Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gimme That Old Time Meta-Cosmic Religion

It's like some kind of conspiracy. Why does everyone know about T.D. Jakes or Joel Osteen, but not Maximus Confessor? Prior to the publication of this "groundbreaking" (really more of an "unearthing") book by Balthasar in 1946, he was nearly forgotten in the West, regarded as little more than an historical footnote.

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.....

17 Comments:

Blogger NoMo said...

I'm reminded yet again, now that my mind has slowed its reeling, why we return here day after day. The excitement is palpable as you continue to advance through the golden doors (although I confess at times I have to pause to put on my shades). It is a privelege to watch the action from the sidelines.

I have to wonder, at the risk of heresy, if "the mysterious presence of the human person" might not be "simply" because it is not good for God to be alone.

wv definitely gets the picture: modsmess

7/21/2009 09:47:00 AM  
Anonymous slackosopher said...

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.

Wow. You've definitely got my attention!

7/21/2009 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger lance said...

I honestly do not have the time to read the books that you keep mentioning. Knock it off!!!

7/21/2009 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

Look for 'Maximus Confessor' - here and here.

He is called Confessor (instead of Martyr) because he was mutilated (instead of killed) for opposing the heretics of his time.

Sadly, most Catholics that I hear speak of him these days ignore everything but his high opinion of Rome at the time, not because she was Rome, but because she - at the time - was not fallen into heresy as the hierarchs of Constantinople had.

He was of course vindicated after his death in the East as well, with his doctrines and teachings upheld.

7/21/2009 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"It is simply a human scandal that these disciplines should be artificially separated."

Artificial indeed, almost as if it's a conspiracy, isn't it?(I know, shameless).

And not just scandalous, but kooky... so kooky, that you know it just had to have a philosopher behind it... no other way to get a worldwide conspiracy started among people who don't know they're in one, yet work so hard to see it to it's end.

7/21/2009 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do wimmin of color and people who don't do theology figger in here?

7/21/2009 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

If they think of themselves as 'wimmin of color', they probably don't. Might want to consider a Deit first.

wv says to add nosingli

7/21/2009 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

River:

I know what you mean about ignoring "everything but his high opinion of Rome at the time." Even Balthasar is not immune from this kind of triumphalism. For example, after praising Maximus to the hilt, he talks about how his teaching devolved in Eastern Hesychasm to "constant awareness of Jesus in a way that was ultimately mechanical." In my experience, that is quite off the mark, to put it mildly.

7/21/2009 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

In fact -- and I'll be getting more into this later -- I think the Protestant rebellion in many ways represented an attempt to return to the experiential side of Christianity, which had never been lost in the East.... As I understand it, a fair number of evangelicals are rediscovering "primitive Christianity," and realizing that they've been reinventing the wheel...

7/21/2009 02:58:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

>> . . if they had gotten the precise christological formula wrong, then the consequences would have been devastating<<

I once read an sci-fi novel in which the main characters are somehow translated to an alternative universe, one where early Gnostic Christianity prevailed and went on to shape the basic identity of the Western world.

The result was a very top-down theocracy in what became their equivalent of the USA - quasi-mystical but fascistic, which I found believable enough.

Really, the "formula" that the early Church fathers created was as near perfection as possible; it had to be to result in something like the ideal behind the United States of America. I think it's somewhat analogous to the "formula" of basic elements following the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe - their balance was just so that material life would eventually spring forth. A fraction off here, a fraction off there and life wouldn't ever have developed.

7/21/2009 04:17:00 PM  
Anonymous will said...

NoMo -

>>I have to wonder, at the risk of heresy, if "the mysterious presence of the human person" might not be "simply" because it is not good for God to be alone<<

No heresy, I think. Eve being born out of Adam, so to speak, can rightly be seen as a microcosm of the Primal birthing of Man from the rib of God - and both for the same reason, the need and desire for companionship.

If one is looking for the ultimate reason for human life and sentience, for Creation itself, I don't think we need to comprehend much more than that - we were created to be God's partners, His co-Creationists, in fact.

I remember reading somewhere that God is literally "lonely" without us.

7/21/2009 05:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think the Protestant rebellion in many ways represented an attempt to return to the experiential side of Christianity, which had never been lost in the East."

There was nothing experiential to return to that hadn't always been there all along. The problem stems from flat out heresies, such as denying the sacrificial nature of the Mass, and/or attempting to incorporate primarily the senses into their faith lives, perhaps as a validation, for consolation or some other human desire. But it is clear from the writings of the saints and monastics throughout the ages, that sensationalism and "experiences" of faith are to be looked passed in favor of poverty of spirit, obedience, virtue, and chastity. As they rightfully reason, any experience can be our own pride at work or worse, the work of the devil.

For much of the truth that you do indeed post here as regards Christian revelation, Bob, you admittedly do not adhere formally to any tradition, or should I say Holy Tradition. Therefore, you are ultimately acting under your own authority. Be weary, my friend, of being lead astray and leading others with you.

It seems from reading you that you are close to Christ and do indeed make that ascent of faith. But Christ established His Church and gave His authority to the Apostles. Remember what Christ said to the Apostles, "those who hear you, hear Me."

There is obviously much to be studied as regards to Tradition and Magisterial teaching, but you owe it to yourself and your readers to do so thoroughly.

Do not continue to let pride and your intellect to get in the way any longer.

Come home to Christ and His Church!

God bless you.

7/21/2009 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger QP said...

The old general rises to speak:

"Mercy and truth have met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another. Man, in his weakness and short-sightedness, believes he must make choices in this life. He trembles at the risks he takes. We do know fear. But, no! Our choice is of no importance. There comes a time when your eyes are opened. And we come to realize that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence, and receive it with gratitude. Mercy imposes no conditions. And, lo! Everything we have chosen has been granted to us. And everything we rejected — has also been granted. Yes, we even get back what we rejected. For mercy and truth are met together. And righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another."

The old general is a character in Babette's Feast, wherein filmmaker "Axel and author Dinesen [a.k.a. Karen Blixen, Out of Africa] take pains to show that their story is concerned not with the God of any organized religion. Rather, it is concerned with what Rudolph Otto called the numinosum, the religious rapture and exaltation that is the innermost core of every religion and that is above and beyond any particular religion."

Excerpt from The Discovery of Meaning in Babette's Feast by Wanda Avila, Ph.D. at C.J. Jung Page

7/21/2009 07:41:00 PM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

I think I disagree with the dear general. Of course every choice matters. We will be held accountable for each and every one.

But then, I believe Joy has three parts: Bliss, dread and mirth. Without real dread, none of it means anything!

It is such an easy temptation, to give up the battle. But one must fight to earn the crown.

7/22/2009 07:48:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

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."

Hell, they would torture Bush n' Cheney given the chance, and they claim that torture (and enhanced interrogation techniques which they call "torture") is wrong even when lives are at stake.

7/22/2009 08:36:00 AM  
Anonymous skully said...

So Balthasar notes that Maximus is "the philosophical and theological thinker who stands between East and West"

Weast?

7/22/2009 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger sehoy said...

Babette's Feast!

My all-time favorite movie. The short story is good too. But the movie maker turned it into something sublime.

A famous French chef (Babette) in the 1800s ends up as a humble servant in the household of two old spinster sisters who head a dying religious community in Danmark.

Babette's only tie to France is a lottery ticket. One day she wins a large amount of money from the lottery ticket. She uses the money to prepare a feast like the ones she used to prepare in France for the members of the religious community. She prepares this magnificent feast for people who can not in any way understand or appreciate her art, and yet they do, and it changes them.

It's the same as the Feast God prepares for us.

I love the quote QP gave here.

But even more, I love what Babette says at the end, when the two sisters realize Babette has spent every cent on the feast and will not be returning to France.

"Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist, 'Give me the chance to do my very best.' "

If you ever get the chance to see the movie, can I recommend that you watch the Danish version with subtitles.

The English dubbed version is awful.

7/22/2009 08:41:00 AM  

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