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.

Christ Eastern Thought: False Dionysius (5)

A new “Alexandrianism” appeared in the church after the condemnations of Origen.

“God is a super-essence and therefore can be identified with no being as object of knowledge.  He is beyond any knowledge” (94). How, then, can we know God if he is “beyond-knowing?”  False Dionysius’s answer:  “the mind must go out of itself, for the knowledge of God is beyond the mind” (95).

In distinction from Greek polytheism, Dionysius claims we can’t know God through the natural processes of the senses (99).  I agree to a point.  I do wonder if this meshes with Romans 1:20.

Divine manifestations are God’s names and thus truly present in the world.   No real problem, but one must ask:  are these divine manifestations in a divine hierarchy?  If so, have we really overcome neo-platonism?  Meyendorff appears to answer the question:  the procession is not a dimunition of the divine being but a presence of God in the fullness of his being (100-101).  Fair enough, but why then the need for hierarchy at all?


Meyendorff gives a lucid summary of neo-platonic ontology:

All reality proceeds from the One, transcendent and unpartakeable, and is determined in a rigorous system of gradations, in proportion to the remoteness of each being in relation to its origin.  Each superior order (taxis) serves, on the other hand, as an intermediary for the inferiors, and, on the other hand, is itself divided into three elements:  the unpartakeble , the partakable, and the participating, and constitutes a triad (101, cf. Celestial Hierarchy, V, 6).


Triad of bishop, priest, deacon.   Meyendorff notes (and disapproves!) of the intermediary structure.


  1. How coherent is it to speak of the mind knowing by going outside of itself?  We are back to chain of being.  Something is simply wrong with man qua man that we need something added to him (and they don’t mean wrong in the sense of sin, but of finitude).
  2. Meyendorff downplays the role of Ps.Dionysius in the East.

Reflections on 3 Views: EO/Evangelicalism

As far as the Zondervan Counterpoints go, this is a better volume.   I will forgo a thorough review, since expositing some essays would take many, many pages (and I plan to do that in my book on EO).  So here is a short overview, with strengths and weaknesses:

Thesis:  Are Evangelicalism and Eastern Orthodoxy compatible?  Notice that the thesis is not whether one position is true or not (though that inevitably comes up).  The answers:

Yes:  Bradley Nassif.  My favorite of the EO writers today.  While I enjoyed his essay, sadly he does not represent most Orthodox. He criteria of compatibility, as dissenter Berzonsky noted, were drawn from Evangelical, not Orthodox sources.

No:  Michael Horton and Vladimir Berzonsky.  Horton notes that Orthodoxy’s own criteria precludes any real “compatibility.” He then does  explicates the NT teaching on justification and compares it with EO sources.  If Evangelicals cannot budge on this point–and they cannot–and if EO cannot incorporate it into their own theology, instead of making sublating everything into theosis, then there isn’t much possibility of compatibility, much less union.

Berzonsky’s essay does little more than offer numerous assertions on why Evangelicals should reject their sinful identity and become Orthodox.   At least he is honest.   He thinks everyone is a radical Anabaptist and doesn’t make any attempt to interact with Horton’s arguments.   In the final reflections, he is quite silent on Horton’s specific rebuttals.

Maybe:  George Hancock-Stefan and Edward Rommel, Romanian Baptist and American orthodox respectively.  Stefan gives a very interesting, but anecdotal essay of his life as a convert in Romania.  He explains how the Romanian Orthodox elite silenced and stifled evangelical voices.  I sympathized with his essay but it isn’t much in the way of logical argument.  However, he did point out that in Orthodoxy the church mediates everything through the priest.  This is the theology of False Dionysius.

Conclusion:  Horton and Berzonsky are correct.   Per the latter, if Orthodoxy is the fullness of the faith, then what precisely does Evangelicalism have to offer?  On the other hand, if Orthodoxy is indeed the fulfillment, then please deal with Horton’s arguments.

Killing Dinosaurs

Orthodox Bridge compares the Protestant search for the “early church” to the movie Jurassic Park.   As usual, it’s the same thing as the other articles in that site.   But here goes:

to adopt an episcopal structure would mean surrendering congregational autonomy so precious to so much of Evangelicalism.

But are the only two options available episcopacy and congregationalism?  To anyone who has been to a Presbytery meeting this is silly.  For what it’s worth, I have no administrative problems with episcopacy.  What RA is not telling you is that False Dionysius’s ontology undergirds RA’s understanding of episcopacy: the bishop mediates grace to the priest who mediates it to you.

He quotes Ignatius on where the bishop is present in the congregation, there is the church.   A few minutes reflection will show OB really doesn’t believe this without qualification:  the last Greek service I went to did not have a bishop present.   So is Ignatius using the term “bishop” like the apostles did, something akin to the president of the assembly?

Many Protestants by reading only the Bible and ignoring the early church fathers end up projecting their Protestant bias onto church history.

This is bearing false.   He is equivocating on the terms “evangelical” and “protestant.”  I have challenged him dozens of times to clarify his terms, and he occasionally does, so he knows better.  When I was in seminary, as lame as the curriculum was, we read more of the medievals and church fathers than we did of the Puritans (or Bucer, or Melanchton, or John Knox, or Samuel Rutherford. Okay, I will stop).

 Similarly, for Protestants all they had to go by were ancient patristic texts but no living church tradition that goes back to the early Church.  This leaves them guessing as to what the early Church must have been like.

Quick question: Where is the “link” (since we are talking about dinosaurs) between verifiable apostolic documents and traditions like burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and the iconostasis?  There is none; therefore, he must admit to his own reconstruction.

 Protestants end up having to reconstruct the early Church as they best understood it to have been. The Jesus Movement of the 1970s had house churches where people sat on the floor, played guitars and sang praise songs, and everyone with a Bible in their hands.

More false witness, for he is equating hippies with magisterial protestantism.  Martin Bucer did not think he was reinventing the wheel.  He (and others) didn’t want to worship God in a way that God had promised to kill his covenant people if they worshiped him in those modes.

The Protestant view of history assumes that there once was an apostolic Church but itno longer exists today.  But Protestants and Evangelicals need to ask the question:What if the apostolic Church still exists today?  What if there was a church where the errors of the papacy were avoided?  What if that church was within driving distance today?

You show me the verifiable, written link between the apostles and burning incense to the Queen of Heaven.  I deny that a church that does so is a true church.

But when approached from the standpoint of the Old Testament pattern of worship transformed by the New Covenant of Jesus Christ, the Divine Liturgy makes perfectly good sense.  The vestments worn by Orthodox priests are patterned after those worn by the Old Testament priests.

But the OT worship is types and shadows.  Why are you gong back to types and shadows?  I agree with your comparison.  That is why we don’t do it.

If Jesus Christ is the Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world then it makes sense to view the Eucharist as the culmination of the Old Testament sacrificial system.

But if Jesus was once for all sacrificed, then why repeat it?

A careful reading shows that icons have a biblical basis in the Old Testament (Exodus 26, 2 Chronicles 3).

Church art is a different category than saying we worship God through pictorial intermediaries (which Karl Barth defined as the essence of idolatry).  It is bad logic to jump from cherubim on the ark to making a picture of God.   Further, if the OT is types and shadows, then the argument, such that it is, nearly refutes itself!

Protestant ecclesiology assumes a major discontinuity in history.

Said no magisterial Reformer ever.  Third instance of bearing false witness.

Protestant church history is based on the idea that there once was a pure and apostolic Church but that early Church fell into spiritual darkness.

The apostle Paul said that wolves would come in after he left.  He also warned against Hellenistic philosophy.  The Orthodox church is heavily Hellenistic.  Who is the “BOBO” now?

The current Patriarch of Antioch,John X, can trace his apostolic succession back to the first century.

Caiaphas killed Jesus and he could trace his claim back to Aaron.

The early form of church government was episcopal – rule by bishop.  Ignatius of Antiochthe third bishop of Antioch and a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote a series of letters on his way to martyrdom in Rome in 98 or 117 about the importance of obeying the bishop.  In his letters he exhorted people not to celebrate the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper) apart from the bishop

Except that most (all?) Orthodox churches do not have bishops presiding every Lord’s Day.  Which means that “bishop” was understood more along the lines of presiding elder.  The very quote from Ignatius seems to imply this.  Did OB even read it?

Continuity in theology

It’s not enough to claim continuity with the apostles.  The Jesus-murderers could claim continuity with Aaron.  The Episcopals can claim apostolic succession.  You must also, per your reading, claim theological continuity.  Okay, so where was the essence/energies distinction back then?

While Basil did anticipate elements of it, the Cappadocians saw God’s ousia as his divine life, not a hidden interiority.   FTW.