Evolution of a theological hit-man

I’m always wary of doing biographical posts, but this one is sufficiently vague and helps me see from whence I came.   I stole the title from the book Confessions of an Economic Hit-Man.  I haven’t read the book, but that is probably the best title of any book, ever.

In the early 2000s I went from a Baptist mindset to a Reformed Baptist mindset.   From then, as was natural with 95% of Reformed Baptists, I went full Reformed paedobaptist.  As a Presbyterian, I was a student of Van Til and Bahnsen.   Because I majored in American history in college, and had an interest in cultural apologetics, I became a student of Rushdoony (circa 2004 to 2007).

While Rushdoony had problems, he wrote well, exposed Reformed pietism for what it was, and sought to think Christianly about every arena in which he could live his life.   As long as one understands the Christological problems he got into because of his Calvinism, I think one can certainly read Rushdoony with profit.


Between him and Bahnsen I must have listened to over 1,000 lectures on philosophy, law, theology, and apologetics.  I do not boast.  I speak as a fool.

I knew, though, in order to be fully competent in apologetics, I needed to have a good handle on philosophy.   While Van Til specialized in rebutting Hegelian Idealism, and Bahnsen looket at Wittgenstein, and Rushdoony at Berkeley, I thought, whether rightly or wrongly, that my reading would go with the European Continental philosophers.   In order to read them, I started reading Dooyeweerd.  However, since Mellen Press was then selling Dooyeweerd for the cheap price of $400, and that after volume 1 Dooyeweerd was basically incomprehensible, I decided to settle for reading some of his leading interpreters, namely James K. A. Smith.

Smith is an engaging thinker.   He took many of Dooyeweerd’s thoughts, placed them into the Radical Orthodoxy matrix, and mix it with a heavy dose of postmodern liturgical theology.  Much of Smith’s project, while superior to the rest of Calvinism, suffers from most of the bizarre inanity in the Emergent Church movement.  It is one thing to critique George W. Bush and pretend you are the Prophet Jeremiah in doing so, it is another to offer a hermeneutics and ethics that doesn’t deconstruct (pun intended) into literary and ethical relativism.

Fortunately, though, Smith got me reading Robert Webber. Webber introduced me to the idea of Christus Victor.    Around the same time I started reading more of the Fathers and Orthodox guys, though I must admit I didn’t know much of what I was talking about and reading back then.

The Media’s War against Mladic, Serbia, and Christian Nationalism

The following essay has several aims:  to respond to the current excitement concerning General Mladic’s arrest, the nature of Western interventionism, not only in Serbia, but wherever they choose in the world, and to partially review John Norris’s Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo (I didn’t get a chance to read the entire book.  It was on loan from the library but that doesn’t matter.  It is pure CNN propoganda.   If you watched any of the news concerning the Balkans in the past ten years, or read an issue of Time on some such matter, you can predict, almost word-for-word (since the media operates via sloganeering) what Norris will say.

Mladic, Srebenica, and War Crimes

Both Serbian commentators and CIA analysts have thoroughly debunked the claim that Srebenica was a “genocide.”  I will do little more than summarize Schindler’s conclusion,

The one area of the war that always gets mentioned is the final Serb assault on the town of Srebenica, with the alleged slaughter of 7,000 Muslim men and boys.   Several things must be noted:  1) it is acknowledged that 7,000 men of the Bosnian Muslim infantry were executed in military fashion; 2) Muslims recruit boys to fight for them;[3] 3) the town was not surrounded by the Serbs, thus allowing noncombatants to leave the city; 4) given that the city was controlled by Muslims gang leaders, many Muslims actually deserted to the Serb camp—this fact alone demonstrates how untenable the Hague narrative is:  if the Serbs simply wanted to ethnically-cleanse the entire town, they would have done a better job of surrounding it and killing those leaving the city; 5) Alija Izetbegovic knew that he could never defeat the Serbian army alone and had to find a way to enlist outside help.   The Clintonistas knew they couldn’t actually start attacking the Serbs without provocation.  A deal was made:  Izetbegovic would abandon his own people to be slaughtered, provoking international outcry and response.

What is Nationalism?

Christian conservatives in America, weary of the war-mongering of the past few generations, and rightly suspicious that many grass-roots Americans are identifying God and Country, decry this as “nationalism.”  I maintain nothing is the sort.  Nationalism springs from the ethnos and is an organic development of the community.    Nationalism is certainly not this American phenomenon for several reasons:   1) America has no identifiabl “ethnos” (aside, perhaps, from the vague “white” and “black” races, but even then that is highly disputable), and 2) what these conservative Christians are rightly decrying is the neo-con/neo-lib projection of late 20th century market values over other communal and religious traditions.   Therefore, nationalism is not what these conservatives fear, for what they fear is actually trying to destroy nationalism! (for the ultimate proof of this, consider how the media, whether right-wing or left-wing, condemns any kind of “bad guy” as an “ultra-nationalist).

Kosovo:  The Coming Russian Confrontation

Norris, John.  Collision Course:  Nato, Russia, and Kosovo.  Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005.

This book is essentially a manifesto for neo-liberal interventionism.  It makes little attempt at objectivity.   The leaders of the Slavic world can do nothing correctly, except as they agree to Western dictums.   The book itself is quite valuable, if not necessarily for the reasons the author and publisher think:  it documents the inevitable failure of a country (e.g., empire) trying to impose outside values upon traditional and regional communities.

In many ways the book summarizes the lead-up to the war, the nature of the Allied coalition, and the political consequences throughout and following the war.  This review will largely avoid those issues as they are thoroughly covered elsewhere.   Rather, the reviewing will focus on insights from Norris’ experiences and thoughts resulting from those insights.

The book begins on a painful note.  The author of the foreword, Strobe Talbott, is acting like a Clintonian cheerleader.  He is guilty of “loaded language” and bias.  His particular argument asks, quite rightly, what should be the conditions for empire, I mean, intervention.  He notes that military force should only be used when diplomatic means are exhausted, that it guarantees safety to both the “victims” of the aggression and the regular citizenry, and that it ensures stability in the region.  Talbott claims it gloriously met all of those goals.   The truth, though, is that NATO failed in all of the above:  It was the Russians, not NATO bombers, that brought Milosevic to the table; the United States rejected numerous diplomatic proposals from the Bosnian Serbs and actually urged Izetbegovic to reject peace and go to war[i] (!), and Serbs living in Bosnia and Kosovo today are facing a genuine ethnic cleansing on the level of which Milosevic was accused.

Reading Between the Lines 

While NATO was technically victorious, it nearly lost the war and created several far greater disasters.  Many of the Allies did not even want to proceed with air strikes, and the more traditional and Christian members like Italy and Greece, nearly withdraw when NATO insisted on bombing Orthodox Christians during Pascha.   Another point of contention was Russia.  When Russia advised Serbia in this war, Russia was weak, bankrupt, and internally divided.   That said, Russian special forces nearly captured several key airports in Kosovo.  They actually could have done this quite easily, but Yeltsin was not committed.  Had Russia proceeded, and American brass admits it could not have stopped Russia, then a combined Russian-Serbian movement would have easily won the war.[ii]  Think about it for a second:  if a poorly equipped, disillusioned Russian force under Yeltsin could have accomplished this, imagine what a modern Russian army under Putin could have done?[iii]

Had several Allies withdrawn from the campaign (which even US State officials expected them to do), combined with Russian forces seizing key Kosovar airports, along with NATO’s inability to decide on air strikes or sending ground troops, and with the general instability of the region (Norris, 30), NATO—or more precisely, the Anglo-Americans—would have lost this war.  While sending ground troops would have ended the conflict quickly, the costs would have been enormous.   The Serbs, holed up in the mountains, have a history of breaking empires.  It would have been Afghanistan/Iraq to the nth power.

Presuppositions Determine Evidence

Despite the flaws and biases of this book, CNN, and the Clinton Administration, Serbophiles have to face up to the fact of genocide and war crimes.   Did Milosevic carry out ethnic cleansing against the Albanians?    Given the fact that the Hague could never decisively prove this at the ICC (along with Milosevic’s mysterious death), the answer has to be “no.”  Were Serbs guilty of violence against the Albanians?  Probably, but this was no different from the Allied treatment of German civilians during WWII (Dresden, anyone?).

As other CIA analysts (Schindler) have noted, Muslim forces have long used “safe havens” as staging points for attacks on Serb forces; therefore, when the Serbs retaliate, it seems like they are attacking civilians.

Conclusion

Despite the “CNN-idolizing” feel of the book, the author has correctly identified Kosovo has a symbolic defining point between East and West.[iv]  In other words, the actions in Kosovo will determine not only Russia-America relations, but also how the “international community” can respond to situations within national borders.

The most obvious reason leading to American bombing is the alleged ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians by Milosevic.  I say “alleged” because the charges against Milosevic were never proven at The Hague.  (There is a reason Milosevic died under mysterious circumstances).  In fact, one cannot escape the impression that the West orchestrated this war.   The West routinely rejected halts to the bombing and rejected several overtures at peace, overtures largely favorable to NATO and brokered by Russia (p. 19-21).[v]  As other analysts have made clear, NATO needed Kosovo as an oil transit.[vi] Accordingly, peace was unacceptable as long as Kosovo remained in Serb hands.

One other point of contention:  The CIA had already identified the Kosovo Liberation Army as a terrorist group.   Given that, how come Norris never discussed the criminal (and violently anti-American) actions of the KLA?  The fact he doesn’t mention this shows how much this book is pure propaganda.  (Milosevic pointed this out to Albright, which Albright derisively dismissed.  One thinks the reason is obvious).

Given that this book is written by an “Establishment man,” and to a large degree, the author’s protests notwithstanding, this book unofficially represents the Western Establishment on interventionism.   Given that high pedigree, high standards are required of the book.  Unfortunately, this book fails on a scholarly level.  I do not fault the author for citing sources—much of the information can be found elsewhere, and the author does give a thorough bibliography and an extensive index.   Rather, the author uses loaded language on every page.    I think if one looks beneath this language one sees a “quiet desperation.”  The Clinton Administration must justify its position continually.  Kosovo today is a failure by anyone’s reckoning.   The administration knows it has broken international law in intervening, and the record since then is a poor one.  In other words, the Regime (rightly) suspects its authority and dignity is now illegitimate and it lacks moral force for any of its actions.   Clinton, Talbott, and Norris are right to be nervous.  The international community and nationalists elsewhere are calling their bluff.


[i] Cf. John Schindler, Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al Qai’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad. St. Paul: MN, Zenith Press, 2007.

[ii] And likely started a nuclear WWIII.

[iii] This is a very real question.  The Kosovo question is still under discussion and NATO’s sabre-rattling towards Russia has not helped.

[iv] For more on the “East vs. West” conflict, see Samuel Huntingdon’s rightly famous The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,  New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 1996.

[v] One cannot help but see just how sick and evil Madeline Albright truly is.   She refused peace at any price—refusing to even tell Milosevic how he could stop the war aside from the vague refrain “stop the killing.”  Milosevic’s response to Albright was cold, brutal, and perfect:  “Who is killing the Albanians when the bombs are falling?”

[vi] Cf. F. William Engdahl, Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order, Baton Rouge, LA: Third Millennium Press, 2009.

St Olav II: A Template for our War Against Paganism

Last year I came across the life and story of Saint-King Olav II of Norway.  His life gripped me in many ways, for many of my intellectual struggles and concerns about my own life and where I am looking into Orthodoxy coincided around St Olav’s life (and legacy).    Several points about Olav before I elaborate on his and our war against paganism:

  1. He demonstrates that many Northern European countries, even until the time of the Schism, were quite Orthodox.
  2. Even though they were Orthodox, they were distinctively Western cultures and countries.
  3. Thus, Germanic and Scandinavian Orthodoxy was a specifically incarnational Orthodoxy, an Orthodoxy that took root in society’s most basic levels.
  4. Thus, those of us from Northern European stock have precedents, sometimes unknown to us, in Western Orthodoxy.
Olav died in battle defending Christian Norway against those who would return it to Paganism.  While America is not Christian (and even by the most vague standards, it’s debatable if she ever were), America, too, faces an onslaught of paganism.    And perhaps even more than Olav’s Norway, this paganism has governmental and institutional authority.
“God is not separate from the Earth,”
Which means “God = Earth = Earth is God.”
Lest I am misunderstanding him, the pagan groups responded,
“We are Neo-Pagans — implying an eclectic reconstruction of ancient Nature religions, and combining archetypes of many cultures with other mystic and spiritual disciplines — and our beliefs and values are no different from those you describe as your own. Your book, Earth in Balance, is heralded by our People as a manifesto for all we hold dear…Know that there are half million NeoPagans out here who support you, and who voted for you, and who will rally to the aid of your policies for the salvation of the Earth and the reunification of the Great Family”

This was spoken almost fifteen years ago.  No doubt the impetus is stronger.  Let’s ponder St Olav’s last words before leaving,
“Fram, Fram, Kristmen, Korsmen, Kongsmen.”  Forward, Forward, Christ-Men, Cross-Men, King’s-Men
May we, too, have a similar end.

The Story of Celtic Spirituality

Celtic Spirituality

This is an important historical witness, but it is certainly not a “great” book.   It does a valuable job highlighting primarily the praxis of the Celtic[i] church from roughly 350 A.D. to roughly 700 A.D. (these dates are very rough and arbitrary).  The purpose of this review is to place the Celtic praxis within the praxis of the undivided, pre-schism Church of East and West, and to show on the other hand, contra some of the wackiness of New Age proponents today, the Celts did not have this super-magical Christian spirituality that trumps the institutional church.  Indeed, if judged on aesthetic merits alone, the Celts do not stand anywhere close to the Eastern or Western Romans.  This is not to diminish their valuable artistic and scholarly endeavors.[ii] Probably contrary to the editors’ intentions, the book does show that the “Celtic” saints had a praxis that was very close in structure and semblance to the Byzantine Church, allowing for differences in language, culture, and custom.

The book is divided along hagiographical, monastic, liturgical, and homiletical lines.  The hagiography deals with the standard narratives of St. Patrick, Brennan, and a few others.   It is the most valuable section of the book for it clearly details, with indisputable references to primary sources, that the Celtics venerated relics (Davies 100), assumed primacy of Rome (90, 100), and routinely invoked the Saints (94-95).  To the degree that the philosopher John Scotus Eriugena represents their theology, they did not hold to the Filioque.[iii] I’ll let the readers draw their own ecclesiastical conclusions.

The monastic texts are quite interesting.   There is a very interesting section on monastic rules.  Many Protestants are bothered by monastic rules–and I was certainly the case for a while.   Given the presuppositions of sola scriptura, the reality of some Roman Catholic abuses 500 years ago, and the fact that many of the rules seem so…arbitrary, monasticism is usually a hard sale to Protestants.

And while some of the rules probably are “arbitrary,” I am seeing something else at play.   While I can’t speak for Orthodox monasticism elsewhere in the world, and I certainly doubt this collection of texts is exhaustive, the surprising thing is that the rules are quite lax.   More importantly, the rules are given with an eye for “healing” and restoration.  I remember in my Southern Baptist days–and I am sure this is quite true of human nature and psychology in general–whenever I would sin I would feel guilty/let down/betraying myself…etc (and this is probably true of anybody).   I would confess this to my brothers in the youth group (who were likely struggling with many of the same things) and they would say, quite rightly, “Jesus loves you and forgives you.”

I suspect the monks knew that, too.   I also suspect they devised these rules to prevent a lot of the lapses.  Just telling someone, “You’re forgiven.  Just don’t do it again” is true but it doesn’t help restore them (particularly in the more heinous situations).  Abstract guides for repentance are often damaging.  Think about it.    Someone is truly hurting, broken, and quite likely an intellectual and emotional wreck.   Telling that person “don’t worry about.   Be good and it’ll be okay” will likely throw him or her off the deep end.  On the other hand, when both parties (the confessor and the lapsed) acknowledge there is a problem that needs to be concretely addressed, providing a framework for restoration is the epitome of common sense.  So what if scripture alone doesn’t tell one what to do?  This is where sola scriptura mentality is damaging.   Scripture gives very little advice on concrete repentance (just think of the wide array of human potentialities for sin).   Scripture is a healthy guide but it is not the ultimate database from which all answers may be derived.

True, many of the rules seem…odd.   In fact, many of the sins seem odd (how does one willingly have a nocturnal emission?   On another front, how do people lose the Host?).

The section on poetry is interesting, and Macaan’s poem provides a recapitulational economy and ontology that is almost taken directly from St. Irenaeus!  The section on the liturgical texts could have been avoided.   The point of liturgy is that it forms a cohesive whole and tells a rather complex story that is to be enacted.  Simply giving “snippets” of different liturgies destroys the very point of liturgy!   The “theology” section was disappointing because it was misleading.  They don’t truly represent what Pelagius did and did not say.  Knowing Pelagius is called the arch-heretic of the church, wouldn’t it make more sense to give the sections of his theology that landed him in heresy?  Yet, the editors choose a sermon of his that is neutral and could have been preached by anyone in church history.  This is problematic because people who aren’t informed about what Pelagius did and did not believe (which includes 99% of people interested in “Celtic Spirituality” and many Calvinists) will draw the wrong conclusion about Pelagius’ vision.

Conclusion

This book has many uses but also many limitations.   The reader should rightly place the Celts as continuing the Byzantine tradition in Western lands and through Western structures.   One should not overly praise them.  One will find heroic saints among the Celts—saints who should be venerated—but one will not find a theologian on the same level as St Gregory of Nazianzus.   Therefore, and this is the danger that postmoderns will face when they begin reading the Celts, one should not make Celtic practices—especially unique Celtic practices—the standard by which the whole church is to be judged.  If one does, one will soon lose sight of what the Celts did believe (e.g., unity with the whole, institutional church) and begin seeking roots of what made the Celts unique.  At this point, the jump to Druidic paganism is not a far one.  And there are examples of this nonsense.[iv]

The Exciting Part

American Masonic paganism notwithstanding (see above), the Celts do offer a challenge for us today.  Did not Orthodoxy incarnate itself among the Slavs?   Wasn’t the missional superiority of Orthodoxy over Latinism obvious when the Orthodox sought to bring not only the Gospel to the Slavs, but the Gospel (and liturgy) to the Slavs in the Slavs’ language?   Isn’t Orthodoxy an incarnate faith?   Isn’t one implication of the Incarnation that it takes root and the Gospel manifests itself in a culture, thus changing that culture while still retaining the obvious identity of that culture?

The American South and East is heavily Celtic and was founded by Celts, of a sort.  Protestantism is self-destructing by anyone’s observation.  Latin Catholicism will remain taboo for many southern American Protestants.    I’ll let the reader make his or her own conclusions.


[i] Defining this word is essentially impossible, as the editors rightly suspect.   One suspects the word is being used for what it “connotes,” rather than “denotes.”

[ii] Indeed, while Thomas Cahill’s work often receives far more scholarly praise than necessary, he does demonstrate that the Irish did indeed save Western European civilization.

[iii] Erigena, De Divisione Naturae, PL 122, 613

[iv] “Sinister Sites: St. John the Divine Cathedral” Vigilant Citizen.  http://vigilantcitizen.com/sinistersites/sinister-sites-st-john-the-divine-cathedral/ accessed 22 May 2011.

Corpus Mysticum

Review of de Lubac. Henri Cardinal. Corpus Mysticum:  The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006.

De Lubac outlines the origins and evolution of the “three-fold Body of Christ,” particularly as its known by the term “corpus mysticum,” the mystical body.   It is tempting to read earlier phrases for the church—such as “the body of Christ”—back into the phrase “mystical body,” and define it that way.  De Lubac warns against that move, since either the phrase “mystical body” (hereafter MB) is either rare in the Fathers or is not used in the later medieval sense.  The threefold body is the Eucharist, the Church, and the historical body born of the Virgin Mary.

The problem with MB is its ambiguity.  Pre-9th century writers used it as a helpful way to bring together many of the nuances in Eucharistic theology (de Lubac 79).  However, intellectual moves would harden these nuances, place them in opposition with one another, and eventually see a body, or bodies of Christ, different from the one given to us in the Eucharist (162). 

The Dialectic Breaks Down

Besides the relative scarcity of the term (MB) in the Fathers and early Middle Ages, it could still work as a Eucharistic term provided it was carefully defined.   The problem arose when later theologians read current meanings back into the term.  When that happened, the ambiguities in MB hardened into oppositions, and the oppositions broke the synthesis.   De Lubac notes in the older sense of the word (mystery, mystical), the word conveys an action (49).   The Eucharist brings unity to the church.  This is contrasted with later developments:  given the truth of Eucharistic realism (which no one would deny), the problem of “real presence” substituted itself for the real action accomplished in the Eucharist (164).  No longer was the Eucharist seen as bringing unity to the church and uniting us to Christ, but it was seen as something for itself.

Why did Eucharist Realism bring about this problem?  In one sense it did not.  Rather, the nature of the terms were newly redefined, and this redefinition forced other equally valid definitions pertaining to the Eucharist into opposition with one another.  As a result, theologians found themselves forced to choose between St Augustine and St Ambrose (and the rest of the Greek Church).   The later medievals—just like today’s modernists—saw “real” as necessarily opposed to “mystery.”   But for the ancients, mystery simply meant “conveyed an act” (49) and revealed the secrets of heaven (41). It did not mean “not-physical” or “not-real,” thus it did not see itself opposed to realism.   However, men like Berengar and Ratramnus forced this opposition onto Augustinian texts.   Their opponents, while rightly challenging their false doctrine, did not challenge the starting points of their presuppositions.

But what of the ancients that did speak of a “spiritual” body?  Much like the word “mystical,” spiritual simply denoted supernatural or miraculous (141).

The End Result

The ambiguities hardened into oppositions, and the oppositions hardened into dialectics.    Ancients saw the Eucharist as how the church was brought together into Christ.  There could be no separation between the Eucharist, the Church, and the Historical Body for the ancients.  But for the later medieval, per de Lubac’s gloss, it was hard to see how the separation would not have happened.

Conclusion

The book is a landmark book.  It is a fresh discovery of older Patristic readings that were squeezed out by later Scholastic controversies.  While much of de Lubac’s insight into Vatican II proved disastrous for the Catholic Church, one cannot fault his energy and passion for resurrecting the Greek fathers and early Latins, and giving them an equal place at the table.  (A valuable project would be to investigate why de Lubac’s patristic project destroyed much of Vatican II liturgy afterwards, yet the Eastern Churches, using the same fathers, did not face that difficulty, at least not as acutely).

The book is not perfect, though.  Like many of de Lubac’s books, the reader is usually unsure of de Lubac’s point.  De Lubac rarely defines his thesis in clear terms, or if he does, it is only in passing.   The book could have been one hundred pages shorter and much clearer had he removed a lot of extraneous material and sharpened his thesis.  Secondly, and per the above point, it seems de Lubac’s method is to quote as many ancient texts as possible while avoiding integrating them into his argument.  One feels like one is often reading a junior high term paper:  the relevant sources are there, but it is difficult to see how they advance the argument.   Other than that major problem, this book deserves a wide dissemination.

The King’s Two Bodies

Review of The King’s Two Bodies

Ernst Kantorowicz analyzes the development in later medieval political thought by isolating one aspect of it:  the King’s Two Bodies.   By this phrase he means the conjunction of the king’s own natural body with that of the “body politic” (9).   It is not entirely clear exactly what “body politic” denotes, and Kantorowicz’s ambiguity is deliberate:  the phrase shifted in meaning throughout the Middle Ages.   It is Kantorowicz’s further claim that this shift in meaning had theological roots.

Kantorowicz argues, somewhat counter-intuitively, that “The King’s Two Bodies” is a monophysite construction—while purporting to be an analogy between the King and the divine, it actually takes the form of a heretical Christology (14-15; see also p.18).   The charge of monophysitism is somewhat difficult to follow, but Kantorowicz claims it resulted from the indifference (and inability) to properly distinguish the body of the mortal king from the body of his realm (p. 18).    As is evident, the medieval jurists were seeking to imitate their constructions of kingship from Christological truths.   That is nothing new, nor is there anything wrong with it.  The Eastern Romans already were doing that for hundreds of years.   The problem arose when other theological currents changed the way the Church in the West did Christology, and thus changed the way it did politics.

In the early middle ages Western Europe was similar to the Eastern Romans in terms of using Christology to shape kingship.  Both civilizations shared a common faith and used that common faith to understand politics.   They saw the King as imitator of Christ (47).  It should be noted, however, that the Eastern Romans did not use the phrase “King’s Two Bodies” as extensively (at all?) as the West did.  While the phrase wasn’t heretical, per se, it was always attended by many possible dangers.  In either case, both sides saw the King as the representative, not of God the Father, but of Christ.  This reflects the ancient reading of the Old Testament as a revelation of God the Son.   A moment’s meditation on this point will make it obvious:  political theologies are almost always based on the Old Testament simply because it deals with politics more than does the New Testament.  Therefore, one’s reading of the Old Testament will shape the way one does political theology.

The West’s grammar changed, though.   Previously, kingship was done in the context of liturgy.  The King represented Christ’s rule in a mystical way.  He was anointed with oil for the sake of the realm.   He was, in short, an ikon of popular piety.

The watershed mark demonstrating the transition best is the reign of Otto II, and the best way to illustrate this difference is in the ikonography surrounding Otto.  Otto is important for he represents the intersection between the Byzantine East and Frankish West, including the best and worst elements of both.   Kantorowicz contrasts two ikonographic paintings which portray rulers:  the Aachen miniature over against the Reichenau painting of Otto.   The former portrays the Charlemagnic king as the representative of God the Father whereas the Reichenau painting places Otto in the foreground of a Byzantine halo, suggesting he represents Christ (77).

The above is an important point and I suspect the larger part of it is lost upon Kantorowicz.  This ikonography reflects a shift in theology, which probably reflects a shift in the way sacred texts are read.  It was mentioned earlier that the Old Testament was now read, no longer as a revelation of God the Son, but of God the Father.   One could probably take it a step further—it was seen as a revelation of God-in-general.

The Corpus Mysticum

In many ways it is the concept of a “Mystical Body” that contributed to the secularization of Western political thought.   One must avoid, however, overly simplistic reductions regarding the phrase.  The phrase “Mystical Body” originally connoted the interplay between the Eucharist, the body born of the Virgin Mary, and the Church itself.   While the phrase is not Pauline, if left at this stage there is no problem.   As Kantorowicz, drawing upon the work of Henri Cardinal de Lubac, notes, the distinctions between the two bodies hardened into oppositions.   Therefore, the body of Christ per the Church was separated from the body of Christ the Son of God.  While small at first, this opened the door for a secularization of concepts.

The King as Corporation

One suspects that the idea of the “corporation” arrived in the West coterminous with the sharpening of the “King’s Two Bodies.”  Indeed, even if not chronologically accurate, it is logically consistent.  Jurists were puzzled over the problem of whether the king’s other body—his realm—died when he died.  The short answer to this problem was that the king’s other body did not die.  The people were in-corporated into this body and outlived the king.  The canon lawyers coined a phrase for this:  dignitas non moritur—the dignity does not die.

One cannot avoid noticing throughout this work, and if the argument holds then throughout Western history, a progression of concepts regarding political theology.    Like its Byzantine cousin, Western political theology began with liturgical roots (59).  After the Ottonian period, these liturgical roots were translated into secular terms (115).  Therefore, when the King is called a “corpus mysticum,” this cannot be interpreted in early liturgical Christian categories.  Rather, it can only reflect the ongoing secularization.   Because of the hardening of “the King’s two bodies,” jurists had to account for the fact that the second body, the realm, did not die[i], and they could only do this by introducing the idea of the corporation.  Therefore, one can trace the movement of Western political theology along the following line:

Liturgical Kingship à Law-based Kingship à Corporate Kingship à Corporation à The State

Conclusion

This book is a genealogy of political theology.  It traces the rhythm of Western politics through the lens of a highly disputed phrase.   Further, it traces the nuances later attributed to that phrase, and the earth-shattering consequences.  Our only regret is that this was the only book of its kind that Kantorowicz had written.

There are some difficulties with the book, though.   Kantorowicz does not always identify his main point in each chapter, or he might wait until some random moment in the middle of the chapter before he informs the reader of his argument.   Further, there are some portions of the book which do not seem relevant at all (e.g., his extended discussion on medieval English fiscal rights).   On top of all of this is the rather dense style in which he wrote, coupled with the numerous (usually un-translated) sentences and paragraphs in Latin.  One suspects that many of these phrases are indeed central to his main argument, but if one’s grasp of Latin is not on a post-graduate level, the argument will be lost on the reader.

EXCURSUS ON MONARCHICAL POLITICAL THEOLOGY

Thirdly, one suspects that a key point in Kantorowicz’s central thesis is likely lost on the average reader, for Kantorowicz mentions it in passing.  He notes that the phrase “The King’s Two Bodies” has Monophysite tendencies (e.g., the heresy that Christ has only one nature, which is akin to a divino-human hybrid).   For those schooled in church history, this appears counter-intuitive.   “Two Bodies” seems to suggest “two persons,” which is Nestorianism (which is indeed the route many thinkers to the phrase when they referred to the ‘twin-personed’ king).   Further, Western Christologies often have Nestorian tendencies; therefore, it seems odd that a culture operating on a Nestorian Christological structure would employ a Monophysite structure in its political theology.    On the other hand, this might not be too odd.   One should recall St John of Damascus’ dictum that all heresies deconstruct on the same point:  they confuse person and nature.

Regardless, Kantorowicz rightly notes the connection between theological heresy and political theory.   One is reminded, again, of another Patristic father on this matter, St Gregory of Nazianzus.  In his Third Theological Oration St Gregory notes the three opinions about God: monarchy, polyarchy, and anarchy.  St Gregory notes the latter two opinions deconstruct to the same end—chaos.   This leaves monarchy as the only viable option.   English-speaking students are going to miss an important point.    The suffix arche denotes a principle of order for both social and theological ethics.   Therefore, one’s position regarding the Trinity will affect one’s position on politics.


[i] One cannot help by notice the Nestorianism here:  there are two bodies that are separated from each other.  Interestingly, we see that the Monophysite structure of “The King’s Two Bodies” has deconstructed into the dialectically opposite heresy—Nestorianism.

Conversion stories: look while you are leaping

The guy who currently blogs at ViatorChristianus (or something like that; I don’t like linking to guys who were at one time associated with the Federal Vision movement.  It attracts unnecessary traffic and old wars are brought up) did some really good posts on the reasons why one would leave Evangelical and Reformed communities for the epistemological certainty that Roman Catholicism and/or Orthodoxy brings.   And to be fair, he had a lot of good points.  Many guys do convert to Rome/Orthodoxy for some very bad and shallow reasons.

This post is about conversion stories, though not mine:  I have yet to convert to anything.  I am going to get everybody angry in this post, though in a rather unique way.   Orthodox guys will get angry because they will think I am attacking Orthodoxy.  I am doing no such thing.  If anything, I am actually offering something of an apology for looking into Orthodoxy.  Further, I agree with Orthodoxy, but it is still hard to undo 20 years of Evangelical subculture and the expectations that culture brings.   I do ask your pardon.  This post is simply a snapshot of someone along the way (and in one sense it is no different from Fr Peter Gilquist’s experience when he led some evangelicals to Orthodoxy).

Evangelicals will be tempted to say, upon reading of some of my disappointments, “Aha!  We told you it was a dead church and not biblical and not faithful to our American Conservative Republican Christian distinctives.”  To which I urge silence:  Evangelical theology is flawed on the structural level and cannot mount anything resembling a defense.

Anglicans might be tempted to say, “Well, join Anglicanism.  We have liturgy and we are sensitive, sometimes it appears more so, to many Western liturgical concerns.”  That might be true, but the leader of the Anglican church is still hesitant to say that butt-sex is wrong, and he ordains women.   So, no die.  Perhaps one can see Anglicanism as a stopgap on the way to Orthodox, barring any other liturgical alternative in the community–I can follow that line of reasoning, but no more.

I’ve talked with some facebook friends on my–and others Reformed inquisitors–experience with Orthodoxy.   In what follows I will be told that I should not import Western Evangelical expectations onto the life of the church.  While I still have some questions–based on reading Eastern fathers and noting severe disjuncts between said fathers and what I experienced in Liturgy–I will agree for the moment.  I cannot stand in judgment upon the church, but I can’t pretend I have a blank slate mind as well.

(And before we get started I just have to add, St Gregory of Nazianzus delayed baptism for ten years, while holding to something like Orthodox belief.  Cf. Brian Daley’s St Gregory of Nazianzus).  The following is adapted from several emails with several friends.

I’ll be honest with you–and I’ve told Mr. _______ as much–but I don’t know if I can keep going to St _______’s.  I certainly can’t bring my family there.    Most of the service now seems to be in Greek, and even then isn’t always following the book (so I have no idea what is going on half the time, and while I can read and understand Greek; my wife would be completely lost).   The kids at the church are out of control, and the parents make no effort to discipline them;  I would give examples, but it would seem like I am exaggerating (I am not).  I understand that telling a parent how to discipline their kids is about as awkward as giving sex advice, but still….  It is distracting to see (hear?) a kid playing his Nintendo DS with the volume up, or another kid walking down the aisle gathering liturgy books (and dropping them), or throwing models cars across the room (I am listing the things I have seen).  Add this to the general confusion I feel, and no doubt my wife would feel, I can’t help but recall St Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians about worshipping God in a way you really don’t understand, and confusion, and chaos in order.

I’ve been told that I shouldn’t bring Evangelical expectations of corporate singing and judge the Church based on my understanding of what I want it to be.  Fair enough.  Let’s put it into context.   There were about eight to ten people there, and I think maybe two were chanting (yours’ truly being one of them).   Is this what the Psalmist meant when he alluded to corporate singing?  It could be.  I don’t know.

  There was no homily the last time I was there.  I realize the homily/sermon doesn’t have the same import as in Protestantism, but St Paul did say something like “preach the word.”  How do we go from St John Chrysostom to having no homily at all?  And no, before one points out, this was not merely a prayer service. With the last priest at this service there were homilies, and fairly decent ones, too.
I don’t want to be one of those guys who gets all interested in Orthodox theology, but rejects the church because it didn’t meet his expectations.  I’ve had friends reject Christianity on that point.  I realize I don’t have the right to judge the church based on my expectations, but on the other hand, I’m no idiot in Church history either.   Gregory Nazianzus’ sermons were over an hour in length.  I don’t want to sit through an hour long sermon, but how do we go from that to having no sermon at all?
I don’t really expect–nor do I judge them harshly on this–an older, largely Greek community that is very small to engage in active missionary evangelism to Western potential converts (though if the OCA or Antiochians came in with a “Western Rite” church in North Louisiana, it would have HUGE potential.    Yet, there is a substantial undercurrent of resistance to the Western Rite among many Orthodox–see for example, Fr Alexander Schmemann).
 Well, that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.   I’m not rejecting Orthodoxy, but am remembering something that Joseph Farrell said, “When you enter Orthodoxy, enter with your eyes open to the problems in modern World Orthodoxy“).
I have another reason for writing this–it serves as a cautionary tale to guys who read a few books on Orthodoxy, internet debate a few Calvinists, and think they are “truly Orthodox.”  No, we are not.  We are still learning, and there are numerous considerations which are far more difficult than simply trying to follow a Greek-spoken liturgy:
  • Which branch of the Orthodox church is the true one:  Coptic, Armenian, Chalcedonian, etc.? How do you know?
  • How come Monachos.net always deletes threads that ask questions about Freemasonry and the Ecumenical Movement?
  • Which Calendar is correct?
  • If we have to move from our current location, possibly hundreds of miles simply to find the right bishop, doesn’t this also imply that Orthodoxy will never truly come to this region?
  • Is this the approach the Man from Macedonia took?
Even though I am open with my thoughts on this topic, the above reasons are also why I don’t debate Calvinists and Catholics on Orthodoxy.  Most importantly, I don’t want to pull a Jay Dyer and reject Orthodoxy because SCOBA has a weak view of the Old Testament precepts, or whatever Jay’s reasons were.
So yes, I am still very much interested, but the above is a snapshot of life on the way.