I can now sort of understand the Patristic angelic celibacy thing

I posted my Musings on Methodius on Puritanboard.   They didn’t like my dichotomy of Hebrew vs Hellenic thought.  I’ve spent almost a decade reading Greek (pagan and Christian) sources.  What I say is beyond dispute.  I’m also (not) surprised they didn’t take up the line of Methodius’s neo-Galatian two-class Christianity, but enough of that.

I’m fairly harsh on the Fathers for the idealization of angelic celibacy.  But as I reflect upon it, I can kind of get where they were coming from. They lived in a decaying, overly sexualized debauched culture of the late Roman Empire (nominally Christian or not).  The appeal to monasteries fairly obvious:  faced with starving poverty, unfulfilled sexuality, and lack or order, monasteries offered a stable alternative.  Does that justify later monastic trends?  Of course not, but it’s worth remembering.  If the Fathers were over-reacting to what is below, then I can understand, even if I do not approve.

(Wisdom prevailed and I didn’t post any pictures)

Musings on Methodius of Olympus

All citations taken from Schaff’s Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 6

Pros of Methodius

  1. His prose often exquisite and always lyrical.  He occasionally approaches the talent of Gregory Nazianzus, the Christian Pindar.
  2. While he often gets off track of his topic, his “wanderings” are very interesting and usually more sound than his main point.

Cons

  1. I do not believe Methodius lost the gospel.  I do think he came within a razor’s edge of losing it.
  2. His use of excessive allegory is subject to the critiques of that position.  If allegory is true, it is impossible to falsify since there is no permanent standard to say “X is wrong.”

Banquet of the Ten Virgins

Like many ancient Christians, Methodius held perpetual virginity to be the summum bonum.  Unlike other ancient Christians, his defense of it, while suffering in terms of exegesis and argument, is the best-written defense (Augustine’s is confused and he knows it; Tertullian’s ranks as the worst treatise in the history of written thought).

  • “Virginity mediates between heaven and earth” (312-313).
  • Methodius bases much of his argument on legal analogies from Old Testament shadows: 327-329; 344.  Even though this is a form of the Galatian heresy, even here he is not consistent, for he knows that people can bring up another OT text: Genesis 1:27ff about procreating (and even worse, maybe enjoying it). Indeed, he calls such men “incontinent and uncontrolled in sensuality” (320).
  • “The likeness of God is the avoidance of corruption.”  A problematic statement, but not too bad.  It gets worse when he adds another premise:  virgins have this likeness (313).  This brings up a troubling conclusion:  can married people have the likeness of God?
  • Indeed, if you are married you need to work towards the goal of never having sex again.  Methodius writes, “Until it removed entirely the inclination for sexual intercourse engendered by habit” (312).  It gets worse:  if married people enjoy sex, “how shall they celebrate the feast” (347)?  What does Methodius mean by feast?  Probably not the liturgy in this section (though of course he would draw that same application); it could be either “the kingdom of God” or the “proper Christian life.”  The narrative isn’t clear.
  • He knows the prohibition against marriage is a demonic doctrine, so he hedges his bets: marriage is to produce martyrs (314).
  • He has a fascinating discussion on numerology (339) and his commentary on the Apocalypse, while wild and fanciful, is no less arbitrary than any other “spiritual” interpretation of it

Evaluation

It is not accidental that Methodius used OT legal shadows to buttress his argument.  He picked and chose from God’s law and supplemented it with the doctrines of man.   Gone is the freedom of the Christian life.  Indeed, the Gospel has become a New Law (348-349).

Concerning Free Will

This is an important text because it summarizes ancient thought on freedom and necessity.  What is the origin of a human action (357).  Methodius wants to make sure that God is not the author of evil, but without the categories of “ultimate and proximate causality,” it’s not clear he can avoid giving evil a semi-independent existence.

His larger point is worth considering, though.  The form of necessatarianism he fights is some mixture of astrology and fatalism.  Methodius wants to free God from the charge of evil by noting he is separate from matter.  (Nota bene:  in ancient thought matter and necessity were linked.  It makes sense if you think of it.  If the above two are connected, and the will is immaterial, then the will is free).

Evaluation

As a full treatise on freedom it is inadequate, but his suggestions on matter and freedom are quite interesting.

Oration Concerning Simeon and Anna

“and preserved his mother’s purity uncorrupt and uninjured” (385).  the last two words suggest Jesus was born miraculously without damaging Mary’s ‘lady parts.”  He “opened the virgin’s womb  and yet did not burst the barriers of virginity.”  While this sounds absurd, it is consistent. The evil for men, per Methodius and ancient Christians, is corruption.   The tearing of the vaginal canal, for example (forgive the rough illustration), is corruption.  Therefore, the Logos, the Incorrupt One, could not have caused it.

The only way to really combat this idea is to attack the original premise.

Minor Works and Fragments

Many of these are corrupted mss and/or lyrical panegyrics on deceased saints.  Not much of history except we see early Marian devotion.  While this is perhaps uncharitable towards Methodius, one wonders if the point of Jesus in our lives is so we can praise Mary.

Evaluation and Conclusion

Methodius is a good witness to Eastern Christianity before the Nicene Council.  He has some interesting suggestions on free will and determinism.  Unfortunately, he exalts man-made ideas of perpetual celibacy to the first-order level of the gospel.  It is instructive that we see why:  sex–assuming it to be married sex–is messy and smelly and arouses extreme passions between man and wife.  This is low on the scale of being and it does not become the one who wants to transcend finitude to the realms of the passionless.

This is very good Hellenistic philosophy, but is an open attack on an earthy Hebraic Christianity.   Methodius himself suggests as much (see page 344).

He is worth reading for the occasional insight, but even where he is right (e.g., the Trinity) he has been surpassed by other luminaries.  Where is wrong, he is fatally wrong.

 

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.

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.

Evangelical Anchoretism

I am asked in debates with Orthodox what is “Anchoretism,” of which I routinely accuse them.  Fair enough.  I can give cerebral definitions like “trying to obtain hyperousia by human efforts.”  (By the way:   that is exactly what theology of glory means, not a synonym for theonomy).  That’s a fairly damning definition, but I think we can take it a step further.

Only Evangelicals could think of something this stupid (Yes, I realize it is a parody but I’ve had conversations with Evangelicals who actually spout this nonsense). However, they are drawing upon an ancient, if erroneous, church teaching. Here is a confused but mostly helpful summary of fathers’ teaching on intercourse for priests (The Eastern Orthodox are correct to note that the Bible allows for bishops to marry. They are incorrect in their gnostic conclusions).

I understand that they urge “living in celibacy” because they see themselves as a continuation of the Levitical line. That raises another problem which I’ll address later.

Back to the video: while it is a parody and not to be taken literally, it does raise important issues. Their silly app which rings when the other is having impure thoughts, and the wife says, “You’re thinking of me, right.”

The husband: “How can I, since you go into the bathroom to change?”

You can draw your own conclusion on where that is headed in a few years, but this is the practical consequence of “being more holy because I am more celibate than you.” I know of an EO convertskii who appeared to take this vow a few years ago. Nothing good can come of this. The apostle Paul urges to withdraw from intercourse for a brief period of time to devote to prayer, but just as strongly urged them to have intercourse again so they won’t be tempted by the devil.

No wonder Paul elsewhere considers these people as “teaching the doctrine of demons.” Literally.

Mary(ied) Relations with Joseph

I’m reading some old biblical typology discussions on whether Mary and Joseph ever consummated their relationship after Jesus’s birth.   I used to always think this was a no-brainer  When I read all the church fathers it seemed to seep into me that maybe they didn’t.  I’ve rejected that view, too.  I am going to look at the evidence.

1.  The text clearly says that Joseph did not know Mary until after she purified herself from childbirth.  I know of all the Anchorite hoops jumped through on this verse, but the most natural meaning of the text is that they eventually consummated their relationship.

2.   Mary was a good Jewish girl.  Hebrew girls wanted to give away their virginity to their husbands.

3.   Deliberate refusal of sex for “spiritual” reasons in marriage is simply docetism.

4.  Marriage is a reflection of Christ and his church.  What would an unconsummated marriage teach about Christ and the church?