Irrational residue

For St. Basil, not the divine essence alone but also created essences could not be expressed in concepts. In contemplating any object we analyse its properties: it is this which enables us to form concepts. But this analysis can in no case exhaust the content of the object of perception. There will always remain an ‘irrational residue’ which escapes analysis and which cannot be expressed in concepts; it is the unknowable depth of things, that which constitutes their true, indefinable essence. In regard to the names which we apply to God, these reveal his energies which descend towards us yet do not draw us closer to his essence, which is inaccessible.

Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997), 33.

Hermeneutic of love

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought. If, on the other hand, a man draws a meaning from them that may be used for the building up of love, even though he does not happen upon the precise meaning which the author whom he reads intended to express in that place, his error is not pernicious, and he is wholly clear from the charge of deception. For there is involved in deception the intention to say what is false; and we find plenty of people who intend to deceive, but nobody who wishes to be deceived….

Whoever takes another meaning out of Scripture than the writer intended, goes astray, but not through any falsehood in Scripture. Nevertheless, as I was going to say, if his mistaken interpretation tends to build up love, which is the end of the commandment, he goes astray in much the same way as a man who by mistake quits the high road, but yet reaches through the fields the same place to which the road leads. He is to be corrected, however, and to be shown how much better it is not to quit the straight road, lest, if he get into a habit of going astray, he may sometimes take cross roads, or even go in the wrong direction altogether.

For if he takes up rashly a meaning which the author whom he is reading did not intend, he often falls in with other statements which he cannot harmonize with this meaning. And if he admits that these statements are true and certain, then it follows that the meaning he had put upon the former passage cannot be the true one: and so it comes to pass, one can hardly tell how, that, out of love for his own opinion, he begins to feel more angry with Scripture than he is with himself. And if he should once permit that evil to creep in, it will utterly destroy him. “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Now faith will totter if the authority of Scripture begin to shake. And then, if faith totter, love itself will grow cold. For if a man has fallen from faith, he must necessarily also fall from love; for he cannot love what he does not believe to exist. But if he both believes and loves, then through good works, and through diligent attention to the precepts of morality, he comes to hope also that he shall attain the object of his love. And so these are the three things to which all knowledge and all prophecy are subservient: faith, hope, love….

And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of the Scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces. So that in their case, I think, the saying is already fulfilled: “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” Yet by means of these instruments (as they may be called), so great an edifice of faith and love has been built up in them, that, holding to what is perfect, they do not seek for what is only in part perfect—of course, I mean, so far as is possible in this life; for, in comparison with the future life, the life of no just and holy man is perfect here. Therefore the apostle says: “Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity:” because, when a man shall have reached the eternal world, while the other two graces will fail, love will remain greater and more assured.

Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,” in St. Augustine’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), Book I, Chapters 36-9, pp. 533-4.

You can read this work beginning at Book I, chapter 36, for free on CCEL by clicking here.

Tradition vs. Traditionalism

Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.

Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 65.

The paradigm is the problem

The economic paradigm of human organization doesn’t care. About life. Yours, mine, our grandkids, our planet’s. In any of it’s three aspects: not it’s potential, nor it’s possibility, nor it’s reality—life a beautiful and universal quest for self-realization. It’s sole end is maximizing immediate income. It doesn’t care if you’re happy or miserable, if you’re fulfilled or hollow, if you’re humane and gentle and wise or cruel and brutish and spiteful, if you flourish or wither as a human being, if the oceans dry up and die or teem joyously, if the skies turn to ash, if if you, me, our grandkids, or the planet, dies young or old, or if any of us live or die at all, in fact. It just doesn’t care. It wasn’t designed to. Thus, all that possibility, all that potential, is never realized: it’s used up to maximize immediate income. More and more, maximizing immediate income minimizes life’s potential….

Climate change happens when the planet’s well-being is used up to maximize immediate income. Stagnation happens when people’s well-being is used up to maximize immediate income. Inequality happens when a society’s well-being is used up to maximize immediate income. And extremism is a result of all that ripping yesterday’s stable and prosperous social contracts to shreds. Today’s great global problems are just surface manifestations of the same underlying breakdown — a badly, fatally, irreparably broken paradigm of human organization.

The paradigm is the problem. A solely, paradigmatically, one-dimensional economic approach to human organization. That old, rusting, busted, industrial-age, economic paradigm is what’s created the Massive Existential Threats the world faces today. The single-minded pursuit of maximizing short-term income (versus, for example, optimizing long-run well-being) is what’s ignited inequality, stagnation, climate change, and extremism—and the later problems that are likely to stem from them.

And so—it’s no coincidence—here we are. Desperately clutching the controls in a nose dive of human possibility. But the controls don’t seem to work anymore, do they?

Umair Haque, “The Story: Life, the World, Now, You, and Me” (Eudaimonia & Co. blog, Sep. 14, 2017), retrieved from https://eand.co/the-story-eea04d97062b.

Jesus didn’t hold on to any rights

“We carefully respect your choices, so we work within your systems even while we seek to free you from them…. Creation has been taken down a very different path than we desired. In your world the value of the individual is constantly weighed against the survival of the system, whether political, economic, social, or religious—any system, actually. First one person, then a few, and finally even many are easily sacrificed for the good and ongoing existence of that system. In one form or another this lies behind every struggle for power, every prejudice, every war, and every abuse of relationship. The ‘will to power and independence’ has become so ubiquitous that it is now considered normal….”

” … Jesus didn’t hold on to any rights. He willingly became a servant and lives out of his relationship to Papa. He gave up everything, so that by his dependent life he opened a door that would allow you to live free enough to give up your rights.”

Wm. Paul Young, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007), 125-6, 139.

I am gravely disappointed with the white moderate

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (letter dated April 16, 1963). Retrieved from the University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center website.

Forgetting our inheritance

A classical inheritance is all around us, recognized or unrecognized. Yet there has been no period since the Renaissance which is as intent on forgetting the classical past as today. The images and language that flooded the minds of previous generations now need a guidebook. A painting of a classical myth must have an explanation on its museum label, every classical reference in a poem needs a footnote. What for centuries was the foundation of Western culture, a shared resource of the imagination, has been systematically uprooted in modern educational systems across the West, with inevitable consequences for public culture. Modernity has come to mean amnesia—amnesia about the past, about cultural tradition, about the passions and interests of our own history. Like adolescents who believe themselves the first to discover swear-words and sex, and who can only stare with incomprehension at their parents’ desires, modern culture finds it hard to notice that it is forgetting its inheritance.

Simon Goldhill. Love, Sex & Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 2.

Adrift on a sea of anxiety

A seemingly rudderless and anchorless society has cast us all adrift on a sea of anxiety. And man, being in honor, did not understand; he is compared to the mindless cattle, and is become like unto them (Ps. 48:12). This condition makes us ripe to fall for the old adage, “any port in a storm,” and that is just what we do. By the thousands, the millions, we give ourselves to whatever seems to offer some sense of identity or direction, some meaning to life, be that what it may: a life of sensual indulgence, politically correct social activism or the superficial “spirituality” of the self-help league. Even self-immolation upon the altar of the false god of nihilism is to be preferred to the frightening emptiness and naked despair which threatens to overwhelm our fragile hold upon reality.

Why do ye spend money for that which is not bread and labor for that which satisfieth not? (Is. 55:2). These words of the Prophet Isaiah may echo in our ears, yet one who is starving will eat whatever food is offered, even if it be rotten or mixed with poison. This is all the more true of the spiritually starving generation being raised now amidst the enthralling global culture of apostasy; a spiritual famine for the Life-giving Word of God has come upon us.

St. Theophan the Recluse, The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to It, tr. Alexandra Dockham (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1995), 25-6.