things will overwhelm every counter-intention, no matter how well-grounded in Christian teaching. Practices always do their work. The practices of suburban life are not productive of Christian virtue. They were designed to serve a different God.
(Father Stephen Freeman, Benedict in the Suburbs – bold added) There is much more in this reflection than I could begin to quote. That’s generally true when I quote Fr. Stephen, but this time in particular it’s noteworthy because of the timeliness of the Benedict Option discussions)
We tend to find proof of what we already think. We might also say that you will tend to think like you live – your actions determine your choices to a great extent, long before anything that we describe as “reason” comes into play. The Church has long known this and enshrined it in a formula: lex orandi, lex credendi: “the law of praying is the law of believing.” In simple terms, we believe what we pray – and not just what we pray, but what we pray publicly – the Liturgy.
The modern options in liturgical life (found all through the contemporized denominations), have a hidden, and, perhaps, unintended message. Their constantly changing structures suggest that what matters is what you think/feel/believe. What you do in Church is pretty much “immaterial,” a matter of preference and style. Indeed, many moderns believe that this is the great advantage of denominations – everybody can “do Church” in the manner that they like. But what you do is, eventually, what you will think (no matter what you say).
A simple observation: You cannot say that children matter and exclude them from Baptism and the Cup of Communion, much less isolate them and remove them from the public liturgy of the Church. Their exclusion is a teaching regarding the full humanity of children, regardless of what you mean it to say. There is a connection (whether we want to admit it or not) between the repudiation of infant baptism and the repudiation of the humanity of a child in the womb. Adulthood is not required in the Kingdom of God.
This is a crucial matter. Any time there is some component of worship that “doesn’t matter,” the whole liturgy will begin to not matter.
(Father Stephen Freeman, That Thing You Do – Right Worship)
In a therapeutic culture in which our goal is to be our very best, it is almost impossible to serve God. The reason is quite simple: when my goal is to be my very best, the goal is my God. “Serving God” thus becomes a euphemism for a Christianity that we take to be therapeutic – and that its value lies in its therapeutic virtues. All of this is a stranger to the invitation of Christ, which begins with an exhortation to take up the Cross, promises persecutions and sufferings, and generally offers a fullness of life that has nothing to do with our cultural goal.
To serve God in this world, we need to accept Him as God. We cannot manage Him, nor even manage our relationship with Him. We simply need to do what is given to us. Pray the prayers. Give thanks. Share your stuff.
(Father Stephen Freeman, To Serve God)
Mystery, fullness, glory and the like are largely neglected in many of the doctrinal structures of the West. Where they are not neglected they are stripped of mystical content and morphed into more rational systems.
Within the Orthodox East, the mystical content is allowed to shine forth – particularly within the liturgical life and prayers of the Church (this is also true of the ascetical tradition of the Church).
The mystical life marks the whole of Orthodox Christianity. Its doctrines are replete with references to the mystery and speak of matters such as the atonement in a manner that is consistent with the revelation of this mystery. The Conciliar definitions, from first to last, are rooted in this language and presuppose its grammar within every aspect of the life of the Church.
(Father Stephen Freeman, The Mystery: Upborne, Fulfilled)
The drive to simplicity has long been a temptation, and, sadly, has been the source of numerous heresies and distortions of the faith.
Perhaps the oldest such “heresy” is that of Islam. Some might protest that Islam is not a Christian heresy, but another religion entirely. However, the Christian Fathers writing at the time of the rise of Islam, clearly understood it to be a heresy. Islam is unintelligible apart from Christianity. Indeed, the Koran mentions Jesus more times than it does Muhammed (surprise!). There are also significant passages concerning the Virgin Mary, including the teaching that she was a Virgin when she gave birth to Christ. From an Orthodox perspective, Islam is best understood as a heretical attempt at simplification rather than a new religion. It is also an understanding that puts most non-Orthodox treatments of the Christian faith in proper perspective.
This drive towards simplicity is a common hallmark within almost all deviations from traditional Orthodoxy. No one, it seems, ever wants to make things more complicated than they already are within the tradition! But there’s the rub. The nature of Orthodox tradition is its commitment to the unchanging fullness of the faith. In that sense, the faith is everything. It is not a small set of religious rules and ideas set within the greater context of the world (that is the essence of modern, secularized religion). The faith is the whole world. Rightly spoken and understood, it must account for everything.
Thoughts about all of this came to me last week as we celebrated yet another feast day involving the Mother of God. She is generally found embedded in every expression within the Church. This is a matter of fullness. If our Christianity can be spoken just as well without mention of her, then we are not speaking the fullness. The same must be said of the sacraments. Any account of the Christian life and the path of salvation that omits the Holy Eucharist is simply incomplete or false. Indeed, growth in the faith must be marked by an ever-increasing sense of the all-encompassing reality that is salvation – “til we come to the fullness of the stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)
This aspect of our life is a primary reason that the ultimate expression of evangelical welcome must be, “Come and see.” In fact, you’ll have to come and see and wait patiently. As we make that patient journey, we are joining ourselves with everything, in the great in-gathering that is God’s good will for all creation.
(Father Stephen Freeman, The Abbreviated God)
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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)