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.

The 5-Point Covenantal Model

In the 19th century a German theologian was asked what he thought about Hegel’s philosophy.  He replied that it was a beautiful and powerful system, but it was like a loose tooth:  he was scared to “bite down” hard.   That’s how I feel about Ray Sutton’s That you may Prosper.   As his 5 points go, there can’t be any disagreement with any of them.   The danger comes when you put them together and filter the bible through them.   But that points to another problem:  even doing that, I still don’t see a danger.  Here are the points.   According to Sutton’s reading, which is based upon Kline’s, every covenant will have these points.

1. The transcendence and immanence of God
2. Authority/hierarchy of God’s covenant
3. Biblical law/ethics/dominion
4. Judgment/oath: blessings and cursings
5. Continuity/inheritance

By itself it wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the Tyler guys didn’t create mischief with it.   Ironically, even later Klineans like Horton are saying similar things.  That doesn’t make it right, of course, but it does lend to it an acceptability it formerly lacked.  I am going to walk through some of the basic points:

1.  Transcendence

Here is where it shines.   Sutton (and Jordan, North, and Rushdoony) wonderfully contrast the Hebraic, covenantal religion with that of metaphysical religion.  The former denies a continuum between creator and creature.  As a result, salvation is not metaphysical, but ethical.  This automatically leads to:

2.  Authority and Representation

When I reread this part, I couldn’t help but see parallels to Oliver O’Donovan’s Desire of the Nations.   Someone must mediate and represent God’s judgments.  Ultimately, we see this in Christ though God did establish judges for the people.    God manifests his transcendence through mediators–but this mediation is not ontological, but ethical and civil (which shows both the power and shortcoming of Pseudo Dionysius).

3.  Ethics

Sutton wonderfully draws the contrast between Ethical and Magical religions (see pt 1).  The former is based on fidelity to God’s word.  The latter on manipulating reality.  Ethical religion’s relationship is “cause-effect” (though not entirely and absolutely so; that is why Sutton refines the model to read “Command/fulfillment”).

Interestingly, magical religions necessitate a chain of being ontology: as above/so below (74).   Sutton should have fleshed this out more.  Still, the connection on magic was spot-on.

4.   Sanctions

Blessings, cursings, and rewards come through judgment.  This often includes sacrificial judgment (and with our eyes on Christ, we see an echo to point 2, mediation).  We are dealing with oaths and witnesses and because Christ’s death in is in view, we also see the Lord’s Feast.  We shouldn’t be afraid of calling bread and wine symbols.  They have power because God’s Word says they have power (Word and Sacrament!).  This symbol of the Covenant represents God’s oath upon himself.  This is Covenantal Ontology.

I’ll deal with the last point, Continuity, later.

Review of Bulgakov’s Lamb of God

This is the hallmark of Bulgakov’s “Sophiology” project. Since it is prone to misunderstanding, and those councils  which condemned it likely lacked the philosophical tools to evaluate it, it would be wise to state what Bulgakov means by “Sophia.” The short answer: Imagine what would happen if Platonism and Hegelianism had a child. Longer answer: Sophia is the divine prototype. To speak even more loosely, it is the receptacle and vehicle of God’s divine nature (Bulgakov, 98ff). It is the divine glory. Bulgakov even says it is “the divine world.” He then moves to identify Sophia as the “pre-eternal humanity in God” (113).

Whether we agree with him or not, Bulgakov’s comments gain new relevance after we explore what he calls “The Patristic Dialectic.” The heretic Apollinaris was the first to identify the problematic: What is divine humanity and how is the Incarnation possible (4ff)? He, in good Alexandrian fashion, denies a duality of personal principles. He argues, rather, that two perfect principles cannot become one. Thus, how can one understand the union without transforming it into a duality?

We reject Apollinaris’s heretical teaching, but we must admit he formulated it on very good grounds: the union cannot be of two whole integral persons, which is why Apollinaris dropped the human nous from the humanity. Aside from the comments on the nous, this isn’t that different from Chalcedon (11)!

Cyril responds to this by giving his famous answer: there is one nature of the enfleshed Logos. Cyril now has several difficulties: in order for this statement to be Orthodox, we have to reinterpret what we mean by “phusis.” It is also worth pointing out that Cyril is ideologically dependent on his opponents, which likely prevented him from developing a full, positive alternative to Nestorius.

Bulgakov’s genius (if he proves successful) is to solve the dialectic in this manner: man contains within himself the receptacle of divinity. This is so because he is created on the divine proto-image. In other words, there is a mediating principle between divinity and humanity. It will be Bulgakov’s argument that this is what preserves Chalcedon: the third-term mediation allows a true union and avoids duality.

An Analysis and Critique

Strictly judged on Platonic grounds, it’s hard to argue with him. Without agreeing with him on all specifics (heavy Mariology), I have to admit his project seems to ‘work.’ He gives a very beautiful and engaging discussion on creation, time, and eternity.

His heavy Platonizing could be forgiven if it weren’t for the occasional foray into Gnosticism. He identifies the Logos with the “Demiurgos” (111). This isn’t that different from the god of Freemasonry and Egyptian magic religion. It is an “architect” that merely re-shapes dead matter.  And that is what magic essentially is:  the manipulation of dead matter.  He runs into other dangers with loose terminology: he speaks of a tri-hypostasis, a feminine hypostasis of Sophia, but at other times he denies that Sophia is en-hypostasized. He gives an impressive defense of Orthodox Eucharistology, but I do not think it holds water. He rightly argues that the Ascended Christ is bodily in heaven, notwithstanding any difficulties that entails. The problem for his Eucharistology is that how can the bodily Christ stay in heaven and be physically present in the elements? Bulgakov responds by saying…I kid you not…”He comes down without leaving heaven.” Understandably, some won’t be convinced.

I think Bulgakov successfully defended himself from charges of heresy. Further, if one is committed to substance-ontologies, then it’s hard to avoid Bulgakov’s proposal. If there remains some truth in Hegel, then Bulgakov’s ideas could prove quite valuable. At the end of the day, though, many are nervous about employing a heavily Platonic schemata in our theology

Demiurgos, Arianism, Freemasonry

Plato is clear that the Demiourgos does not create ex nihilo, but out of pre-existent matter. Magic, for the post-Renaissance philosophers, was the manipulation of dead matter. Upon closer inspection, this turns out to be exactly the god of Freemasonry.  Let’s not leave the argument, yet. Plato places the Demiourgos within an ancient Egyptian narrative. Thus, Egyptian magic = Demiourgos = Freemasonry .  Reminds me of a funny scene in one of Robert Howard’s Conan stories.  Conan had infiltrated what was clearly a reference to an Egyptian temple whose acolytes would wait patiently while the snake god Set ate them whenever he willed, and Howards add “this was the will of Set.  Ah, but such was not the will of Conan,” and then Conan killed the snake or something.