Beasts to the Left of Me, Monsters to the Right
And it should also go without saying that I ask and expect no one to agree with me on these matters. Nor am I bothered by those who disagree with me (although I am puzzled why some of them would be in any way interested in this blog).
To conclude his take on Luther, Gillespie reiterates that although his thought "originates out of the deep spiritual problems that arise from his encounter with nominalism," his solutions create as many difficulties as they resolve, so that his "position is beset by deep and intractable problems." His only fallback position is "faith," but in my view, a faith divorced from intellect leaves the field wide open for the neo-barbaric, anti-religious intellect that followed.
Man's intellectual needs are legitimate, and he has a cosmic right to answers that satisfy these needs. We are constituted of spirit, psyche, and body -- or passion, will, and intellect -- and any of these that are not "contained" by one's religion will tend to run wild outside it. It doesn't matter if it is an inadequate theology of the body or of the intellect; leave one out, and you're asking for trouble. Just as the person can fall into sexual perversion, a mind that is not infused with the Light can clearly fall into intellectual perversion. I myself was once an intellectual pervert and textual deviate, so I know.
Obviously, nowhere does Jesus say anything about faith in scripture. I mean, for starters, he didn't write any. There was no new testament, only the used. Furthermore, in any case, scripture "has to be interpreted, and that means valuing some passages and books above others. How in such circumstances do we know we are choosing correctly? How do we know what we take to be divine inspiration behind our reading is not in fact the subliminal urgings of our passions and desires?" (Gillespie).
I would suggest that one way to know is to consult what 1500 years of grace-infused spiritual genius has produced -- i.e., to find out what the greatest spiritual thinkers have thought and said. And although some very conservative types might compare the following to our own Supreme Court interpreting the American constitution through "international standards," I don't see anything objectionable in taking this approach to religious metaphysics -- not to indiscriminately mix revelations from below, since God detests that. Rather, to simply appreciate that there is widespread coonsensus on many of the fundamentals.
Or, one can simply realize with Augustine that there exists a religion that co-arises with man, and which currently goes by the name "Christianity." Obviously Christ's existence is prior to his physical form, for he tells us ("before Abraham was I AM). To put it another way, the great novelty in Christianity is the Incarnation (and Resurrection), not the Christ. The Light is surely real, and it didn't just come into the world in 4 B.C., or whenever it was. It's always here, and men either see it or they don't.
Gillespie goes on to say that "a great deal of Luther's thought turns on the notion of grace," but that "Jesus never uses the word charis in this sense in the Bible. It becomes central only in Paul and later in Augustine." Nor is there "any mention of predestination in the synoptic Gospels."
The central problem with Luther, as I see it, is that in response to the crisis of nominalism, he overemphasizes God at the expense of man. And much of this hinges on his interpretation of the Fall. In fact, if I remember correctly, this is also an issue that divides Orthodoxy from Catholicism, since the former doesn't see the Fall in quite the catastrophic terms the West sees it. Gillespie notes that in the Latin west, there was "nearly unanimous opinion that Adam's fall had cost man dearly," and that "from this perspective, man had no intrinsic worth or dignity." Quite frankly, you are a hopeless loser, with no power whatsoever to save yourself.
I must admit that this approach has never appealed to me, and is one of the things that turned me away from the versions of Christianity I encountered earlier in my life. The idea that Socrates is in hell because he didn't know Jesus is no more appealing to me than the idea that God is punishing Haiti because two hundred years ago it supposedly made a "pact with the devil." (Besides, if that were true, one would expect to see earthly rewards paid for with the coin of eternity.)
I may be over-generalizing here, but it seems to me that Eastern Christianity hardly forgets that we are fallen, but that it also remembers that we are imago dei -- in the image of God -- and that this surely counts for something!
For me, it means that our covenant with the Creator is truly a Divine-human partnership. Sure, we're the junior partner, and always will be. But just as your relationship with your child changes as he matures, I don't think God wishes to treat everyone equally as permanently helpless infants. Indeed, Paul implicitly touches on this in the metaphor of spiritual milk. vs. meat.
Now, as I've mentioned in a couple of the previous posts, I don't think the split between Catholicism and Protestantism was strictly necessary, although, historical conditions being what they were, it was pretty much inevitable. But was there another way out of the impasse? I think there was, and Gillespie touches on this in chapter two of the book, Petrarch and the Invention of Individuality. From my perspective, the issues raised here are absolutely critical, because if you get your theology wrong, your anthropology will be a wreck, and if you get your anthropology wrong, your theology will be a mess.
At the very time that the nominalist insurgency was taking place, there emerged what Gillespie calls a Christian humanism -- not, mind you, a Christian humanism. The point is that this was a humanism that took seriously the idea that man may be wounded, but that he isn't dead. In spite of it all, he is still the imago dei; and as they say in the East, there can be a more or less wide gulf between image and likeness, and our purpose here on earth is to close that gap.
What the Raccoon calls "spiritual growth" takes place precisely in this space between image and likeness. Again, for the sake of clarity, Luther would absolutely and unequivocally reject the idea of "spiritual growth," much less that a man could do anything about it from his end. Indeed, he would condemn this as heretical, blasphemous, arrogant, and all the rest. Rather, you are either saved or you are not saved, and there's nothing you can do about it anyway but submit, identical to the Islamic approach.
Gillespie has a pithy formulation with which I agree; that is, "one cannot abandon God without turning man into a beast." But at the same time, "one cannot abandon man without falling into theological fanaticism." Look at the Islamists, who clearly err on the side of (their) god, with catastrophic consequences. To them, man is nothing, which is why they can engage in genocide with no compunction. But they are only doing what Christians did to each other in the 16th and 17th centuries.
For if man is nothing and God is everything, there is no reason why I shouldn't blow up airplanes or shoot abortionists. I'm not saying that this conclusion is inevitable, but one can appreciate where the devaluation of man leads -- just as one can appreciate where the devaluation of God leads. Atheists are not necessarily bad people, but an atheistic culture that has lost contact with its spiritual source will eventually descend into evil. And a culture that reduces man to a worthless sinner will also tend in that direction. (Please also note the similarity with leftist doctrines that are so contemptuous of the individual, who can only be saved by the anointed elites who run the god-state.)
So one thing that really caught my attention in the book was Gillespie's discussion of the handful of sensible and balanced Raccoons who were scurrying around back in the 14th century. These men attempted to forge a theology that valued the growing awareness of the individual without in any way jettisoning traditional theology. Petrarch, for example, sought "an amalgamation of Christian practice and ancient moral virtue."
This only makes sense, because it takes into consideration the very real emergence of a new phenomenon that was taking place at the time: the individual. In one sense, you can squelch the problem by condemning, repressing, and devaluing it; on the other hand, if one fails to channel this new reality within tradition, it then becomes detached from God, and transforms into the promethean glorification of the will. With Luther, every man becomes his own priest; but this is only a small step from every man becoming his own god.
Thus, Petrarch thought that the solution to this problem required "a richer understanding of what it meant to be human that drew not merely on Scripture but on the moral models of antiquity": Athens + Jerusalem, you might say. He further sought "to revivify the love of honor and beauty as preeminent human motives."
Speaking of which, there is no question that America's founders were animated by just this type of Christianity, one that very much focuses on the ancient virtues of honor, wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, and disinterested knowledge. I also happen to be reading the outstanding Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, and when you read about the majestic honor and dignity of, say, George Washington, it seriously makes you want to weep for your country. The men who formed America were Christian humanists par excellence.
Frankly, many of them were affiliated members of the the Scattered Brotherhood of the Vertical Diaspora, but that's a topic for another post.
That's enough for today. To be continued...