Re Reading Bible as Tradition

The more I read Anchorite apologetics, the more I realize they never deal with Reformed Presbyterians, but Baptists. That’s cool. Baptists are ubiquitous. The problem is the subconscious projection of Baptist mentality upon Magisterial Presbyterianism.

Reading the Bible as Tradition by Andrew Stephen Damick.

Interestingly, I had this same thought yesterday.  Question:  is the LXX translation also a tradition?  It most certainly is, since translations are tradition. I’ll come back to that.

I recently came across a conversation online in which someone insisted that he didn’t need tradition at all, because he had the Bible.

This statement is universally rejection by our confessions (though it is the American mindset, sadly).

If you are reading the Bible for yourself at home , then you are unlike most Christians in history, most of whom could never afford a Bible and many of whom could not read.

I agree 100%.  This is why our confessions say that especially the preaching of the Word of God.  This reinforces the Verbal Ontology that is from God’s revelation.  So I say “amen” to the good father.

If you believe that the Bible’s meaning is simply apparent to you without anyone’s help, then you are discounting everything you have learned about what the Bible means from other people and even what language itself means

Again, I agree.  The above mentality, typical of American evangelicals but firmly rejected by Confessional Protestants, is simply Greek autonomy in new dress.  The desire for unmediated truth.

If you are reading a translation of the Bible, then you are trusting someone else’s word about what it says. The Bible never says it’s okay to use translations, and it doesn’t endorse one over another.

This is a good rebuttal to King James Onlyism.  I would like to add my own thoughts.  We see the apostles using both the LXX and the Hebrew traditions.

If you are reading the Bible in the original languages, then you not only had someone teach you Greek or Hebrew, but you also made a choice or accepted someone else’s choice when it came to which version of the Biblical text you would read. There are multiple manuscript traditions, and they’re not all the same.

See above.  I took years of textual criticism and this is old hat.

If you are reading the Old Testament in Hebrew, then you’re not using the Old Testament most often used by the apostles in their writings, which was the Greek Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament made by Greek-speaking Jews completed perhaps as early as the late second century BC.

I dispute that it’s overwhelmingly so.  What we don’t see from the apostles is a clear endorsement of the LXX over the Hebrew, nor does it vindicate a lot of the LXX’s goofiness as a whole.

If you are reading the Old Testament at all, then you are benefiting from the Jewish community’s traditions of textual transmission and editing—and not just the Jewish community in general, but particular parties within Judaism, which as a whole had several different incipient canons all by the time of Christ. And within the text itself, there are clear signs that not everything written under someone’s name is from that person. For instance, the Books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, both attributed to Moses, include the details of his death and burial. How could Moses have written that? He didn’t. Those details were included in a process of tradition.

There is a lot of stupidity in American evangelicalism, but this borders on insulting their intelligence.  Anyone with even a mediocre study bible knows all of this.

And the Bible you read may have a different Old Testament than the one the apostles did, i.e., not just different in language but with a different list of books (the Septuagint includes books like Tobit, Baruch and the Maccabees).

But in his above point he conceded that the Judaisms had multiple canons.  How does he know that the apostles are using the Hellenized Alexandrian canon and not the Hebraic Palestinian one?   Textual scholarship is by no means leaning towards the former view.   After Beckwith it is hard to even countenance it.

But what I try to tell anchorites is that Protestants hold to tradition in a ministerial sense.

It’s impossible to read the Bible without tradition. Tradition gave you the Bible. So the question really is: Which tradition?

I’ll take it a step further:  how do you know which tradition in a non-circular manner? This problem is by no means limited to sola scriptura.  It is the heart of every claim to authority.

Argument: The Apostolic Church teaches it, therefore it must be so.

Dilemma: This is 100% circular reasoning. In order to accept this, you have to first accept the presupposition that the “apostolic” church in question is infallible, which is in and of itself circular reasoning. It should likewise be noted that I have heard this argument made even when all previous evidence already stated in this post has been brought forward. At this point, it’s just appealing to authority of the individual church group, despite evidence that this group is in error.

Notes on Ricoeur

I am not going to do a chapter by chapter analysis of Figuring the Sacred.  Not every chapter was equally good.   Some of his musings on Heidegger and Kant were interesting but not germane to narrative theology.

“Philosophy and Religious Language”

Understanding a text is always something more than the summation of partial meanings; the text as a whole has to be considered as a hierarchy of topics” (Ricoeur 38).

This makes me think of chiasms.  The structure of a chiasm reinforces meaning.  Meaning unfolds from narrative.

“Not just any theology whatsoever can be tied to narrative form, but only a theology that proclaims Yahweh to be the grand actor of a history of deliverance.  Without a doubt it is this point that forms the greatest contrast between the God of Israel and the God of Greek Philosophy” (40).

I’ve long expected the above paragraph to anger Anchorites.  I was surprised when it started angering Reformed folk.

Manifestation and Proclamation

This is the most important essay in the book and the one that causes much offense.   Ricoeur opposes a philosophy of manifestation (ontotheology) with a philosophy of proclamation (Yahweh speaks).

Manifestation

The “numinous” element of the sacred has nothing to do with language (49).  Another key element is theophany–not moments in the biblical narrative, but anything by which the sacred shows itself (icons, relics, holy places).   This means that reality is something other than itself while remaining itself.

There is a correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm (54).  This brings to mind the Luciferian “as above, so below” dictum.  In short, ontologies of manifestation always focus on “reality/grace/etc” emanating from the thing or the place.

Proclamation

There is a rupture–violent in the case of the prophets’ war against Baalism–between manifestation and proclamation.  The word outweighs the numinous (56).  Israel’s whole theology–and identity–was formed around discourses.

Per idols and icons:  “We may say that within the Hebraic domain they (hierophanies) withdraw to the extent that instruction through Torah overcomes any manifestation through an image.  A Theology of the Name is opposed to any hierophany of an idol…Hearing the word has taken the place of vision of signs” (56).  God’s pesel is the Ten Words. It is the only pesel he commanded.

Communal Readings

In “The ‘Sacred’ Text and the Community” Ricoeur gives a neat deconstruction of the concept “sacred,” especially when applied with a book.

For us, manifestation is not be necessity linked to language.  The word ‘sacred’ belongs to the side of manifestation, not to the side of proclamation, because many things may be sacred without being a text (71)

Ricoeur the Hermeneut

His reading of Genesis 1:1-2:4a is interesting, but more for the method than the conclusions. His essay on the Imagination is quite valuable in showing what “goes on” in a narrative.   Many narratives in the Bible, particularly Jesus’s parables, employ intertextuality which always forces an expansion of meaning from the text. In other words, it is “an object with surplus value” (152).  Assuming that the Holy Spirit didn’t write chaotically and randomly, isolated texts are now seen in a pattern and signify something else, something more (161).

Ricoeur then moves to a section on biblical time, which is useful for meditation.  He summarizes von Rad, Cullman, and others.  I won’t belabor the point.

His essay “Interpretive Narrative” offers his famous distinction between “idem” identity (the god of sameness, the god of Greek metaphysics) and ipse identity (the God who is constant to the Covenant).  He expands this motif in “Naming God.”  God’s identity is seen in his historic acts.

Conclusion

While magnificent, it is in many ways a difficult read.  He assumes a familiarity with Continental Philosophy (itself a daunting task) and even then some essays don’t seem to have a point.  But when he unloads on narrative he truly delivers.

More on the so-called Hellenic divide

I’ve never said that the Hebrew language is ontically different from the Greek language, and hence superior. Apostle Paul delivered the most devastating criticisms of Greek philosophy in the Greek language.

Rather, I am thinking in more of–hmm, I don’t want to use the term “worldview.” That is a bit overused and I suggest even “Greeky.” For some reason the phrase “social knowing” is coming to mind (I think it is the title of Pinkard’s book on Hegel). It’s not perfect and I can think of a few flaws, but it is okay enough. Keep in mind that Descartes said to get to truth he had to isolate himself in his apartment.

Below I want to offer some observations.

1. The Hebrew word for “knowing” can also be used of sexual intercourse (yada). Is knowing communal and interpersonal? Rossenstock-Huessy thought so. Jewish thinkers like Buber and Heschel picked up this as well.

1a. If knowing is communal in general, then is proper knowing also covenantal? Michael Horton suggests that the proper response to the Speaking Covenant Lord is “Here I am.” (The Christian Faith, 86-87, 95)

Excursus: Did Vos really say there was a difference between Hebrew and Greek thought? Not really. Vos simply quoted Plato and compared it with the prophets. He writes,

According to the former, “to know” means to mirror the reality of a thing in one’s consciousness. The Shemitic and biblical idea is to have the reality of something practically interwoven (Biblical Theology, 8).

Abraham Heschel writes,

Plato lets Socrates ask: What is Good? But Moses’s question was: what does God require of thee? (God in Search of Man, 98).

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.

 

Notes on Hegel

Taylor frames his book in order of several of Hegel’s main works. He does an excellent job outlining difficult terminology and highlighting key points which will serve as hermeneutical loci later.

Front Cover

Self-Positing Spirit

This introduces Hegel’s “identity of difference and identity.” Starting slowly, following Taylor, here is what I think he means. Hegel is trying to overcome the Kantian duality. Hegel wants to overcome this with his notion of “overcoming oppositions.” Therefore, identity cannot sustain itself on its own, but posits an opposition, but also a particularly intimate one (80). In short, Hegel married modern expression with Aristotle’s self-realizing form (81).

Following this was Hegel’s other point: the subject, and all his functions, however spiritual, were necessarily embodied (82-83).

The Contradiction Arises

Contrary to mindless right-wing bloggers, Hegel did not form the “dialectic” in the following way: we posit a thesis (traditional community), then we negate it (cultural marxism), which allows for the “synthesis” (our pre-planned solution all along). Here is what Hegel actually meant: there is reality, but the very structure of reality already contains a contradiction. The subject then must overcome that contradiction.

Taylor notes, “In order to be at all as a conscious being, the subject must be embodied in life; but in order to realize the perfection of consciousness it must fight and overcome the natural bent of life as a limit. The conditions of its existence are in conflict with the demands of its perfection (86).

Taylor has much more to say but that will suffice for now. Of course, I radically disagree with Hegel’s conclusions. That does not mean Hegel is value-less. On the contrary, one can see key Augustinian and Origenist points in his outlook.

Taylor seems to structure his discussion of Hegel along the following lines: Phenomenology of Geist is a sort of preparatory stage for the Logic. At the end of the last discussion, Hegel said that Spirit (Geist) comes to know himself, and that finite spirits are the vehicles of this self-knowledge. This is partly why Hegel says that Geist must be embodied.

We start off with an inadequate notion of the standard involved; but we also have some basicaly correct notions of what the standard must meet. However, we see the inadequacy of both when we try to realize it. Obviously, Hegel is simply following Plato on this point.

What if we are just arbitrarily positing some standard of knowledge? No big deal, for upon reflection we will find out that said standard is likely faulty and we will have to “re-think it.” When we re-think it we get closer to the truth. Thus, “the test of knowledge is also its standard” (136).

Hegel ends this discussion with the suggestion that consciousness inevitably posits self-conscious, which will be taken up in the next chapter.

I’m skipping the section on “self-consciousness” because I really didn’t understand it.

One thing I do appreciate about Hegel is that his worldview really is unified. His discussions on “ontology” (the study of essence) are directly connected to his politics and views on religion (and to show how “real-life” this really is: when Karl Marx read Hegel he kept a few elements but mainly despised the man and his system. He negated Hegel–pun intended. Following his negation, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao took this negation of Hegel and murdered 200 million people. Philosophy really does matter).

In the Formation of Spirit Taylor notes that Hegel idealized the ancient Greek polis: he saw a complete unity between citizen and society (171). Unfortunately (or inevitably) this had to break down. Spirit cannot become universal if it is confined to the walls of one particular city. This is an important, if somewhat abstract point. I will develop it further in my final reflections on Hegel.

Taylor remarks, somewhat side-tracking the discussion, that sin is necessary for salvation in Hegel’s view (174). Of course, as a Christian this is completely unacceptable, but it also shows my appreciation for Hegel. Hegel can be seen as the consistent high-point of a certain strand of Western thought. We saw the same type of thinking in Origen (for God to be Lord, there must be something for him to be Lord “over”).
Essentially, what Hegel is saying is that men feel a basic attitude of alienation–their substance lies outside them and they can only overcome it by overcoming their particularity (donum superadditum? 179). Unfortunately, that is what Hegel calls a “contradiction.”

This part of Hegel’s Phenomenology is dealing heavily with social life, which I will cover in greater detail in the chapters on politics.

This next section of the book, and presumably the logical outflowing of Hegel’s thought, deals with “manifest religion.” I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, partly because it is the most atrocious aspect of Hegel’s thought, and partly because I want to get to the politics. However, Hegel is nothing if not consistent, and it is important to see how one section implies the next (which is exactly how his later Logic is set up). And as always, even when wrong Hegel has some excellent insights on the human dynamic.

Building on Hegel’s premise that God/Geist/Spirit, which is the ultimate reality, must be embodied in history, it follows that one must ask in what manner is it embodied? One of the most fundamental modes, Hegel posits, is in religion (197). Briefly stated, Hegel sees each epoch in human history as manifesting religion, but always in a contradictory way. The Greeks were able to apprehend “the universal,” but they could only do so in a finite and limited way (and thus the infinite/finite contradiction). This contradiction is not a bad thing, though, for it opened up the possibility of the Christian religion (with a detour through the Hebrews). Hegel sees the ultimate religious expression in the Incarnation.

What do we make of this?

Like anything Hegel says, much of the surface-level language is quite good, but once you get beyond that you see the truly bizarre theology. Hegel has a strong emphasis on community and will say that is where the true Christian expression is found. From our perspective, this sounds a lot like saying Christ is found in the church, and that is true. Unfortunately, Hegel was not using that in the same way we are.

At this point in the narrative we are beginning the discussion of Hegel’s two-volume Logic. While this is the hardest of his works to understand (and I certainly don’t understand them beyond a fourth-grade level), it will be easy to discuss them. His main points are clear and tied together.

A Dialectic of Categories

When one is studying reality, Hegel says, one can start anywhere in the system, for each facet is ultimately tied together (226). If we start with “Being” then our method will proceed dialectically. What he means by that is the very structure of reality has a contradiction, and in overcoming that contradiction Being moves forth to something else. Throughout the whole of this discussion, Hegel is starting from Kant and reworking the system along problems he sees in Kant.

To avoid confusion, and to silence the right-wing conspiracy bloggers, Hegel’s idea of contradiction is this: he has a two-pronged argument, the first showing that a given category is indispensable, the second showing that it leads to a characterization of reality which is somehow impossible or incoherent (228).

In developing the above contradiction, Hegel assumes the Plotinian dialectic: a Something can only be defined by referent to another with which it is contrasted (236).

Hegel says a lot more on these topics, but I will not. Throughout Taylor’s analysis he reveals interstesting facets of Hegel’s thought, showing him to be a true heir of Augustine and Plotinus. We’ll discuss these topics later. The next discussion, Lord willing, will focus on the Essence.

Politics

Most right-wing bloggers think that Hegel’s view is the Illuminati finding its ultimate expression in world-government. Actually, what Hegel means is that communities become vehicles of the “Spirit.” This can (and has) been taken in numerous ways. I see it as communities organically expressing a common spirit, common values (see Augustine, City of God Book 19.4).

Hegel is trying to overcome the dilemma that social life poses: per man’s subjective life the important thing is freedom of spirit. However, man also lives in community and the norms of the community often bind his freedom of spirit (it is to Hegel’s credit that he recognized this problem generations before Nietszche and the existentialists).

Hegel suggests the form man must attain is a social form (366). It is important to note that what Hegel means by “state” is much different than what Anglo-Americans mean by it. Hegel means the “politically organized community” (387). Let’s explore these few sentences for a moment. Throughout his philosophy Hegel warns against “abstractions,” by which he means taking an entity outside its network of relations. With regard to politics, if abstraction is bad then it necessarily follows that man’s telos is in a community. Man comes into the world already in a network of relations.

Reason and History

Given Hegel’s commitment about the fulfillment of spirit, it follows that communities grow. As seen above, Hegel’s applies to history the problem of self-fulfillment. How does man realize the fulfillment of the Idea?

Jews: realization that God is pure, subjective Spirit. Ends up negating finite reality.

Greek: opposite of Jewish mentality. Harmonizes God with “natural expression.” Ends up with idolatry. Greek polis is pariochial. Each state his its own God. A universal realization of spirit is thus impossible. Men were identified with Greek state. Democracy natural expression. There is a necessary contradiction within the Greek polis: only represents a part of finite reality.

Romans: Origin of the idea as “Person,” bearer of “abstract right” (397).

Christianity: the finite subject and absolute spirit can be reconciled. The task of history is to make this reconciliation public–this is the Church.

Germans: they were to take it to the next stage.

The rest of European history is a working out these processes, a transformation of institutions. It is hear that we see feudalism, etc. At this point we need to correct a mistake about Hegel: Hegel is not saying that world history climaxes with Prussian Germany. There is no sensible way he could have believed that. Germany was weak and defeated when he wrote (it would have been interesting and perhaps more perceptive to say that Russia was the bearer of the World Spirit). Nonetheless, as Hegel notes and as his critics routinely miss, history did take an interesting turn in the 19th century and the force of ideas does not simply stop because the historian wants them to stop.

The Foundations of the Modern State

Monarchy as the Representative Individual: consistent with his earlier points, Hegel notes that there must be some way for the individual to retain his subjective right, yet at the same time freely and fully identify with the community (Staat). This happens by way of monarchy. Beneath the monarchy are Estates, who mediate the King to the people. Nowhere does Hegel mean representation according to our usage today. The King does not “represent” the will of the people, but through his kingly majesty allows the people to identify (399).

The French Revolution: Political Terror

Hegel defines it as “absolute, unlimited freedom.” Complete freedom means that outcome should be decided by me. Of course, since I am in society it is not decided by me alone. Therefore, complete freedom is decided by the strongest individual.

Charles Taylor is embarrassed by Hegel’s rejection of the principles of the French Revolution. I think the reason is that if Hegel is right and one should view the Modern Narrative as a continuation of the French Revolution, then the only moral alternative is to reject said narrative. He notes (if not likes) Hegel’s challenge to modernity: the modern ideology of equality and of total participation leads to a homogenization of society. This shakes men loose from their traditional communities but cannot replace them as a focus of identity” (414).

Translation: all natural societies organically flow from a unified belief system/ethnos (cf. Augustine, City of God, 19.4). Modernity is the negation of this. Without this unified system of belief, men cannot “connect” to one another. Thus, no real community. Thus, no real unity and society is held together by force (ala Hegel on Rome) and terror (ala Hegel on France).

Modernity is nominalism of politics.

Hegel’s conclusion, which Taylor rejects, is a rationalized monarchy. Hegel was a monarchist but he was not a traditionalist, and for that reason he was not a conservative. He agreed with the older conservatives that society must be founded on authority, estates, and a strong monarch; Hegel, however, based these spheres, not on divine right or tradition, but on reason. In this sense Hegel stands firmly in the Enlightenment.

According to Hegel France is utterly lost in terms of a political future. England is better, but she is not far behind in spiritual rot, for England (like America today) is run riot with an excess on particular rights. And in this chaos of individualism, special interest groups backed by powerful elites have taken control (like America today).

Taylor notes that for Hegel,

“The only force which could cure this would be a strong monarchy like those late medieval kings which forced through the barons the rights of the universal. But the English have crucially weakened their monarchy; it is powerless before Parliament which is the cockpit of private interests (454).

I first found this line of reasoning from Fr. Raphael Johnson’s take on Russian history. I guess Johnson got it from Hegel himself since he wrote his Master’s thesis on Hegel.

Taylor continues to the conclusion,

Hence the vehicle by which rational constitution could best be introduced and made real was a powerful modernizing monarchy…Hegel had hopes for the future based on the climate of his times. Germany had been shocked into reform by the Napoleonic conquest. It consisted of societies founded on law in which principles of rational Enlightenment had already gone some way and seemed bound to go further. It had a Protestant political culture and hence could achieve a rational constitution unlike the benighted peoples of Latin Europe, and it was not too far gone in rot like England. It held to the monarchical principle and the monarchs retained some real power unlike England, and yet the societies were law societies (454-455).

This paragraph warrants some reflection:

  • Although I am a traditionalist, and Hegel is not, I agree that a modernizing monarchy is much preferred than unreflected claims to “Throne and Altar.” Many monarchists today naively think that “restoring a king” will return the land to justice. Ironically, this tends to lead to the same problems that Republican government leads: you have the vision of a few determining the fate of the whole. Rather, a strong monarch who enforces Republican structures in the land, arising from the will of the ethnos (shades of Johann Herder), existing primarily to reign in the excesses of the free market, is one who is both authoritarian yet the people are still free.
  • while we are at it, I actually encourage one to read the thoughtful positions by N. T. Wright and Oliver O’Donovan on monarchy. However, most Protestant political forces have been confessedly thoroughly anti-monarchist, and it is no surprise there are few Protestant Monarchies left. Happily, though, there are examples of good, Protestant monarchies.

Conclusion

In many ways Taylor’s book is essential. One has to know how Hegel is using terminology and Taylor is a reliable guide in that regard. Taylor cannot square himself with Hegel’s politics, though, since Hegel is a rejection (negation?) of modernity.

Hegel is hiding within you

Yesterday I finished Martin Heidegger’s Hegel’s Concept of Experience. Leaving aside both the author and the topic, this was a helpful book.  It is Heidegger’s running commentary on key passages in the Phenomenology of Spirit.   It illuminates Hegel and provides a entry point to Heidegger’s larger work.

In this post I will briefly give an overview of the book and then show how Hegel (and Heidegger) are fully within the Greek, Hellenic position and those who hate Hegel yet prize the Greeks–especially Christians today–are inconsistent.

Heidegger reads Hegel as arguing that being is being-present.  It is the manifestation of a thing. Being is always being Par-Ousia–manifestation.  From there we see an interplay between Being as the real and the Absolute as the real.   If the Absolute is the real, and our knowledge is not yet at the absolute, it is then relative to the absolute.

Knowledge is relative to a thing.

Like a good Greek Hegel/Heidegger privileges sight over hearing as sees knowledge as manifestation (Heidegger 57).  The ultimate goal, though Heidegger never clearly states it as such, is unmediated knowledge–the Absolute which has fully come into being [arrival?] as Absolute.

The book contains some useful observations on reflection and the subject-object distinction.   What I found helpful is how the book easily lends itself as a foil to Revelational thought.  Revelational thought (what I have elsewhere called Hebraic Christianity) is verbal.  Reality is verbal.  God speaks and a thing is.  For onto-theo-logy, reality is manifestation and appearance.  It seeks to transcend mediation.

Perhaps this sheds knew-if unintended meaning–on the phrase “absolute truth.”  All of a sudden the term “absolute truth” sounds worryingly Hegelian.  It seems like–and after Hegel and Heidegger you really can’t argue otherwise–it is truth detached from the historical narrative, the particulars, the narratival idiomata.

I am not a relativist.

**For a useful introduction to Heidegger and modern Continental Philosophy, see Gayatri Spivak’s preface to Derrida’s of Grammatology.

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.

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 in Eastern Thought: Origenism (3)

This chapter deals with the post-Chalcedonian problems created by Origen’s disciples.  I don’t have a dog in this fight since I think Origen’s own views are clear enough.  I think Maximus the Confessor and Gregory of Nyssa are far closer to Origen than many would care to admit.

“From its origin, monastic asceticism had suffered the temptation of Platonic spiritualism” (50).

Meyendorff insists that the anathemas of the Fifth Council refute the notion that Byzantine Christianity is Hellenistic (57).  He cites O. Cullman who argues that biblical time contrasts with Greek time, the latter being a circle and the former an ascending line.   True, the council did condemn some of the worst aspects of Hellenism.  I just maintain that the Byzantine church never made a full break with it (and for proof see the fathers on the goodness of married sexual intimacy).

Evagrian Spirituality

“Man, a fallen intellect, is called to come back to his primitive state, that is, a state of purely intellectual activity” (59).  Admittedly, much of Evagrian spirituality was condemned by the council.   Still, he remained influential in the east.  Meyendorff notes that for this tradition we see

“detachment from the passions, continuous concentation, the fight against all distraction, the superiority of mental prayer over psalmody (!!!!), the fear of any concept provoked by imagination, and the return of the mind upon itself as a condition of its union with God” (59-60)

There is nothing remotely Christian (or even Hebraic) about that sentence.  This was the teaching adopted by Maximus, Climacus, and Palamas.   They did make one key change:  intellectual prayer became “the Jesus Prayer…The heart, not the intellect–takes the central place” (60).

The chapter ends with a fine discussion of enhypostasis:  no nature without a hypostasis–the existence “within something” (67).

Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (review notes), part 1

Witnesses to Christ:  “They [apostles] do not even claim the same kind of infallibility that rationalists critique them for” (10).  I don’t want to get into the inerrancy debate right now, but if JM is right, then why are Protestants pressed to have a kind of historical and epistemological certainty on the canon and the church?

He justifies Hellenism on the basis that the Church, to minister to the Greeks, had to think in Greek categories.  (Oddly enough, he later rebuts Harnack et al for charging that the Byzantine Church thought in Greek categories).

“The Christological problems of the fifth and sixth centuries thus can be said basically to have shaped the Byzantine theological mentality and to have provided its main theme until about the ninth century” (14).

The first chapter dealt with Cyrillene Christology.  I have no major comments except that Meyendorff didn’t touch the issue of whether deification soteriologies necessitate an instrumentalization of the human nature.  They do.   This becomes hugely problematic when these same guys tie into the communicatio idiomatum.