And people say I read chain of being into everything

(And lest I am misunderstood, my target audience was not originally the Orthodox, though my comments directly apply to them.  Rather, some Reformed guys took issue with my Covenantal Ontology and didn’t believe that chain of being was a real deal).

“The Old Testament makes the body obedient to the intelligence and raises it up towards the soul by means of the virtues, preventing the intellect from being dragged down towards the body. The New Testament fires the intellect with love and unites it to God. Thus yet Old Testament makes the body one in its active with the intellect; the New Testament makes the intellect with God through the state of grace.”-

St. Maximos the Confessor ( Philokalia Vol. 2, Fourth Century of Various Texts)

But anyone who is a “portion of God,” on account of the logos of virtue that exists in God, as was explained above, and who abandons his own origin, is irrationally swept away toward non-being, and thus is rightly said to have “flowed down from above,” since he did not move toward his own origin and cause, according to which, by which, and for which, he came to be.

“Flowing down from above” in this manner, he enters a condition of unstable deviations, suffering fearful disorders of soul and body, failing to reach his inerrant and unchanging end, [1085A] by freely choosing to turn in the direction of what is inferior. Here the sense of “flowing down” can be understood literally, for though such a person had it well within his power to direct the footsteps of his soul to God, he freely chose to exchange what is better and real for what is inferior and non-existent.

St Maximos the Confessor, Ambiguum 7. Translation by Fr Maximos (Nicholas Constas)

10.74} As for Elijah, he is the image of nature, not simply because he preserved inviolate the principles of his own nature (along with the deliberative frame of mind appropriate to these principles) free from any change due to passion, but because he taught by judging, like a kind of natural law, those who twist nature to unnatural ends. For such is nature, punishing those who undertake to violate it to the degree that they actually live in unnatural opposition to it, by not allowing them to acquire naturally all of nature’s power, for they have been partially deprived of its very integrity and for this they are punished, since it is they themselves who pointlessly and foolishly [1164D] have procured this lack of existence by inclining toward non-being.

Ambiguum 10

>>>>Elijah was free from passions? Didn’t he call down fire on the king’s army?

>>>>Notice how he says “inclining toward non-being.”  That is about as stark an admission of chain of being that I have ever seen.  I did worry at a time that I might be reading chain of being into ancient sources.  That is no longer the case.  You do not get any clearer than that.  In fact, this is far clearer than Plato ever was.

29. Just as evil is a privation of good, and ignorance a privation of knowledge, so non-being is a privation of being – not of being in a substantive sense, for that does not have any opposite, but of being that exists by participation in substantive being. The first two privations mentioned depend on the will of creatures; the third lies in the will of the Maker, who in His goodness wills beings always to exist and always to receive His blessings.

St Maximos Four Hundreds Texts on Love, Third Century. Philokalia v 2

 

De-hellenizing the Old Testament

Walter Eichrodt was a mainline German Protestant who nevertheless wrote an outstanding theology of the Old Testament.  The first fifty pages or so was sheer excitement.  I was floored.  Here was one of the world’s leading Old Testament authorities saying everything about Hebrew Thought and God that I had been saying, except he has tenure.

This is only the first two hundred pages of Old Testament theology.  These deal more with covenant and doctrine of God.   The second half deals with covenant leaders, which is important but not relevant to my studies at the moment.  Key here is the contrast between covenant religion and magic (ontology) religion.

“Real God becoming manifest in history to which the SCriptures of the OT bear witness” (15).

“That which binds together indivisibly the two realms of the Old and New Testaments…is the irruption of the Kingdom of God into this world and its establishment here” (26).

The Meaning of the Covenant Concept

  • Factual nature of divine revelation (37).  “God’s disclosure of himself is not grasped speculatively.”  As “he  molds them according to his will he grants them knowledge of his being.”
  • A clear divine will is discernable.  “You shall be my people and I shall be your God.’ Because of this the fear that constantly haunts the pagan world, the fear of arbitrariness and caprice in the Godhead, is excluded” (38).
  • The content of that will is defined in ways that make the human party aware of the position (39).
  • Divine election and kingdom:  Jer. 2:1; 1 Sam. 8:1-10; this dual pattern provides the interpretation of Israelite history.
  • The bond of nature religion was broken (42).  The covenant did not allow an inherent bond in the believer, the order of nature, and the god.   Chain of being is broken.  Divinity does not display itself in the mysterium of nature.  Election is the opposite of nature religions (43).  Israelite ritual does not mediate “cosmic power.”  “One indication of decisive importance in this respect is the fact that the covenant is not concluded by the performance of a wordless action, having its value in itself, but is accompanied by the word as the expression of the divine will” (44).

The History of the Covenant Concept

Eichrodt discusses the dangers the covenant idea faced.  Canaanite ideas quickly muted the sharp sounds of the covenant.  “The gulf set between God and man by his terrifying majesty was levelled out of existence by the emphasis laid on their psycho-physical relatedness and community” (46).  It is interesting to compare this description with Paul Tillich’s claim that the church placed the intermediaries of saints and angels over the Platonic hierarchy of Forms.

Refashioning of the Covenant Concept

Dt 4.13, 23 understands berith simply as the Decalogue.   A shift to the legal character.  Man can violate the conditions of the covenant, but he cannot annul it (54).

The Cultus

“Alien from primitive Yahwism, and introduced into the Yahweh cultus predominantly as a result of Canaanite influence, were the massebah, the Asherim and the bull image” (115).  The Canaanites believed this was a transference of the particular object of the divine power effective at the holy place as a whole.

  • Special places were always seen, by contrast, as memorials to Yahweh’s self-manifestation (116).

Pictorial Representations

“The spiritual leaders of Israel, however, always made a firm stand against this adoption of heathen image-worship, regarding it as an innovation which contradicted the essence of Yahweh religion” (118).

Prayer

“Indicative of the pattern of Old Testament piety is the fact that the dominant motives of prayer never included that of losing oneself, through contemplation, in the divine infinity.  There was no room in Israel for mystical prayer; the nature of the Mosaic Yahweh with his mighty personal will effectively prevented the development of that type of prayer which seeks to dissolve the individual I in the unbounded One.  Just as the God of the Old Testament is no Being reposing in his own beatitude, but reveals himself in the controlling will of the eternal King, so the pious Israelite is no intoxicated, world-denying mystic revelling in the Beyond, but a warrior, who wrestles even in prayer, and looks for the life of power in communion with his divine Lord.  His goal is not the static concept of the summum bonum, but the dynamic fact of the Basileia tou Theou” (176).

The Name of the Covenant God

Exodus 3:14:  “This is certainly not a matter of Being int he metaphysical sense of aseity, absolute existence, pure self-determination or any other ideas of the same kind.  It is concerned with a revelation of the divine will” (190).

The prophet Isaiah connects the fact of Yahweh is King with Yahweh’s eschatological act of salvation.

 

Early Greek Philosophy: A Review

This book’s shortcomings aren’t really its fault.   The presocratics weren’t systematic thinkers, and even if they were none of their writings survive intact.  The editor Jonathan Barnes does a fine job of putting them together, but even he admits that many of the arrangements are arbitrary.

1.

Emerging consensus on the infinite.  The “infinite” implies “boundary markers” (216).

2.

If God is infinite, and infinity transcends boundaries, can he even be named and spoken?  Did Greek Philosophy lead us to this point?

3.

Another consensus (rightly) is that the gods were silly, but the place the gods held was not abandoned.  The concept of “number” took its place; “different angles were assigned to different gods” (Philolaus, quoted by Proclus, 219). This became the realm of “forms” with Plato.  With Anchoretic Christianity the place of the forms were transformed to the realm of saints and angels (per Tillich).

3.1

St Paul said we are no longer under the elemental spirits of the age (Galatians 3-4).

4.

For better or worse “ousia/physis/essence” usually connoted materiality.  It was the stuff of the universe and the universe was usually considered eternal.   The editor doesn’t draw this out but this explains some of the problems in the early church on Christology.  They weren’t simply sinful heretics by refusing to say that the Son was the same ousia of the Father.   They understand ousia to be material, which the Father was not.

5.

Is the axiom “like is produced by like” (Democritus) correlative to the chain of being:  as above, so below?

6.

What’s the difference between this and neopaganism?

7.

Democritus says it’s stupid to want children (280) and sex is irrational.  Compare that with the Old Testament.  Maybe there is a difference between Hebrew and Greek thought.

Liturgy Trap: Angelic Celibacy

Here is the key question:  should we place Mary in the context of her Hebrew background (see Judges 11:37-40) or in the thought patters of St Jerome?  The strongest argument that Mary had sexual relations with Joseph after Jesus’s birth is the text itself.   I know of the backbending anchorites engage in to make the text say the opposite of what it says.  It simply doesn’t work.

In the bible perpetual virginity is a tragedy (47).

The strongest argument for perpetual virginity is that Joseph would have been overawed by Mary’s high calling in giving birth to God himself that he wouldn’t have “polluted” her womb with dirty sex afterwards (Peter Gillquist, Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith, Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1989, 118).    Here are the problems with such a view:

  1. Even if correct, it is pure speculation.
  2. If one partner refused sex to the other, he/she would have grounds to divorce the other (Exodus 21:10-11).
  3. Neither Mary nor Joseph knew that Jesus was God incarnate until after his resurrection.  They would have known he was called, perhaps even Messiah, but that didn’t mean Logos Incarnate (51).

Angelic Celibacy

Roman Catholicism is guiltier of this than Orthodoxy, though both share the same unbiblical presuppositions.  If we may reason analogically, the High Priest is sort of an analogue to the Bishop today.  Yet the High Priest could marry.  Why may not the Bishop?

Secondly, God has said that celibacy is “not good.”   The entire scale of being ontology falls with those two words.

On why I am opposed to magic ontologies

You might expect me to say, “Because God condemns sorcery.”  That is true.  Or you might expect me to say, “Burning incense to the Queen of Heaven is a sin.”  That is true.  But that is not what I am talking about.  I was in some fascinating Facebook discussions about Greek thought.  Here is a summary of my points:

I do not think there is a dichotomy between Hebrew and non-Hebrew languages. In that sense I agree with Barr’s critique. However, Greek though, influenced by Egyptian magic (Plato studied in Egypt), does have differences with the structures behind the “Hebrew way of life.”

We will say it another way–and this is where Augustine is very helpful, if very wrong: when I ascend up the chain of being, do I gain more being inversely with corporeality?

But if you read Ps. Dionysius and others, one knows God by beginning with abstract concepts of Deity and then rises up the chain of being by negating those concepts. Plotinus, Nyssa, Origen, Evagrius and others are very clear on this. Jesus, on the other hand, descends to us and takes flesh and knowing him we know God.

Footnote: in the eschaton are we going to drink wine on Yahweh’s mountain or achieve hyperousia and contemplate the Empyrean Forms?

when I say thought patterns I mean the way the human brain forms ideas. They most certainly saw the world differently, which might be why God called for war against Hellenism in Zechariah 9.

John Henry Cardinal Newman summarizing the anchoretic life (which is Hellenism applied). 
“Surely the idea of an apostle, ummarried, pure in fast and nakedness, and at length a martyr, is a higher idea tha
n that of one of the old Israelites, sitting under his vine and fig-tree, full of temporal goods, surrounded by his sons and grandsons” (Newman, Loss and Gain).

This is chain-of-being ethics in all of its terrible purity. There is a line in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time where wolves will stop what they are doing, even sacrifice the whole pack, to kill a Myrdraal (think goblin bad guy). That’s sort of how I feel about chain of being ontology.

And it is by no means a Greek thing. I have long maintained that the Greeks–Plato–borrowed from Egyptian magic religion. ANd you can find similar horrors in other Eastern religions.

Once you accept chain-of-being as the normative paradigm for getting our thoughts about God, and we see this same paradigm in other religions (and hermetic traditions), then it doens’ tmake any sense to say, “Well, our’s is different.”

I realize it looks like I am equating neo-Platonic magic with all of Hellenism. Allow me to clarify. I see a continuity between neo-Platonism and earlier Hellenisms. Almost all (all?) hold to an ontology of overcoming estrangement. Secondly, neo-Platonism is simply the apex and most beautiful finale of Hellenistic thought. (When the last Magus, Iamblichus, died, NeoPlatonism and Hermeticism (basically the same thing) went underground until the Templars. This lines up with Justinian’s closing the academies and Damasius’s getting back at him by pretending to be Dionysius the Aeropogatie. I pick on NeoPlatonism because most ancient Christian thinkers drew upon some variety of it.

And by the way: I have read DEEPLY into the ancient hermetic, magical, and neo-platonic traditions from a historical standpoint. You can line up Origen and Trismegestus on ontology and it is basically the same thing. I want to consider myself in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets (no, I don’t predict the future). As a result I violently hate all forms of magic. PM me if you want more details. I don’t want to go into it in public.

Can non-monks be saved?

Hesychasts started to believe that whoever had not shared their special experience was not among the saved.   “Those who have not seen this Light, have not seen God; for God is light,” Symeon wrote.  “Those who have not yet received this this light have not yet received grace, for in receiving grace, one receives this divine light and God himself” (98).

William Placher, A History of Christian Theology.

St Symeon the New Theologian, Homily 129.2, quoted in Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 218.

No one can accuse me of quoting unrepresentative Orthodox texts.   St Symeon is one of the few Orthodox to receive the vaunted title “The Theologian.”  This means he is more representative and authoritative than other Orthodox.

Looking at all of this I have to ask, “Where is the Gospel?”   If this is how we are to be saved–meditating and achieving the divine light, then what need to Jesus have to die?  This is the difference between covenant religion and magic/chain of being/estrangement ontology.

Christ in Eastern Thought: Suffered in flesh (4)

At stake was Christ’s identity and the nature of the union (70).  Since all agreed that the divine nature was impassible, this necessitated a hard distinction between person and nature.

Sidenote:  Gregory of Nyssa saw the image of God not applying to every individual but to the whole of mankind (74).

Leontius of Jerusaelm:  the hypostasis of Christ is the archetype of the whole of mankind (ibid).  If this is true, as JM notes, how can Christ have a concrete manhood?

Was Christ really human?  “Most Byzantine writers, however, have refused to recognize in Christ any ignorance, and explained such passages as Lk. 2:52 as a pedagogical tactic on the part of Christ” (87).  Whatever faults Reformed Christology may have, it does not have this fault.  Here we make a clean and healthy break with Byzantine Christology.

Their reasoning why is interesting.   “There was also a certain philosophy of gnosis, which made knowledge the sign par excellence of unfallen nature” (87).  Back to chain-of-being ontology.  Ignorance, or lack, is sin.

St Paul or Celestial Bodies?

I took a break from checking the Orthodox Bridge site.  That they scorn true dialogue is fully apparent to even their supporters by now.  I have nothing more to add on that front.  (Incidentally, I noticed that the last comment was another moderating warning to me, and that was over a week ago.  I hate to say it but I am the reason that site was interesting.   Whenever they’re are 70+ comments, I am sure you can find the reason why).

I was interested to see an article on the Orthodox view of marriage.  I’m actually quite grateful.  It is very hard to find good Orthodox presentations of that, especially from the mainline level.    Much of the article is a summary of Trenham’s book on Chrysostom, and much of it is quite good.  I want to call attention to the Hellenistic Chain of Being Ontology that explicitly governs their views on marriage.

They write,

This is why the Orthodox Church discourages (but does not prohibit) re-marriage after the death of a spouse.

But what did the apostle Paul say?  True, he had concerns but they were more of a temporary and logistic nature, and not because marriage is “less than” celibacy.

They write,

A second or third wedding ceremony (no fourth is allowed) has a somewhat penitential character, recognizing human weakness.

So, are the sexual urges and physical union “dirty?” or not “as good?”  I know they will declaim gnosticism, but it’s hard to see why on their gloss.  This specifically says that married sexual urges (or sexual urges seeking climax–sorry, bad pun–in marriage) are human weaknesses.  Chain. Of. Being. Ontology.

St. John urged the young widow to whom he wrote to remain faithful to her husband (the title “husband” is used even after his death), in order to keep alive their bond of love, and eventually to be re-united with him.

This is the exact opposite of the New Testament.  Paul says that death cuts the covenant bond.  But Orthodoxy is anti-Covenantal (sorry, no other way to say it).  This is partly why I no longer take the majority of the fathers seriously.

The Orthodox Church forbids re-marriage to widowed clergy, as a way of upholding this ideal.

I can only surmise why not.  This is an example of being holier than the apostles. It is interesting that Orthodox (and Romanists) base a lot of their rites off of the Levitical code (never mind that the book of Hebrews said that is done away with).  Let’s go with that for a moment.  Leviticus 21 gives the qualifications for priestly marriage.  While strict, there is no prohibition against remarrying a virgin, etc.

First, the language of the sacrament does not contain the phrase, ‘Till death us do part. In fact, there are no  vows at all taken by the couple, except to certify that they come to the marriage of their own free will, and have not promised themselves to anyone else.

Tell any lawyer that isn’t a vow and then come back to me.  I understand why they don’t use that language, even if they don’t:  vowing until death is covenantal language.  The covenant is usually dissolved by physical death, but sometimes it is dissolved by judicial death.  Covenant, moreover, is Old Testament language.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from there.

The vows of the Catholic and Protestant West give the marriage a more legal emphasis, rather than the Eastern Church’s emphasis on the blessing of God to effect the union.

This snide tone towards “legal” is at its root rebellion against God’s law.  If God is King then his Word is Law.

Some other five points

The biggest defenders of TULIP today are not Reformed Presbyterians, but young, Reformed and Restless baptists.  The difference is that the former see TULIP, such as it is, within the larger setting of Reformed Worship and the Covenant.  The latter see it as a freer floating system of doctrine.

Today’s Five Points are the Five Points of Perth, an attempted imposition of prelatic worship upon the people of Scotland.  For the most part, they are not immediately logically connected with soteriology.  I highlight them, though, because the Reformation–especially in its Scottish and Reformed manifestations–was a Reformation of worship.  If you do not grant that point you will never understand Reformation Thought.

If we want to reduce theology to serieses of Five Points, why limit it to soteriology?   Why not go the Covenantal Route?  Or the worship route.  Below are the Five Points of Perth that the Reformers rejected.

  1. Kneeling at Communion
  2. Private Communion
  3. Immediacy of Baptism to Infants
  4. Confirmation by Bishops
  5. Recognition of Holy Days

The Reformers rejected (1) because it implied a worship of the host. I agree, but I will take the rejection a step further: it is the Lord’s Supper.  We feast and sit at a supper.  We eat and commune with one another.   Kneeling makes this all but impossible.

In line with the above, we reject (2) because it is a communion of the church with one another.  How can we commune with one another when we are by ourselves?

(3) is different.  Provided health reasons aren’t an obstacle, there isn’t a problem with immediacy of baptism,  The Reformers objected because the article implies extreme baptismal regeneration.  The only way to keep the infant from hell was to get him baptized immediately in case he died.

(4) This can get interesting.  If one is using bishop in the original sense of adminstrator, then this isn’t much different from a Presbyterial ordination.  If on the other hand the bishop is the dispenser of sacramental grace and mediates a higher reality to us lower realities, then it is wrong.  That is neo-Platonism.

(5) I don’t have much to add on this beyond what is normally said.  What is interesting, though, is how this plays out.  I saw a generic evangelical minister argue that “If the church has a mid-week Christmas/Eostre service, then the believer is obligated to attend.”  He meant well, but this is nothing more than binding the conscience beyond what the word of God allows.

Survey of Christian Epistemology (Full)

Typical van Til book.  Numerous interesting insights on Greek philosophy.  Sort of spirals out of control on Idealism as he (likely) tried to fit his dissertation into three chapters.

Medieval Epistemology

CvT is friendlier to Augustine in this volume than he was in A Christian Theory of Knowledge.   Here he emphasizes the differences between Augustine and Plato and focuses the discussion on the problem of knowledge that Plato raised in the previous chapter: what is the principle of Unity (One) and Diversity (Many)?

For CvT this solution lies in the doctrine of the Trinity.

Without a doctrine of creation, the sense world is seen as an “ultimate” (48).  And if we start with an ultimate plurality, how will we get to unity?  Plato never found unity in the Ideal world, for the Idea of the Good never acquired supremacy over the other ideas, and there remained the problem of the Idea of mud, hair, and filth.

The scholastics accepted the Greek idea of the soul, which parallels the chain of being.   At the lowest level is the vegetative part, then the appetitive, then the cognitive (this also parallels comments made by John of Damascus).

Universals and Paganism

The problem of universals is simply a restatement of the problem of the One and the Many.

Donum Superadditum

Something (image of God) received with man’s being.  The origin of this thought lies in the pagan idea of a material universe with an evil inherent in it existing independently of God (62).  It’s hard to see on this gloss how God could have created man “good” apart from endowing him with a little something extra.

Modern Epistemology: Lutheranism

Luther thought of the image of God in purely moral categories, neglecting such as the will and intellect.

Van Til analyzes the Lutheran view of the sacrament as it relates to the person of Christ, and as such to epistemology:  the human can become divine.  It is an intermingling of temporal and eternal (70).  As such, Lutheranism also finds itself facing the same difficulties that Platonism faced.

Original Sin and Representation (78)

Van Til has an illuminating discussion on original sin.  He addresses the common challenge to it:  it is illogical because we can’t be tried for someone else’s actions.   But he points out that this only works if we reject the category of representation.

He says that the principle of representation holds because the members of the Trinity are mutually representational.  That is an interesting suggestion, but I am not sure what he really means by that.  He goes on to say that God creates in representational categories (78-79).  Again, very intriguing but not really that clear.

Modern Epistemology: Arminianism

For Watson finitude involves evil (82).  “No creature can be entirely perfect because he is finite” (Watson, Theological Institutesvol 1, p. 33).  This mutes the distinction between general and special revelation. But as Van Til points out, this is paganism.  It posits a world independent of God.  If God created the world there is no reason why it can’t be perfectly good (Van Til, 82).  Van Til asks the question, “Why [on the Arminian gloss]could not God create a perfect though finite being?”   The only real answer for the Arminian is that there must be laws and conditions above God to which he must answer (90).

Van Til then employs the standard (and in my opinion, devastating) objection to Arminianism:  was it in God’s plan that man should fall into evil?  If he says yes, then he is a Calvinist.  If he says no, then he posits a Platonic man outside the plan and power of God (83).  Like Plato, this posits a world independent (to some degree, anyway) of God.

Van Til then goes on to discuss the Arminian contention that for an ethical act to be truly free, it must occur in an impersonal vacuum (Miley, Systematic Theology, I: 409, quoted in Van Til, 87).  The problem with this is given what we confess about God, and that all facts are in a God-vacuum, then on Miley’s gloss it’s hard to see how any action could occur. Van Til points out this is an anti-theistical position.  He writes, “[this] act could not occur except in the Void” (88).

Modern Epistemology: Calvinism

Van Til links Calvin’s project under the “Covenant” (96).  He notes that we see his “representation” in the Trinity as well.   The persons of the Trinity are exhaustive of one another.  This allows man to find the principles of unity and diversity within the Trinity (and hence, within eternal categories).

If the Trinity is representational, then man, too, thinks in representational categories (97).