Thursday, December 16, 2004
I too am waiting, O Radioactive Spider. Turn my tawdry finals week existence into a cool cover for my secret identity. Make my staying-up-late, sleeping-in, being-late-to-everything and being-generally-undependable tendencies into a heroic and tragic hidden sacrifice. Make me worth being--I'm doing a sucky job of it by myself!
(and yes, I know, this prayer should be directed elsewhere than a hypothetical spider. It's just that sometimes, it would be nice if things were that easy. I'd much rather fight super-villains than myself)
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Four nights. In a row. 187 Minesweeper games (best time, 118 seconds Expert--not good enough). 4 hours Rome Total War. 8 hours of newsifying. 8 more of constant checking and re-checking of every blog on my list. Equally constant checking of the fan fiction sites--some people have no concept of their responsibility to procrastinating students--not enough updates. 18 hours of sleep in 4 days: not bad, not too good either. Five Dr. Peppers, four beers, three ginger ales, two shots of Ouzo, and not nearly enough water. And 50 pages to write, five finals to prep for, and one life to keep living.
Yup. It's Finals Week. And if the Lord of the Vineyard had not ordained that Finals Weeks could fill no more than 1/25 of each year, we would all have killed ourselves by now.
Only 51 hours till the hypothetical end of the drama. 51 hours to finish. I daren't think of incompletes--because if I think of them, I'll ask for them, and I'll get them, and then I'll never finish. That way lies madness.
So now, finally, as the final gauntlet heaves into sight, the pressure finally comes to bear. I always say that I need to need to get my work done--if it doesn't matter, I won't do it.
I forgot how much it sucks when something has to get done and it's 2 in the morning and my brain is backfiring on caffeine and I haven't slept right for half a week and there's no alternative but to push through and do it.
I only wonder if it's still possible. And hence, naturally, faced with impossibility, I don't buckle down. Instead, I blog.
Let this writing live through the ages, a testimony to American Higher Education and the insanity of the American student.
Make that 50 hours to finish. I wasted one writing this.
Monday, December 13, 2004
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Friday, December 03, 2004
While I'm in the mood to quote Card, and as a belated commentary on the whole election of last month (happy though I am that John Kerry will not be president next month), here's a pithy little quote from OSC's Heartfire.
"Government is like watching another man piss in your boot. Someone feels better but it certainly isn't you."And that pretty darn near speaks for itself.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
...but at least expensive enough for the Restaurant at the End of the World.
And much sillier. I mean, think about it--Martini on a Rock? Give me a break!
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
"The Maker is the one who is part of what he makes."
--from Orson Scott Card's Prentice Alvin, Chapter 9
I think this is true. And if it is, then truly, Christ's Incarnation is the First act of the Creation, late in time though it is.
Come to think of it, St. John the Forerunner said the same thing.
ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν, ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν.
That is cool, and I'm going to enjoy thinking about it. I would also like to say that I love the way tenses get screwed up when you talk about the intersection of the timeless God with this temporal creation. A grammaticians dream/nightmare, completely aside from the sublime salvific implications thereof.
ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενος ἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν, ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν.--John 1:15b
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Some days I wake up and look outside, and the sun is shining and I feel pretty good about myself and I'm overwhelmed with an assurance that things aren't really that bad, that people are more or less reasonable, sane and normal, and society isn't actually going to hell in a handbasket. I feel confident that all the pain and suffering and noise and ugliness in the world is merely the result of a small misunderstanding, the consequence of everyday human errors that anyone could make, but that nobody means to make, and that all the problems of the world really aren't that bad and everything will be alright. "Human beings are alright," I think to myself. "I think I'll stay one."
Then I read things like this.
And I snap out of it.
How do I transfer out of this chicken outfit?
Ok, so the stupid sandwich didn't actually sell for $28,000. Such was the highest bid, but it was illegitimate. The casino that bought the silly thing only paid $71.
It's still ridiculous. More so are the copycats--check out the link posted in the comments section by MB.
Not to plagiarize or anything, but...
Monday, November 22, 2004
Generally speaking, I dislike cursing. To be more accurate, I dislike the manner in which we moderns curse--there may be a certain niftiness to the versatility of certain words such that one can construct the sentence F--- the f---ing f---ers, but English is replete with a multitude of adjectives with which one can communicate a far more colorful and precise sentiment, as:
A pox upon the stenchiferous poltroons!
Wherewith one expresses that one wishes that the smelly cowards would spontaneously acquire a nasty rash. They may not actually be smelly, or cowards, and the chances that said rash will appear are slim, but the sentence is nonetheless laden with an imagery unsurpassed by the overused "f---ing f---ers."
All of which is to say, I find cursing generally lazy as it is most frequently practiced--if one wishes to complain, excessive sexual invective communicates little more than a frustration so intense as to undermine all creativity and true expression of emotion. One could communicate as much with the well-attested inarticulate-cry-of-anguish.
With that caveat, however, permit me to confess one of my dearest secret vices.
When I get my hands on a new dictionary, I look up curse words. Because I mourn and abhor the modern State of the Expletive, I find amusement and, quite frequently, the most fascinating little tidbits of history, language and even human nature in the expletives of our forefathers, such as provide relief from with the monochrome usage of the present era. Example?
According to this web site (which is by no means the final authority, but I don't have my hands on an OED at the moment, so it'll have to do), the first appearance of the F-bomb in English literature is hidden in the "scurrilous 15c. poem," Flen flyys, as follows:
Non sunt in coeli, quia gxddbov xxkxzt pg ifmk.
The pertinent reference is concealed beneath a simple cipher--if one replaces the individual letters comprising the gobbledegook of the dependent clause above with the preceding letter in the Middle English alphabet, the following is rendered.
Non sunt in coeli, quia fwccant wwiwys of Heli.
The subject of the poem is, apparently, a few naughty friars. Hence, translating this quote of combined Latin and Middle English, we find that the anonymous poet is warning of the eternal state of aforementioned friars.
They are not in heaven, because they f--- wives of Ely (a town near Cambridge).
Ah, the things you learn from dictionaries.
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
This is my blog. I am a blogger.
If anyone is left to read, let it be known among you that this is a bad blog, and I am a bad blogger.
It's in my nature. I do things consistently for days, weeks, even months, then get distracted and forget to post, or don't have anything worthwhile to post, or have a million great ideas for lengthy, Pulitzer-winning posts. Which would take a long time to do well, and I inevitably procrastinate on taking that time, so they never happen.
The point is, I consider it high time to admit this and 'fess up publicly. Perhaps I should put it on my blog description up above. But that would take time, so you all know that it will never happen. Nonetheless, I am admitting this most heinous fault of mine, so let the world take note.
I will continue to blog. I will continue to opine. I will continue to bloviate.
And I will continue to disappear from the face of the blogosphere for days, weeks and, yes, even months at a time. I beg your indulgence--this is a mirror of my life, and long hiatuses (hiati?) are apparently an inexcisable part of my nature. So please don't remove me from your link rolls, please keep checking back every now and again--and please feel free to crucify me verbally in the comments section. It's below. Have at it.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
THE PRINCELY PEST OF THE CHINDWIN DIED
Thus spoke Kipling, and thus spoke the Guardian, in a strange echo of Kipling's poem The Ballad of Boh Da Thone Here's the article And, since the poem is one of my favorites, having a tremendous number of very quotable lines, here's an excerpt (the entire poem may be found here):
Boh Da Thone was a warrior bold:
His sword and his rifle were bossed with
And the Peacock Banner his henchmen bore
Was stiff with
bullion, but stiffer with gore.
He shot at the strong and he slashed at
From the Salween scrub to the Chindwin teak:
noble, he sacrificed mean,
He filled old ladies with kerosene:
So you see, he was a man of the same ilk as this fellow Koose Muniswamy Veerappan. And both died "in manner undignified." Similar stories, etc.
Kipling told it better, though. ;)
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Sunday, September 12, 2004
Thursday, September 09, 2004
Thanks to James for the link. The fact that Planned Parenthood has its fingers as deeply as it does in the education system and is able to peddle this sort of tripe to first graders is ridiculous. As ridiculous as it would be if some association of firearms manufacturers and dealers were supplying the materials for gun education to the public schools, reading something like this...
...By Age Five
Children need to know that
owning and shooting guns should make people feel good and safe
deriving pleasure from firearm use is normal
firearms come in different sizes, shapes, and colors
guns belong to whoever owns them, and no one can tell them how to use them
Children need to be able to
use correct terms for all basic firearm components, including the essential breech mechanisms
talk about all these without feeling "naughty"
touch and play with their personal toy firearms for pleasure
And so on and so forth.
Not to say that the above are necessarily untrue, nor that the claims of the Planned Parenthood pamphlet are manifestly untrue (though I believe that they are). Rather to say that Planned Parenthood has a vested financial interest in educating children in sexual license. They make their money off licentious people, just as the gun makers and dealers have their livelihood in selling guns. That we allow people with such blatant ulterior motives to come anywhere near the education of this country's children is simply, blaringly and patently ridiculous.
On another note, however, I must agree with the pamphlet that sexual education of some sort needs to begin at age five--at the latest. I remember being five, and I remember how sexually aware I was--and it was a lot more than most conservatives or Christians would like to admit.
But the last thing I needed back then was to be told to get used to it and give into my desires so that someone could make money off my passions a few years down the road.
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Interesting because I've been studying Byzantine history, and didn't know Kerry had such ancestors. Beyond that, I'm not interested in turning my blog into a Kerry-bashing haven. I'm going to vote for Bush, I don't think he's the best thing since sliced bread, I wish Bush were the person I'd like to vote for, and I don't much like Kerry. But I'm not going to spend my energy knocking the man. And that's as political as I'm going to get this election (I hope).
Some thoughts on Feminism
The movement seems to have begun in reaction to the prevalent bad attitude of the 19th century towards women, one which at best ignored them and which at worst held them a lower class of human. Either way, they were not held or treated as equals with men. The feminist movement seems to have attempted to right this wrong by seeking the right for women to DO What Men Do, and assumed that this will make men and women equal and everything will be fine.
This creates a problem for men, because society just happens to define manhood as What Men Do. So we grow up thinking that we'll go to college, get a job, probably get married, and therefore we'll achieve manhood. Then we see women pursuing and indeed doing exactly the same things, and we get confused. The manhood we've been seeking all our lives turns out to be identical with womanhood. Which is, to say the least, confusing. It's not that we resent women for doing well in college, for getting better jobs than we do, or for doing anything else that we do--it's just that it leaves us with nothing by which we can win our spurs, as it were.
I suppose the question that I have to answer is why men need to win their spurs anyway, or, more succinctly, I need to explain why manhood and womanhood should NOT be identical. I'm not certain what I can say save that such an identification runs contrary to everything I have observed in myself and in those around me, both men and women. We ARE different (and not only biologically), created for different tasks and roles. Equal tasks, and equal roles...but still different.
Let me get at the issue from another perspective. Only a weak man will want a woman weaker than he is himself. Only a man who feels himself insufficient and helpless wants a woman who is less than he is. A real man will not be content unless his wife is his equal in spirit, in intellect, and in strength (emotional and perhaps even physical). A weaker woman only serves to stroke the ego of a weak man.
A man desires a companion, a partner, a (dare I say the word?) helpmate. Not an advisor, not a second-in-command, not an aide-de-campe, but an equal. The ideal is that they act as a unit.
Here is my hypothesis. I contend that within the constraints of that unit, the man is--forgive me, I find it nearly impossible to find a fitting word to describe his proper role. Every word I wish to use is insufficient, and worse, has been so misunderstood as to render it useless to communicate what must be said.
Let me put it this way. If the unit errs, the man is to blame. Always. If it does well, if it succeeds, if it accomplishes something, then both man and woman are to be praised equally, but if it fails, the blame is the man's. Without exception, without excuse. The man is responsible.
That is not to say that women cannot make mistakes. Nor to say that they are by nature incapable of leadership, or responsibility, or any preeminence. It is fiercely evident that such is not so. Nevertheless, within the constraints of a relationship between a man and a woman, the man must accept the responsibility both for himself and for her. Not power over her, or possession of her, or even leadership, not as we (unfortunately) understand the word today. The man must bear the burden of the relationship and all that flows from it.
I'm not even saying that this decreases the woman's responsibility for these things. Simply that the man must (must as in: it is decreed in the nature of things), when he marries, take on more responsibility than is naturally his own when he is alone. He must devote himself to the protection of his wife, without in the least thinking less of her or thinking her incapable of protecting herself. To put it in practical terms. A good man's ideal wife will give her life for their children, and will protect them as well as he will, but he must himself stand between her and any danger. Not because he thinks her helpless, but because his life is hers. He must always give his life for her and yet always respect her as his equal (or even his better).
This, to my mind, is the essence of true manhood. Let it be underlined, italicized, put in bold and shouted from the housetops. When men fail in this, marriages fail, families fail, churches fail and society fails. And, strange but true, when men fail in this, women feel betrayed.
So this is the tale I would tell of the feminist movement. In the 19th century--no, this is a tale of all of history, not just the 19th century--too many men, individually and collectively, were complacent and selfish and failed to simply be men. They felt insufficient and inferior in their failure, and compensated for it by demanding that women be less, so that they might feel themselves to be greater by comparison. We still didn't like the result, but it at least masked the pain of self-loathing so we could live with ourselves.
In the 19th century, women got fed up with it. I'm not sure why it happened then--perhaps men got particularly bad then. Women demanded equality, because the world was going to hell in a handbasket and they were damned if they'd stand by and watch the men let it happen. Across society women stepped in where men failed and worked to fix the problems. And all the while, they despised men for making them do it, because it wasn't what they were created to do, and in their heart of hearts they knew it as well as the men did. For the men did know, but they looked around and despaired of ever being worthy to stand beside these new women, and they sighed and returned to their complacency. And far too many learned to hate or despise or resent women, though they did not understand that they resented them only for being what they themselves refused to be.
And now that it is done and woman can do anything man can do, we are all lost and confused. We both have a false ideal for ourselves--the same ideal--to excel in school, rise in business, beat the competition and bring home the bacon. The traditionalists offer nothing--they blame the feminists, tell women to stay home, tell men to be leaders, and tell children to obey. The brave new world hears in their words the fading call of an old bondage, and slavers in rage or laughs in scorn--but the laughter is forced, because nobody is any happier in the brave new world than they were in the old.
And women can't fix it, because it's not their fault. Feminism can't fix it by going away--it is itself only a symptom. The problem is the weakness and laziness and complacency of men--and we are the only ones who can fix it.
Because the world was made for women AND men. And, while a woman can do almost anything a man can do, she still can't do everything.
She cannot be a husband. She cannot be a father.
And she cannot be a man.
A belated welcome to Jen Perkins, formerly a classmate of mine at Hillsdale College, now in Missouri teaching at an all-male boarding school. Not exactly what I expected her to do. ;) Shows how much I know. Anyway, she launched her blog a little over a month ago, so I'm late in delivering this proverbial fruitcake of welcome, but here goes anyway.
I was looking at one of her first posts this morning and the brain juices started flowing, connecting the dots with a number of thoughts that have been dogging my footsteps for the past several months. The brain juices haven't flowed much lately, and I didn't want to waste the opportunity. Moreover, since I am currently in limbo between work and school, and have been spending my time sitting at home cooking, cleaning, reading cheap fiction (but no soap operas) and generally playing housewife and feeling sorry for myself because I'm not being the big strong man defending hearth and home and supporting the family, and thus actually have time to kill, I'm going to let them flow. (note: the preceding paragraph exists by way of being ironic, since I'm about to post about feminism and women in the workplace and so forth, and since I dropped my wife off earlier this morning and then came home to blog, I am fully aware of the irony--let the laughter commence)
I've always been fairly careful not to express much of an opinion about feminism--I remember thinking about it briefly while still in high school, when I was worrying a lot about what it meant to be a man, and it struck me that, even if I could figure out what manhood was, I still hadn't even the first clue what womanhood was. The thought process at the time was, "Well--I'm not a woman, so I don't have to worry about that." Followed closely by a tremendous sense of relief. In my interactions with females in the years that followed, I usually kept my mouth shut apart from saying (if asked) that I figured women could do whatever they really wanted to do, that I personally would prefer it if my future wife stayed at home with the children, but wasn't quite sure about that either necessarily, and please don't get mad at me for saying it. Then I changed the subject by telling them that they should have long hair.
Huh. What a wimp. And a stupid one at that.
But that was about all the opinion I had at the time. I now have more of one, and, being a bullheaded human specimen of the masculine variety, I will now carry on.
Please scroll up.
Monday, August 30, 2004
My legs hurt. The 14th bead of sweat that hour trickled its maddening way down my backbone. And that stupid plumb line would not stop moving.
It was my fifth week on the job. I was squatting in the belly of the newest hull with the line boss, laying out the structural grid and wishing that break would come soon. The plumb line finally stopped and I marked the next point on the grid while Tri grumbled at my clumsiness. The next time he reached down and stopped it for me--I was just too slow--but as he did his hands touched mine and I was transported across the country and back in time.
When I was a boy I lived for the days I could go to work with Dad. He would wake me early, his hand on my shoulder, and I dressed in the dark, trying to finish in only a minute so I could call myself a Minuteman. The cool air never felt so good as it did those mornings--we snuck out to Dad's messy old yellow pickup and he put the clutch in without starting it so we could coast out of the driveway without waking Mom.
We passed the dry lake bed just as the first light of dawn began to show the gray forest. I always craned my neck over the dashboard to see the log that looked like a horse and the tree that my parents had paddled a canoe around when the lake filled before I was born. And I was always watching in hopes that I might see some elk that morning.
And then we were there--the warmth of my grandmother's kitchen, the smell of coffee, eating raw oats and milk with Grandpa and Dad, listening to them talk shop and reveling in it all. I was going to work with Dad.
We finished eating and went out to the shop and Dad started work. And he let me help--he showed me how to mix the resin and how to sand or fill the flaws, but before any of that we had to get our gloves.
And oh, how I hated those gloves--they were latex and felt weird, and left gloppy white residue on my hands because my sweat made mud with the powder inside, and they were all too big for me anyway and kept falling off or getting in the way as I tried to work.
But then we started and Dad told me what to do and then, because I was young and didn't know how, he took my hands in his and guided them and showed me what to do. And the gloves weren't small on him, or gloppy, or sweaty--his hands were big and strong and warm and knew exactly what to do. They were man's hands, supporting the family, earning 88 dollars a day, keeping the wolf from the door, and they were showing me how to be a man.
And then I was back in the boat with Tri, and break still hadn't come, and as we moved towards the stern I wept for my childhood, when my father didn't make mistakes and his gloved hands upheld my world and everything was right and safe, and I felt like a man because I got to go to work with Dad.
And I realized how much I loved the feel of latex gloves on my father's hands.
Saturday, August 21, 2004
Family was always very important to my family. My parents, brothers, sisters and I put a great deal of effort throughout my childhood into making sure we were a Good, Healthy, Happy and Loving Family. In fits and spurts, we pursued a variety of avenues in order to foster the Ideal Family Life. We worked very hard for Family.
But after all this work, we were still somehow ill at ease, awkward, uncomfortable around each other. Despite all our effort, Family never quite became Home.
A couple of us decided to watch a movie (the recognized method of pretending to spend time together without actually doing so), late one night. Then we shared a bottle of Gentleman Jack and a bottle of Merlot and completely ignored the movie, talking until dawn, finally noticing that the movie had long since ended. We laughed at ourselves and went to bed.
Thus I discovered my Family. We were relaxed, comfortable, at ease, talking freely and loosely, baring parts of our souls we had ourselves forgotten about. For those few hours, we were at Home.
Perhaps it is strange that alcohol was necessary to cut to the heart of things. But, after all those years of effort, perhaps it was precisely what was needed to dissolve the facade and allow us to meet one another without pretence.
It made us real. And Family can't be fake.
Friday, August 20, 2004
Courtesy of Fox News (scroll to the bottom)
LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — A young man's passion ignited a fire this week that only his girlfriend and the Lewiston Fire Department could put out.
Police said that last Wednesday evening, Chihao Wu, a student studying English at Lewis-Clark State College (search), arranged rolled-up clothes, doused in lamp oil, in a parking lot to spell "Happy Birthday" in his native language. He then summoned his girlfriend and lit the fiery display.
When police and members of the Lewiston Fire Department arrived, they found Wu stomping on the still-burning clothing. The would-be Casanova's conflagration ended when the fire department took an extinguisher to the flames, police said.
Despite a language barrier, police officer Nick Krakalia questioned Wu.
"It was his lady friend's birthday and he lit this fire in celebration," Krakalia wrote in his report.
Wu said there was no tradition of such displays in his country, but he was trying "to show devotion to the female," Krakalia said.
Wu cleaned up the mess and was not ticketed for the incident.
When asked if she was impressed with the display, Krakalia said the girlfriend simply said "No."
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Blame Weird Al.
I found out that it has roots in Sanskrit. Hence, I discovered for the first time in my life that Oriental and Indo-European languages influenced one another.
This was cool. This was worthwhile. This made my day. In fact, it made my week, my month, and very likely my year. This simple discovery changed a dreary boring weekend for my wife and myself into a thrilling, happy think-fest.
All this got me thinking and reminded me of T.H. White.
"'The best thing for being sad,' replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, 'is
to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails...Learn why the
world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never
exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never
dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.'"
--The Once and Future King
Thus I propose a new theory for why the last year has been such a struggle. The number of things I have really truly learned can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand...perhaps both, if I'm generous.
At Hillsdale, I learned something at least once a week, if not every day. Thus, I was happy and full of vim and vigour for life.
It is a simple theory. I think it is correct. I think I need to find something else to learn.
I think I'm a nerd or something.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
by Rudyard Kipling
THE KNIGHT came home from the quest,
Muddied and sore he came.
Battered of shield and crest,
Bannerless, bruised and lame.
Fighting we take no shame,
Better is man for a fall.
Merrily borne, the bugle-horn
Answered the warder’s call:—
“Here is my lance to mend (Haro!),
Here is my horse to be shot!
Ay, they were strong, and the fight was long;
But I paid as good as I got!”
“Oh, dark and deep their van,
That mocked my battle-cry.
I could not miss my man,
But I could not carry by:
Utterly whelmed was I,
Flung under, horse and all.”
Merrily borne, the bugle-horn
Answered the warder’s call!
“My wounds are noised abroad;
But theirs my foemen cloaked.
Ye see my broken sword—
But never the blades she broke;
Paying them stroke for stroke,
Good handsel over all.”
Merrily borne, the bugle-horn
Answered the warder’s call!
“My shame ye count and know.
Ye say the quest is vain.
Ye have not seen my foe.
Ye have not told his slain.
Surely he fights again, again;
But when ye prove his line,
There shall come to your aid my broken blade
In the last, lost fight of mine!
And here is my lance to mend (Haro!),
And here is my horse to be shot!
Ay, they were strong, and the fight was long;
But I paid as good as I got!”
Monday, August 09, 2004
Sunday, August 08, 2004
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
So I'm taking Modern Greek for the next few weeks here. So far it seems like all I'm learning is the rules of butchery whereby the beauty of ancient Greek is ravaged and left lifeless in a ditch.
I know I'm over-reacting, that flux is a natural property of language, and that I'd probably do better if I just looked at it as a completely distinct language, with no debt to pay to ancient Greek.
But they want to drop the Epsilon from Ebdomos? C'mon...
And I let a tear fall.
Friday, July 30, 2004
Friday, July 09, 2004
My wife and I went to see King Arthur last night. I wish I had paid the cost of the movie ticket NOT to see the movie. Don't go near it. Go see Spiderman again instead. ;) Seriously, I've never seen a worse movie. Stupid moviemaker decided to make yet another grand sweeping movie about camraderie, lost causes and kings. So he had a bunch of crass knights, a guy named Arthur in stupid leather pants and a few lines of dialogue dropping Hollywood's favorite Meaningless Word To Make People Think They're Watching A Stirring Movie. What the heck does Hollywood mean by "freedom" anyway? I doubt they have any clue.
Or, to put it as the above-linked review does:
"Braveheart and Gladiator are two historical films that are particularly satisfying on both the level of grand spectacle, as well as a stirring story of one man's efforts to make a difference in the world. King Arthur just makes me glad we live in an era when soap was invented."
Thursday, July 01, 2004
I have meant to say this for over a year. And I haven't. So I'm saying it now.
My brother Caleb is in Iraq.
The brother I bullied when we were children, the brother that listened to me into the wee hours of the morning as I daydreamed about girls and adventures and growing up, the brother that played computer games and watched movies with me when our parents' backs were turned, who rose and fell and sinned and shone with me, and quietly stood in the background to my "older brother" role.
The brother that I hardly knew when I left for college, because I had just been too loud and overbearing to listen or care. The brother who then stepped into the role I had left and filled it far better than I ever had, who came into his own when my insignificant shadow fled home for a college a thousand miles away. The brother who was sorry when I was sad, rejoiced when I was happy, and always somehow understood.
The brother who stepped up to life while I frittered away my time, whether at school, over the summers, at home or during Christmas, who acted on principle and turned away from pleasure and leisure and left home to serve while I shirked what I knew I should do. The brother who, as I attempted to share my "wisdom" and "sage counsel" with him (because I still thought of him as my little brother), listened with grace and humility, though he stood in a warzone with trust and honour and strength and I lay on a sofa with a beer in my hand and not a one of the three that are so natural to him.
The brother who is now a man, while I remain a child.
The brother that I scarcely know, and dearly want to know, and talk with, and learn from for years to come. The brother whose friendship and respect I covet more than almost any other.
The brother I miss as I have never missed my brothers.
My brother Caleb is in Iraq. God bring him home.
I checked my blog today fully expecting Seraphim to have a grumble in my comments section about how I've not posted for a few days. He didn't, and now I've beat him to the punch. I suck, I don't post enough, and I'm doing a dis-service to my readers, if I even have any left now.
I just got back from seeing Spiderman 2 after I got off work. I can't remember the last time I've more thoroughly enjoyed a film without having to exert my (substantial) super-power of making excuses for bad plot twists, bad dialogue, bad special effects, bad storytelling, or just general cheesiness. Nor can I remember the last time I left a movie so uplifted and non-guilty about the way I just spent the last few hours.
So, purely subjectively, I give the movie very high marks. And please, nobody comment about how it actuallY WAS cheesy, the special effects DID suck, and it's NOT ACTUALLY a film in the truest sense. I'm sure you're right, and I don't want to hear it. I enjoyed it without reservation, and I haven't been able to say that for a long time. If you disagree, then you think I have lousy taste, and I'm fine with that. You can even tell me so. Just spare me the details.
And no, I'm not turning this into a blog about movies. I'm just posting, lest I...um...lest I don't.
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
I hate OSHA.
I never really liked this particular government agency, though I do at least appreciate what they are hypothetically trying to do.
But now they've gone too far. At work I have to wear a full-face respirator lest I inhale certain harmful fumes from materials with which I work. The respirator manufacturers state that it is perfectly safe to wear them over a closely trimmed beard. But OSHA? Not good enough for them...not good enough for government work. THEY say that the rubber seal has to contact clean-shaven skin.
So the full beard that I have worn with only one brief interruption for the past four years and more is now severely interrupted. I don't have a full beard now--I have a goatee and long sideburns.
I will post a picture soon so that those who read here may decide what precisely this abomination most resembles. So far I've been told that I look like a very wild Elvis, a Kentucky Hick, a member of some 70's band I'd never heard of, a drummer, a motorcycle dude, and a few other things.
Truly not cool. I look like I'm trying to rebel or something. ;)
So, like I said, OSHA sucks.
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Prizio is posting again. I have missed him.
In other news, I apologize for the excessive length of my recent posts. I still mean to edit them, and will do so in the next few days. At which point I will have the bare-faced audacity to ask all of you to read them again.
And none of you will. Because you're smart. ;)
Friday, June 11, 2004
(I apologize for the length and rambling nature of this post. Please read it through anyway, and comment)
Thus saith David Talcott. ;)
But I don't like systematic theology, whines I.
Ok, then, lay out for me the theological underpinnings and implications of the "theology" you laid out in such non-systematic terms in your last post, saith the imaginary voice of David Talcott in my head.
Hum...well, I suppose I could do that.
HAH! sez the voice. That's all a systematic theology is!
Right, so a systematic theology of Orthodox soteriology from beginning to end is a bit of a tall order. I tried to do this for a paper last semester and, as a result, still haven't finished it, and got sidetracked from the topic anyway (it was supposed to be a research paper, and I prefer to hear myself talking, fool that I am).
But I will respond to a few points of David's last post. And hopefully eventually I'll get around to the more systematic side of things. It would help if there were just a book I could quote, but if there is, I am unaware of its existence. Silly Orthodox--spend all their time getting to know God and forget to write about the cosmic particulars of how it happens. ;)
Anyway, getting down to business. David asks, "What is the teleological cause of our salvation? As he predicted, I say that God desires to save all men, and thus calls all men and engraces all men. All this is supported in Scripture.
What about us, then? He rightly asks why some repent and others don't, and claims that it must be because God created some men to repent and some not to do so, which statement essentially contradicts the previous statement that He desires to save all and thus calls and engraces all.
I, of course, deny that. God desires to save all. Thus all are created with the potential to be saved. All are given grace.
So why are some not saved?
Let's go back to TULIP briefly and lay some groundwork. I deny your Total Depravity. Its place in my schema is taken by Man's Self-Annihilationist Proclivity. (wordy, I know, but it says what I need it to say) This is the result of the Fall. Man chose to put himself first, cut himself off from God, and in the course of pursuing his own desires and appetites progressively destroys the image of God in him and thus, ultimately, himself.
I uphold your Unconditional Election, but make it universal. God wills that all be saved, and calls all men to salvation. And he asks nothing of them in return for this gift, nothing can earn it, nothing can merit it. As you say, God's decision to save a man is Unconditional.
I categorically and vehemently deny your Limited Atonement, by far the most repugnant and unscriptural tenet of Calvinism. I replace it with Universal Atonement. Christ loves all men, He became fully man, and He died for the sins of all men.
I deny your Irresistible Grace. I replace it with the Infinite Love of God. Men can resist and refuse the gift of God, but He will never cease to love and call them. I hold to the doctrine that hellfire is the love of God as felt by those who reject it, not a juridical punishment.
Perseverance of the Saints I deny, in that men can and do leave the way of grace and continue to exercise the aforementioned Self-Annihilationist Proclivity. So I do not replace it, save by pointing to that first point and the fourth, the Infinite Love of God.
And no, I don't take it as a sign from God that those four points spell "SUUI," which is nothing meaningful that I'm aware of but sounds vaguely like what you call a pig. That's just a sign that I suck at constructing acronyms. ;)
So, in practice, what happens. God calls two men. One has not yet destroyed himself to the point of being unable or unwilling to hear and respond. He repents. The other has no desire to leave off pursuing his desires and gives the call not even a second thought. Note that the outward life of these two men could be completely deceptive--the first could be a murderer, the second an upstanding businessman in the community. It's a matter of the state of the heart.
Has the first done anything to merit his salvation? Not really--he simply has not managed to destroy himself before being plucked out. When God's call sounds in his heart, he still has the ability to respond with the tiniest little affirmative twitch of his heart towards God.
The other does not.
A bit of a tangent, here...for the record, man on his own is unable to repent. When God extends his grace, He also extends the spirit of repentence, the spirit, as I had phrased it before, of true desire. The man, again, is only able to accept or reject that gift. It is the smallest twitch of response and acceptance...rather, it is a tiny twitch of surrender. The man who responds to God's call responds by laying aside any action he can do to earn or merit it. He submits to his own humility.
Put another way, when God's grace comes, it shows a man how helpless he truly is, how mean and low a creature he is. If he can surrender his self-love enough to see this, then repentance is given and the Christian life begun. If not, the grace recedes--he drives God away.
Thus man truly does nothing to be saved. Even the man who responds with good works drives God's grace from him--in so doing he refuses the gift of repentance. The man who is saved sees himself as dust and admits it. He dies to himself. The man who drives grace from himself refuses to relinquish his life. As Christ said, "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it" (Luke 9:24).
Am I making sense here? The man who is damned is the one who "does something" whether moral or immoral. The man who is saved is the one who "does nothing," who accepts the revelation that he is destitute, devoid of all worth and goodness.
So the one who is saved doesn't earn it. Ok?
Now, the one-time acceptance of the fact that we are destitute does not destroy the self-willed "Proclivity for Self-Annihilation" which masquerades as the Will for Self-Preservation. It pops up immediately the next time we see or smell or hear something we want. And we do something to save ourself and begin to forget that we simply can't.
Let this be said once and for all. The ascetic practices of the Orthodox tradition are simply and solely exercises to HELP THE CHRISTIAN BE PASSIVE AND ACCEPT THE FREE, UNDESERVED GRACE OF GOD. I know it is paradoxical. But observe. Those ascetical practices can be summarized as follows. Eat only what is absolutely necessary for biological life, drink only what is necessary for biological life, sleep only as much as is necessary for biological life, thank God for those necessities as though He had personally and directly given them to you, and spend all the rest of your time in thanks to God and supplication to Him for mercy upon you, a sinner undeserving of any regard. The goal is to mortify the self, to accustom yourself to deserving nothing, meriting nothing, and indeed thanking God for ALL THINGS which you have, earn or receive, as though they were a gift from Him which you did not deserve. Because you didn't. And you know it. The ascetical life is God's gift of repentance put into practice. And, at the same time, it is the only way to keep it--not that by living in that way you earn it or deserve it, but rather that only by living in that way do you NOT DRIVE IT AWAY FROM YOURSELF.
Any other sort of ascesis is of the devil, end of story. Also end of tangent.
Where were we? Oh, right. God calls, we respond only slightly--if we admit our sins and failings, repentance enters in and the Christian life begins. If not, grace departs--God called, we ignored Him, end of story.
Except it's not. God calls us again. Events in our lives transpire such that perhaps the next time he calls, we have lost something or someone dear, have suffered, feel lost or empty, and are more willing to admit the truth. Or perhaps not.
So He calls again. And again. Until we respond.
We know that God's Love is infinite. We know that He desires all men to be saved. We know (or I assert) that if anyone is not saved, it is because he insists on continuing to preserve his life, his honour, his integrity, his needs, etc. Hell for such a man is simply his perspective of God's all-in-all-ness. But God still loves Him--indeed, God's love for him may very well be the worst thing about his existence at that point.
But Scripture gives us reason to hope that even that man in the depths of hell after the final judgement may somehow be saved. Certainly nothing like an assurance. At best, it is a veiled, confusing, contradictory hope. But it is there, and it must be there. To my mind, Christianity MUST retain the hope of universal salvation.
That is to say, we must retain the assurance that, God's love being infinite and eternal, He will continue to love sinful mankind even after the last judgement. It may well be that that point is the point of no return for an unrepentant man, that there will simply not be enough of a man left after that to respond. But the damnation will be done by the man himself, not by God. No one has depicted this better than C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce.
And yes, I know all the verses where God says, "Depart, ye cursed," etc. I can explain those away as a manner of speaking about their fate. As I believe in the physical resurrection, they will certainly have bodies, and will need to go somewhere, to a place prepared for them. But I must affirm that God still loves them, and thus that there is still, on His end at least, the potential for their redemption. Nothing in Scripture rules that out, and everything in Scripture demands that I hold God's Love to be infinite.
To those on the other side who ask how I can accept a God who could allow such a thing, I say that I can fairly easily accept a God who would subject His creation to the POTENTIAL for vanity in hope that said potential be turned to loving Him (paraphrase/interpretation of Romans 8:20), even if it could be and would (and He knew it) in so many cases be turned instead to suffering and death and self-annihilation. It's the God who would create His creation in His image but fate those creatures in His image to damnation without any potential for salvation that I can't accept.
Getting back to topic. David concluded his post thusly:
And so we can see why the Calvinist charges the non-Calvinist with not properly understanding our dependence upon God. For, the non-Calvinist has established a condition for salvation that does not depend upon God--and hence the non-Calvinist cannot depend upon God for the meeting of that condition.
I think I have dealt with this. The "condition" for salvation on man's part is an acceptance of his dependence upon God. God responds to this acceptance with the gift of repentance. And it seems fairly ludicrous to me to say that the necessity of an acceptance of one's dependence upon God denotes a lack of dependence upon God. What say you, David? :)
I think I'm done now. Somewhere in all this rambling are (I think/hope) the systematic points requested. I have one parting shot, at what I consider to be the Achilles Heel of Calvinism.
Did God predestine the Fall? If not, how did it happen? And if you don't respond to any other part of this post, please respond to this. I can see how Calvinism holds up logically, etc everywhere else, but this question stumps me every time I try to put myself in a pair of Calvinistic shoes. Every time, I feel the hole behind my heel. And it gets really chilly in those shoes. ;)
Please pass on my congratulations to Michael and his bride. And give everyone else there my greetings, if you get the chance. Travel safe, etc. And God bless.
Thursday, June 10, 2004
A few months ago I posted an entry addressed to David Talcott regarding Calvinism. He has just responded to it. My question was "Why are you a Calvinist?" His back seems to be "Why aren't you one?" and "You're really a semi-Pelagian, aren't you?"
*grin* In answer to the latter question, I have to say that I'm not sure. I'm can't claim to be familiar enough with semi-Pelagian doctrine or the representatives of the movement (who are they anyway? St. John Cassian? Who else? Though I suppose the fact that I call him a saint says at least something about your question). But my impression has been that semi-Pelagians spoke in the same categories of EITHER works OR grace as did the Pelagians and Augustinians, and hence, though they may have been trying to say the same thing I am trying to say, I don't think it worked. But again, I can't claim to know what precisely they asserted.
So here's my own go at the issue. In my personal effort to articulate the Orthodox approach to salvation vis a vis Calvinism, I would like to latch onto something David suggested fairly hesitantly here as he examined the matter.
He said, "I'm wondering if it's problematic for me to say that God elects people in virtue of nonmoral facts about them. The Calvinist can't allow that someone do something to merit God's favor, by why can't other facts about them be relevant to God's electing?"
I'm not sure what David will end up saying about this hypothesis of his, but for my part, I think this idea just about sums up the Orthodox perspective. Indeed, if a Calvinist can allow himself to say this, most, if not all, of the logical imperatives imposed (and so often objected to) by the Calvinistic system disappear.
Consider, if you will, this rough analogy of the typical Calvinistic position proposed here by Sam Nicholson in his post contra Calvinism.
Sam says, "Imagine a ruler who has the power to remit your (deserved) legal punishment. He chooses, for inscrutable reasons, to have you executed in the most horrible fashion imaginable. There are others, equally deserving of the same punishment, who, for inscrutable reasons, he invites into his palace for a lifetime of luxury. Perhaps you could find some solace in knowing that there is some reason somewhere for this, but I think it would be more of an occasion for anger and despair."
Agreed. But if we tweak it with David's suggestion, we might add that the ruler informed you and all the other prisoners that you have only to request pardon from him and your horrible death sentence will be completely remitted.
I think we will all agree, however, that this tremendous offer is not quite as simple as it might seem at first glance. It cannot suffice simply to repeat the words, "Pardon me, my Lord" to gain the reprieve. If it were so, one would need only to say those words, regardless of intent or understanding (you could even say them in a language you don't understand). No, the catch, in the Christian system, is that we must genuinely desire pardon. And this is what we Christians are accustomed to call "repentance." It is not an action nearly so much as it is a state of being. Note that it is not enough to desire merely the reprieve. As we stand in the dock, what we lack to be saved is the genuine desire for our judge to pardon us. We must desire to escape our guilt itself, not merely its consequences.
For that is, ultimately, what the Ultimate Judge offers us. The opportunity to be free, if we only wish it. This is no good word, no moral act, but simply a state of being which acknowledges guilt and years for purity. And it is this which God asks of us, this true repentence without which there is no salvation.
Let us say without reservation that even this true desire, this genuine repentance, is a gift from God. But it is this gift, and it alone, which we have the responsibility to grasp, lest it slip away. This is God's call, His offer of grace, and it is here that we are given the option whether or not to resist it.
Let us examine this moment, this singular, pivotal moment in the life of a man, this moment where our will and God's grace meet, this moment which only one can win. In this one moment we stand on the edge of the knife. Whether it is a moment of sin, a moment of judgement or a moment of quiet, God's offer comes to us, soft and yet crystal clear. We have only to ask, we are told, and all will be forgiven, all forgotten. Only ask. In that moment we feel welling up within us from no recess of our heart that we have ever known the desire to let our will go, to die to ourselves, to turn toward that voice and repent. It does not come from us. It too, like the offer itself, is a gift And there in the depths of our very being we face the choice--do we embrace and feed the Godly desire, or the self-will?
And that is all.
For the Orthodox, of course, a man's life is filled with these moments, from the first time the grace of God is proferred until the last time it is rejected. Or, until the moment when we finally accept the grace of God with a whole heart, our prayer for mercy is answered and we are with Him.
The process is one of simple Repentance. Or, it could be as truly said that it is one of humble Faith. But then, for the Orthodox, Faith IS Repentance, and the two, as one, are the essence of the Christian life.
It is because of the countless times that God-fearing men and women have lived this out in the two millenia of Christian history that the Orthodox deny the five points of Calvinism as understood by Calvinists. It is because the Scripture came alive with truth and consistency and meaning (even Romans 9) for each of those men and women as they surrendered their will and bowed to Christ that the Orthodox are unimpressed by the Calvinist's array of proof-texts.
Nonetheless, it is strange to note that, when put to practical use, Calvinism is most used to invoke a spirit of repentance and utter dependence upon God. It is thus strange that the Orthodox are condemned for refusing to accept the notion that nothing is demanded from man in order for him to be saved, when it is precisely this spirit of repentance and utter dependence upon God which we say is the ONLY "work" which man contributes towards his salvation. And yet, with this simple statement we escape all the hassle of the either/or controversy of faith vs. works, escape the need for TULIP's great thorn, Limited Atonement.
But what of your fasts, your much-vaunted "ascesis," you may say? What are those if not "works" to earn salvation?
For this, let's go back to the analogy of guilty prisoners and a merciful judge. Suppose that the prisoners are offered this grace several weeks before they are to come to trial, are told that, when brought into the dock, they have only to ask for forgiveness, and truly desire it, and they will be set free. What will those prisoners do?
No doubt some will hear, briefly weigh the offer with the pleasure they hope to enjoy once reprieved, and try to figure a way to hoodwink the judge with false sincerity.
Others will be struck to the heart by the mercy and weigh their old life with the new and understand the choice that is before them. When they come to judgement, they must truly throw themselves on the mercy of the court. And that means that they must really desire that mercy, that grace. No doubt their manner of life will change almost instantaneously. They will no longer curse, no longer joke, no longer fantasize about what they might do when they are free. They will struggle with all their might to realize and remember the enormity of the choice, the starkness of the chasm between their old life and the new one offered to them. They will recall to their minds their former sins and drive them as daggers against the desire for more. They will eat less, lounge less, talk less and complain less. Rather they will spend every moment of every day doing all they can to ensure that, when their moment in the dock comes, every fiber of their being will be behind those words "Father, I have sinned--forgive me!"
And when they say those words, they will not be forgiven because they fasted, because they did not curse, because they no longer sin--they will be forgiven because they alone truly asked.
Every spiritual father worth his salt throughout the history of the Church has reminded his disciples not to get carried away with ascesis and forget that it is ONLY a means to an end. Those works merit nothing, earn nothing, are worth less than nothing unless they produce true repentance in the heart of a man. Every father reminds his children that, when Judgement comes, if they think that they have in the least earned their salvation, it is utterly lost to them.
Which is why, as I say, it is strange that the Calvinists condemn the Orthodox, when the only work we ask of ourselves is to look to God and say with absolute sincerity that we have are worthless and empty and completely dependent upon Him for not only our salvation, but our very existence.
The only work of salvation is to realize that work earns us nothing.
Does that make us semi-Pelagian?
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
I have so far neglected to mention it, but I have been once again gainfully employed here in Boston for the past two weeks. I found a boat shop on the harbor willing to hire me for my previous experience with fiberglass laminating, vacuum-bagging, etc, so I have officially lost the option of wasting my time all day. Here are a few highlights from the past day.
--Waking up at 5 in the morning to get to work...my body likes being on a schedule so much that it refuses to go back to sleep when I try to grab a few more minutes in bed. I knew this would happen, but somehow thought I would appreciate it. *grin*
--Joining the teeming masses in their commute to work on the Boston subway. Not many people were out at 5:45, so it seems this town doesn't really run on industry.
--Arriving at 6:30, seeing the Vietnamese gel-coating team I know has been there since 4 all suited up in Tyvek and respirators, and noting the current temperature. At least 80. It's going to be a long day.
--Scrounging for work to kill time while the gel-coating team finishes. Trying to ignore the shop's self-appointed sexpert's boasts about his wife and girlfriend(s?).
--Listening to the line supervisor's explanation to me (upon hearing that I am a seminarian) that his religion is surfing and motorbiking. Chuckling silently when he tells me that he doesn't want to marry his girlfriend of 10 years (with whom he has a young son) for fear of jinxing the relationship. Ironic, that.
--Eating lunch at 9 am on Boston Harbor, enjoying the sea breeze, eating my beans and rice and reading Theophan the Recluse and Jacob Needleman for an hour while we wait for the gel-coat to gel. It's nice to have an hour for lunch break.
--Taping myself into the Tyvek suit, donning my head-sock and respirator and thinking the next few hours are going to be miserable. They are, but I'm too busy to notice, though it must have been 90 by that point.
--Toying with the idea of cutting holes in the feet of my suit for the sweat to drain out.
--Asking the Vietnamese foreman six times to repeat what it is he needs me to bring him. English is hard enough to understand through the thick east-Asian accent, but when you factor in the full-face respirators we're all wearing, the whole thing becomes an exercise in futility. I cope by waiting for him to point, grabbing everything in sight, and waiting for the muffled shout which I think means "YEAH THAT ONE!!"
--Struggling for 15 minutes to get OUT of the stupid Tyvek suit into which I had so very thoroughly taped myself. Thinking about grabbing a razor blade to speed things up, but abandoning the idea when I remember the story my boss told me the last time about the fellow who had to take a leak, got desperate, swiped the razor blade over the tape holding his gloves on...and slit his wrist, filling the glove with blood. The fellow who then, in panic, trying to get his non-bleeding arm free...slit his other wrist. I have to go, it's true, but I'm not that desperate to rid myself of fluid. ;)
--A one-man Unwashed Mass, joining the actually-very-washed masses on their commute home. I hope I don't stink too badly.
--Walking home past Jamaica Pond and watching a pigeon with his neck all fluffed up chasing after another fairly feminine looking pigeon. I kick myself for taking so long to figure out what's going on. Funny how, when she finally flies away, his neck feathers go all back to normal.
--Reveling in air conditioning at home. God be praised for the march of technology!
--Writing an entire post comprised of incomplete clauses and participial phrases.
Tuesday, June 08, 2004
εἰ μέν κ᾽ αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι,
ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται·
εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ᾽ ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
ὤλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν
ἔσσεται, οὐδέ κέ μ᾽ ὦκα τέλος θανάτοιο κιχείη.
Once more, why DO I wallow? Who do I flee reality and bury myself in the imaginary lives of heroes who have never lived?
Because, as I said, I have lost my Cause. But I did not lose either the battle or the Cause at Holy Cross, but rather in the quiet of my last semester at Hillsdale College and the summer which followed it.
For the Epic Cause which I found at Hillsdale was not (as I sometimes thought) to save the world, or the Church, or True Doctrine, or even my self (though it can be put in that way). Precisely the contrary--it was simply to lose Myself and in the losing, at long last, to find it again, my True Self, in humility, contrition and love.
Jacob Needleman writes that modern man has forgotten what these words mean, that he is no longer able to comprehend the Life-giving Good News contained in them. But I could--I did comprehend, I did know, I preached it to others, and, for a blessed few months, I began to live it.
And then I dropped my sword, had a snack, drank a beer, watched TV, surfed the Web, took a nap, threw away my soul and died.
Having done so, I proceeded immediately to run to a battleground outside myself, having already abandoned the field within, and thus, when I say I lost the battle of the last year here, what I really mean is that I entered the lists flat on my back with my heart pierced by a dagger held fast by my own lifeless hands, a dagger of self-conceit, self-righteousness, and above all, self-indulgence.
Altogether the wrong sort of loss of self (more like spiritual suicide, in fact)--this one self-consuming, not self-emptying as I knew it ought to be.
And that is what I meant when I said I had lost my Cause. This is my confession and my apology, and, if it may be, perhaps it might mark a new beginning. I feel a fire burning in myself that I have missed for oh so long, a willingness to die once more to all my desires and learn again to ask with sincerity for the mercy of God without which there is no life. In this I ask your prayers.
As for Epic Causes--well, what the title says is true. There are two paths toward our death. And if my own Plain of Ilium lies in the desert of my own heart, and the death of my Self is the price of eternal glory, then so be it. Far better that than to live to old age in the lush fatherland of my stomach and slowly lose my soul against my will in the senility of self-indulgence. There is death either way--but only one promises Life after death.
Saturday, May 29, 2004
εἰ μέν κ᾽ αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι,
ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται·
εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ᾽ ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
ὤλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν
ἔσσεται, οὐδέ κέ μ᾽ ὦκα τέλος θανάτοιο κιχείη.
When I was young, I wanted to fight epic battles. I wanted to do deeds worthy of song and of tears, to spill my blood as an offering to...something. And that unknown "something" was the key. I wanted a cause for which I would gladly die.
Epic causes were hard to come by in my childhood. My life was my family, music practice and rehearsals, and schoolwork. None of them was an epic cause. I wanted nothing more than to escape, to go out into the world and find a cause worthy of my hand and heart and blood. But I couldn't leave, and there were no epic causes in my life.
So I found my epic causes in books. I buried myself in stories of people whose lives mattered, who didn't trouble themselves with the tiresome activities of my daily life, whose every action had an immediate and vital worth. No music practice and math homework for them. They wore bright armor and carried bright banners of gay and defiant hue, hurling themselves against the darkness until their life was gone, and even then they were undefeated. I wished I could be them.
Movies and computer games served the same function--I could escape into a world where things mattered and feel as though my life was somehow worthwhile, even if only vicariously. So I read and escaped...and there I wallowed.
For some reason my years at Hillsdale College were different. They certainly weren't epic, but they were worthwhile. There was at least an active quest for a cause in my time there--the classes were concerned with matters of vital import. I loved it. I even stopped reading fiction...or at least, when I did, it was no longer obsessive. I had a life for which I was more than willing to leave my vicarious lives.
I even found a cause--The Cause. I was going to devote my life to truth and love and light and hope. I was the Guardian of the Sacred Flame. I was an epic hero. My name would live in glory long after I was gone. I might bleed and die, but my sacrifice would give hope to those who remained, and they would be grateful. I would be a Knight for Humanity, an Emissary of the Light to those in darkness.
So I came to the school that trained such Emissaries, eager to be challenged and exhorted to Glory and Honour and Holiness. And there, I discovered instead that darkness reigns, and, though I had expected it, I found that I was too weak to overcome it. Instead of my Epic Cause, I found petty humans fighting amongst themselves for any cause but the true one. And there, in their midst, I lost my Cause.
Again I am bored. Again I am listless. Again I wish only to escape this endless plain of gray and find my country of colour and purpose and glory, to don my armor and drive against the enemy with my banner of gold and sing and laugh and weep and bleed and die.
So I read. And I wallow.
Thursday, April 15, 2004
Sunday, April 11, 2004
The service last night was incredible. And, as in every other year, St. John Chrysostom's homily cut right to the heart of the matter. This Pascha especially I came to the end of the fast quite disappointed with myself. The Service of the Resurrection, thanks be to God, once again showed to my hardened heart the illimitable mercy of God. Especially the homily.
I love it every year, but this time I'm going to post it. And, because I'm a nerd (and in the Greek-Orthodox Church), I'm going to post it in Greek too. Just to prove that I can (One more note, btw. I do not like the translation below. I will edit it as I have time, but this is the translation I currently possess. Those who can read Greek will easily pick out the problems with it).
THE CATECHETICAL PASCHAL HOMILY OF OUR FATHER AMONTH THE SAINTS JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
If there are devout and God-loving people here, let them enjoy this beautiful, radiant festival. If there are prudent servants, enter joyously into the Lord's joy. Whoever may be spent from fasting, enjoy now your reward. Whoever has toiled from the first hour, receive today your just settlement. If any came after the third hour, celebrate gratefully. If any of you arrived after the sixth, have no misgivings, you have lost nothing. If some have been as late as the ninth, come forward, do not be at a loss. If any of you have arrived only at the eleventh hour, do not be dismayed for being late.
The Master is gracious: He accepts the last even as the first; He gives rest to those of the eleventh as well as to those who have labored from the first; He is lenient with the last while looking after the first; to the one He gives, to the other he gives freely; He accepts the labors and welcomes the effort; honors the deed, but commends the intent. So, all of you, enter into the joy of our Lord: first and second, share the bounty. Rich and poor alike, celebrate together. Sober or heedless, honor the day. Those who fasted and those who did not, rejoice today. The table is full, everyone fare sumptuously. The calf is fatted; no one go away hungry. Everyone, savor the banquet of faith; relish the riches of His goodness.
No one need lament poverty, for the kingdom is seen as universal. No one need grieve over sins; forgiveness has dawned from the tomb. No one need fear death; the Savior's death has freed us from it. While its captive He stifled it. He despoiled Hades as He descended into it; it was vexed when it tasted His flesh. Foreseeing this, Isaiah proclaimed: "Hades," he said, "was vexed when he met You below."
It was vexed because it was abolished. It was vexed because it was mocked. It was vexed because it was slain. It was vexed because it was shackled. It received a body and encountered God. It took earth and came face to face with heaven. It took what it saw and fell by what it could not see.
Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and you are overthrown. Christ is risen and demons have fallen. Christ is risen and angels rejoice. Christ is risen and life rules. Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the tomb. For Christ, having risen from the dead, has become the firstfruits of those that slept. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever, Amen.
ΚΑΤΗΧΗΤΙΚΟΣ ΛΟΓΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΕΝ ΑΓΙΩΝ ΠΑΤΡΟΣ ΗΜΩΝ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΧΡΥΣΟΣΤΟΜΟΥ
Εἴ τις εὐσεβὴς καὶ φιλόθεος, ἀπολαυέτω τῆς καλῆς ταύτης καὶ λαμπρᾶς Πανηγύρεως. Εἴ τις δοῦλος εὐγνώμων, εἰσελθέτω χαίρων εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου αὐτοῦ. Εἴ τις ἔκαμε νηστεύων, ἀπολαυέτω νῦν τὸ δηνάριον. Εἴ τις ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης ὤρας εἰργάσατο, δεχέσθω σήμερον τὸ δίκαιον ὄφλημα. Εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν τρίτην ἦλθεν, εὐχαρίστως ἑορτασάτω. Εἴ τις μετὰ τὴν ἕκτην ἔφθασε, μηδὲν ἀμφιβαλλέτω· καὶ γὰρ οὐδὲν ζημιοῦται. Εἴ τις ὑστέρησεν εἰς τὴν ἐνάτην, προσελθέτω μηδὲν ἐνδοιάζων. Εἴ τις εἰς μόνην ἔφθασε τὴν ἐνδεκάτην, μὴ φοβηθῇ τὴν βραδύτητα· φιλότιμος γὰρ ὤν ὁ Δεσπότης, δέχεται τὸν ἔσχατον καθάπερ καὶ τὸν πρῶτον· ἀναπαύει τὸν τῆς ἐνδεκάτης ὡς τὸν ἐργασάμενον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης· καὶ τὸν ὕστερον ἐλεεῖ καὶ τὸν πρῶτον θεραπεύει· κἀκείνῳ δίδωσι, καὶ τούτου χαρίζεται· καὶ τὰ ἔργα δέχεται καὶ τὴν γνώμην ἀσπάζεται· καὶ τὴν πρᾶξιν τιμᾷ, καὶ τὴν πρόθεσιν ἐπαινεῖ. οὐκοῦν εἰσέλθετε πάντες εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν· καὶ πρῶτοι καὶ δεύτεροι τὸν μισθὸν ἀπολαύετε. Πλούσιοι καὶ πένητες μετ᾽ ἀλλήλων χορεύσατε· ἐγκρατεῖς καὶ ῥάθυμοι τὴν ἡμέραν τιμήσατε· νηστεύσαντες καὶ μὴ νηστεύσαντες εὐφράνθητε σήμερον. Ἡ τράπεζα γέμει, τρυφήσατε πάντες. Ὁ μόσχος πολύς, μηδεὶς ἐξέλθῃ πεινῶν. Πάντες ἀπολαύσατε τοῦ συμποσίου τῆς πίστεως· πάντες ἀπολαύσατε τοῦ πλούτου τῆς χρηστότητος. Μηδεὶς θρηνείτω πενίαν· ἐφάνη γὰρ ἡ κοινὴ Βασιλεία. Μηδεὶς ὀδυρέσθω πταίσματα· συγγνώμη ψὰρ ἐκ τοῦ τάφου ἀνέτειλε. Μηδεὶς φοβείσθω θάνατον· ἠλευθέρωσε γὰρ ἡμᾶς ὁ τοῦ Σωτῆρος θάνατος. Ἔσβεσεν αὐτόν ὑπ᾽ αὑτοῦ κατεχόμενος. Ἐσκύλευσε τὸν Ἄδην ὁ κατελθὼν εἰς τὸν Ἄδην. Ἐπίκρανεν αὐτὸν γευσάμενον τῆς σαρκὸς αὐτοῦ. Καὶ τοῦτο προλαβὼν Ἡσαΐας ἐβόησεν. ὁ Ἅδης, φησίν, ἐπικράνθη· συναντήσας σοι κάτω. Ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ κατηργήθη· Ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ ἐνεπαύχθη. Ἐπικράνθη· και γὰρ ἐνεκρώθη. Ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ καθῃρέθη. Ἐπικράνθη· καὶ γὰρ ἐδεσμεύθη. Ἔλαβε σῶμα καὶ Θεῷ περιέτυχεν. Ἔλαβε γῆν καὶ συνήντησεν οὐρανῷ· Ἔλαβεν ὅπερ ἔβλεπε καὶ πέπτωκεν ὅθεν οὐκ ἔβλεπε. Ποῦ σοῦ θάνατε, τὸ κέντρον; ποῦ σοῦ Ἅδη, τὸ νῖκος· ἀνέστη Χριστός, καὶ σύ καταβέβλησαι, Ἀνέστη Χριστός, καὶ παπτώκασι δαίμονες. Ἀνέστη Χριστός, καὶ χαίρουσιν ἄγγελοι. Ἀνέστη Χριστός, καὶ ζωὴ πολιτεύεται. Ἀνέστη Χριστός, καὶ νεκρὸς οὐδεὶς ἐπὶ μνήματος. Χριστὸς γὰρ ἐγερθεὶς ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀπαρχὴ τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἐγένετο. Αὐτῷ ἡ δόξᾳ, καὶ τὸ κράτος, εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.
Saturday, April 03, 2004
Not that I've ever been regular, but I don't intend to blog for the next week or two. Not necessarily associated with the imminence of Holy Week, though that is a fortuitous coincidence--I've just been spending too much time online, and could stand to re-arrange some priorities. I ought to have plenty to say when I return.
Friday, April 02, 2004
You know you're married when someone tells you that your breath smells like the mold that grows in her belly button, and not only do you have some idea what she's talking about, but you have the experience and knowledge to retort that no, her belly button doesn't smell anything like half as bad as your breath does.
Consider that today's food for thought. Or better yet, try not to.
Monday, March 29, 2004
A quote from St. Theophan the Recluse, contained in Igumen Chariton's excellent book The Art of Prayer.
"Because all have grace, only one thing is necessary: to give this grace free scope to act. Grace receives free scope in so far as the ego is crushed and the passions uprooted."
Incidentally, the "all" mentioned above refers to all believers, as Theophan makes clear a few sentences later. This quote, I think, sums up the Orthodox doctrine of synergy in salvation. From our perspective it may seem that we do all the work--yet in reality, all we have done is open our hands to receive. And if ever we forget that fundamental truth (that all our work is nothing), our hand is again closed and our heart is again hard, and we cut ourselves off from our Saviour and God.
Thursday, March 25, 2004
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
This addressed primarly to David Talcott, though any others are welcome to jump in.
David said the following (I have cut down his comments to what struck me as the essence, at least as regards what I speak of below)
I am in general inclined to agree with his condemnation of mysticism...
...Sola Scriptura holds that Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith--not that you should run off to the woods alone with the Bible and never talk to anyone else. The emphasis is upon the number and kind of sources of revelation (today), and not upon the particular interpretive method. The Protestant rejects the idea that there is infallible, God-breathed truth preserved in liturgies, the creeds, personal mystical revelations, or any other sources...
...I'll say this also--I'm not sure that my goal in life is communion with God in the sense you mean it--I feel a lurking mysticism, which, as I said above, I reject. I'm inclined to say something more like my goal in life is to obey God, and to glorify Him. Though, I believe He abides with me and my family, and with all His people.
First, I wonder what you mean by mysticism. A definition thereof would be useful. While avoiding a technical definition for the moment, here are a couple Scriptural examples of what I tend to mean when I speak of Christian mysticism. 1) Acts 7:55-56. This is precisely an instance of contemplation of God, the rejection of which by Ellul struck me as so strange. 2) II Corinthians 12:1-9 I don't know what this experience of Paul's was if not mystical.
Obviously there are many others. That's not the point. You assert, I think, judging from your comment on Seraphim's blog, that "...no Protestant would deny that God acts today, and that He acts powerfully. Yet, He does not act in the same way as He did 2000 years ago an earlier. Indeed, there is a scandal of particularity. And, indeed, for us, the Heilgeschicte is over."
Which is to say, I think you dismiss mysticism by saying that things just don't work that way anymore--visions, miracles, hearing the voice of God in an audible and quotable way (as seen in II Corinthians 12:9, etc) are a part of a previous dispensation (or equivalent terminology--I don't particularly want to open up the can of worms associated with that term at the moment, unless you're keen to do so), and no longer apply.
My question, I guess, is "Why?" That is to say, is there a reason you think mysticism no longer operates in the Church apart from the fact that it does not operate in your church?
That's not an accusation, just a question. That's how I used to answer it, but obviously I found the answer non-satisfactory when confronted with a tradition which DID possess an ongoing mystical tradition.
My focus in the discussion is, I think, a little different from Seraphim's. The primary rift between us at the moment seems to be that I think a mystical experience of God is in some sense necessary to Christianity in its fullness--and clearly you don't. I'd like to examine why.
Sunday, March 21, 2004
I know I've been on the inactive side of things for awhile (though not as badly as have others), but I have a question, if anyone happens to drop by. I just encountered this quote on Karl Thienes' website.
"The Bible vigorously opposes mystics of all descriptions, including Christians, who ascend to heaven and contemplate God by means of ascetic practices. God can never be directly grasped or contemplated face to face ... The only channel of revelation is the Word."
The source of this quote is apparently a certain Jacques Ellul. I don't know who he was, or what his religious affiliation was. The above quote (taken from here) sounds like a theological conclusion stemming from Sola Scriptura taken perhaps beyond what the Reformers intended for it (or, to state it more bluntly, run amuck). ;)
I'd like to think this sort of theology (with its many extremely practical implicatations, all of them negative, in my view) isn't universal to Protestantism. But I really don't know whether it is or not. When I was a Protestant, what Sola Scriptura meant to me was that I read the Bible myself, as much and often as I could, and tried not to listen to what other people said. Ironic though it is that said course brought me to the Orthodox Church, that's not my point--rather, I simply don't know what the loftier heights of Protestant theology hold. I never studied them. So perhaps my Protestant friends can tell me--is this what Protestants generally believe? Is this what you believe? And if it is, what does that do to your way of life? What is your goal in life if not communion with God?
I'd love to talk more about this. I suspect that this is where the fundamental rift lies between Protestantism and Orthodoxy, but I'd like to know more.
Humour me? ;)
Thursday, March 18, 2004
No, I have not died. I haven't even quit blogging.
But unfortunately my dear wife has been rather ill of late, and my customary schedule has fallen by the wayside. She is beginning to recover, so things should get back to normal (I'll be in church this morning, for instance...and no snide comments from the Dank gallery will be permitted--I know that's not quite "normal"). ;)
I have some posts on my plate at the moment, but most will demand a fair amount of time (and hence be fairly lengthy themselves, though I'll work to keep them concise), so I won't make any promises about specific posts, lest I break those promises and thus also the hearts of my rapidly shrinking readership. ;)
In conclusion, lemme just say that getting bread to rise properly seems to be quite the achievement, that said achievement has thus far eluded me, that un-risen bread doesn't really taste bad, it's just dense, and that sourdough is over-rated unless you can get bread leavened therewith to rise without yeast, and I'm going to keep trying until I get it to work.
Stupid bread. :)
Oh--also, while I've been not blogging very much, Daniel Hugger quite blogging, deleted his blog, then unaccountably started blogging again. Perhaps he just wanted to wipe the slate clean. Also, ~gauche seems to have dropped off the face of the earth--I don't have any contact with him outside his blog, so perhaps y'all at or in-the-vicinity-of Hillsdale can tell me what's up with him.
'k, that's enough, I think. As I said, I'm not dead, I'm not quitting blogging, I'm just busy. Keep coming back, please. It gets lonely here sometimes, and my blog is good company. ;)
Friday, March 12, 2004
Thursday, March 11, 2004
I'm going to be bad and borrow a quote for my blog from someone else. Seraphim recently put this up in his second post about the book Lost Christianity. It is from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, only lately reposed, speaking about the Liturgy. It is a very helpful quote for one who often feels lost in the Greek and the services.
"Emotion must be destroyed...We have to get rid of emotions...in order to reach...feeling...In prayer one is vulnerable, not enthusiastic. And then these rituals have such force. They hit you like a locomotive. You must be not enthusiastic, nor rejecting -- but only open. This is the whole aim of asceticism: to become open."
Pithy and perfect. Just what I needed today.
Monday, March 08, 2004
*sigh* Those were good days. The days I hit the snooze button a dozen times, finally rolled out of bed and shoved a baseball cap on my head to hide my bed hair, stumbled to the desk, grabbed a notebook, and slowly trundled up the hill to class, secure in the knowledge that I had a good 15 minute buffer--because, though the north face of the clock said I was 20 minutes late, the east face (the one which faced my dorm), said I was a little early.
Apparently they've fixed it. Hence, I post this brief eulogy to a good excuse. If I were still at Hillsdale, I would take my hat off and reveal my bed hair in all its glory, and mourn the lost excuse with a moment of silence. Not being at Hillsdale, I'll just go to bed.
Monday, March 01, 2004
Two people, now one. Three clergymen and three sermons. Two were didactic. Two were inspiring. Two were theological.
One was funny. One was crass. One was silly.
And only one made me cry for the love overflowing in the man who gave it.
I understand a little better now. Some men work very hard at the priesthood (and do well). Some simply are, and do better. It's just hard to see sometimes.
Thursday, February 26, 2004
I just posted a comment to David Talcott's post of February 07 dealing with Hillsdale College's Dr. Brad Birzer, myth and realism, salvation, faith, works and grace. I paste a portion of it below, as it describes my basic objection to the essential doctrine of Calvinism.
3) Your position on grace and works and salvation summarizes all that I have always been unable to stomach about the strict Augustinian/Calvinist position. If one claims that salvation is completely dependent upon God, having absolutely nothing to do with a man's response to His grace, then God, and God alone, has directly and personally damned the majority of humanity to be separated from him forever. It would take a lot more than Romans 9 to convince me that this is the correct way to interpret Scripture--it seems to me itself a clear distortion of Scripture (after all, there are other ways of interpreting Romans 9 that are more consistent with the rest of Scripture).
I'm not trying to attack you--I simply do not understand how you can force yourself to believe this. If I'm misunderstanding, please explain. Somehow communicate why you feel you must believe this. It is beyond my comprehension.
Why is it impossible to say simply that man is utterly dependent upon God for salvation, yet that the simple act of depending upon Him is itself an act (an active Faith, if you wish) the absence of which is what damns the damned? Why is it so necessary to insist on a series of doctrines which bear no other logical conclusion but that it is God Himself who damns them, that they were created with absolutely no hope of salvation, that Christ did not die for all men?
Simply say that Salvation is a purely a gift from God. Add only that man has to open his hand to receive it, and the problem disappears. Even say that he cannot open his hand without the help of God's grace--that even in his simple abasement of himself he is dependent upon God, that he cannot even fall at God's feet unless God helps him. Surely this meets the requirement you have that man be able to do nothing to save himself. Surely this is fully consistent with Scripture.
But please, do not say that God damned so much of humanity before He even created us. The very idea makes me retch.
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Captured in Time and Space
Modern physicists conceive of time within strictly defined parameters—their perception may be crudely characterized by describing time as the fourth dimension of the cosmos, intimately connected with the created order and well within scientific parameters. The concept of time, notwithstanding their theories and data, remains one of the most inscrutable to mankind, sometimes feared, sometimes struggled against, and always heavily used in works of science fiction and speculation.
Theologically speaking, the question of time is one upon which modern Christians have failed to come to a consensus. Within all traditions, confusion may be found. This monastic may be found speaking of hell as timeless (so that Christ’s presence therein at the Harrowing of Hades was witnessed by the damned of all time). That Evangelical may assert that fortune-telling is demonic because the demons, being spiritual beings, operate outside of time (or at least freely within it) and can thus tell the future. And of course there are the Calvinists and Arminians on either side of the inevitable and eternal argument about what it means for God to have pre-destined men to salvation—for all too often both sides seem to assume that said action occurred within time (as is implied by the word pre-destined). And yet, for all this confusion, it is difficult to say that any of these is speaking truly heretically. Inconsistently, yes—but none of them, when pressed, would assert anything other than that God is outside of time and utterly uncircumscribable. They simply do not possess a theology systematic and consistent enough to know what to say when asked what is the relation of time to God, or to matter and creation (or whether there is even a distinction between these latter two).
To find such a consistent theology, one must return to the early centuries of Church History—yet strangely, even there one cannot initially find a straight answer. One may discern a variance, perhaps even a confusion faintly analogous to the modern situation outlined above, in the voices of early Christian thinkers. One cannot doubt that they were faithful Christians—but the question of what effect the Christian faith would have on philosophy and cosmology had yet to play itself out in the minds and hearts of the early saints and Christian thinkers. The matter was complicated by the latent (or not-so-latent) Platonism of the Hellenistic mindset. The world in which the early Christians lived was rife with it—in vocabulary, in rhetoric, in life itself the Platonistic distinctions between matter and spirit were matters of almost unquestioned dogma. In the words of patristics scholar Brooks Otis, as delivered in a paper presented at the Sixth International Conference on Patristic Studies at Oxford in 1971, “to the Platonist, as to the Gnostic, the created, material and temporal world was an inferior copy of the uncreated, immaterial and eternal world of the divine ideas or pleroma. The one was genetic—subject to birth, death, change and time; the other agenetic or changeless and eternal, that which simply is and never becomes or alters” (Otis 329).
As decades and centuries passed and Christians worked more and more to speak in the Hellenistic language of their time, this Platonist schema proved increasingly problematic to them. To the Hellenist, the genetic world and the agenetic were utterly incompatible—thus the Christian was presented with a baffling problem in explaining how genetic men could enter into such an intimate communion with an agenetic God as was insisted upon by fundamental Christian doctrine.
Earlier efforts are fascinating studies in the first Christian engagements with this worldview, a close-up of the struggles of the countless men writing on countless subjects, striving to express in the precise philosophical language of the Greeks an all-consuming Truth absolutely uncontainable by the neat definitions and syllogisms of Aristotle and Plato. For example, in the second century Irenaeus posited that the admittedly imperfect origin of man in creation is simply the beginning of a journey which ends in the man coming to be in some sense himself Uncreated, agenetic. This was made possible by the Incarnation of Christ, as in the Athanasian formula “God became man so that man might become a god.” Within the Platonic schema, however, this idea would imply that men can in some fashion grow outside of time.
His contemporary Origen went farther than that, suggesting instead that all souls are pre-existent and hence naturally agenetic. Brooks Otis summarizes Origen’s system of thought nicely:
“He posited an eternal cosmos—a pleroma of rational spirits consisting of the Trinity and all other true minds or logikoi—and a strictly temporal and material cosmos that had been created to hold and deal with the lapsed or derogate logikoi but was not in any sense identical with them. Origen held that all the spirits—except God the Father himself—had been created and therefore, with two exceptions, possessed an inherently unstable nature—since their very beginning was due to a change from nothingness to real existence—but he considered them, even if formally or strictly genetic, to be akin to the Platonic ‘agenetic’ or inherently eternal element of the universe since they were in fact co-eternal with the Father: there had never been a time when his goodness could have been without them and above all without the ‘Son’ (Christ) who was his perpetual agent in the process of their salvation from lapse. Origen’s world was thus quite as unhistorical as Plato’s: while, unlike Plato, he did not think of the genetic order as uncreated, he regarded the whole process as essentially endless or timeless, since the lapsing and returning was continuous and Christ was ever born or reborn to save the lapsed. While God the Father had created everything, including his Logos or son, he nevertheless preserved the Platonic or indeed Gnostic dualism: the souls or spirits who fell were not an integral part of the material-temporal or fallen cosmos. Though their essential instability and freedom made them fall, their essential reason or logos—their possession of the divine image—made them recover and leave the material world” (Otis 330).
To the modern Christian understanding, this “lava lamp” theology is rife with problems, particularly in its denigration of the material order, the implication that all souls are as pre-existent as the Son and Spirit (or, stated conversely, that the Son and Spirit are as genetic as are the souls of humanity and the angels), and the resulting failure to establish any truly meaningful distinction between God and man. But these difficulties were not initially so obviously problematic. Origen’s theology was controversial during his life, it is true, yet his synthesis of Hellenism and Christianity was tremendously effective. Speaking specifically of Origen’s exegetical method, John Meyendorff says, “As an apology for Christianity, Origen’s method proved to be an extraordinary missionary success. Under his influence generations of Greeks accepted the cultural humiliation of having to look for Truth in Jewish Scriptures” (Meyendorff 35). The same words may apply to his entire philosophical system.
At the same time, however, it is possible to blame that very system, and the progressive Hellenization of Christianity which it exemplifies, for the heresies which plagued the Church for the next several centuries, and most particularly for Arianism—Brooks Otis makes a strong case for the accusation.
Arius was seemingly the first to openly and insistently reject Origen’s definition of Christ’s origin as “eternally created by the Father” (aeigenetos) as a rather Plotinian ‘first emanation.’ His objection, like ours, lay in the fact that Origin’s suggestion that ALL spirits (including the angels and humanity) were likewise created in an agenetic manner by emanation, as it were, removes any meaningful distinction between Christ’s nature and ours, so that, once the doctrine of emanations as a means of connecting the agenetic Father with the genetic Spirits is removed, one ends in making all into mere creatures, including the Son and the Spirit. Arius, in articulating this, boldly and insistently, sounded the death-knell of both Origenism and the Platonistic Christianity championed by Origen.
While the decrees of Nicaea rejected Arius’ assertion and established the logical refutation of his doctrine—that Christ is of one essence with the Father, co-eternal with Him, uncreated and never having not-been—they had no philosophical system to back them and explain them. The rejection of Origen’s systematic theology left the Church with a definition, but no explanation of how it could be. The protracted controversy regarding Nicaea that followed the Council itself was a simple consequence of this—fully Christian bishops, priests and laymen were left in a philosophical vacuum following the wholesale abandonment of the systems that had tied the intellectual tenets of the Faith together for the Hellenistic mind. In these systems, says Otis, Christ was able to save by mediating between God the Father and mankind, sharing in the nature of both from the beginning, or perhaps better described as being himself the emanation lying between God and man—and mankind was save-able largely because it was not separated from God by the gulf between genetic and agenetic, but simply by an emanation or two in a progression of basically agenetic beings. The doctrine of homoousios, then, undermined the soteriological framework of an entire generation by its firm establishment of the genetic/agenetic gulf between God and man—and with that, it brought immediately to the fore the question of time and its relation to the two realms. As Otis says, “…if the novelty of the creation were no longer to be disguised by a theory of its eternity, then its very novelty and temporality—its very difference from eternity—had to be accounted for” (Otis 335). It was only with the work of the Cappadocian Fathers that a system was developed to replace Origen and the other early apologists—hence it is only because of their work that the Council of Constantinople in 381 ratified the definitions of Nicaea.
For it was they who first made the distinction between the temporal and non-temporal order the same as that between creation and Creator, in their writings against the heresy of Eunomius (who asserted that Christ was fully genetic). The distinction is common to all three, but it is best articulated by St. Gregory of Nyssa, and it is his works to which Otis refers in his discussion of the Cappadocian conception of time.
Gregory, beginning with the gulf between genetic and agenetic, posits that time is itself the insurmountable limit (diastema, in Greek) between God and Creation—the fourth dimension common to all created beings. Therefore, it is impossible for humans (or angels) ever to completely comprehend God—they exist within Time, God without. Gregory thereby asserted that God is truly and completely, indeed metaphysically, infinite—and did so to a degree unprecedented by those before him. But that very infinity of God gives room for Time itself and the entire created order, led by man exercising his proper priesthood and kingship over Creation, to grow eternally into a greater and greater comprehension of the Infinite Divinity. Man, according to Gregory, is indeed captured in time and space—but that captivity is ultimately flexible, becoming the sine qua non of growth in the knowledge and love of Christ. That which has no boundary, after all, cannot grow.
Thus, in Gregory’s schema, the genetic order ceases to be an evil—Creation is truly good, not a burden or a prison hindering those who are being saved by Christ’s Incarnation, but itself the beneficiary of His saving work through the priesthood of mankind, destined to be eternally inducted into the Divine Perichoresis of Love through Christ, so that God may become All in All. No longer the enemy, but rather the victim, no longer the defeated, but rather the saved, genetic creation is not to become agenetic—rather, the agenetic Logos enters into Creation, enlivens it and enables it to grow in His inexhaustible Love.
This became the linchpin of Orthodox soteriology—God became man so that man could become Divine—but not in such a way that man should achieve Divinity and cease growing, but that he should forever be growing in the image and likeness of Christ, a process having no end because its Great Prototype is, in a very real sense, Infinity Himself. It is a magnificent vision, giving, as Otis says, “a supremely dynamic character to both salvation and creation. For the first time the Church possessed a doctrine that gave meaning to the agenetic-genetic dichotomy of Platonism as well as to the creator-creature dichotomy of the Bible” (Otis 342). It simply required that Platonism shed the idea of the inferiority of the Created order—and to this day, orthodox Christians, whatever their communion, affirm the inherent goodness and redeemability of all Creation, through the Grace of God and the Power of the Incarnation of Christ.
I might well conclude here. All this has at least begun to answer the question of Time in Christian cosmology. But it begs another question: if this doctrine was not defined until the fourth century, if the earliest Fathers of the Church did not understand time in this manner, what is one to say about their orthodoxy? What is one to do with Irenaeus and Origen? They were not Orthodox according to the standards of our day—their ideas, taken to their logical conclusions, produce heresy. The facts create a conundrum for the traditional Christian wishing to hold in honour all the early Fathers of the Church—for their articulations of the Faith appear to conflict.
The matter is difficult, with serious ramifications for the present day (for it affects how one views communions different from his own and their variant doctrinal systems and schemata), but we may give at least the beginning of a response.
The Christian Faith is not a matter of words, doctrines or definitions. It is fundamentally personal, experiential, existential. God descended to earth and became knowable to humanity—as St. John the Theologian writes, our Faith is based on “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled…” (1 John 1:1). The true theologian is one who walks with God in prayer at every moment of the day—only the friend of God can be said to truly know anything about Him. The articulated truths of the Christian Faith, spoken or written, are the words of men who have known God face to face. The Faith is simply the relationship of men with God.
God, of course, is absolute, immutable and perfect. Human language is not. Therefore, however true the Faith of any man may be, the language he uses to speak of his relationship will always be defective. There can be no perfect philosophy, no perfect theology, because there is no perfect language. All these limited words can do is point the way. Some will do so better than others. Some will completely fall off the path and begin pointing to something else. But certainly none will ever be perfect or eternally sufficient.
Thus one can look at the work of Irenaeus, and even Origen, and discern behind their words the Truth of an encounter with God. Their words are not intended to define God, but merely to draw those outside into the sphere of the love and mercy and knowledge of God. Both Irenaeus and Origen succeeded at least in this. Through them, and others like them, Rome herself bent knee before the Creator of all—and thus thousands, even millions, were caught up to the utmost limits of human capacity and stood face to face with Almighty God. Therefore, whatever else we may say about them, only He can judge them.
But with that in mind, we would do well to remember that definitions and creeds do not tell the whole story. If the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed cannot save, then neither can the Westminster Confession damn. All depends on the orientation of the human heart to God. Orthodox would do well to remember this in their encounters with those outside the bounds of the Church. And all should remember that unity in word will follow naturally when all seek God with all their hearts.
Let us therefore pray, and never cease until the Spirit is born with power in our hearts. May God grant it so.
Gregory of Nyssa and the Cappadocian Conception of Time: by Brooks Otis in Studia Patristica Volume XIV, edited by Elizabeth A. Livingstone. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1976.
Meyendorff, John. Catholicity and the Church. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; Crestwood, New York: 1983.