Reviewing a Manichean Dialogue

One of my favorite pieces on Manicheanism is written by Vladimir Moss.  Moss re-enacts a discussion between an Orthodox Christian and his Manichean priest.   The discussion is mostly brilliant, but there are a few parts where the “good guy” effectively surrendered the debate.

Orthodox. You do surprise me, Father! Tell me: do you believe that the Apostle Peter was a Christian?

Manichaean. I know what you’re going to say: that he was married. But after becoming an apostle he lived with his wife as brother and sister.

Orthodox. Yes, but he did not have to.

The “Orthodox” initially moves in for a “kill shot.”  This would have effectively ended the debate.  The Manichean responds with some (convenient!) “oral tradition.”    Instead of calling shenanigans on it, the Orthodox agrees and in effect loses the entire thrust of the argument.

Further, and while I have taken a lot of flak from the Humeans at Puritanboard for believing in miracle stories, it should be noted that not every miracle story is to be taken at face-value.   Miracle stories from 1200 years ago in a mostly illiterate culture should be taken with a grain of salt.  There is simply no way of empirical verification.  This is quite different from the well-documented prophecies of Richard Cameron (finally, the Humeans on Puritanboard essentially conceded that Maurice Grant was making this up; that is a polite way of calling him either stupid or a liar).  In any case, the “Orthodox” tries to clinch his argument by these hagiographical stories.   In his context, that will work, I suppose.  The Manichean would also hold to them.

Here is another area where the “orthodox,” for all of his good points, implicitly agrees with the Manichean.

Manichaean. Are you saying that it is possible for there to be no lust in the sexual act?

Orthodox. In practice, because of our fallen state, it is almost impossible to clearly separate the elements of love and lust in the sexual act, just as it is almost impossible to separate greed from restoration of the organism in the act of eating, or sinful anger from righteous anger in the disciplining of children and subordinates

The Reformed Protestant has a healthy response:  why call it lust?  The problem is that the ancient tradition, whether Eastern or Latin, simply could not affirm the…(lack of a better phrase)…loss of momentary control that happens in the act.  One should remember the origins of the word “Ecstatic” to fully appreciate what the Orthodox are saying (I think they are wrong, but this is worth explaining.   The climax of the act is ecstasy, ek-static, which in Greek is a “standing outside of oneself.”)   So they called it lust.   Augustine was fully in line with the Greek fathers on this point. There was no way the Tradition could get around calling the ek-stasis “lust,” and lust is sin.  So if you define the ek-stasis in sexual intercourse, even married intercourse, as lust, then you can’t avoid the charge that it is tainted with sin.

The Reformed simply denied the premise and didn’t have the problem.

Further, the Manichean scores huge points when he brings Maximus the Confessor into the discussion.

Manichaean. Well, you must remember that, according to St. Maximus the Confessor, pleasure and pain were introduced into the world as a result of the fall.

For all of the Orthodox’s good intents, to the degree that Maximus is representative of the tradition, to that degree the Manichean is right.  At this point the Orthodox is simply left in the untenable position of lobbing counter-quotations.  So much for Patrum Consensus.  Further, the Manichean is right in that the fathers seem to view Adam and Eve’s relationship before the Fall as sex-less (Maximus is mostly clear on this point.  Cooper labors very hard to exonerate him on this.   I don’t think he is successful).

At the end of the discussion the Manichean, given the shared anchoretic presuppositions, completely clinches the debate:

If virginity is higher than marriage, the transition from virginity to marriage must be a transition from the higher to the lower, which is sad.

Please consider the logic:  if virginity is higher than marriage, and then you marry, you have definitionally fallen.

Advertisements