The most helpful essays of 2010

The most helpful essays of 2010 (or in the past few years)

Azkoul, Fr. Michael. “Sacred Monarchy and the Modern Secular State.”   Decent job in demonstrating the worldviews that underlie both sacerdotal monarchy and modern democracy.  I do not often agree with Fr Azkoul, but this is a good read.

Bradshaw, David.  “Augustine the Metaphysician.”  Orthodox Readings on Augustine.  Eds. Papanikolaou, Aristotle and Demacopolous, George.  Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2008.  A summary of his Aristotle East and West.  While Bradshaw has been ridiculed, and his detractors have done little more than simply chant “De Regnon is debunked,” he has offered one of the more powerful critiques of the limitations of Western theological thought.

Farrell, Joseph.   “A Theological Introduction to the Mystagogy of St Photios.” A summary of the neo-Palamite critique of Western theology.  While people ridicule Farrell because of his Giza Death Star theory, Farrell’s summary of St Maximus has actually been quoted in the leading theological work on St Maximus, which the author notes few critics of neo-Palamism have actually interacted with Dr. Farrell.  ‘Sup?

Farrell, Joseph.  “Prolegomena:  God, History, and Dialectic: The Theological Foundations to the Two Europes.” The arguments in this book have had a powerful impact on me.   Farrell outlines how the dialectical tensions within the Filioque have an effect on all of Western society.    Also shows how Russia did theology without relying on the dialectical tensions of Aristotle and Plato.

Milbank, John.  “An Alternative Protestantism.”  Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 2005.  I actually read this a few years ago, but Christology has been the reference point in my theological journeys, and Milbank’s essay pointed out some major problems in Reformed Christological thought.

A lot of Fr. Matthew Raphael Johnson’s essays continue to challenge me.  Unfortunately, his site is no longer running, and not all of his essays have been transferred to The Orthodox Nationalist.

Trifkovic, Srdja.  “Orthodoxy versus Modernity.”  If I may employ a van Tillian term, Trifkovic nicely outlines the antithesis between the globalist elite and what an Orthodox outlook should be.   Or in any case, he demonstrates why the Globalists hate traditionally Orthodox countries–and these reasons why should make conservative Protestants pause, for they should realize they are next on the globalists’ agenda.

My favorite books of 2010

(In no particular order)

1.  Gregory of Nyssa, Dogmatic Treatises (NPNF Series II volume 5).   Good, if long-winded discussion of God’s attributes and essence and the distinctions within God’.

2.  Basil the Great, Works and Letters (NPNF Series II volume 8).   Exciting glimpse into the life of the church, along with suggestions of how to navigate out of certain “canonical” messes (found in the “Letters” part).   Excellent trinitarian reasoning.

3.  John McGuckin, Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy.  Splendid discussion of Cyril’s Christology.  Demonstrates how the Chalcedonian church saw Cyril as the test of Orthodoxy.

4.  Lee McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon.  McDonald doesn’t pursue it, but his reasoning fully deconstructs sola scriptura.  Responds to “But the Jews had a canon!” claims and other similar claims.  McDonald, being a watered-down evangelical, fumbles the ball at the end after looking modernity in the eye (and quailing).

5.  Thomas Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology.  I actually listened to the audio lectures on the book, but the same principle is there.  Shows how a Patristic Christology saves both science and faith.

6.  Joseph Farrell, God, History, and Dialectic.  Somebody please put this into a real book.  This annoyance almost undoes whatever good qualities the book has.  In any case, the book redefines worldviews.   Probably shaped my reasoning more than anything else.

7.  Hieromonk Ambrose, The Life and Times of Fr. Seraphim Rose.  A cross between Augustine’s Confessions and Louis L’amour.  Awe-inspiring.  We see Fr Seraphim as a modern Tsarist Knight against Nihilism–and we should aspire to similar aims.

8.  Seraphim Rose, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future.  The modern phenomena of fringe elements of society becoming mainstream, as well as a watering down of religious and cultural mores is a preparation for Antichrist.

9.  David Engleman, Ultimate Things.  While bad exegesis at times, good meditations on how the fall of Tsarism unleashed the forces of Antichrist on the world (which the rest of the century demonstrated).


Filioque and Alchemy

Dr Joseph Farrell has noted that after the gap between the death of the last neo-Platonic magicisan—Iamblicus and the rise of the first modern occult order, the Knights Templars, alchemy and the occult emerged in a fully mature form.   This is rather odd since occultic movements develop gradually.  How did alchemy emerge fully mature in the absence of relatively 1,000 years?

Farrell suggests that alchemy went underground in the Christian West but was studied by philosophers and occultists who masked it with Trinitarian terminology, specifically that of the Filioque.  The following is from Farrell’s The Philosopher’s Stone. Unfortunately, I only have this book in the Amazon Kindle version, which makes it impossible to reference page numbers.

Patriarch Photios of Constantinople noted that the way the Trinity was formed in the West was more appropriate to “sensory things” than to theology.  In other words, it had a specifically “physics” veneer to it.

Following the topology from Hermes Trismegistus, we see a metaphor about God:  theos, tomos, and cosmos (God, space, and Cosmos).  These three are in turn distinguished by a dialectic of opposition based on three elemental functions, each of which implies its own functional opposite.

Farrell comments that alchemy survived the Middle Ages because it was often masked behind the language of the Carolignian Shield.  While the Filioque has openly neo-platonic roots, one can also see deep but largely unsuspected roots in Egyptian hermeticism.


Chrysostom on Imputed Guilt

From Farrell’s God, History, and Dialectic.

But for Chrysostom, and indeed for all of the fathers and ecclesiastical writers of First Europe, salvation is tied to the total humanity of Christ, from his seedless and virginal conception to his Crucifixion, Ascension, Heavenly Intercession, and Second Coming. It is this “recapitulationalist” view of the Economy of Salvation and its “physicalism” that therefore distinguishes the exposition of St John Chrysostom on the doctrine of ancestral sin

(GHD, 187)

Chrysostom places “justification by faith” as an opposite of “death and sin.” For Chrysostom death includes the separation of body and soul. It is not merely legal or mentalist, but physical. When Chrysostom turns to the economy of salvation, he deals with what Adam and Eve’s progeny inherit from them as a result of their sin. He answers,

How then did death come to prevail? ‘Through the sin of one.’ But what means (the last phrase of Romans 5:12) ‘for all that have sinned?’ This: he having once fallen, even they that had not eaten from the tree, did from him, all of them, become mortal.”

Second Europe had subtley reinterpreted Genesis’s “in the day you shall eat of it you shall surely die” to mean “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die and your progeny shall inherit your guilt and be culpable for it.”

(GHD, 188)

Romans 5:13 states that “until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed where there is no law.”

Chrysostom denies that this passage means “before the giving of the Table at Sinai.” He asks, “How does one explain the presence of death if death is the reward of sins imputed by the Law given at Sinai?:

The phrase “till the Law” some think he used of the time before the giving of the Law— that of Abel, for instance, or of Noah, or of Abraham— till Moses was born. What was the sin in those days, at this rate? Some say he means that in Paradise. For hitherto it was not done away, (he would say,) but the fruit of it was yet in vigor. For it had borne that death whereof all partake, which prevailed and lorded over us. Why then does he proceed, “But sin is not imputed when there is no law?” It was by way of objection from the Jews, say they who have spoken on our side, that he laid this position down and said, if there be no sin without the Law, how came death to consume all those before the Law? But to me it seems that the sense presently to be given has more to be said for it, and suits better with the Apostle’s meaning. And what sense is this? In saying, that “till the Law sin was in the world,” what he seems to me to mean is this, that after the Law was given the sin resulting from the transgression of it prevailed, and prevailed too so long as the Law existed. For sin, he says, can have no existence if there be no law. If then it was this sin, he means, from the transgression of the Law that brought forth death, how was it that all before the Law died? For if it is in sin that death has its origin, but when there is no law, sin is not imputed, how came death to prevail? From whence it is clear, that it was not this sin, the transgression, that is, of the Law, but that of Adam’s disobedience, which marred all things. Now what is the proof of this? The fact that even before the Law all died: for “death reigned,” he says, “from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned.

Chrysostom’s portrayal of the relationship between sin and death is the reverse of the order in which second Europe portrayed it: death is the cause of sinful actions of those born after Adam and Eve, and even if one were sinless personally, one would still be subject to the law of death, the literal “falling apart” of one’s nature, that resulted as an affect on that nature of Adam and Eve’s sin. The guilt and culpability of their sin was not imputed to their posterity, but the corrupting consequence to human nature was transmitted. Death was both physically and morally corrupting to human nature, since the soul and body were designed in their natural state to be together.

GHD, 189)

Review of Hilary of Poitiers

Taken from NPNF (Second Series) vol 9.

In reviewing St Hilary’s thought, I will be relying primarily on Geofrey Bromiley’s Historical Theology for clarification on more difficult points.    In no way can Hilary’s work be considered a literary masterpiece.  It is about one hundred pages too long, repetitive, and wordy.  To be fair, he wrote much of it in exile and like Augustine, was not always privy to the more mature Eastern thinking (though Hilary rectified this in some ways).

Hilary begins his theology with God’s revelation.  We know God as he reveals himself to us.  However, our theologizing about God will always be opaque.  God is invisible, ineffable, etc., and the mind grows weary trying to comprehend him (ii.6).  Language itself fails us as words are powerless (ii.7).   Analogies offer some help but they only hint at the meaning (i.19).

Trinitarian theology for the church begins with the baptismal formula in St Matthew’s gospel.  The Father is the origin of all; the Son is the only-begotten, and the Spirit is the gift (ii.1).    As the source of all the Father has being in himself.   The fullness of the Father is in the Son.   Because the Son is of the Father’s nature, the Son has the Father’s nature.  Hilary’s point is that like nature begats like nature.

In a break with pagan thought, Hilary distinguishes between person and nature:  “nor are there two Gods but one from one” (ii.11).

Hilary and the Spirit

Did Hilary teach the Filioque?  It’s hard to tell, and neither camp should draw hard conclusions.  The facts are these:  1) in ii.29 the Schaff edition reads “we are bound to confess him, proceeding as He does, from Father and Son.”  However, the foonote points out that there are alternative, more probably readings.  It is acknowledged that throughout Hilary’s work the text has been corrupted at parts.   Even asssuming the present reading to be the correct one, one must ask if by procession Hilary would mean the same thing as later Filioquist writers?  The Latin word for proceed (procedere) does not have the same range as the multiple Greek words for “proceed.”  Roman Catholic scholar Jean Miguel Garrigues notes that one simply can’t read English translations of the Latin semantic domains of “proceed” and from that infer, quite simplisticly, that Hilary believed in the Filioque (L’Esprit qui dit «Père!» (Paris 1981), pp. 65-75.; [no, I don’t read French.  I found a link to this book on Perry’s blog, attendant with the relevant discussions).

2) Hilary goes on elsewhere to affirm that the Spirit is from the Father alone (viii.20) and the Father through the Son (xii.57); neither of these texts, obviously, are hard Filioquist reads, and in any case, this wasn’t Hilary’s point.


As an anti-Arian text, there is a reason why the Church spends more time with St Athanasius, Ambrose, and the Cappadocians.  The Cappadocians and St Ambrose would later refine Hilary’s argument.

On the other hand, Hilary provides the late Western reader with a number of valuable and often stunning insights to the nature of the Church, philosophy, and the evaluations of post-Reformation traditions.

The Eucharist: St Hilary draws an analogy between the “of one nature” with Father and Son and the utter reality of the Son in the Eucharist.  We receive the very Word make flesh in the Eucharist, not due to an agreement of will but because the Son took man’s nature to himself.

Denies monergism: Hilary denies there is a necessity on our will because that would impose faith on us (viii.12).

We know God by his operations or powers (later theologians would say energies):  God’s self-revelation displays his Name (Person).  This revelas his nature (i.27).   This is what Dr Joseph Farrell calls the ordo theologiae:  persons, operations, essence.  The persons do things and this reveals their essence.  In de Synodis para 69 Hilary warns that we must not start with the consubstantiality (or essence) when we do our Trinitarian reasoning, for this leads to confusion since the terms are not yet defined.  Rather, we must begin with the Persons.  (Critics of de Regnon be confounded!   Hilary clearly understands the importance of starting with the Persons, not the nature).

Rejects philosophical nominalism:  names correspond to realities (ix.69).  Therefore, are we justified in saying something is true of the Person of Christ that is not true of the taxonomy?  I admit:  this isn’t Hilary’s debate, since he hadn’t yet dealt with the Calvinist take on the extra Calvinisticum.  Hilary says “We must not divide Jesus Christ, for the Word was made flesh” (x.60-62).   Was there an “extra” to the divine nature outside the person of Christ?  Hilary doesn’t think so.

Prays to Saints:  “Be with me now in thy faithful spirit, holy and blessed Patriarch Jacob, to combat the poisonous hissings of the serpent of unbelief” (v.19).

On the Rock of Matthew 16.19ff:  “This faith it is which is the foundation of the Church; through this faith the gates of hell cannot prevail against her” (vi. 37).  The faith of the apostles, not the see of Peter, is the foundation of the Church.


It is not a literary masterpiece, nor is it really an outstanding apologia against Arianism.  However, it is a faithful reflection of the Tradition passed down, and it does give many remarkable “snapshots” of the Church’s belief which can inform, challenge, and hopefully change the minds of folk today.




Was DeRegnon Debunked?

If you read enough of modern, intra-community Trinitarian (no pun intended) debates, you can anticipate a lot of moves.  One particular line of thinking, advanced by de Regnon a century ago, is that the West begins from the impersonal divine essence and then reasons to the three Persons, while the East begins with the Persons and then reasons to the essence.

A number of modern scholars have claimed to debunk that thesis, though.  They say that 1) even Eastern theologians began from the unity of the divine essence and 2) such a view is impossible to prove anyway.

My thoughts:  I wonder how many people have actually read de Regnon.  Even if his work has been translated from the French to English, I doubt it’s still in print.  I think people are quoting tertiary sources in saying de Regnon is debunked.

Is it true?  Do Westerners start from the divine essence and Easterners from the persons?  Well, kind of.  On one hand, and I speak as an Easterner, there is no problem starting from the unity of the divine essence, per se.  Papadakis does precisely that (Crisis in Byzantium).   Since we hold to equal ultimacy of essence and persons, it is not a problem to start from either.  That being said, the question is not where one begins one’s theological method, but to the primacy of it.  For example, St John of Damascus can talk about the unity of the divine essence (is there an Orthodox theologian who actually disagrees with that?), and note one power, one energy, one will (again, standard Christology), and from that one may not conclude that Damascene is a Thomist after all.

There is a difference in method in starting from the essence and then speaking about the persons, against reasoning from the essence to the persons, the former qualifying the latter.  That is what Lossky et al are saying.

Enough with all of that.  At the end of the day the West does prioritize the essence and it wasn’t de Regnon who came up with that.  St Augustine does precisely that in De Trinitate.  Has anyone read Western takes on St Augustine?  These essays are often very “essency.”  I really don’t know what to say at this point.  These guys in some way do give primacy to the essence.

And to sort of prove my point, look at the Carolignian Shield.


Quit Hating on Hegel

I do not defend Hegel, but rather see how thorough the dialectic has permeated our way of thinking.  My Evangelical friends do not see this.  I was staggered the other day by this insight from Farrell,

For once the Trinity was dialectically formulated, it was only a matter of time before someone made the deduction that if God be a dialectical Trinity and the Sovereign Lord of History, then the key to the historical process must be revealed in the dialectical process at work within the Trinity itself.  Once these dialectical processes were loosed in (or perhaps upon) historiography, it was not long before the category errors and confusions implicit in Augustine’s Trinitarian formulation–the confusion and identification of hte persons with natural operations and with nature–were applied to law, politics, science, ethics, in short, to areas of social and intellectual organization that, at first glance,  seem to have little connection to something so “irrelevant” as theology and so obscure as the  filioque or the Augustinian ordo theologiae

GHD, 461