Irreconcilable Differences

Continuing the review of Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent.   In this chapter the Gerrards give a detailed, yet succinct enough summary of Russian Church history, particularly in its opposition to “The West.”  Other scholarly reviewers criticized the Gerrards for adopting a “Huntingdonian” view of East-West differences.  Perhaps Huntingdon’s thesis is overdrawn, but I don’t see how anyone who reads any random issue of The Wall Street Journal or watches Fox News can avoid the conclusion that the West is opposed to Russia.  The Gerrards are simply stating the obvious.

That’s not to say the Gerrards do a good job on summarizing Russian ecclesial and political history in this chapter.  They do not.   In fact, many of their summaries and conclusions are painful.  Like the rest of the book when it errs, they get the general idea correct, but botch the details.  A few examples:

  • They say that Orthodoxy opposes papal infallibility because Orthodoxy traces their lineage through St Andrew “the first called apostle,” and not through Peter.   Now, any decent church history textbook can explain the difference between papal primacy and papal infallibility.  Orthodox affirm the former (at least until 1054) as a way of honoring the Roman bishop because of his good leadership and the number of martyrs at Rome.   Affirming the former, however, is not the same thing as justifying the latter (a basic logical distinction that Roman Catholics fail to see).   As to the argument of “Andrew the First-Called,” I suppose some out of the way Russian clerics hold that view, but I’ve never seen a serious Orthodox scholar advance such a view.
  • The Gerrards downplay the role of the Filioque in order to bolster their own (unique) thesis that it was the issue of Apostolic Succession, and not the Filioque, that determines the difference between Orthodoxy and Rome.  The Gerrards are to be commended, however, for noting the connections between papal supremacy and the desire to convert Russia by the sword.

Interestingly, Alexey II, the star of the book so far, is not prominent in this chapter.  They do mention the fact Aleksy used his political skill to thwart many of John Paul II’s aims against Russia.   Surprisingly for academics, the Gerrards do not criticize the Russian Church for thwarting the goals of Protestants to proselytize Russia.  This is a hard point for Westerners to understand.  Even the most backwoods conservative right-wing American, who loves Jesus and hates secularism, is a pure secularist when it comes to proselytizing Russia.  And by pure secularist, I mean someone who has thoroughly absorbed the values of the Enlightenment.     Americans simply cannot understand why Russia opposes “Christian” missionaries to her country.

Russians, and Orthodox, affirm that their view is “the truth.”  While maybe a mean statement, most conservative religious communities do the same thing as well.   If you say you are the truth, you are likewise making a value-judgment against those who are not the truth.   This is not bigotry.  This is logic.  Everyone does it. This is a rejection of the Enlightenment view that says to some religious communities, “No, you are not welcome here.”

From the perspective of Russia’s 1,000 year history and memory, precisely what do they owe the Protestants, especially the more chaotic baptist elements who themselves are splinters from splinter groups?  Also, and this usually isn’t mentioned in low-church circles, many of these proselytizers are “NGOs” whose tracts may contain bible verses on one side, but democratic propaganda on the other side.

Even Death Itself Will Work Backwards

I watched Chronicles of Narnia tonight. Aslan made a comment to Lucy after Aslan’s “sacrificial death.” In the conversation he remarks “and death itself will work backwards.” I then realized how utterly Irenaean that line was. According to St Irenaeus and Ephesians 1:10, Christ’s death recapitulated all of reality, both in heaven and on earth. This includes death and time. Christ’s death defeated death and changed the very structure of time (if we are to take Ephesians 1:10 seriously as the summing up and recapitulation of “all” things).

Theoden’s Charge

This is easily the greatest moment in all of human literature. Like anything else Tolkien wrote, every word, every syllable is perfect. The Christian symbolism is too rich it is actually painfully beautiful to read. This is the arche of human perfection. People today are blessed to live at this hour so they can read such pure awesomeness.


then suddenly merry felt it at last, beyond doubt: a change.  Wind was in his face! Light was glimmering.  Far, far away, in the South the clouds could be dimly seen as remote grey shapes, rolling up, drifting: morning lay beyond them.

But at that same moment there was a flash, as if lightning had sprung from the earth beneath the City.  For a searing second it stood dazzling far off in black and white, its topmost tower like a glittering needle; and then as the darkness closed there came rolling over the fields a great boom.

At that sound the bent shape of the king sprang suddenly erect.  Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud foice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before,

Arise,arise, Riders of Theoden!
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

With that he seized a great horn from Guthlaf his banner-bearer and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder.  And straightway all horns in the host were lifted up in music, and th blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plain and a thunder in the mountains.

Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away.  Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it.  After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them.  Eomer roder there, the white horsetail on his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first eored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Theoden could not be outpaced.  Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the bttle of the Valar when the world was young.  His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green abou the white feet of his steed.  For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of NATO wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them.  And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and the sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.

N. T. Wright on Monarchy

This is from his excellent essay on Paul and Caesar.   Wright is speaking in context of the British monarchy, something I’m not overly thrilled with, but his larger points and goals are correct.

Monarchy, like all sacraments, needs to be held within a strong theology of the ascended Jesus, Lord and King of the whole world, the one who has all authority.

Today’s cheap-and-chattering republicanism owes nothing to the Christian critique of human power, and everything to the sneer of the cynic, noting the price of everything but ignoring its value. Monarchy at its best is a symbolic reminder that the power-games of this world do not stand alone, but in a curious and many-sided relation to a transfiguring love and power which exists in a different dimension.

Monarchy is meant to be an angled mirror in which we see round the dark corner to that other dimension of reality, and realise the provisionality of all earthly power. Woe betide a monarchy that merely mirrors a society back to itself, or that becomes an idol instead of a mirror.

Monarchy is a reminder that the justice and mercy which rulers must practice are not their possession, but come from elsewhere; they are part of theGod-given created order.

It is hard to deny, on Christian premises, that it is vital for the health of a nation and society to have such symbols, and the accompanying rituals with, yes, all their sacramental overtones.

Arguments for disestablishment regularly make points which cancel one another out. Establishment, say some, means a powerful church; the gospel is about weakness, not power; therefore Establishment must go. Establishment, say others, means the church is ruled by the state; the gospel is about the powerful rule of Jesus Christ; therefore we should abandon Establishment. You can’t have it both ways. Either we’re dangerously powerful or we’re dangerously weak. The truth, as usual, is more complex.

Theonomy’s Academic Indifference to Western Civilization

Last post on theonomy (for a while).   The title of this post seems odd, given that Christian Reconstructionists seek to “reconstruct” America, and I believe that is sincerely their goal.   (Despite the confusion of terms, I am using theonomy and Christian Reconstruction as synonymous.  I know they really aren’t, but I don’t feel like getting into semantics).

As Serge Trifkovic noted, Western Civilization didn’t come from the West.  It came from Christianity.   And Christianity came from the East.  (I had a theonomist challenge me on this point; I then asked what town Christ was born in.   Where were the apostles first called Christians?   It wasn’t Geneva or Scotland).  And if Christianity shaped Eastern culture, then the typical Western responses to “Byzantinism” or “early Church apostasy” lose some force.   (This is a very interesting point, but I won’t pursue it now).

In one of my monarchist discussions on a theonomy message board, in responding to the standard charge (Moses forever instituted theocratic republicanism for all time and all places), I asked why the early church, the medieval church, and even Calvin (for what it’s worth) all viewed monarchy with more or less primacy? (To be fair to the theonomists, I’m not entirely sure to the answer.  I think it has something to do with Romano-Byzantinism, but I really do not know enough to answer that question; I do know that the historical church’s position on this matter was NOT the reconstructionist position).

And so we have something like the following conclusions:  in their best moments (Bahnsen, North, Morecraft et al) theonomists will advocate something like “reconstructing” society or defending Western civilization.  Most astute Christians know that Western Civilization is tied to Christianity.  Here’s the problem:  it’s rather odd to say that you are defending Western civilization’s cultural legacy while at the same time trashing what it’s fathers said about the following:  the visible church, politics, art (e.g., icons), kingship, and economics (they weren’t free market capitalists).

While I moderate comments, I will allow any interested theonomist to comment.  I moderate the comments to keep trolls out.

Review (1) of Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent

Gerrard and Gerrard (hereafter GG) attempt to locate the place of the Russian Orthodox Church in modern Russia in contrast to the Soviet Union’s officially atheistic policy.  Such a question is of supreme importance.  From an American standpoint, this issue needs to be faced, for the answers given to these questions will likely determine American foreign policy in the Slavic world.

Right-wing Cold Warriors see the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) as a vehicle of state propaganda and perhaps an impediment to the creation of a global market force led by Westerners (e.g., the philosophy of neo-conservatism).  Left-wing Westerns are likely dismayed that the ROC took such a key role in downing state socialism in Russia.   Also, they oppose the ROC’s strict (sometimes violent) opposition to sodomy.

Both left- and right-wing forces in the West, then, are allied against Russia.  This is evident in that all media outlets on both sides of the aisle (e.g., Fox and CNN) are anti-Russian (or anti-Putin, more specifically). At the end of the preface, GG makes a very startling (from an academic Western) and wise pronouncement:  whatever Russia’s future may be, it will not be Western and cannot ever be (xiv).  This is probably the wisest and most intelligent remark made by an academician about Russia–it also cuts against the grain of both neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism).


GG gives a brief but very well-written account of the nature and history of the ROC.  One is surprised at how accurate and almost sympathetic their reading of Orthodoxy is.  The authors give considerable detail to the nature of Orthodox liturgy and more particularly, the place of “liturgical time.”  This is important for the next Chapter.

Social Vision from Fantasy Novels

I realize by looking for political ethics in fairy tales, I will probably miss the point.   But if the author was a failed Christian socialist in the 19th century, and who for all his faults articulated an interesting social vision, one is justified in looking for social visions.

William Morris held to a non-statist form of socialism.  Perhaps lacking a well-informed Christian faith, and perhaps being unable to transcend his own Western position, he was unable to find what he so rightly sought.

Despite some of Morris’s wackier views, I can’t help but think his social vision has something to commend it.  State Socialism has obviously failed, yet democratic capitalism lacks the aesthetic charm and is a modern blip on the radar.  Fortunately, many communal ethicists have posited  middle ways.

Morris’s work (The House of the Wolfings) begins by showing a community that is knit together by blood, labor, and liturgy (not in the overt Christian sense, but by ritual that transcends the mundane).