Canon, Scripture, and Assumption

The issue of canon is one of those questions that determine the rest of theology.  This is especially true to the evangelicals who hold strongly to inerrancy.  If Scripture (particularly written Scripture) is your ultimate starting point, it better have a very strong foundation.

The issue of the canon can make or break one’s faith.  When I was a freshman in college the liberals under whom I studied kept pointing out there was no such thing as a fully intact canon.  In fact, the Church didn’t have (or didn’t know) of most of Scripture for the first few centuries.  If Scripture is argued to be fully determinative for the church on how it worships and believes, and such a Scripture was simply not there, this is a major problem!

This is not a major problem for those ecclesial traditions that rely on Tradition as a mode of receiving and passing down the faith.  They argue that Tradition and the leadership of bishops who physically succeed the apostles safeguards the deposit of faith.

Intellectually, I am with the latter (Tradition) on this point.  To be fair, though, one must read the best Reformed and Evangelicals on the canon in order to make a fair decision.  I’ve given away most of my library but I’ve kept the best books, I think:  Calvin, Grudem, Berkhof, and Muller.

Calvin:  As is often the case, Calvin doesn’t actually *argue* his position.  He ridicules his opponents and repeats his assertions (he is notoriously inadequate on Christology on this point).

Muller:  Muller places discussion of the canon within its medieval scholastic context (II: 30).  He notes (quite rightly, I think) that medieval discussions of the canon were fluid and probably unnecessary.  He does quote Hugh of St Victor who seemed to say that the Apocrypha is not Scripture.   My thoughts:  he is right on the fluidity of the canon in the Church’s belief.  If you have the gospels, the holy mysteries, and the apostolic deposit (not that Muller is arguing these specific points), a fully intact canon is irrelevant.  In some ways, while I accept the Apocrypha, I agree with Hugh.   There are levels within Scripture.  The Gospel of John is more important than Tobit.

Unfortunately, my discussion of Muller will be way too inadequate for now.  I realize Muller says much more on the Reformed understanding of Canon and I would like to give more weight to his arguments in the future.  (Muller gives more discussion on II:  355-370).

Grudem:  Grudem is probably the most important representative.  He doesn’t weigh the reader down with extraneous details (unlike Berkhof, whose work reads like a foreign language dictionary and will be covered in a later post).  Grudem’s arguments are typically pointed and the reader, even when disagreeing, knows precisely what Grudem is and isn’t arguing.  And unlike most theologians, Grudem can actually write well.

My criticisms of Grudem are along these lines:

  • He assumes whenever the Bible mentions “writing” (or any of its verbal and noun forms), it necessarily means it as an authoritative and codified list that is normative for the community.  But as anyone who has read the Old Testament knows, there are numerous writings in the Old Testament (and also in Jude) that are not canonical and no one (Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox) argues them to be so.  Grudem actually references these writings, but it’s not clear what he is trying to prove.
  • Apropos above, Grudem is committing the “word = concept” fallacy.  When he reads of lists in the Bible, Jewish literature, and in the early Christian church, he thinks they are to be understood in the way “canon” is understood today.  But as Lee McDonald makes clear in his magnificent work on the canon, this is simply not the case.  The early church (at least until St Irenaeus) saw the canon as a story.  St Clement’s community in Egypt saw it as a codified direction for life.  In any case, it wasn’t  a list of Scriptures that are binding.
  • Grudem’s third difficulty is assuming a uniform and early Hebrew canon.  To be fair to all sides, this really is tricky.  If I’m wrong on this point, little in my argument is changed.  On the other hand, Grudem bases much of his position on clinching this argument.  I’m not going to rebut Grudem on this point right now.  It is a long and complicated issue that probably needs a separate post.  Two initial difficulties which Grudem does not address in his text.   Jesus and his apostles used the Septuagint, not the MT.  True, they probably did not think of the list of Septuagintal books as a strict canon (I’m trying to be consistent with my earlier points), but in all likelihood many of the apocryphal works were there and Jesus et al didn’t seem to bothered by them (indeed, one can even maintain that Jesus drew upon apocryphal traditions–…”Berechiah to Zechariah”).  Grudem does not use this line of reasoning for obvious reasons: he would have to admit the apocrypha into the canon.

    Grudem also quotes the Talmud (or parts of it) for rejecting the apocrypha.  Unlike Grudem, who is trying to be a good Christian, the Talmud is very consistent in its reasons for rejecting the apocrypha.  The Talmud says that books like Wisdom “defile the hands” (largely because of the heavy Messianic overtones in the LXX.  It also says the same things about many of the prophets).  Secondly, if one is appealing to the Talmud against early Christian witness, one is in a very precarious situation.  The Talmud also makes scathing sexual references to Christ, Mary, and even condemns to hell many Jewish prophets who criticized Israel.  True, Grudem didn’t have that in mind, but perhaps he needs to understand why the Talmud rejects these books.  The Talmud rejects the Apocrypha for the same reason it rejects Christ:  it points away from ethnic Israel as the focal point of salvation.

There are several issues that still need to be addressed:

  1. The nature of the early formation of the Old Testament Hebrew canon.
  2. Muller and Berkhof on the formation of the canon.
  3. Jesus’s possible use of the apocryphal tradition.

Review of Gregory of Nyssa: Works and Treatises

As is usually the case with the Schaff editions of the Church Fathers, the individual volumes are marked both by triumph and failure (the failure always on the part of the editors). First, a few critical comments on the arrangement of the material. Then, an examination of Gregory’s theology. Gregory’s response to the Second Book of Eunomius does not have subsections, making it difficult to follow and impossible to cross-reference. Yet, many of the leading monographs point to key arguments in this book by subsection, which the editors left out. The same applies to On the Soul and the Resurrection. Thirdly, the editors have frequent footnotes to material and sidebars that have little to do with the current discussion. Concentrating on reading small font, double-columned pages is difficult enough without distractions. Fourthly, the editors try to force Gregory to affirm later post-Reformation Anglican theology (e.g., they are visibly disturbed that Gregory did not affirm the Filioque and thus conclude his “doctrine of the Holy Spirit is undeveloped”).

The Content of Gregory’s Theology
Gregory’s theology can be seen as a division between Uncreated reality and created reality. While capable of standing alone, it is best seen as a critique of Eunomius’ heresy. The main point of contention is Eunomius maintains that the Son and the Holy Spirit are part of created reality (p. 56; all page references are to the specific pages in the Schaff edition). Eunomius would also reduce the divine essence to “Ungenerateness.” He does this because he knows the Son is not Ungenerate; therefore, the Son is not of the essence of the Father and is reduced to created reality.

Gregory is at pains to respond accordingly: we cannot know the divine essence (103; 257). If we cannot know the divine essence, then Eunomius cannot define and reduce the divine essence to “Ungenerateness.” Rather, we know God by his operations/energies (221–God is above every name; God’s names are not interchangeable with his essence, contra later Augustinians; God’s names are rather identified with his energies. Cf David Bradshaw’s response to David Bentley Hart in Orthodox Readings of Augustine; see p. 265 for a very clear distinction between essence and energies; see page 328–we can only know the divine nature by the operations).

How successful was St Gregory in refuting Eunomius? In terms of clarity he wasn’t very successful. St Basil was more clear and St Gregory Nazianzus had more rhetorical flair. St Gregory of Nyssa, though, while perhaps not entirely accomplishing his objective, did clearly delineate the distinction between essence and energies, which would have huge implications in later Filioquist and Roman Catholic debates.

To be fair, there is a section early in the first response to Eunomius where Gregory identifies God with the Good. Many prematurely conclude that Gregory taught a form of Absolute Divine Simplicity. However, knowing that Gregory is a Platonist of sorts, and keeping in mind Plato’s discussion in The Republic. To identify the divine essence with the Good is clearly a Platonic way of thinking about or structuring the matter. The missing piece here is the Platonic way, from Plato’s Republic (509b) of thinking about the Good. Plato says that the form of the good is superior to all other forms since all other forms have it as their end. Which is another way of saying that people do what they think is good (even if they happen to be wrong about what is good.) The key part here is what Plato says in 509b, which is that the Good is huper ousia or beyond being. If the Good is beyond being then there can be no identity thesis, since identity or sameness is applicable to things that be. Consequently for Nyssa and other Cappadocians we do not and cannot know the divine essence (hence no beatific vision like Catholicism or Protestantism). Simplicity for them like say Maximus or John of Damascus is an energy as well.

If simplicity is an energy, then the Identity thesis makes no sense whatsoever. This is one of the fault lines between Latin Scholasticism and Orthodoxy. We both agree that God is superessential or beyond being but disagree on what that means. They take huper ousia to be a certain notion of being, we take it to be not being in any way what so ever. Here is a way to *try* and thinking about it. Ad intra and essentially, God is not something, but he’s not nothing either. Welcome to the world of divine incomprehensibility.

Gregory the Philosopher
Gregory has several treatises on Virginity, the Death of Infants, the Making of Man, and Last Things. In terms of historical theology, Gregory’s conclusions are perhaps more important than his individual arguments. While Gregory affirms the superiority of the Virgin life, many scholars rightly see him urging the purifying of the soul from all earthly good. On The Death of Infants Gregory marks a clear break with the Augustinian west–Gregory placing infants in the category of the saved. While Gregory appears to affirm a form of purifying fire after death, it is different from Purgatory and Limbo.

Gregory and the Church
Gregory clearly affirms baptismal regeneration (62 and 519). Per the Eucharist we must eat the life-giving Christ to undo the poison of the first eating (504-515). We also see that the early church practiced unction (321).

Conclusion
If one is trying to read through the Cappadocian Fathers, read Gregory of Nyssa last. Granted the difficult topic, Gregory is still difficult to read. He himself admits he wanders from the topic on a regular basis. He assumes the reader is familiar with Platonic philosophy. Even so, his theology represents important road marks in the Church’s confession of the Holy Trinity.

The Seal of the Fathers

St Cyril of Alexandria is the sphragidis of the Fathers, the seal of the Fathers.   While he is not the last word in Christology, he was an able summarizer of Christological thought and was remarkably consistent.  He’s also disliked among academics today.  St Cyril played hardball and it seemed like he used unsavory means to keep heretics from being represented at Council.

Prof McGuckin dismantles these myths.  McGuckin a) exposes the postmodern and elitist presuppositions of the university professors and b) offers a different angle on the Nestorian Controversy—and he does it with dash, flair, and humor.

To be fair, though, it is difficult to know exactly what Nestorius actually believed.  Nestorius was accused of maintaining there were two persons in Christ, a position he seemed to deny.  Yet McGuckin makes clear that Nestorius believed in two prosopon in Christ.  This word can mean “person” but doesn’t always, and that appeared to give Nestorius an out.  Yet as McGuckin and St Cyril make clear, Nestorius nonetheless held to two operating principles in Christ.  (At this point McGuckin gives a long summary of Nestorius’s Christology.  In short, it reads:

  • Extreme divine impassibility:  the Logos cannot suffer (131).
  • Christ’s two natures remain ontologically apart, existing side by side (135).
  • The Church’s confession of Christ should always begin with his double reality (156).

On pp. 138ff McGuckin gives a helpful summary of the meanings of ousia, physis, hypostasis, and prosopon.

Cyril’s Christology

Before examining St Cyril’s Christology, McGuckin surveys Apolloniarius’s Christology.  While denounced as a heretic (and rightly so), Apollonaris put his finger on many important points.  To put it another way, while Apollonaris’s heresy was bad, it set the stage for Cyril’s triumph.  Apollonaris saw the important point that had to be maintained:  the single subject of the Logos (179).

Redemptive Deification

St Cyril’s Christology was tied to his soteriology:  “The incarnation was a restorative act designed for the ontological reconstruction of a human nature that had fallen into existential decay as a result of its alienation from God” (184).  The Logos appropriates human nature—and this human nature becomes that of one who is God—the human nature is lifted up to extraordinary glory.

St Cyril also offers us a way to think about divine impassibility:  we should see the intimacy of the connection between the two realities of Christ…In the incarnation the power of the one transforms and heals the fallibility of the other.

“The human nature is conceived as the manner of action of an independent and omnipotent power—that of the Logos; and to the Logos alone can be attributed the authorship of, and responsibility for, all its actions” (186).    The subject is unchanged, but that subject now expresses the characteristics of his divinely powerful condition in and through the medium of a passible and fragile condition.

Of course, St Cyril ties this in with the holy mysteries (188).  The believer is deified because the encounter brings him into life-giving proximity with the Logos—and this proximity was the metaphysical root of all being.

St Cyril’s vision was the transformation of the human race according to the paradigm of divine appropriation of a human nature in the incarnation (188).

The Ecumenical Reception of St Cyril

Cyril preferred to say that Christ was of two natures, placing the stress on the Incarnation (231).

McGuckin scores major points in noting that St Leo’s Tome actually had to pass muster before it was excepted.   The Church didn’t merely receive it and note, “Leo has spoken.  The end.”  They said this, but only after it passed a Cyrillene test.   Why did they praise Leo?  Because his Tome agreed with Cyril and the Fathers, not merely because he was “pope.”

Conclusion

This was a fantastic book.  It is truly one of the great books written on Christology.  Because of the timeline it does not deal with later concerns about the energies and wills of Christ.  However, it wonderfully ties in ecclesiology, Christology, soteriology, and the Eucharist into one prism which then sheds multi-perspectival light on the Church.

Is Monarchy Part of the Natural Order?

There is an interesting debate among political theologians to whether government is part of the created order, or did it arise from man’s sin?  This has always been a tough question for me and I can see both points of view. I’ll consider them briefly,

Government is Part of the Created Order

Hierarchy is natural to creation.  Thus, creation has a hierarchical order.  Further, Adam was called to rule over creation.

Government is not Part of the Created Order

Monarchs exist because of man’s sin.  Monarchs rule because man otherwise will not be represented fairly (only those with ties to big media and big money will be represented).  The monarch is to transcend and offer a just judgment.  This complex, however, only exists because of sin.

Conclusion

So which is it?  If I were more Hegelian, I would run a dialectic–which I might do later.

A Maximian Dialectic?

Hegel:  Thesis/Antithesis –> Synthesis.

St Maximus the Confessor:  Genesis/Kinesis –> Stasis.

But for the dialectic to be consistent, the synthesis functions as a new thesis, which would repeat the dialectical process.  How does a Maximian answer that?

First, to note, it is not the “same” triad as the beginning.  Secondly, we demur with Herr Hegel at this point.  But Hegel was on to something, no?  The stasis per Maximus is not static.  It is referring to our place in glory, which should be seen as “an ever-receding horizon.”

Hegelian Reflection on Monarchy

Taken from Philosophy of Right, section 274.  I’m largely summarizing Fr. Coplestone’s narrative on Hegel.

Hegel gives primacy to constitutional monarchy, but wants a government that allows civic participation.  Citizens should participate in government as part of a subset of the whole–not as individuals.  Hegel calls these subsets “corporations.”  I don’t know to what extent corporations in the mid-19th century resemble corporations today.  But we can view it another way by calling them “estates,” which is exactly how medieval many participated in the monarchical order.

Hegel wants a constitutional monarchy, to which I have grave misgivings.  I understand why, though.  At that time in Europe, the old liturgical tradition had largely been eradicated.  Institutions tended to reflect raw power.   Hegel likely say monarchies as absolute monarchies and wanted to mute that tendency.

Differance as Opposition as Epistemological Violence

In my last post on postmodernism, I ended saying that one of the defining characteristics of postmodernism is “differance.”  But I didn’t give a good explanation of differance.  To be fair, postmodern literature is often murky, but I think the paths along the swamp are clearly enough lit.

Two ways to explain differance

The first way is to say that meaning is always deferred.   We can never fully answer a question with an appeal to a single word.  When we answer, our words often appeal (defer) to yet another word (pardon the terribly short synopsis).

The second way is that differance creates ontological space.  This can be space between entities or space between concepts.  Differance can also be the creation of hierarchies.  When I say this isn’t that, I am differentiating objects (or people, or concepts).  This is fairly harmless, but it also involves a potentially volatile process.  By differentiating entities, I am also creating “oppositions.”

Oppositions are not necessarily violent.  God’s differance with his creation can be seen as harmony, not violence.  But in today’s discourse, it often is violent.  For the academy today, oppositions usually mean someone creates an “other.”  The “other” is often seen as a scapegoat or a symbolic representation of the dangers to “the society.”

This is merely a literary exploration.

Review of *Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview*

Time and a second reading, along with various shifts in worldview, can fundamentally alter one’s perception of an author.  My first experience with Moreland and Craig, Moreland in particular, was *Love your God with all Your Mind.*  Despite the title’s fluffy, evangelicalish devotional appeal, LYGWALM actually was very rigorous and probably did more for getting my intellectual life started than anything else.

I decided to read everything by Moreland (and Craig).  Since *Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview* had just come out in 2003, I felt it would be a good text to read.

When I got it though, I experienced several let-downs.  It was waay over my head.  And the parts I did understand I had to reject:  Molinism and the classical arguments for the existence of God.  I was a committed Calvinist at this time).  I didn’t put it away, though.  I began studying ethics and Moreland/Craig’s section on ethics, emphasizing the roles of normative, situational, and personal ethics, was outstanding.

About 6 years later I began rethinking many of Augustinianism’s claims and read the Greek Fathers.  I saw that Moreland/Craig were wrestling with the exact same philosophical issues that the Greek Fathers were (though they were not as successful as the Fathers).

The Book’s Value:
They show the philosophical difficulties with all of Western philosophy (and theology).  I suppose one may label Augustine as the Father of Western Theology (and much of Western philosophy at that).  Unfortunately, being Evangelicals and not fully epistemologically self-conscious, Moreland/Craig rarely offer satisfactory alternatives.  Therefore, I suggest that we read Moreland/Craig similar to the way we read Plato:  very good but only “almost there.”

The Book’s Highpoints:
1.  Excellent, if somewhat intellectually painful, chapter on how to do logic.  Be warned, this is very, very hard to read.

2.  Gives a good discussion on whether knowledge is really “justified, true belief.”

3.  Introduces the reader to the categories of time, substance, and space.

4.  Very good internal critique of Scient(ISM)’s presuppositions.  Completely defangs modern science.

5. Excellent discussion on the nature of ethical reasoning.

6.  Good critique of the Western doctrine of Absolute Divine Simplicity.

Cons of the Book:
1.  This book is simply too hard and inaccessible for most people.

2.  I admit–I now see that their proofs for the existence of God are logically compatible.  I reject the presuppositional critique of the Five ways.  However, who has actually been convinced by this reasoning?

3.  The chapter on Molinism is very interesting and I agree with their critiques of Calvinian determinism.  However, I am not sure Molinism isn’t itself another variant of Augustinian determinism.

Conclusion:
As a reference resource, this book is outstanding.  However, to fully understand what they are saying, one needs to read upper-level philosophy and theology for about a year (I had to study for three or four years) to really understand what they are saying.

Dialectic of Russian Tsarism

This is heavily influenced by Matthew Johnson’s The Dialectics of Russian History, though I hope in future installments I will demonstrate some differences between Dr Johnson and myself.

Thesis:  Old Russia was Holy Rus’.  It’s monarchy was placed in the nexus of Liturgy, Icon, and the Free Commune (think something along the lines of village and Cossack).

Antithesis:  early Romanov and especially Petrine Russia maintained outward appearance of monarchy and monastery, but they were radically transformed.   The “inner logic” of the above nexus (thesis) was broken, leaving the functioning to external, and later, authoritarian controls.

Even this Tsarism was to be supplanted by a more radical form.  The Bolsheviks destroyed the antithesis (the antithesis having largely eradicated the thesis).  From the fall of the Bolsheviks, a number of interesting possibilities open in light of the thesis and antithesis:

  • It is unlikely that “Holy Rus'”  will ever be restored.  I even have my douts a Tsar will sit on the throne (given the Romanovs less than admirable history, I don’t see why one wants a Romanov, but I’m not commited either way).  However, Russians have long memories.  When Alexey II rebuilt much of Russia from the Soviets, he employed–whether fairly or not–ancient Russian categories.
  • After the Bolshevik period, may we posit a new synthesis for understanding Russian culture?  I think we can.

Synthesis:  Today’s Russia has the outward forms of representative government, but retains the authoritarian inner core.  The Bolshevik period destroyed much of the church structure formed by the antithesis.  The Russian Church is now separate from the State.  This is good.  Unlike America, though, it is not divorced from the State.  This, too, is good.

Full Book Review 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 andcannot 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).

Prologue

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.

They argue that Alexey II is rebuilding Russia along the lines of cleansing, history, and sobornost–all explicitly Orthodox categories but also subverting the Soviet trinity of ideology, party, and narodnost.

Throughout the book GG shows a remarkable ability to fairly capture the essence of a very different viewpoint.  Sadly, this does not last.

The Gerrards, writing either as nominal liberal Protestants and secularists, previously surprised me by defying all liberal and neo-conservative academic standards when dealing with Russia.  They rightly identified Russia as a medieval civilization that will never be Western, despite the aims of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Even more surprising was their painstakingly accurate (and fairly sympathetic) description of Russian Orthodoxy and liturgy.  This is enough to get one fired and blacklisted from the academy.  The Gerrards are to be commended.

Sadly, though, they put the breaks on that tendency.  Their thesis in this chapter is straightforward and noncontroversial:  Patriarch Alexey II had to steer the chaotic Russia of the 1990s from a swirling ebb of volatile currents:  Sovietism, neo-liberalism, and the bane of this chapter, monarchism and anti-semitism.  They answer this question–and I think they are correct simply at the level of the question–that Alexey II reigned in the excesses of monarchist thought by steering the cult of St Seraphim of Sarov to more constructive outlets.

A few words before I proceed.  What happened to the Jews in Germany in the 1940s was terrible, regardless of the numbers one posits.   Furthermore, some of the Tsarist pogroms, while wildly overblown in the Western universities, cannot be justified and no one is seeking to justify them.

In what I am about to say, I am not making value judgments against the Jewish race.  When I refer to the Talmud–seen as authoritative by most Jewish communities–I am simply stating historical facts.  I am not making Shlomo jokes.

The Gerrards seek to tar monarchism by connecting it to the allegedly forged “Protocols of Zion.”  I don’t know if they are forged or not.  I’ve seen decent arguments from both sides.  I think the truth is far more complex and few scholars are capable of giving a balanced and emotionally-neutral analysis of it.    Let’s pretend they are forged.   Where do you think the Tsarist policeman who forged them got his material?  The Gerrards suggest that he cut and pasted a French satiric play on Napoleon III and transformed it to a meeting of the Jews.  Okay, let’s go with that.  Suppose he did precisely that.  He still had to fill in the content.  Where did he get that content?  This is a question the Gerrards do not ask.

I submit that he got the content from Talmudic and Kabbalistic sources.  But let’s pretend that I am wrong and he did not.  If one compares the content of Protocols to what’s written in the Talmud, and then note that 1/3 of the Supreme Court (assuming Kagan is passed) is Jewish, and that the FED has Jewish connections (which no one will deny), and that Hollywood is largely Jewish (Joel Stein, a Jew, boasted of that fact), as well as most media outlets, well–the Protocols seem rather tame at this point.

I’m not really interested in whether the Protocols are forgeries.  I don’t care at the moment.   I am simply pointing out that Eastern European resentment against Jews didn’t just materialize out of thin air.  It had to have catalysts.  Of course, violence against Jews is not a good thing.

The Gerrards have barely-concealed contempt for the Royal family and smear the family with a crudely rehashed anti-Russian reading of history.  I have some questions for them:

  • You criticize the National Orthodox Movement for blaming the Royal family’s murders on the Jews.  What are the last names and religious convictions of the murderers?  (The Gerrards anticipate this question and say that Sverdlov and others “weren’t practicing Jews.”  In other words, they acknowledge the point behind the charge without admitting it).  However, to say that the Jews who killed the tsar aren’t “practicing Jews” is irrelevant.  You can be secularist and Jewish at the same time as long as you keep the rituals.
  • What’s the significance of the symbols Sverdlov and others wrote on the wall with the Tsar’s blood?
  • What religio-ethnic affiliation did many of the early Soviet commisars claim?
  • Why were Jews so heavily represented in all the terror cells in the late 19th century?

The point is for all of the problems of the early monarchists in the 1990s, they had legitimate questions.

Then the Gerrards utterly ruin the chapter with an irrelevant section on how evil the Serbs are.  Now I know CNN is funding this book (actually, Princeton is but my point is the same).  They claim the Serbs did bad things, but so did the Muslims and Croats.  But who’s to blame?  The Serbs.

Actually, that section on the Serbs is not irrelevant.  It plays into the Regime’s mindset nicely.  The Gerrards’ early chapters on the beauty of Orthodoxy should not mislead you. The Regime (Beltway Alliance, London, Tel Aviv, etc) is not anti-religion.  It is pro-religious expression as long as that religious expression does not challenge the Regime.  The Serbs (and Russian nationalists) know that religious questions cannot be “isolated” from other questions, and for that they are hated.  This is because GG are jaded postmodernists.  Religion is good, especially if ran as a critique of modernity, but it should never be exalted as a metanarrative.  This is the ideology of the Gerrards, whether they admit it or not.

Are they Hungtindonians?

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.

A Faith-Based Army

Christ told his followers to be gentle as doves but wise as serpents.   Alexey II’s wisdom–indeed cunning–is evident in this chapter.   After the Soviet Union’s debacle in Afghanistan, coupled with the fall of the USSR and the ignomious outing of the Red Army from Eastern Europe (forcing to leave behind value military hardware), the Red Army suffered a severe morale crisis.   At times, 60% of conscripts failed to report for duty, and many that did suffered severe hazing rituals.

Alexey’s dream was to have chapels on military bases, but this was a hard sale in the 1990s.   However, many mothers of soldiers were complaining that their sons were suffering from the hazing rituals (many in fact died as a result of hazing).  The military command said if the soldier had a problem, he should go to his superior officer.  The mothers countered that this was pointless if the superior officer was the one beating the soldier!  The mothers also staged a street protest in front of Western media, calling the situation to a crisis-point.

The generals were faced with a dilemma:  if they kept up the hazing, they would become an international spectacle of brutality.  If they gave in to the mothers’ demands, they would be a laughingstock.  In steps Alexey II.  He (publicly) told both sides he would mediate.  He asked the generals if Orthodox clerics could have chapels on bases; this would allow soldiers to come to their priests if they have problems.  The priests then appeal to the commanding officers.  This way the issue stays within the military.  In short, he offered the military a way out.  He told the mothers that their sons would have a support network and different lines of appeal.  The mothers agreed.

Other moves Alexey made:  while turning Russia largely back to Orthodoxy, Alexey very wisely refrained from wanting a state religion.   He also acknowledged the cultural presence of Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism in Russia.   Alexey also worked very hard at calming a lot of Islamic tensions in southern Russia.

This was a very good chapter showing how brilliantly Alexey played the chaos of the 1990s, steering Russia back to order.

Sadly, the authors deliberately ruin the chapter.  They bring up how stupid and evil they think the Tsars were.  They ridicule Nicholas II’s attempt at command in WWI, accusing him of losing millions of soldiers against the Japanese and Central Powers. A few words:

  • First, this is irrelevant to the chapter and quite likely a scholarly faux pas.
  • For all of his faults, Nicholas II–and his army–completely destroyed the Austrian empire (wasting Austria’s entire army several times), forcing German generals to pull key divisions from France back to the Eastern Front. (Unfortunately, this probably saved France and England from the ass-whooping they so richly deserved.)
  • At the end of 1905, while it appeared that Japan had thoroughly defeated Russia, what is not mentioned in history books is that Japan was begging America to intervene and call for peace.  Why?  Japan–and Russia–knew that legions of Tsarist troops were en route from Europe across Siberia.  It simply took a long time by train.   Japan’s resources were exhausted.  Had the war been continued with the rest of the Tsarist troops, Russia would have likely owned all of northern China and northern Japan.

These unscholarly rants no longer bother me.  I realize the authors are jaded postmodernists and this is part of their worldview.

Conclusion:

Despite all the horrible side-problems with the book, it is a good and welcome study.  It summarizes (and sometimes makes known previously secret material) a lot of difficult and often conflicting information.  Given that the authors are Lutheran and secularist, they are able to approach the “Sergist” controversy with some objectivity.

Unfortunately, the authors’ jaded postmodernism ruins much of the book.  Good scholarship, especially on the university level, is supposed to avoid value-judgments and emotionally-explosive language as much as possible.  Scholars are to be those individuals who are serene and can transcend the current debate (of course, anyone in academia knows this is a laughing joke).  The Gerrards, unfortunately, seem to want to violate those canons.

It’s not worth the $29 at amazon.  However, if found cheaper one should get it.  Their strength is in post-soviet history.  One needs to supplement this study with other studies, though, since the authors are woefully inadequate on pre-Revolutionary Russia.