Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Berdyaev on Nominalism
"Thought at the present time has become subject to the dissective influence of nominalism. In the consciousness of mankind, the ontological reality is decomposed and pulverised. This process also affects Church consciousness. And how often the most reactionary tendencies of Church thought have appropriated to themselves a nominalistic understanding of the Church. They have ceased to comprehend the Church integrally, as an universal spiritual organism, as ontologic reality, as the Christified cosmos. There has prevailed a differentialised understanding of the Church, whether as institution, as community of believers, or as hierarchy and temple. The Church was transformed into a curative establishment, in which they deal with individual souls for healing. Thus is affirmed a Christian individualism, indifferent to the fate of human society and the world. The Church exists for the salvation of individual souls, but has no concern for the creative aspects of life, for the transfiguration of social and cosmic life. Suchlike a kind of exclusively monastic-ascetic Orthodoxy in Russia was only possible, because that the Church entrusted all the organisation of life to the state. Only the existence of the autocratic monarchy consecrated by the Church made possible such Orthodox individualism, such a separateness of Christianity from the life of the world. The Orthodox monarchy upheld and guarded the world, and churchly order was also maintained by it. The Church was indifferent not only to the arrangement of cultural and social life, but also to the arrangement of churchly life, to the life of the parishes, to the organisation of a non dependent churchly authority. The existence of an Orthodox autocratic monarchy is the obverse side of monastic-ascetic Orthodoxy, of perceiving Orthodoxy exclusively as a religion of personal salvation. And therefore the collapse of autocratic monarchy, of the Russian Orthodox tsardom, implies substantial modification in Church consciousness. Orthodoxy cannot remain predominantly monastic-ascetic. Christianity cannot be reduced to the individual salvation of separate souls. The Church inevitably turns itself to the life of society and the world, and inevitably it needs to participate in the formation of life. In the autocratic monarchy, as a type of Orthodox theocracy, it was the angelic, and not the human principle, that reigned. The tsar, in accord with this concept is in essence of the angelic, and not of the human order. The collapse of Orthodox theocracy ought to lead to the awakening of creative activism of a very Christian nation, an human activism, for the formation of a Christian society. This turnabout should begin first of all with this, that Orthodox people make themselves responsible for the fate of the Church in the world, in an historical actuality, that they be obliged to take upon themselves churchly formation, the life of the parishes, a concern about the temple, and organisation of churchly life, brotherhoods, etc. But this change of Orthodox psychology cannot be restricted to formation of churchly life, it extends also to all aspects of life. All of life ought to be thought of, as churchly life. In the Church all aspects of life enter in. A turnabout is inevitable for an integral comprehension of the Church, i.e. for the surmounting of Church nominalism and individualism. The understanding of Christianity exclusively as a religion of personal salvation, the constriction of the scope of the Church to something existing alongside with everything else, -- when the Church is the posited fullness of being, would be also the source of the greatest disorders and catastrophes in the Christian world. The abasement of man, of his freedom and creative vocation, the inculcation of suchlike an understanding of Christianity, would also evoke the revolt and rebellion of man in the name of his freedom and his creativity. Upon that desolate spot, which would remain in the world to Christianity, the Anti-Christ would begin to build his own Babylonian tower and go far in its construction. Seducing the freedom of the human spirit, the freedom of human creativity would ultimately perish upon this path. The Church ought to guard itself from the evil elements of the world and the evil developements in it. But the genuine guarding of things holy is possible only under the admission of Christian creativity."


Some twenty years before Weaver went to work on the nominalists -- though about seventy after Peirce did -- Berdyaev wrote the above in "Salvation and Creativity," which probably found its way in some form or other into The Meaning of the Creative Act, which is, alas, unobtainable at the moment, at least in English. Am I wrong to see this essay, along with some early papers by Marcel and Jaspers, as one of the first stirrings of what would become known as Existentialism? (Richard Weaver the Existentialist, now that's a hoot! Though on second thought, he's not all that far from Marcel in some respects, is he?)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

As y'all know by now, one thing I have to be thankful for is an academic door open wide enough for my narrow foot. This happens to be at Nyack College of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a denomination headquarted in Colorado Springs, which is also home to [LiveJournal's] ElementalMuse, who, I presume without asking, does not belong to it. Now as you might imagine, I tend to keep my distance from Evangelicals and they tend to keep their distance from me, but these are not the kind that get under my skin, or (perhaps) would get under yours. I would like to share a few quotations from the late A. W. Tozer, from whose writings are taken the daily devotionals on the CMA website. No Jack Chick, he quotes St. Bernard and The Cloud of Unknowing as easily as he does Wesley, which is unusual enough to notice.

The following is from the first chapter of The Pursuit of God, which I am pleased to find on line and to call to your attention:

The doctrine of justification by faith--a Biblical truth, and a blessed relief from sterile legalism and unavailing self-effort--has in our time fallen into evil company and been interpreted by many in such manner as actually to bar men from the knowledge of God. The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life and without embarrassment to the Adamic ego. Christ may be `received' without creating any special love for Him in the soul of the receiver. The man is `saved,' but he is not hungry nor thirsty after God. In fact he is specifically taught to be satisfied and encouraged to be content with little.
...
God is a Person, and in the deep of His mighty nature He thinks, wills, enjoys feels, loves, desires and suffers as any other person may. In making Himself known to us He stays by the familiar pattern of personality. He communicates with us through the avenues of our minds, our wills and our emotions. The continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the soul of the redeemed man is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion.
...
You and I are in little (our sins excepted) what God is in large. Being made in His image we have within us the capacity to know Him. In our sins we lack only the power. The moment the Spirit has quickened us to life in regeneration our whole being senses its kinship to God and leaps up in joyous recognition. That is the heavenly birth without which we cannot see the Kingdom of God. It is, however, not an end but an inception, for now begins the glorious pursuit, the heart's happy exploration of the infinite riches of the Godhead. That is where we begin, I say, but where we stop no man has yet discovered, for there is in the awful and mysterious depths of the Triune God neither limit nor end.

Shoreless Ocean, who can sound Thee?
Thine own eternity is round Thee,
Majesty divine!


To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul's paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily- satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart. St. Bernard stated this holy paradox in a musical quatrain that will be instantly understood by every worshipping soul:

We taste Thee, O Thou Living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still:
We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.

...
Hymnody is sweet with the longing after God, the God whom, while the singer seeks, he knows he has already found. `His track I see and I'll pursue,' sang our fathers only a short generation ago, but that song is heard no more in the great congregation. How tragic that we in this dark day have had our seeking done for us by our teachers. Everything is made to center upon the initial act of `accepting' Christ (a term, incidentally, which is not found in the Bible) and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls. We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him we need no more seek Him. This is set before us as the last word in orthodoxy, and it is taken for granted that no Bible-taught Christian ever believed otherwise. Thus the whole testimony of the worshipping, seeking, singing Church on that subject is crisply set aside. The experiential heart- theology of a grand army of fragrant saints is rejected in favor of a smug interpretation of Scripture which would certainly have sounded strange to an Augustine, a Rutherford or a Branierd.
...
I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.

Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and the servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.
...
When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself. The evil habit of seeking God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation. In the `and' lies our great woe. If we omit the `and', we shall soon find God, and in Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing.

We need not fear that in seeking God only we may narrow our lives or restrict the motions of our expanding hearts. The opposite is true. We can well afford to make God our All, to concentrate, to sacrifice the many for the One.

The author of the quaint old English classic, The Cloud of Unknowing, teaches us how to do this. `Lift up thine heart unto God with a meek stirring of love; and mean Himself, and none of His goods. And thereto, look thee loath to think on aught but God Himself. So that nought work in thy wit, nor in thy will, but only God Himself. This is the work of the soul that most pleaseth God.'

Again, he recommends that in prayer we practice a further stripping down of everything, even of our theology. `For it sufficeth enough, a naked intent direct unto God without any other cause than Himself.' Yet underneath all his thinking lay the broad foundation of New Testament truth, for he explains that by `Himself' he means `God that made thee, and bought thee, and that graciously called thee to thy degree.' And he is all for simplicity: If we would have religion `lapped and folden in one word, for that thou shouldst have better hold thereupon, take thee but a little word of one syllable: for so it is better than of two, for even the shorter it is the better it accordeth with the work of the Spirit. And such a word is this word God or this word love.'


These words were written many years ago, I do not know how many. I find them no less true and telling now. Yes, they do cast a harsh light on what passes for Christianity in the America of George Bush, but they also remind us that we cannot judge the reality of the faith from its common practice. The uncommon practice of the Cloud of Unknowing is that of hundreds, if not thousands of parish groups, by no means all Roman Catholic, of the World Community for Christian Meditation, but the transformed reality Tozer is calling us to can be seen in the saint of the cash register who makes everyone on the checkout line feel, if only for a moment, like a child of God. I hope you know her. I'm quite sure you know someone like her, who might not even be a card-carrying Christian. And for her, or him, we may all be grateful today.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

In which our hero dines out
I had to deal with a work-related emergency last night, though most of my emergencies are more related to my not working.

About 4:30 I got an email from the Editor in Chief of the book I contributed to asking if I could be at Le Perigord at seven, as one of the original invitees had had to cancel. So it was necessary do a load of wash in order to have matching socks, and to give myself a shave when I had already showered, and of course to dine on Nouvelle Cuisine, even though the menu was based on the dinners eaten by the revolting peasants of the Vendee in honor of their martyred King and Queen. (I was used to the latter idea from John's occasional anti-Bastille-Day parties.) I did not realize until I made my way to my table, having primed the pump with a certain amount of red wine, that I was a last minute substitute for the infamous Taki. Nobody else but my editor knew, so there was no disappointment in me on that account, though I was at one of the tables at which one was expected to introduce oneself to the audience at large. (Unlike the ones where the admiral and the general were sitting.) I merely pointed out that I was a campus chapter leader of the Institute before it was the Institute. There was only one other veteran of the old days in the room.

I met some interesting folks, and even made some professional contacts which might prove useful; I seem to get on with the President of the Institute, a Reagan domestic policy advisor, who liked the patriotic tie I had bought shortly after 9/11/01, which he recognized as a variation on one of the Confederate flags. (It was in my coat pocket because I had worn it to the Russian Church dinner, as red, white, and blue were the Imperial colors.)

Good to see my name in print, even as Contributing Editor. I see that some of my favorite sentences didn't survive the final redaction. Such is life. If you ever need a college guide, or know someone who does, Choosing the Right College 2006 is the one.

I think I shall send my postmodernism piece to these folks for the scholarly quarterly which they publish now, in the hopes that they will go for a book version later.

I have at least satisfied myself that they are still in Paleocon hands, as I want nothing to do with the Neos. (I am otherwise at the point of letting the Bushies define me as a Liberal -- as if there were anything wrong with that.)