Gimme That Old Time Meta-Cosmic Religion
Talk about historical I-AMnesia! That's like forgetting who you are. And why you are, for that matter.
I haven't finished the book yet, but as far as I can tell, this guy is the Man. I was familiar with him before, but this is my first in-depth study. One of the things that most intrigues me about him is that he doesn't just unify eastern and western forms of Christianity, but eastern and western forms of thought -- or even being.
It seems that it never occurs to anyone that the dispute between Orthodoxy and Catholicism is not so much over content as form. That's certainly how I see it. (There are also differences in emphasis, but I'm guessing that these can be reduced to form as well. We shall see as we go along.)
Even more importantly, I think this may speak to the intrinsic division in the human psyche between left and right brains, which process information in completely different ways -- and yet, result in the unitary experience of a self.
In fact, I do not reduce this phenomenon to a materialistic anatomical division; rather, I believe that the anatomical division is there because it reflects the deep structure of reality. That is, it is a duality that mirrors the deepest complementarities of the cosmos itself, as it manifests outside the Absolute, e.g., wave/particle, form/substance, spirit/matter, part/whole, male/female, vertical/horizontal, semantics/syntax, Kramden/Norton, etc.
As I have discussed in the past, many contemporary disputes are just ongoing iterations of these primordial complementarities -- even, say, between left (which values the state over the individual) and right (which values the individual over the state). That complementarity is resolved in the classical liberalism of our founders, which strikes the proper balance between the individual and the collective.
But the founders could only strike that balance because they were so steeped in Christian metaphysics, which is itself rooted in the ultimate unification of these complementarities -- who is none other than Christ. It is the eternal Christ who unifies part and whole, word and flesh, time and eternity, world and God, Father and Son, spirit and letter, life and death, innocence and wisdom, and so many others.
Importantly, this divine principle could only be a who, not a what, on pain of excluding the human person from ultimate reality. And the mysterious presence of the human person is only the most important fact in all of existence.
Many of the disputes and heresies in Christianity come down to emphasizing one end of the complementarity. For us, it might be difficult to comprehend why there was so much intense arguing over the nature of Jesus in the early centuries (!) of Christianity, but if they had gotten the precise christological formula wrong, then the consequences would have been devastating. This was not some trivial argument over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but about the nature of ultimate reality.
Maximus himself was a victim of, and martyr to, this cause, as he was scourged and mutilated for holding to his beliefs, which turned out to be the correct ones. Think of the entire history of the United States. Now realize that it took Christianity nearly three times as long to arrive at the correct synthesis that brought together and harmonized all of the diverse strands of the Christian mystery. Never mind that it unraveled again thereafter... It is similar to how America is unravelling before our eyes despite the greatness of our founding generations.
I suppose we have to imagine all of the emotional energy that goes into politics and academia, and transfer it to the plane of religion. I think then you can get more of a feel for the intensity of the debates. We may think we are more evolved than the people who killed Maximus, but many on the left would have murdered George Bush or Dick Cheney if given the opportunity.
So Balthasar notes that Maximus is "the philosophical and theological thinker who stands between East and West" (emphasis his), and "the most imposing ediface to rise before Aquinas." But his thinking transcends mere surface theological disputes, or even Rome vs. Byzantium.
Rather, for Balthasar, East "really means Asia," while West is "the whole Western world." Thus, for me, we are really talking about the harmonization of those primordial complementarities alluded to above. For our purposes, we will be emphasizing the complementarities of dogma/experience, ego/self, grace/effort, and essence/energies, among others. To express it symbolically, we could say (•) and (¶), (↓) and (↑), (k) and (n), and ultimately, ʘ and O.
As Balthasar explains, "what makes Maximus a genius is that he was able to reach inside, and open up to each other, five or six intellectual worlds that seemingly had lost all contact" -- similar to the contemporary problem of the division of science, religion, psychology, biology, and history. It is simply a human scandal that these disciplines should be artificially separated. Intra-Christian disputes are just a subset of this uber-scandal. Not to mention disputes between evolutionists and traditionalists, or Darwinians and IDers. Perhaps we should call this scandal -- or Fall, if you like -- Fathergate.
Obviously, to be continued.....