While We’re At It – An “Unmoral” Word from the Holy Mountain

karakalouIn an effort to help my critics understand my articles, friends have sent me excellent links here and there. A link to a Lenten article by Fr. Alexis Trader (of Karakalou on the Holy Mountain) gives more witness to what has been said:

The problem is that salvation and transfiguration are not a matter of morality. The publican and the prodigal were not moral people. They did all the wrong things, but yet they came to themselves, they discovered their hearts, and in so doing found the way, not just to moral goodness, but to holiness, to righteousness, and to feasting in the Father’s household.

And more to the point (and close to my Dostoevskyian heart):

Fyodor Dostoevsky takes up this theme in many of his novels and concludes that the humanism derived from a moral code on its own cannot serve as man’s ultimate salvation.  The world will not be saved by optimistic humanism that believes human progress and morality will eventually save the world.   For Dostoevsky and the church fathers, man’s deepest problems are not moral, nor even psychological, but ultimately existential and ontological. It’s not about following the rules or feeling balanced. It is a matter of choice and it is a matter of human nature being touched by the hand of God Himself.  Only by daring to leap towards God in spite of the good and evil that exist in the heart can the believer hope to get beyond the contradiction of the human condition. In order to avoid descending into nihilism, Dostoevsky offers his readers another path: the acceptance of suffering and affliction in the context of a relationship with God. It is only in this context that man is able to recognize a path out of his fallen condition.  It is only this Love that is able to transform suffering into salvific joy.

I commend the article and give thanks for the common witness to our single Tradition.

78 comments:

  1. Fr. Alex is a favorite of mine and for this very reason. The escape from the hold that “positivism” holds on we humans is vital if we are ever going to embrace the reality of human existence, with all it’s pain and joy, as the path to true theosis. It is only be emptying (kenosis) ourselves of pride that we will ever embrace every moment of life (both good and bad) as an invitation to salvation.

    Good stuff, Fr. Stephen. Keep it coming.

  2. And so we return to the greater context: our own efforts and imaginings are insufficient. Even those in acord with the law. Woefully so.

    If they were sufficient the Incarnation would not be necessary and the great and glorious second coming would not be happening.

  3. A few years back a humble Priest in our Parish died. One of his brother Priests briefly described the humbling experience of vesting him for his funeral. His story made me wonder if there is a comparison to my “righteousness in Christ”. Regardless of all of my good and moral deeds and thoughts, or lack thereof, I am still a corpse being vested by Christ in His righteousness. Is this relative to your topic?

  4. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for all your recent posts on this topic. They have been very thought provoking and inspiring. Your words really bring home the point of something my dad said to me earlier in the year that hit me like a ton of bricks and has been on my mind ever since: we were discussing why prayer and fasting and almsgiving are important, and going round and round about “rules”, etc. and he finally said to me, “It’s not about WHAT you do; it’s about WHO you know.”

  5. “And so we return to the greater context: our own efforts and imaginings are insufficient. Even those in acord with the law. Woefully so.”

    When Michael said this I thought John Searle’s Chinese Room argument against strong AI – numbers and bits (no matter how many you pile up or how fast they calculate) do not magically create intellection and imagination. Likewise, our own moral efforts and imaginations do not create Grace. Now, the author of the critical piece was not really saying this, he was careful to say that morality is a precondition of Grace. However, this is not exactly correct either, for all the reasons cited by Fr. Aidan. My linear thinking is getting in the way again, I am stuck in the “chicken or egg” cul de sac. It’s a both/and, while keeping in mind the limits of the “mere moral”…

  6. Jeff Dunkle,

    I find the example you offer a most moving and apt illustration of the reality of the nature of our salvation in Christ. That picture will be complete when your former Priest rises from his grave incorrupt and clothed in glory at the Command of His Savior!

  7. Christ is amongst us! This is not spiritually important but some may be interested that Fr. Alexios Trader is now acting as the Chaplain of a ladies monastery near Thessaloniki, Greece. Yes, he was on Mt. Athos, but departed. I have him as a spiritual father, and have not been informed that he returned to Mt.Athos. Some Orthodox ladies found out that an old men’s monastery had been gutted, by communists, near Thessaloniki, and requested that the Bishop allow them to restore it by hand. This they accomplished, and Fr. Alexios was assigned to be their chaplain.
    Glorify Christ!

  8. Father Stepehen, I’ve just begun reading your various posts, enjoyably I might add, but I have a question that’s been nagging since almost the beginning: what, if any, is the connection between dying to Christ and the concept of redemptive suffering? The latter is a very important concept in the Latin church, but I’ve never really understood it well enough for it to in fact be redemptive in any observable way. Does Orthodoxy see suffering in this way, and if so, can it be related to your recent posts regarding morality and theosis?

  9. Bradley,
    It’s a good question. Orthodoxy does not have any particular tradition regarding redemptive suffering, but it would be in some way subsumed by the notion of union with Christ. It really depends, of course, on how you read the Latin tradition, too. Classically there was a sort of forensic approach, where there were almost “merits” within our suffering. I gather that this is no longer representative of RC thought.

    I am cautious about the notion of suffering being somehow “redemptive,” as in that they are “paying” for something. There is, of course, St. Paul’s “making up that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” in Colossians, which is generally cited for redemptive suffering. But the redemptive angle is not there.

    The sufferings of Christ in Orthodoxy are generally viewed much more as “kenosis,” or self-emptying, rather than payment. Christ unites Himself to us by emptying Himself. We are “empty” because of our nothingness and sin. We are bound in our suffering which is the “corruption” of sin and death. Christ became utterly what we are, yet without sin. He innocently entered into our corruption and death.

    Our own suffering is indeed “our suffering.” But because Christ unites Himself to us, our suffering is also His suffering. And as we offer ourselves to Him (Ro. 12:1 – our “reasonable service” logike latreia) He unites our suffering to His, and as His suffering we participate in His self-emptying trampling down death by death. In that sense, our suffering can be called “redemptive” – redemption being trampling down death by death.

  10. Thank you Fr. Stephen and brothers and sisters. Perhaps someday I will be able to rise my face from the floor and be enabled to open my mouth to contribute. Until then…

  11. Father,

    Does morality, as you have been speaking of it, connect to what St Maximos calls the “gnomic will”? There is something about that concept that keeps popping up in my head as I’ve read your latest blog entries.

    RVW

  12. More on this perspective from Orthodox monastics is found in a great youtube video on the Jesus prayer…

    “Life in Christ is something internal…not external. The person needs to tuck into his heart…that’s where the secret (mystico) lies. And if a person can have internal peace, then he will also have peace with the world around him. Of course, the basic purpose is to struggle to cleanse the heart from sin.”

    Another monk…”When I started saying *the Jesus prayer* I actually met the dirt within my own soul. And I was frightened.”

    In part three there is a beautiful parable about a monk and a boy who must use a woven basket to haul water each day…with no external – visible result. The internal result however is made clear…I won’t spoil the parable…its worth a view in part 3.

  13. Father,

    I have no issue with what I think is the core of your thought in this subject. The stumbling block for me is one of your first posts on the topic where you said we’re not getting better. That a person is about as moral (in terms of behavior I assume) as they were when they were a child.

    I’m having trouble assimilating this. It seems to me a form of antinomianism because what I do can’t matter if the issue is only spiritual and the problem is resolved by religious acts.

    I have no trouble with the ontological basis for sin. As you say it is the real issue. But addressing the real issue should bring about a change in behavior, shouldn’t it? Another way of saying it is that changed behavior is the child of the parent, union with Christ – not the other way around. Isn’t stopping sin and starting love-actions a necessary aspect of repentance?

    Doubtless I am missing something or have simply been hung up on a minor point, so please forgive me for that. I also pray for your patience as you instruct.

  14. Steve,
    I like your analogy “changed behavior is the child of the parent, union with Christ – not the other way around.” I never read something antinomianist in Father Stephen’s words – this analogy you made, in fact, sounds like summing up one of the key points of that very article but with less jarring words and less emphasis on the other vital point “the way down is the way up”.
    Keeping in mind that Father’s implicit refrain is all about the reorientation of our being towards Christ alone rather than ourselves, our progress, our achievements etc.

  15. Steve,
    I certainly take your point. My observation viz. “you’re not getting better,” has two aspects. The first would be that it is simply beside the point whether we are getting better or worse…it’s something we cannot judge for ourselves nor should we. It is a distraction from the true point of our Christian life – Christ Himself.

    The second is purely my experience. I have been hearing confessions and pastoring people for 34 years. I simply do not see “change” in the manner that we would describe as progress or “getting better.”

    Of all the changes I have seen, the most striking, have been successful battles with various addictions. But in those cases, we are absolutely not looking at a “progress” model. Rather, breaking free of an addiction and living soberly is a change in the mode of existence. Classically, in a 12-step model, it begins with admitting that one is powerless. So much for progressive moral steps. It is, paradoxically, learning to live in a non-morally-progressive manner that is part of that new mode of existence. And it is, to date, the only model that actually works when it comes to addiction.

    As for others, what I see is pretty much “personality” issues. And personality issues are formed early in life. An anxious person, if they explore their disorder, will find something of a personality issue at its root. They may indeed learn to cope and live better within the givens of their personality – but those givens will pretty much define the parameters of their lives.

    Now, to get more rooted in the Tradition. The Elder Sophrony made a distinction between a “spiritual existence” and a “psychological existence.” The former is a profound work of the Holy Spirit, and, apparently, rather rare. It is theosis on the most profound level. It produces saints.

    He acknowledged, however, (and without judgment) that most people will only live or appropriate their faith on the psychological level. And he was very generous about that, at one time even correcting Archm. Zacchaeus for pushing too hard with a particular nun.

    Now, oddly, I’m very optimistic and sanguine about the character set of most people. We’ve got problems (all of us), but on the whole it could be a lot worse. Today I am battling with the same things I was yesterday, and even 10 years ago. I have more insight and more practice. Some days I do fairly well. Other days I fail. And I think that’s about how it is. I would rather succeed than fail, but I do not see evidence that succeeding will be the average day. The average day will be its own thing.

    Christ taught that we should take no care for tomorrow. That, I think, eliminates the notion of progress. I stand right now at the judgment seat of Christ. There is no getting better. Repentance is always immediate.

    We have inculcated very deeply a vision of ourselves that is taught from moralistic and psychological sources, and now seen through the lens of modern progressivism. We have lost the immediacy (which is the nature of all that is eschatological) of the Kingdom of God and our absolute presence to that moment.

    My reflections on experience (“we’re not getting better”) are not meant to suggest a kind of antinomianism or even a pessimism. First, the observation is pretty much true, and I challenge others to prove me wrong. That said, the experience should force us to ask (as I have), well, if we’re “not getting better” then what is going on? And what is going on, I contend, is often that “hidden” work of Christ that shall be revealed.

    Our life is a sacrament, “hid with Christ in God.” It is not an obvious moral project of this present age, but a manifestation of the age to come that will be revealed whenever it please God. And I think it might come as a surprise at that time.

  16. Thank you Father for your thorough response. I think I understand. I also thank you for naming the ‘pessimism’ issue as well. I chose to limit my post to one point, but my emotional response was as large in my mind. You see, I agree with your observation. I am no better. I grieve deeply that I have made no substantial progress in eradicating specific sins. I have a tendency to become spiritually/emotionally depressed about it. So when I read the post in question, my emotional response was to feel hopeless.

    You see, I am a 25 year ordained protestant clergyman on my way to the Orthodox church, and as a consequence I have a substantial amount of hope associated with that eventual conversion. There are many points of theology that I have corrected as a consequence of my learning. It occurs to me that this may be one of the most difficult because of its rootedness in the emotions. I ‘know’ that my standing with God is unrelated to my doing better – however I ‘feel’ otherwise.

    Thank you for the work here. You are one of the people that have a significant influence on my education and my decision to find new employment in 2015.

  17. Steve,
    You will most assuredly have my prayers.

    If Orthodoxy were truly the way to progress, then we’d simply be better than everybody else (and we’re not). And our saints profess that they are the worst – and we never believe them. But these are not polite comments. They perceive this to be the case.

    For one thing, their perception ceases to be based on morality. St. Silouan, after one dream, never lusted after women again. But he had no perception of being morally better off. His was a unique gift of grace – as is sometimes given.

    I notice as a confessor, that most people are the most troubled by sexually-related sins and anger (in some form or other). I often think that the former is rooted in the American puritanism (strange isn’t it?). And the latter because many underlying passions eventually get expressed as anger.

    I certainly think disordered sexual passions are symptomatic of deep sin, but we attach a great deal of shame to them, even toxic shame. We need to take the passions more seriously on the one hand, and less seriously on the other. And this is another paradox. I pray God give you His good grace as you make your journey. Good sailing!

  18. Steve,

    I am grateful Father brought up Saint Silouan – a terrific example of how ‘progress’ would be an unfortunate choice of a word to describe his spiritual ‘progression’.
    When man–after countless struggles- starts approaching, still from a distance, the divestiture of the ‘old self’, and the outward manifestations of his many passions and addictions do actually cease, the awareness of all of his sinful predispositions actually becomes colossally sharper. He invariably becomes convinced that all that is required of him is to be utterly ‘fastened’ onto the Lord, fixed assiduously onto Him alone.
    He then starts distinguishing the unimaginable creativity of his enemies and how all that he had identified as good all of his life, turns out in fact, to be a cunningly knit web of delusion. The Holy hesychast and martyr Archibishop Anthony Golynsky’s (1889 – 1976) description of this “inverse progress” comes to mind and is particularly vivid.
    When and if the ‘new man’ is finally revealed in fullness through God’s grace, all the virtues come flooding in to dwell in profound strength in that person’s heart, the primary of which is humility. This is nothing other than true knowledge of oneself, leading to wisdom and the understanding of the worthlessness of man’s own “I”, created out of nothing. Conscious of his nothingness he then apprehends God’s infinite benevolence. This ‘hell’ (I use the word elegiacally) of humility is instantaneously, paradoxically the heaven of finally meeting the one, the only Encounter of our eternal being – God. When the Lord guides such a blessed soul to knowledge of herself as the most worthless of all existing things, then in unison with this self-knowledge, man is given the knowledge of God, what the Holy Fathers call a “knowing of the Truth.” Knowing the Truth –God- is, in its essence, seeing God with truly spiritual eyes; He now allows Himself to be known, tasted, conversed with, possessed by the one He has [having been truly invited towards this] already possessed, and this constitutes the search for the essence of life, the meaning of existence. The pain of remaining in this world after this glorious encounter (of those who love the Lord and who have tasted of the perfection of love and its suffering on this Earth such as St Silouan) also hardly needs an explanation or justification, right?

  19. Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you. I’ve been both challenged & encouraged by your recent posts having, by God’s grace, started to see this very reality in my own spiritual life over the past year or so – in the midst of & probably because of the crushing weight of my cross that I struggle to bear. The perspective is illuminating. Please keep the posts coming!

    I have no idea where your Orthodox critics are coming from, and I can only assume that they are either drawing on heterodox concepts, or they are limiting things to the discursive reasoning of the dianoia at the expense of the nous. I think it’s been quite clear that you are not saying that morality is irrelevant to the Christian (i.e, you wouldn’t condone adultery, murder, etc.), but rather that morality must be an effect rather than a cause.

    St. Paul says quite clearly that this “order” is the case in his Letter to the Galatians when he states that since the Spirit is the source of authentic life that we should walk in the Spirit IN ORDER to avoid fulfilling the lusts of flesh (i.e., our sinful passions).

    In other words, we cannot successfully be holy by our own efforts, echoing Christ’s words that with human effort alone salvation is impossible, but with God it is possible.

    Then St. Paul further drives the “sequence” home by stating that virtues are “fruits” of the Holy Spirit and not merely the result of our own efforts. Yes, we have to try & in some cases “fake it ’till we make it”, but it’s inadequate 10 out of 10 times.

    By my reading of the Gospels I see Christ saying that even if we manage to avoid committing evil acts & succeed in doing certain virtuous acts, yet harbor angry, spiteful, lustful, etc. thoughts/feelings in our hearts then we are in danger of hell fire (Gehenna). As you pointed out, Christ commanded us to become perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect; no matter what we “achieve” it will still be “filthy rags”. Even after we have done ALL that we have been commanded we can only say that we are unprofitable servants because we’ve simply done our duty – nothing “extra”.

    Morality (i.e., external behavior) alone without the accompanying internal change (i.e., transfiguration) places us in the woful & hypocritical category of the scribes & Pharisees who clean the outside of the cup & dish, but leave the inside full of extortion & self-indulgence; who appear as beautiful whitewashed tombs yet are actually full of dead bones & all uncleanness.

    We are called to keep both the external as well as the internal aspects of the commandments or else our righteousness will not exceed that of the scribes & Pharisees, and as such we lock ourselves out of the kingdom of heaven – not just after we die but here & now while we live.

    I believe that it was Fr. Tom Hopko who modified the Buddhist maxim of “If you meet the Buddha kill the Buddha” to “If you meet Christ let him kill you.” In dying to our self-will we find true life in Christ.

    Have I read you right? Please correct me if I’ve ascribed ideas to your gist that are contrary to what you’ve stated or implied.

  20. Timmy,
    You read my right. I do not know where all of the critics are ‘coming from.’ Some, I think, are mistakenly caught up in the culture wars and fear that my discussion of “morality” as a problem was some sort of suggestion that we should back off on the “moral teachings” of the Church or our “moral efforts.” On the one hand, I was relatively insulted by such a suggestion, given a track record of 8 years of writing where I have been very clear on “moral” topics. But the misuse of the Fathers to support a moralistic approach to the Orthodox faith is simply wrong and shows a lack of theological understanding.

    I’m moving on from the discussion, and returning to my own work shortly. I’m working on a requested article for preparing for confession. May God give us grace as the great Feast of His nativity approaches.

  21. Father, forgive me as I think I get it, then I chew on it some more and then don’t seem to have “gotten it”.

    I feel that I resonate with Steve (above) as many of us see Orthodoxy as attractive at least in part, because we believe that there, we’ll finally be able to “make progress.” I realize that you have de-bunked this belief. I think I get what you’re saying, and thus in one sense I feel a bit depressed, as I truly wish to overcome sin in my life.

    But here’s my real question. If we look at the lives of the saints, we see many that either reached a point where they no longer sinned or rarely sinned. Now, if you and I look at them, we might say they “progressed”, right? Or, I guess we would say that God worked mightily in them. But it’s interesting to note that many of them wept on their deathbeds over their sin and wished for just one more day to repent. So they would never have claimed that they progressed. They saw themselves as horrible sinners while those around them saw them as saints.

    Is that last paragraph close to being correct? Is “progress” sort of like humility? The mere fact that you think you have it means by default that you don’t have it?

  22. Alan,
    your question

    But here’s my real question. If we look at the lives of the saints, we see many that either reached a point where they no longer sinned or rarely sinned. Now, if you and I look at them, we might say they “progressed”, right? Or, I guess we would say that God worked mightily in them. But it’s interesting to note that many of them wept on their deathbeds over their sin and wished for just one more day to repent. So they would never have claimed that they progressed. They saw themselves as horrible sinners while those around them saw them as saints.

    Is that last paragraph close to being correct? Is “progress” sort of like humility? The mere fact that you think you have it means by default that you don’t have it?

    is why I made that comment above you might have missed:

    When man–after countless struggles- starts approaching, still from a distance, the divestiture of the ‘old self’ [who’s will is still not entirely aligned to Christ’s no matter what], and the outward manifestations of his many passions and addictions do actually cease, the awareness of all of his sinful predispositions actually becomes colossally sharper….
    …this “inverse progress” :
    When and if the ‘new man’ [who has no will that opposes God’s will left in him] is finally revealed in fullness through God’s grace, all the virtues come flooding in to dwell in profound strength in that person’s heart, the primary of which is humility. This is nothing other than true knowledge of oneself, leading to wisdom and the understanding of the worthlessness of man’s own “I”, created out of nothing. Conscious of his nothingness he then apprehends God’s infinite benevolence. This ‘hell’ (I use the word elegiacally) of humility is instantaneously, paradoxically the heaven of finally meeting the one, the only Encounter of our eternal being – God. When the Lord guides such a blessed soul to knowledge of herself as the most worthless of all existing things, then in unison with this self-knowledge, man is given the knowledge of God, what the Holy Fathers call a “knowing of the Truth.” Knowing the Truth –God- is, in its essence, seeing God with truly spiritual eyes; He now allows Himself to be known, tasted, conversed with, possessed by the one He has [having been truly invited towards this] already possessed, and this constitutes the search for the essence of life, the meaning of existence.

    Perfection would entail seeing Christ continuously and in all, but in this life, facing even the slightest deviation from that ‘yardstick’ in oneself (and others) -a vision that becomes clearer the closer to Christ we approach- is a cause of weeping as you say…

    many of them wept on their deathbeds over their sin and wished for just one more day to repent.

  23. Father Stephen,

    Bless!

    As I’ve been following along, I’ve been miffed about the notion of progress…it’s not progress at all; it’s depth, unfathomable depth…
    It is like the elders gathered round the throne in St. John’s Apocalypse – they fall down and worship the slain Lamb with even more reverence each time, because there is always something more for them (and all of us) to worship. It’s the depth of His love that draws us all – and that keeps us weeping in joyful sorrow.

    A blessed Nativity to all!
    Eleftheria

  24. Fr. Stephen,

    In this context (my above comment & your response) my experience of “progress” is that as Christ’s light shines into the darkness of my soul I see more & more of my own sinfulness yet feel more & more of God’s love & forgiveness, which is heartbreaking / humbling, to say the least. I guess that is “progress”, but if feels like I’m going backwards as the same time?

  25. There is something I am seeing (in shadow) here: this whole conversation touches on the nature of mercy and how willing I am to really be merciful and to accept mercy.

    It is a humbling and shameful thing to really accept mercy it seems even more to genuinely give it.

    **************************

    As far as the deep sexual disorder we experience that Fr. Stephen alludes to. Can it be any other way? The first consequence of the fall other than mortality was the rift between men and women (even male and female). When we lost our conjugal union with God, we lost most of the sense of what it means to have a lesser conjugal union with each other and our sense of what it means to be male, what it means to be female.

    Our sense of sexuality will always be bound up with that confusion as well as with our fear of death, our general estrangement from ourselves and others (founded in our estrangement from God).

    The distorted longing for union with God is transmogrified in to all sorts of artificial attempts at union–sex being one of the most prevalent and powerful.

    A modern playwright once wrote as a part of a colloquy between a man and a woman falling in love but not wanting to: The man: “Just see me as I am a perambulating vegetable, patched about with inconsequential hair, my sex no beauty, but a blemish to be hidden by judicious rags; driven and scorched by boomerang rages and lunacies that never touch the accommodating artichoke or the seraphic strawberry beaming in its bed. I defend myself against pain and death by pain and death and make the world go round, they tell me, by one of my less lethal appetites…”

    The point is that our sense of self, of love and union and kenotic mercy are inextricably bound up in both our genuine sexual desires and the distorted ones that are deeply held in our hearts and our deep sense of how out of control we are and how futile our attempts to gain control. Sex contains all of it, speaks to all of it at our most vulnerable moments.

  26. The myth of progress died on the killing fields of WWI although it has taken almost a century for the vestiges of the myth to decline in popular culture. The myth is grounded in philosophical materialism, the notion that physical and chemical processes are the ground of epistemology and that real (empirical) development is necessarily linear (progress occurs like the building of a machine).

    In religious terms it can be described as the importation of the evolutionary hypothesis into religious understanding. Within this framework (popularized in American civil religion), moral development function as the empirical measure of spiritual progress.

    The culture wars are really about the space that opens when the myth of progress loses its cultural power. It’s a moral problem of the first order. That’s one reason why the Christian West lurches in confusion, and why progressive ideology (Christian morality inverted) is so appealing to some Christians.

    The counter-argument however should not be expressed solely as a negation of the myth. The problem is not morality or even that morality is ‘systematized’ which it still is — the 10 Commandments are a code, that code is today written on the “fleshly tablets of the heart” but it is still a code). The problem is that the evolutionary hypothesis was imported into religious understanding.

  27. Fr. Hans, you made an important point. It is only the introduction of the evolutionary idea into Christianity that debases the moral code to a simply linear, individual check list devoid of the greater context of interrelationships between our fellows, other creatures and our God. The seen and the unseen.

    That is part of what I meant when I suggested on one of these threads that true morals were an icon of virtue as virtue is a reflection of God’s grace. In and of themselves they become an idol.

  28. It occurs to me that if we measure spirituality in terms of the depths of the heart and the love that proceeds from those depths, then the whole notion of “progress” falls away as completely inapplicable.

    The deeper we move into the heart, the closer we come to touching God, the more we are able to love, and so on an infinitum. And since love isn’t general, but specific, there is literally no end to the depths of the heart. If we were able to achieve the beginnings of love of only one person, I think we could stand in front of that person and continue to deepen our love for them for the rest of our natural lives, and that love would still only be a drop in the ocean of love that is the magnificence of God’s eternity. Let alone loving the whole world– not as an abstraction, but actually loving each person!

    From that perspective, any notion of “progress” is so small as to be juvenile, or childish (as opposed to childlike).

    All that to say that I love the tone of these past few posts.

  29. As I commented on your “un-moral” post, I think the confusion was the result of the terms employed and how the whole subject was approached. The dictionary defines “un” as meaning “not”, so already to speak of an “un-moral” Christianity is to point to a Christianity that does not care at all about morality or external conduct. What Fr. Alexis did, which I found helpful, was affirm morality yet point out that morality is not the purpose of our life as Orthodox Christians. He affirms morality, yet moves the reader to the heart rather than discounting morality altogether. Rather than seeming to reject morality, he points out the problems resulting from an emphasis on morality and places emphasis on the heart without de-emphasizing morality. For instance:

    <>

    To say “not just about” and “although these are things to be prayed for” is to affirm what is spoken about while saying there is something more. “Un-moral”, on the other hand, fails to affirm the importance of morality and creates a seemingly gnostic separation between inner and outward life.

  30. This is the quote I attempted to provide from Fr. Alexis, which affirms morality but moves beyond it:

    “For the ancient fathers, however, it is not just about “the good being preserved in their goodness and the crafty becoming good” (anaphora of Saint Basil the Great), although these are things to be prayed for.”

  31. Fr. Hans,
    Actually, Evolutionary theory marks the importation of Modernist ideas into science. Progress is older than evolution as an idea. Nor is progressive theory merely the result of Evolutionary theory.

    I think that describing the Law as a “code” misses its point and renders it into something it is not. It is not an inert set of ideas, even were they divinely decreed ideas. “Code” simply fails to properly describe the law, just as morality fails to properly describe what we are to do with them. It becomes reductionist to say this. It would be like describing the Eucharist as, after all, really bread.

    Codes can’t be written on the fleshly tables of the heart.

    There are other ways to describe this that are much more suitable.

  32. Michael,
    You can draw similarities, but no direct historical connections. It is certainly the case the evolutionary theory is the single most prominent and popular image to have come out of Modernity. We think it explains everything, and in the form of Progress, is a rhetorical device to silence the critics of any change you want to cram down their throats.

  33. Fr. Stephen, you said:

    “I do not know where all of the critics are ‘coming from.’ Some, I think, are mistakenly caught up in the culture wars and fear that my discussion of “morality” as a problem was some sort of suggestion that we should back off on the “moral teachings” of the Church or our “moral efforts.” On the one hand, I was relatively insulted by such a suggestion, given a track record of 8 years of writing where I have been very clear on “moral” topics. But the misuse of the Fathers to support a moralistic approach to the Orthodox faith is simply wrong and shows a lack of theological understanding.”

    I have read several posts on another forum which expressed criticism of your “un-moral” article. None of the posts that I read suggest that morality and external conduct should be the focus of our Orthodox life. All of the critics I read agree that we have to go beyond morality to the heart, to be purified, illumined, and deified. The problem, as I mentioned in other comments, is that your article seemed to detract from morality rather than affirm the importance of proper moral conduct while emphasizing the need to go beyond morality. That is the primary difference I noticed when comparing your article with what Fr. Alexis, Met Hierotheos, and others have written on the subject of morality and theosis. I think you intended to say what they are saying, but the way your article was written it does not quite convey what perhaps you intended.

  34. Fr. Stephen, could you please elaborate concerning this “paranetic reason”? Perhaps it would help to clear up some confusion.

  35. Jason,

    Merry Christmas!!!

    Google or the dictionary will give you the answer you are looking for. Paranesis / paranetic. An exhortatory composition : advice, counsel. i.e. a caution in the face of a potential problem.

    Through my eyes, (I can’t speak for Fr. Freeman) the articles have been a critique of underlying modernist and post-modernist (perhaps pietist) ideals and presuppositions which have colored (for most of us — unknowingly) much or our modern understanding about what being moral is….which is a break from classical Christianity and true wellness in Christ.

    Thus, Fr. Freeman says we must be “unmorally moral.” His is a challenge (an exhortation; a paranetic caution) to our worldview…not to the underlying goodness of the law or the fruits of the Spirit, or to doing good and resisting evil…but to the notion of “progress” and “morality” as defined by the “modern project.” The “modern project” as Fr. Freeman understands it is the key to understanding his articles.

    Much like Jesus’s paranetic caution to the Pharisees…” …you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

    Christ’s paranetic reason was to challenge and caution not the outward goodness of the Pharisees…which “appeared beautiful” but the underlying darkness that truly permeated their lives. Christ’s paranetic reason was to challenge the underlying worldview that the Pharisees had about morality and the law. It was to tell them that we need to “surpass” that. Go beyond that. Get behind it…to the source. “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    Thus, Christ gave them direction…”You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” Inner to outer…not outer to inner. “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” We focus on the tree…not the fruit…the fruit follows the tree.

    Understanding Fr. Freeman’s critique of “the modern project” as a whole – is I think critical to understanding his arguments in regard to morality and progress. There is a lot of historical and sociological awareness that must inform a proper engagement with Fr. Freeman on the issue…and I think the unfortunate issue here is that there is an overall ignorance of the history and sociology informing “the modern project.”
    Fr. Freeman is undercutting the modern project by his observations…but if you don’t understand what that is…or believe its a problem…one will miss what he is saying.

    Without that basic understanding of his critique of the modern project and what it does to our perception of self, community and God – understanding or commenting on the finer points of his articles on morality will not make much sense. If one does not agree with or understand his rejection of the “modern project” as an existential reality to our modern thinking…then of course that is one thing…and the discussion should then be turned to defending modern worldviews constructed from the Enlightenment, modernism and post-modernism and their value to Christian life, which I would say is indefensible.

    It is another thing for people to live their lives in a way in which they cannot or will not discern that they themselves are beholden to the “matrix of the modern” worldview which is faulty and which has been spiritualized and internalized and thus informs much of their spiritual lives – including their approach to wellness (wholeness) in Christ. This, I feel (again, not speaking for Fr. Freeman) is the paranesis; i.e. caution.

  36. Michael,
    I guess my problem with saying this is that I do not know of anyone in the relatively modern period who was an Epicurean. You can draw similarities to certain aspects of his teaching (though I can’t think of anything particularly outstanding in that manner), when you say “that have Epicurean roots” who are asserting a historical link that I’m certainly not familiar with in a standard treatment of the history of philosophy.

  37. As St. Paul admonishes new creation ‘ behavior’, in his epistles powered by the resurrection , worthy of the telos of the new creation , I still don’t see why actions and belief have to be separated ? …..,

  38. I think the new creation behavior is a great one to point out! No one has separated actions and belief. This suggestion is simply an inability for readers to engage with the ideas (critiques) of the worldview of the “modern project” that often creeps into cultural Christianity.

    The Pharisees were scandalized by Jesus’s suggestion that their outward righteousness was out of line with true holiness and godliness. That they “strained out a gnat but swallowed a camel.”

    Just as people are now scandalized by that very same message. Time have changed, human sin and the tendency to seek self righteousness through externals has not. The externals are vitally important, but are direct results of internal healing of the noetic faculty (nous and kardia).

    “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the LORD weighs the motives.”

    “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.”

    “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.”

    Merry Christmas.

  39. Evolutionary theory marks the reduction of science to the precepts of philosophical materialism, the notion that the ground of epistemology is physical and chemical processes. Calling this ‘modernism’ alone is too vague, although philosophical materialism is certainly a prominent characteristic of modern culture.

    As for morality as code, one cannot deny that the Ten Commandments are a list of prescribed behaviors — don’t covet, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal and so forth, just as we also see in Paul — “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry…But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth” (Galatians 3).

    This listing can be abused of course, especially when the Christian faith is reduced to these moral prescriptions alone or more precisely, when adherence to these prescriptions functions as the empirical measure of ‘spiritual progress.’ That approach, is certainly fallacious and completely in accord with modern culture, but even so it does not negate the fact the list is prescriptive morality.

    I think you may be challenging hypermoralism from the wrong direction. The real problem is the materialist assumptions that inform it. Materialism shapes the idea that ‘spiritual progress’ is can be empirically verified by adherence to the moral prescriptions of scripture. The problem in other words is not the prescriptions but the assumptions underlying their misapplication.

    That way you could avoid the problem of appearing to weaken the authority of the prescriptions.

  40. Fr. Hans,
    What a strange Scripture to quote in support for “moral prescriptions.” Yes, there is a list, but you missed the uniqueness of the Apostle’s admonition. He does not say, “Try not to fornicate, be impure, etc.” which would be a moralistic reading of such a list. But he instead says, “Put to death fornication, etc.” It is there that my attention is drawn, and it is there that my point is made.

    The moral life is weak and unable to accomplish any list, because such efforts are of the flesh and doomed to failure. But this is all in St. Paul:

    For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, (Rom 8:3)

    This condemnation is not a “moral” condemnation, God saying, “Don’t do that!” What good would that do? St. Paul is here pointing out that it doesn’t work.

    So what does work?

    A new life. One in which the flesh is put to death. I have done nothing more than apply the teachings of St. Paul. I have no where suggested a “weakening the authority of the prescriptions.” That’s putting words in my mouth and reading the culture war into my work. I have accurately pointed out the moral failings of that whole approach. The article, You Are Not Getting Better, which is part of this series, is simply Pauline.

    What is lacking in this, is, as Fr. Aidan has noted, a proper regard for the words of the Apostle. I am grappling in these writings with the import of “put to death what is earthly in you.”

    It seems that some think that we can acquire the Spirit through the prescriptions of morality (works of the Law). A thorough reading of Galatians should put that to rest.

    Merry Christmas. Christ is born!

  41. Well, actually the scripture is saying “Don’t do these things…” but for this reason: they lead to death. Paul in turn is saying instead of doing these things that lead to death, put these things (listed as behaviors) to death instead.

    As for listing these prescriptions as “works of the Law,” that’s models the Lutheran error where Luther read Paul’s references to the Law in Romans as pertaining to moral effort, rather than the precepts of the Mosaic Law. This led him to conclude that James was a “straw epistle” because James wrote “I will show you my faith by my works.”

    It seems to me that reading both Romans and Galatians in terms of a critique of hypermoralism incorrectly imports the Lutheran construction (moral effort vs. faith) into the reading. I would draw the opposite conclusion: the importation of materialist notion of progress into theological thought (moral prescriptions serve as the empirical evidence of ‘spiritual progress’) is an outgrowth of Luther’s error.

    I am not arguing with your conclusion that the Christian life properly understood is anything but the hypermoralism of the Christian who thinks in exclusively materialist categories. I am not arguing against your definitions of Orthodox soteriology with which I am in complete agreement.

    Yet, the sole focus on how morality functions misses the forest for the trees I think. The deeper problem here is materialism, the dominance of a non-sacramental view of reality, the blindness towards the non-material dimensions of reality — however one wants to describe it — that led to the rise of hypermoralism as the definition of ‘spiritual progress.’

    Put another way, seeing progress as the problem overstates the case. Progress is not the problem. Defining progress within the confines materialist epistemology is the problem.

    So, yes, the culture wars is imported into the discussion in a way. But if my assertion is correct that the culture wars arose as a result of the collapse of the myth of progress (materialist epistemology) how can it be any other way? The collapse of the myth has produced a moral crisis of the first order, one that you too seek to address I think.

  42. Fr. Hans, I see, especially in the broader discussion here, a deep understanding of the effect of the anti-sacramental view as intrinsic to modernity. Keep in mind that these threads are part of a much longer conversation.

    *********

    Fr Stephen, neo-Epicurianism played a big role in the early stages of the modern project as a way to give support for a materialist world view and to challenge the Christian understanding of the created order and the centrality of the Incarnation. Not surprising since St. Athanasius mention the philosophy in his work too.

    The various derivatives of the materialist outlook in the late 19th century certainly smack if it with the added bonus of technology and economicd becoming dominant metaphors.

    Darwin’s work in particular was the result of a specific effort over several decades to give “scientific” creedance to the anti-Christian world view.

    Attacking the moralism of Christians also was and is a big part of the effort.

    Trying to save the morals without the sacramental/ incarnational understanding that gives them life was self-defeating. But that had been the Christian response for the most part–which included the natural law critique as well

    Materialism and moralism are part of the same rebellion against the command: “Submit yourself all ye nations for God is with us!”

    Blessed Christmas in the peace of Christ. Glorify Him.

    Certain such an understanding

  43. Fr. Hans,
    There is no “sole focus” here. This is part of a larger series – on Modernity. It includes attention to materialism and non-sacramentality. That said, I think there is more “mystery” in St. Paul’s admonitions than simple moral effort. The nature of our “moral effort” is not according to the flesh. My pastoral observations in the articles have noted the frequent moral “failures” of people. There is often no “observable” “progress.” There is something else. That something else is here described as “put to death” the deeds of the flesh. But I will leave that now.

    The sacramentality of the moral life is frequently unaddressed by many priests – who mistakenly just keep engaging in the typical exhortations of moralism – with no effect.

  44. Merry Christmas Fr. Jacobse,

    I have a question.

    you said; “As for listing these prescriptions as “works of the Law,” that’s models the Lutheran error where Luther read Paul’s references to the Law in Romans as pertaining to moral effort, rather than the precepts of the Mosaic Law.”

    Could you please explain how what you say above is true as it applies to the actual verse? Romans 3 “For no one will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.”

    If as you say the works of the law are speaking to the precepts of the Mosaic Law, am I to assume you mean the Ritual law and not the moral law (10 Commandments)? If the verse is not speaking to the moral effect…then how is it that Paul can say that the knowledge of sin comes through the law? How could the knowledge of sin come through the law if not by referring to “moral effort,” as you put it? How does the ritual law make us know sin?

    Please help me understand. Thanks.

  45. In regards to the fact that modernity is essentially the Epicurean worldview returned in Englightment Deism you need to look at wider history and society and their worldviews in which such ideas emerged and developed. The movement of thought from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment can be characterized especially by the major revival of Epicureanism. Ever since Poggio Bracciolini rediscovered Lucretius’s great poem De Rerum Natura in an obscure European monastery in 1417 the great alternative philosophy of the first century (alternative, that is, to the otherwise dominant Stoicism) had been making its way in European circles. It came to its full flowering with the thinkers of the Enlightenment, taking in such seminal figures as Giordani Bruno, Montaigne, Galileo, Bacon, Hobbes, Newton, Hume and, not least, Thomas Jefferson, who famously proclaimed ‘I am an Epicurean’, (a claim has to be taken seriously, despite Jefferson’s attempts to have his cake and eat it by declaring his admiration for Epictetus, a first-century Stoic, and of course for Jesus himself; the latter two being subject to Jefferson’s own rather heavy-handed attempts to decontextualize them and present the results in a manner that sustained his agendas rather than undermining them, as left to themselves they might have done.) The point is that in Epicurean philosophy, over against the confused and frightening paganism of the ancient world and the confused and frightening religion of the middle ages, the gods are removed far away, off to a distant heaven of blessedness from which they don’t even bother to get involved in the affairs of the present world. The world itself, according to the first-century atomism of Lucretius, consists of atoms, and the objects made up of them, moving under their own steam, without divine intervention, developing and transforming themselves according to their own energy, their innate ‘swerve’ (clinamen, a crucial Epicurean term), and the survival of the fittest. Darwinism before Darwin. Human society, likewise, should be able to order itself from within, needing no divine intervention whether through kings or priests or anybody else. Secularism is the twin sister of modern atheistic science, sharing Lucretius as the primary ancestor and the Enlightenment philosophers as immediate parents.

    The majority of westerners today simply do not realise either that they are Epicureans by default or that Epicureanism was always only one philosophy and worldview among others. People imbibe without realizing the narrative and cardinal statement of faith that the Enlightenment had opened up a new saeculum or age in the 18th century (as indeed the American dollar bill declares to this day), and that we could not think of challenging it. This of course has been attacked and exposed for the fragile illusion it is with the arrival of postmodernity, where old Enlightenment certainties were shaken to the core. But people usually do not realise that the Epicurean stance of separating God or the gods from the world was always simply one option; that it was always an unstable option (since the gods always tended to sneak back in by other means, as in the Romantic movement’s pantheistic answer to Enlightenment rationalism), that it was always a costly option, easier to embrace if you were rich and healthy enough to enjoy the Epicurean lifestyle.

    In the Epicurean worldview Christianity and Judaism was reduced, first, to being a ‘religion’ (the word ‘religion’ itself having been already severely redefined to reflect Epicurean principles, now meaning ‘that which humans do with their solitude’), and then to being the wrong sort of religion (since it persisted, perversely from the Epicurean point of view, in believing that the real world of creation, and human actions within it, actually mattered as part of the whole). Those who embraced the Enlightenment but sought still to be good Christians thus portrayed themselves in a different light. Martin Luther’s Protestantism, in which Paul rose and smote the wicked Judaizers, came to birth in a new form, as Christianity had to become un-Jewish in order to hold up its head in European culture. And this was the 1830s, not yet the 1930s. Religion and ordinary life had to be kept as far apart as possible. The French went all the way with the Enlightenment agenda, and tried to wipe out religion entirely – as they are still trying to do, with the banning of Muslim headscarves. The Americans compromised, and insisted on a rigid separation of church and state: you could still be a Christian, but you’d better not bring it into public life. The English, looking both ways took a pragmatic approach. While further north in Scotland, the simultaneous influence of John Knox and David Hume offers an interesting legacy that combined to form the basis of secularism worldview and praxis.

  46. Grant,
    well said. Unconscious neo-Epicureanism as a form of a more ‘moral’, more controlled hedonism and pain-‘defence’ has certainly been steadily gaining ground in our culture for many centuries, morphing into diverse forms. It is redolent of St Maximus’ insights on pain-pleasure, though attempting to deal with those Maximian acumens in a ‘humanist’, rather than a Christian manner. I hadn’t thought of it as Epicurean influence though, just as an ignorance of St Maximus…!

    Also proper Christian morality (Christian ‘ethos’ or ‘spirit’ would be a far superior word choice) is an purely ontological principal based not on some behavioural ‘code’ but on the profound awareness that “I am carrying the members of Christ” (Cor 1 – 6:15). It is a life lived as ‘a christ’ in this world, striving to eucharistically and sacrificially transcend our propensity for pleasure and our fear of pain. [You could say transcending it into an “inverted Epicureanism” – such as we see most lucidly in the splendid “letter to the Romans” by Saint Ignatius the God-bearer. Embracing suffering and renouncing pleasure out of a burning love [as witnessed in that splendid letter] is of course Crucificial, but at the same time it is the embracing the True Joy of the resurrected life that has overcome the world.

  47. Dino,

    “Also proper Christian morality (Christian ‘ethos’ or ‘spirit’ would be a far superior word choice) is an purely ontological principal based not on some behavioural ‘code’ but on the profound awareness that “I am carrying the members of Christ” (Cor 1 – 6:15)”

    Might we better off if we emphasize holiness? Holiness in Christ leads to True morality. But morality does not lead to true holiness. Is there a gap in this kind of thinking?

  48. Aaron,
    It is interesting that “holiness” in American evangelical vocabulary once has very moralistic overtones.

    To say what needs saying, there may be a requirement of adapting vocabulary rather than redefining one we already have. This is particularly true when we are a minority in the culture and will have no impact on the majority language. Thus, I mount my little forays of “un-moral” and the like. Without such verbal pyrotechnics it is impossible to be heard. Of course, I think some who “heard” it, revealed their own inherent moralism – which is a good thing.

    My original articles on the “two-storey” universe was a way to describe the false dichotomies of the anti-sacramental worldview of Modern Christianity. I think a number of Orthodox readers realized that their own thought had been very two-storey and have worked at engaging it on a deeper level.

    It was, in many ways, a trite example. So I’m still pushing. This next book will be, I hope, more “magisterial,” though I need to keep it readable. 🙂

  49. Aaron,
    indeed, Holiness; but it’s one of the most misunderstood words…
    We must keep firmly in mind that the ‘observable’ Christian ethos par-excellence resulting from Holiness that exherts the greatest influence [as this is seen in a martyr’s example] is heroism, blazing yet serene, joyful yet watchful, priestly yet repentant, and fervently sacrificial and grateful.
    St Ignatius -on his way to be eaten by the lions in the Colosseum- pleaded the Christians who loved him dearly, not to pray for his ‘liberation’ from the imminent martyrdom with these word:

    Things are off to a good start. May I have the good fortune to meet my fate without interference! What I fear is your generosity which may prove detrimental to me.
    For if you quietly let me alone, people will see in me God’s Word. But if you are enamored of my mere body, I shall, on the contrary, be a meaningless noise. Grant me no more than to be a sacrifice for God while there is an altar at hand.
    It is a grand thing for my life to set on the world, and for me to be on my way to God, so that I may rise to Him.
    It is not that I want merely to be called a Christian, but actually to be one. Yes, if I prove to be one, then I can have the name. Then, too, I shall be a convincing Christian only when the world sees me no more. Nothing you can see has real value. Our God Jesus Christ, indeed, has revealed himself more clearly by returning to the Father. The greatness of Christianity lies in its being hated by the world, not in its being convincing to it.
    I am voluntarily dying for God — if, that is, you do not interfere. I plead with you, do not do me an unseasonable kindness. Let me be fodder for wild beasts — that is how I can get to God. I am God’s wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ. I would rather that you fawn on the beasts so that they may be my tomb and no scrap of my body be left.
    Then I shall be a real disciple of Jesus Christ when the world sees my body no more. Pray Christ for me that by these means I may become God’s sacrifice. I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul. They were apostles: I am a convict. They were at liberty: I am still a slave. But if I suffer, I shall be emancipated by Jesus Christ; and united to him, I shall rise to freedom.
    What a thrill I shall have from the wild beasts that are ready for me! I hope they will make short work of me. I shall coax them on to eat me up at once and not to hold off, as sometimes happens, through fear. And if they are reluctant, I shall force them to it. Forgive me — I know what is good for me. Now is the moment I am beginning to be a disciple. May nothing seen or unseen begrudge me making my way to Jesus Christ. Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil — only let me get to Jesus Christ!
    “I would rather die” and get to Jesus Christ, than reign over the ends of the earth. That is whom I am looking for — the One who died for us. That is whom I want — the One who rose for us. I am going through the pangs of being born. Sympathize with me, my brothers! Do not stand in the way of my coming to life — do not wish death [he calls not being martyred and remaining alive death here] on me. Do not give back to the world one who wants to be God’s; do not trick him with material things. Let me get into the clear light and manhood will be mine. Let me imitate the Passion of my God. If anyone has Him in him, let him appreciate what I am longing for, and sympathize with me, realizing what I am going through.
    though alive, it is with a passion for death that I am writing to you. My Desire has been crucified and there burns in me no passion for material things. There is living water in me, which speaks and says inside me, “Come to the Father.” I take no delight in corruptible food or in the dainties of this life. What I want is God’s bread, which is the flesh of Christ…
    …and for drink I want his blood: an immortal love feast indeed! I do not want to live any more on a human plane.

  50. KC, Luther read all references to the law in Romans as pertaining to a cosmic moral law, not the Law of Moses. To Luther then, faith stands in contradistinction to moral effort, not the works of the Mosaic Law.

    That’s why he had such trouble with James, particularly the verses that defended moral works as the expression of authentic faith.

  51. Fr. Hans,
    You’re not following the logic of your own reasoning here. Your reading and take on Luther would suggest that moral works would be effective, while works of the Mosaic Law would not? Why would that be?

  52. I am traveling right now so I don’t have access to my library but there are a couple of modern authors who do a good job showing the Epicurean influence on modernism. Years ago I spent a year of graduate school in a “great books”, Oxford style tutorial program. One thing that struck me was how the students who were thorough modernists (the majority obviously) would sometimes latch onto Lucretius/etc. and explicitly affirm their own “neo-epicureanism”. I would say that modern man is “neo-epicurian”many significant ways (e.g. darwinian/freudian “ethics”) so there are more than “similarities” even if there is not a direct linear historical, systematized influence (but as Grant shows above there is more their than is commonly realized)…

  53. Well, I’m learning something in this exchange. I’ll be correcting my deficiency. I have Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura in Latin. It would probably be over the top to struggle through it in such a form

  54. KC, I did answer your question. Let me break it down.

    The bifurcation between the ritual and moral law you make in your question is artificial. The entire Mosaic law is moral in character (ritual cannot be divorced from meaning, and meaning cannot be divorced from morals). No first century Jew would bifurcate it in this way. Your restating it this way is a repeat of Luther’s error.

    As for:

    Could you please explain how what you say above is true as it applies to the actual verse? Romans 3 “For no one will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.”

    Here Paul teaches why the (Mosaic) Law is no longer necessary: 1) It cannot give man the power to live it in the way that its promise of life could be fulfilled; 2) it has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ (the resurrection proves the sentence of death was not upon Christ and therefore He was righteous according to the (Mosaic) Law.

    That righteousness is conferred to us (righteousness understood as partaking in the very life of God — communion, theosis, new birth, etc.) through baptism and the circumcision of the heart instead of the flesh.

    The function of the law then was to teach what sin was. The power to overcome the death caused by sin is given through baptism (the acquisition of the Holy Spirit) and actualized in obedience — the putting to death the sin and death within us (Therefore do not let sin reign in your moral bodies…Romans 6:12).

    Thus, if one bifurcates the (Mosaic) Law between ritual and moral and thereby fails to see that all the precepts of the (Mosaic) Law were moral in character, one will most likely read the ‘moral’ end of the bifurcation in Lutheran terms, that is, grace stands in contradistinction to a cosmic moral law (an unwritten law operating in the universe whose authority is drawn from its purported substance instead of the mouth God — ‘moral absolutes’ and all that).

    Once morality is defined in these cosmic terms, say hello to the ‘modern project.’ Or from the other other direction, if one hopes to correct the hypermoralsim that defines the ‘modern project’ but still reads the Mosaic Law as a cosmic moral law, then the role and function of the moral precepts in the Christian life can become confused.

    The deep structure causes of the ‘modern project’ is materialism/desacramentalization (they work hand in hand). The confusion about morality grows out of this. Hypermoralism is a philosophical superstructure that attempts to reconcile a universe where God is believed to exist but the evidence for Him is scant.

    This is fundamentally a problem in the heart and mind but as long as the blindness remains the only bridge over this chasm is experience, and non-sacramental Christians, when they conform their lives to Christ, do indeed experience Him. That’s why the hypermoralism continues to have personal and cultural power.

  55. Fr. Stephen, moral works are effective. One has to obey Christ in order to experience deeper communion with Him. This is not the same thing as saying that grace stands in contradistinction to a cosmic moral law. It only stands in contradistinction to the Mosaic Law. Grace then is not opposed to moral effort. Grace is the fulfillment of what the Law promised but could not provide (grace is given to us in baptism, which is to say through Christ and Christ alone).

  56. Fr. Hans,
    You give no reason for your contention of some sort of distinction between the Mosaic Law (which is moral) and a Cosmic moral law – why one is not effective, but the first is not.

    I certainly believe in synergy – that our efforts are of use – our cooperation with the grace of God which abides within the commandments – is essential in our lives. However, many do not approach the commandments in any way other than an “empty” moral law, a mere codified idea, and as such their efforts are only the useless efforts of the flesh, the old man, in whom dwells no good thing.

    I feel like you’re getting tangled up in all of this.

    I would make a distinction between a kind of moral law and a kind of moral effort versus the true law and true synergy. What I hear in your comments is “moral” is “moral” and there is no distinction. Instead, I think there is a great distinction. The thrust of my articles has been towards teaching the difference – and directing the heart towards the true law and true synergy, rather than the empty, useless efforts of an empty morality (call it “moralism”). I think my language has been clear enough for anyone to understand what I’m doing who wants to understand it and not simply quibble.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    But I will not belabor the point. It is enough.

  57. BTW, I should add I do not believe in the existence of a cosmic moral law. I have no problem with natural law, where truth can be discerned through the very structure and workings of creation (material and non-material), but the vivifying, coherent power that holds it all together is the word first spoken at creation — Logos and logoi — that still resonates in and through everything today.

  58. Fr. Stephen, your question presumes the Mosaic Law and a cosmic moral law function in the same way. They are not similar at all. Read Peter J. Leithart’s “Defending Constantine,” particularly the chapter on the theocratic universe in pagan antiquity, to understand the thought world in which the Mosaic Law functioned.

    A cosmic moral law is a philosophical construct, a removal and reduction of the moral/obedience dimension of the Christian life that compels the believer to create propositions that end up as sterile behavioral precepts.

    Again, the deep structure problem with the ‘modern project’ is materialism/desacramentalism, not the moral dimension. Restore the sacred ground and the full meaning of the moral dimension of the Christian life comes back into focus.

  59. I’m not positing the cosmic moral law as something I believe in. I am saying that if one reads the Mosaic Law as a cosmic moral law, then one does not understand the Mosaic Law.

    The only reason that the Mosaic Law is no longer in effect is not because cosmic moral laws are ultimately unworkable (they don’t really exist). It is no longer in effect because it has been fulfilled — obeyed in its entirety. Jesus accomplished that. His resurrection is the proof. (Reading it any other way would implicitly deny that Christ was fully man.)

    As a result we are freed from the dictates of the Mosaic Law. Faith in Christ, baptism in particular, gives us grace/power in all its various manifestations (the gifts of the Spirit given to us in baptism) so that the dictates of the Mosaic Law are superseded by the new Law of Love:

    “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

    The text here does not even offer a whiff of a cosmic moral law in these words; a commandment that exists distinct and apart from the very word of God; a commandment that can be divorced from the God who spoke it.

    Also note that the commandment to love is still a commandment. The moral dimension is loud and clear but contextualized in a way that any abstraction would do violence to the text and ultimately betray it, and therefore fail in fulfilling it.

  60. Fr. Hans,
    There is so much more that I would say on this – but I think it would overwhelm the comments. You say things that for me “beg the question.” When you say “the law is fulfilled,” I, of course agree. But what do you think it means to say the Law is fulfilled. Some would treat that statement in a completely forensic manner. I would treat it in a completely ontological manner – and that takes a lot of pondering and working it through to make that understood. Much of what I’m doing is working to ground people’s understanding in an ontological understanding rather than the forensic. I might be misunderstanding you – but you keep lapsing into statements that simply sound forensic to me. I don’t think there is any reality in a forensic account. It holds nothing for me.

  61. In the context that I provided, to say “the (Mosaic) law is fulfilled” means that it does not function like a cosmic moral law. Cosmic moral laws are non-functional in the end.

    The Mosaic Law is no longer in effect not because it is non-functional in the same sense of a cosmic moral law, but because the resurrection of Christ has rendered it null and void. Had Christ not fulfilled it, He would not have resurrected because the death that entered the world through sin would have been on Him as well. (Saying anything less would implicitly deny that Christ was fully man — in all ways that we are except without sin.)

    Christ abolished the Mosaic Law by His resurrection. Romans and Galatians deals with people who did not understand how it was abolished and why it was superseded by faith in the resurrected Christ.

    However, if we read Romans as pertaining to a cosmic moral law, then the role and function of the moral precepts gets skewed — hypermoralism on one end, and a fading into irrelevance (more precisely, a reworking of Christian anthropology) on the other.

    I understand that you are trying to recover the ground that would restore the ‘ontological’ ground of morality (I would term it a recovery of authentic Christian anthropology). I am not challenging that.

  62. These are matters of insight first of all. Without the insight to chew on, logic just judders its mechanicals jaws endlessly, doomed to reach the same conclusions over and over again.

    Some people read the articles and actually “get” the insight. It’s a sort of imaginative leap, I guess. Others only think they are getting it, just using the new words to clothe the idea that they previously had. Still others reject even the form of words in defense of the previously held idea.

    Odd how education most of all seems to prepare some people to fail at grasping new insights. I wonder if it’s really a failure of intellect, or imagination, or perhaps a failure of sympathy.

    Or maybe it just takes time. I recall when I first heard about Plato’s Ideas (Forms) there was no room in my mind for the concept at all and I just scoffed. Three or five years later I was startled to find I believed him.

  63. “In the context that I provided, to say “the (Mosaic) law is fulfilled” means that it does not function like a cosmic moral law. Cosmic moral laws are non-functional in the end.”

    Now that I am home I have been able to catch up on this thread. Reading “Cosmic moral laws are non-functional in the end” immediately brought to my mind the Kantian/Rawlsian ethical effort, it’s grand nobility and it’s emptiness.

    I have some sympathy for the angle Fr. Hans is bringing here and it fit’s into the ontological approach because one could just as easily say “Cosmic moral laws are non-ontological in the end”, which is to say they don’t really exist. By emphasizing the anthropological dimension, one really starts to point to the nexus where modernism is so different from Christianity and for that matter most every other philosophy that came before it – excepting of course epicureanism which has many similarities and foreshadows modern materialism and ethics in so many ways. Of course, one has to make sure one is getting to the ontological in ones thinking on the anthropological.

    Fr. Stephen, I could only find Benjamin Walkers “Moral Darwinism – How We Became Hedonists” on my shelf. If I recall (it’s been while since I read it) it is rather polemical in tone, but I think it is heavily footnoted and would do the job (in linking epicureanism to modern thought). I had another book that was better I think but I must have lent it out some time and can’t even remember the author now…If by God’s grace we see the Kingdom do we get our books back? 🙂

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