A Clement-Plotinus connection?

Plotinus studied philosophy at Alexandria in the 230s, at a time when Clement’s works would have been well known among the city’s Christian scholars. Plotinus’ famous teacher, Ammonius Saccas, was either a Christian throughout his life (as believed by Eusebius) or had been raised a Christian and converted to paganism (as claimed by Porphyry). It thus is not unlikely that Plotinus encountered the Stromata in his studies. If so, could it have been from Clement that he derived the idea of using energeia as the key to his own theory of emanation?

David Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West

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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?

Cosmology

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).

Ecclesiology

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

Problems

  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.

Review Pannenberg Part 3

What does the Bible call God?

When Paul calls God pneuma does he mean it in the sense of Middle Platonism’s understanding of God as nous?

But what is ruach?  “Ruach is decribed as a mysteriously invisible natural force which declares itself in the movement of the wind” (373). “The breath of Yahweh is a creative life force.”  Very seldom does this relate to what we call “spirit,” the thinking consciousness. Ties it in with Psalm 139:7 as the field of God’s activity.

Capitalizes on these insights into Trinitarianism.  There was always the difficulty of seeing the divine essence–Spirit–as a subject alongside the three persons.  WP, while not going into great detail, suggests his models gets beyond this impasse (386).

Hebrew view of truth:  not merely self-identity and correspondence, but that process of events at their end in which the essence of things is revealed:  the end-time event invovles also the judgment of the world, the disclosure and true character of things (387).

WP does say that the three persons are the one subject of divine action (388).  This means he  cannot be accused, pace Letham, of Social Trinitarianism.  I think it is easier to follow Jenson’s reading of the Cappadocians via the essence as the divine life.

The future of the world is the mode of time that stands closest to God’s eternity…The goal of the world and its history is nearer to God than its commencement (390).

Review Paul Tillich History Christian Thought

Tillich, Paul.  History of Christian Thought.

As far as histories of Christian thought go this is actually one of the better ones.   A number of issues, though, prevent it from a fully recommendation.

Absorption into “The One”

Tillilich’s most important contribution in this volume is his lucid discussion of Neo-Platonism.  Going beyond traditional accounts, Tillich describes it as “the abyss of everything specific.”  Neo-Platonism, as it relates to the “One,” says that the One is beyond all distinctions, beyond the difference between Subject and Object (it’s hard to define what Neo-Platonism means by “the One.”   Loosely-speaking, we will call it the “God-concept” for lack of a better term).  It is not purely negative but is rather positive: it incorporates everything into itself.

This might seem like an arcane discussion, but it is crucial to understanding not only the rest of Christian thought, but Tillich’s own ethics and theology.  Tillich will identify God, or more importantly, our experience of God, as the “ground of being.”  Salvation, thus, for Tillich, is entering into the “New Being.”  Sin and evil are, obviously, nothing, no-thing, the dissolution of being.  Readers will certainly recognize Augustine’s discussion of evil as a privation of Good.

Universals

Tillich gives a particularly good analysis of the recurring realist-nominalist debate.  He goes beyond the mere textbook descriptions which say that realists believe that universal ideas exist, whereas nominalists do not.  That’s true, but fails to capture the power of the movement.  Tillich notes that for the realists, universals were dynamic powers of being arranged in a hierarchy where the one universal above mediated below, and so on.    When I read this, all of a sudden Platonism made perfect sense.  Interestingly, Tillich notes that when Greek paganism became Hellenized, the pagan gods were simply transposed into universal mediations.   This is particularly insightful when we apply this same analysis to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox syncretism ala Mary and the saints.

High Points Through History

Not every thinker is going to be consistently good in analysing church history.   Tillich’s particular strengths are Augustine, Anselm, and Luther.   I do not buy into Tillich’s apologetics, but his discussion of the ontological argument was good.   While risking some oversimplification, he notes a number of differences between Eastern and Western thought.  Salvation for the former was absorption into the One, a vertical movement, whereas the primary reality for the latter was a horizontal movement, eschatology.  This is a terrible oversimplification, but there is some truth in it as it relates to Origen’s influence on Eastern theology and Christology.  Western thought, by contrast, was able to better develop a kingdom of God eschatology.  Tillich, though, does not develop this point in greater detail.

The Bad Parts

Tillich, despite his protests, is a liberal.  He relies on outdated scholarship which makes the silliest claims (he thinks Daniel got his material from the Persians, which is silly even on Tillich’s own analysis since the Persian religion was ontological absorption, whereas Daniel spoke of the horizontal movement of the Kingdom of God in history–Daniel 2, 7, and 9).  Further, while Tillich himself gives a good criticism of Eastern ontology, it’s difficult to see how his own view isn’t similar

Depraved Sexual Ethics

Tillich makes a number of strange claims that do not make sense unless one is aware of Tillich’s own life.  (Tillich, while there was no official diagnosis, likely suffered from satyriosis).  He accuses Calvinist countries of having a repressed sexual ethic.  This is strange since it was the Puritans and Reformers who delighted in sexual love between husband and wife.   The Romanist Thomas More accused the Reformers of drinking and “lechering.”  What does Tillich mean by this claim?   According to his wife’s biography of him, and his son’s own memory,

And I am saying that at the beginning they agreed sexual involvement with others was permitted and that this arrangement got out of hand. He wouldn’t stop and she didn’t like it anymore, perhaps after the trauma of emigration and adjusting to a new world and a new child” (p. 14)

This quote is one of the rather tame ones and I won’t cite more for propriety reasons.  It gets a lot worse, including Tillich’s frequenting of brothels.  How can Tillich justify this?  Simple.  It goes back to his “ground-of-being” theology.  Salvation is finding actuality in “the New Being.”  Tillich, thus, would seek sexual experience in other women, even prostitutes, but rationalized this by saying he wasn’t seeking “actuality” in these encounters.

Unfortunately, even by Tillich’s own ethical theory, I think he fails.  We must bring up the uncomfortable likelihood that he risked (if not openly caught) venereal diseases from these encounters.  This would have a destructive side-effect on his existence.   Would this not, accordingly, be a slide into non-being and dissolution?  Indeed it would, and so by his own existential standards he is condemned.

I think this explains his anger at the Calvinist sexual ethic.   The Reformers and Puritans saw joy in married sex–something Tillich rejected in his own life–and denied sexual encounters with strange women, something Tillich openly sought.

Conclusion

Is this book worth getting?  It’s hard to say.  The philosophical analyses were superb, but knowing Tillich’s own background I’m uneasy recommending it.  I bought my copy at a garage sale for about ten cents (and the previous owner bought it from a public library book sale for about the same price.  No profit or royalties were made by anybody).  I wouldn’t spend more than that on it.

 

Tracing the Occult: A Genealogy of Conspiracy; part 1

The broad outline of this is taken from several Joseph Farrell talks and found in some of his books, namely Giza Death Star Destroyed, The Philosopher’s Stone, and Babylon’s Banksters.  Ironically, it is also hinted at in David Bradshaw’s Aristotle East and West (Cambridge), though I doubt Bradshaw is aware of the implications.  Consider:  The last neo-Platonic magician, Iamblichus, died in the 4th century.   500+ years later various occultic movements arise in Europe fully formed and with ideological ties to earlier neo-Platonism.   As sociologists of religion are aware, this is simply not how religious movements start.  There is an early phase as the group is figuring out its rituals and doctrines, and then a maturer phase.  Except these occult groups (think Templars) skipped the earlier phase.  The best explanation is that there were underground movements.

Another interesting fact:  the ancient Roman senatorial families were suspected of having access to ancient knowledge (from Babylon and Egypt; the latter is easier to prove, since Plato said he took his thoughts from Egypt, and Roman philosophy is a cheap knock-off of Greek philosophy).  These senatorial families would later become the Roman curia in the middle ages.

Maybe Colin Gunton is right to hate Gnosticism so much.