Hellenism as Dialectic

Earlier models of theology did theology “by century,” or a list of pithy sayings on a topic.  I doubt I will get to a hundred, but it is a good guideline.  When I attack Hellenism, in this context I mean the matrix in which the church found itself.  I do not deny that the Fathers and NT used “substance” language.  I think it is good that they did.  I simply deny that reading the Greek philosophers as if they are the next best thing is a good idea. Unless I note otherwise, the following are theses that define dialectical Hellenism. D = Dialectic.

  1. Basil notes, contra Hellenism, that terms referring to the divine essence aren’t de facto conferring material limitations to it (McGuckin 2017: 318).
  2. D: The One and the Many are mutually correlative.
  3. D: Deity is defined by self-origination
  4. D: Distinction is opposition: two contrary attributes cannot coinhere in the same subject at the same time.  This rules out the Incarnation.  It also rules out dyotheletism.
  5. D: Definition = limit.
  6. Contra Hellenism, God has no opposite (St Maximus, Cap. Char. 3.28) . If he had an opposite, then that opposite would define him.
  7. D: Things are distinguished by their opposites (Plato, Phaedo103d; same logic is use in Thomist Trinitarianism).
  8. D: The “infinite” implies “boundary markers” (Barnes, Early Greek  Philosophy 216).
  9. St Paul said we are no longer under the stoichea of the age (Galatians 3-4).
  10. D: Democritus says it’s stupid to want children (Barnes 280) and sex is irrational.
  11. “When Socrates was seized by a problem, he remained immobile for an interminable period of time in deep thought; when Holy Scripture is read aloud the Hebrew moves his whole body ceaselessly in deep devotion and adoration.”
  12. The hero for the Greek was Hercules.  The hero for the Hebrew is David, who served the covenant people.
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Review: Prayer Book of Early Christians

prayer

The value in this text is its setting forth most of the key prayers of the early church.  McGuckin gives some commentary, such as noting that the lighting of candles symbolized the Spirit’s praying in and through us.  Most of the book, though, consists in different prayer settings of the early Christians (Matins, Vespers, etc.).

For example, a Vesper service would look something like this:

*Trisagion (Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us)

* Either Ps. 103/142 (here is where it gets tricky, since the LXX is off by a chapter, so you will have to consult 103/104 to get the feel of which is more “eveningy”).

* Prayer of Eventide
*Psalm 140/141

* Prayer over Incense

* Gladsome Light

*Litany of Intercession

Matins would look like:

Trisagion

Invatory prayers

Psalms 19-20

Song of the Cross

Morning cycle of 6 psalms

Other prayers included prayers for the sick, protection against the forces of darkness, etc., etc.  The book is somewhat pricey for its small size, but it offers a valuable service in getting the prayers together in one place.

Review: McGuckin’s The Path of Christianity

John McGuckin’s project is unique in that he starts his account in the 2nd Century, not the 1st.  This allows him to explore the different “secessionist” offshoots from the main church. This meant for the Church that the office of the bishop had to arise primarily to confront fringe and schismatic groups (Ebionites, Natsirim, Montanists, etc).

Post-Apostolic Fathers

Related imageWith Clement of Rome we see the terminology of presbytery as a group of elders but we are also beginning to see one presbyter/episkopos beginning to have administrative authority.  With Ignatius of Antioch the role of bishop is now monarchical.  Yet when Polycarp writes to the church of Philippi, he speaks not of a bishop but a council of presbyters (McGuckin 65; Polycarp, Epistle to the Philippians 6.1).

Cyprian

For Cyprian there can never be schism in the church, it is always schism from the church. He isn’t just arguing for unity, but for unicity. Disobedience to the church is a crime against the unity of the church (220). If you are out of the church, you are cut off from the grace spigot.  Not surprisingly, Cyprian set himself up for failure.  His theory couldn’t answer later questions: like who is the true church when the patriarch is a slave to the Ottomans or the Soviets or to George Soros?  

Justinian Reforms

Justinian didn’t simply “shut down” the Academy in Athens.  He cut off govt funding and forced them to pay their way.  They couldn’t do that (because people didn’t want to see a mix of Plato and magic), so the magician-philosophers went to Persia (and then came back).

Early Liturgy and Prayer

It is very difficult for many people to approach the ancient fathers on prayer.  For some, it looks too much like Buddhism.  And for many activists theologians, it doesn’t make sense to do hesychasm when you can be lobbying on Capitol Hill.  Nevertheless, the “stillness” model rests upon a particularly sophisticated anthropology, one that can help us in our technological age.  Indeed, one that can counter (with God’s help) deep state monarch programming.

Now, on to McGuckin: “The heart is the inner place where the creature stood before God” (Path 865).  Heart isn’t quite the same thing as nous.

  • It is a biblical cipher for the whole spiritual personality.
  • It is sometimes expressed by the word wisdom (Prov. 19.8).
  • It is a synonym for the innermost self (Rom. 7.22).

McGuckin notes the effect of this practice, “Charging and reorienting the human  consciousness, focusing it, as it were, like a lens on the singleness of the idea of the presence of God” (871).  The ancients knew that our minds wander during prayer.  This trained us to begin the struggle of prayer.

The Bible

Very helpful section.  No matter where you fall on the tradition/scripture debate,  I am reminded of a comment from RC Sproul, “We hold to an infallible text in a fallible canon.”  How can that be possible.  McGuckin, probably not intending to carry on Sproul’s idea, points to an analogue in a “bounded infinity.”  We operate on the assumption that our universe is finite.  It is, yet it is constantly expanding.  

Christians and Magic

  • St Paul defined every magician as a son of the Devil (Acts 13:8-12)
  • All Greco-Roman rites were demonic (and thus the tie-in with daimonic, human contact with invisible world of spirits (1010)).
  • Athanasius best represented the Christian approach to cthonic forces and magic.  We have to understand how widespread this fear was in the ancient world (and pretty much everywhere that isn’t comfortable America). “At the sign of the cross all magic ceases, all witchcraft is rendered void, all idols are abandoned and denied, all superstitious longings cease, and everyone raises their eyes to heaven” (De Incarnatione 31).

Conclusion

Somewhat intermediate-advanced text, but clearly the best treatment of pre-schism church history

Bringing the nous into the heart

This is from John Mcguckin’s The Path of Christianity: The First Thousand Years, pp. 862-869.  It is very difficult for many people to approach the ancient fathers on prayer.  For some, it looks too much like Buddhism.  And for many activists theologians, it doesn’t make sense to do hesychasm when you can be lobbying on Capitol Hill.  Nevertheless, the “stillness” model rests upon a particularly sophisticated anthropology, one that can help us in our technological age.  Indeed, one that can counter (with God’s help) deep state monarch programming.all flame

Have you ever prayed and felt dead?  Like the prayer wasn’t real?  Maybe it’s because you carried into prayer the mindset you had when you were watching the Kardashians ten minutes ago.  The Fathers teach us how to develop a mindset for prayer.  This mindset is important because it prevents us from having a “fractured psyche.”  Jay Dyer quotes Strategopoulos , noting,

 

 

” the human nous (the “eye of the heart”) will see God’s uncreated Light (and feel God’s uncreated love and beauty, at which point the nous will start the unceasing prayer of the heart) and become illuminated, allowing the person to become an orthodox theologian….

“They became vain in their reasonings, speculations”. Please pay attention to the choice of words. Almost always, especially in the New Testament, the term (“dialogismos” in the original Greek) is used in a negative sense. When He is about to heal the paralytic, Christ is aware that people “are reasoning within themselves” (Mark 2:6). So Christ says: “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?” You see, the word in the Greek text is not “logismos” (thought, contemplation), it is “dia-logismos”, i.e. fragmented, scattered thinking: The fragmentation of the nous. You might as well apply this knowledge when you are confronted with cults, heresies and similar issues, [considering that the same word is used today for “meditation”]. There is a direct link. Reasoning, speculation [of a fragmented nous]: terms which are always used in a negative sense in the Holy Scripture. Thus, man ends up in a state of ignorance, although he is created with a predisposition towards God, with a nous that is meant to turn to God for help: “Love the Lord your God”. This is faith, the movement towards God, and it is something that we have overlooked….

St Gregory of Sinai clearly states that forgetfulness of God is a disease of the soul and of the faculty of reason. It has a direct impact on human memory, which ends up divided, diffused and fragmented, a prey to tempting thoughts. If I forget God, my memory will crumble into pieces, resulting in scattered, wayward thinking: “Dia-logismos”.

Now, on to McGuckin: “The heart is the inner place where the creature stood before God” (Path 865).  Heart isn’t quite the same thing as nous.

  • It is a biblical cipher for the whole spiritual personality.
  • It is sometimes expressed by the word wisdom (Prov. 19.8).
  • It is a synonym for the innermost self (Rom. 7.22).

So how does this apply to prayer?  Where does the doctrine cash out?  The fathers practiced the monologistos prayer.  It was a short phrase from Scripture that was repeated over and over until it soaked the consciousness (870).  That sounds like it violates Jesus’s command not to pray over and over like the heathen, but several things need to be noted:

  • He probably meant pagan incantations.
  • You are going to have something soaking your mind anyway.  Your mind is never neutral.  You will either soak it with God or with Katy Perry songs.  Take your pic.  Would you rather wake up in the middle of the night singing, “Romeo save me/I can’t ever be alone” or with

McGuckin notes the effect of this practice, “Charging and reorienting the human  consciousness, focusing it, as it were, like a lens on the singleness of the idea of the presence of God” (871).  The ancients knew that our minds wonder during prayer.  This trained us to begin the struggle of prayer.

The Anthropology of Prayer

We have a body (physical impulses), soul (feelings and desires), and nous (spiritual intellect). If the body was agitated, the other two “ranges” of consciousness would be pulled down as well (871).  Therefore, the monks knew that bodily needs are controlled by redirection.

That takes care of the body.  What about the soul?  Our prayer lives are usually by default rooted in our soul (consciousness).  This is where we live habitually. The monologistos prayer quiets down our soul. McGuckin succinctly points out, “Thoughts generate thoughts.  Words make words.  Monologistos prayer kills those unnecessary words” (872).

palamas

When the soul is finally quieted, the nous descends to the heart and one reaches stillness. This is what the hesychasts knew.  You aren’t just doing funny breathing.  At this point when you slow down the breathing, your body calms even more.

Everyone wants to claim that the human person is a body-soul unity, or some kind of unity.  I think it is the genius of Palamas to see how the person is a unity.  There is a dynamic interplay between body, soul, and nous.

And while I think Fr John Romanides overshoots his target, there is at least an aspect of “healing the nous” in theology.

Extra Resources

Fragmentation of the Psyche and the Nous

Lady Gaga ‘Raped’ – Victim of Mind Control?

Mind-Controlled Alters Documented

Psychological Warfare and Media

Satanic High Fashion & Weinstein Hollywood & Vegas COVERUPS – Jay Dyer & Boiler Room

The Fragmented Psyche, The Nous & The Osiris Complex- Jay Dyer (Half)

The Ghost in the Machine and Mass Mind Control

Masculine Wisdom/Feminine Matter: the Drug-Fractured Psyche

McGuckin on Natures

This ties in with my recent reflections on universals, natures, and metaphysics.  This is from John McGuckin’s fine work on St Cyril. I applaud Perry Robinson for doing the legwork in putting these quotes on his blog:

Ousia: Essence, substance, being, genus, or nature.

Physis: Nature, make up of a thing. (In earlier Christian thought the concrete reality or existent.)

Hypostasis: The actual concrete reality of a thing, the underlying essence, (in earlier Christian thought the synonym of physis.)

Prosopon: The observable character, defining properties, manifestation of a reality.

Even at first sight it is clear that the words bear a range of meanings that overlap in some areas so as to be synonymous.  This is particularly so with the terms Physis and Hypostasis which in the fifth century simultaneously bore ancient Christian meanings and more modern applications.. In relation to Physis, Cyril tended to use the antique meaning, Nestorius the modern. In relation to Hypostasis the opposite was the case.”

McGuckin, 138-139.

7. “Ousia is the genus of a thing.  Once can think, for example of the genus ‘unicorn.’  Such a genus exists, but only theoretically, not practically or concretely.  It does not exist, that is, ‘in reality’ as we would say today.  Nonetheless, it makes sense to talk of the necessary characteristics of a unicorn such as its magical horn, its horse like appearance, its whiteness, its beard and lion’s tail, and so on. Thus the genus of unicorn is the ousia, that which makes up the essential being of a thing.. The notion of the physis of our unicorn is intimately related to this.  It connotes what we might call the palpable and ‘physical’ characteristics of a unicorn such as outlined above-but always understanding that his possession of a physis-nature still does not necessarily imply that such a creature is real…In some circles, especially those represented by the Christian thinkers of Alexandria following Athanasius, the word physis signified something slightly different from this sense of ’physical attributes’ and had been used to connote the physical existent-in the sense of a concrete individual reality.  In the hands of Cyril the word is used in two senses, one in what might be called the standard ‘physical usage where it connotes the constituent elements of a thing, and the other in which it serves to delineate the notion of individual existent-or in other words individual subject.  This variability in the use of a key term on Cyril’s part goes some way to explaining Nestorius’ difficulties in following his argument over the single Physis of the Incarnate Word (Mia Physis tou Theou Logou Sesarkoene).  By this Cyril meant the one concrete individual subject of the Incarnated Word. Whereas Nestorius heard him to mean the one physical composite of the Word (in the sense of an Apollinarist mixture of fusion of the respective attributes of the natures of man and God.)

McGuckin, 139-140.

The prospon is the external aspect or form of a physis as it can be manifested to external observation and scrutiny.  It is a very concrete, empirical word, connoting what appears to outside observation.  Each essence (ousia) is characterized by its proper nature (physis), everything that is, which makes it up, and in turn every nature that is hypostatically real presents itself to the scrutiny of the senses in its own prosopon-that list of detailed characteristics or ‘propria’ that constitute this thing individually and signal to the observer what nature (physis) it has and thus to what genus (ousia) it belongs.  In the system Nestorius is following, every nature has its own prosopon, that such of proper characteristics (idiomata) by which it is characterized in its unique  individuality and made known to others as such.  The word carried with it an intrinsic sense of ‘making known’ and appeared to Nestorius particularly apt in the revelatory context of discussing the incarnation.”

McGuckin, 144.

A Patristics Primer

I spent the past few days on Facebook debating soon-to-be-Socinians in the CBMW on why you shouldn’t tinker with the Trinity.  Some friends have asked me for a primer on basic Patristics texts.  This is more or less an impossible request but I can start to lay the groundwork.  If you devote at least a good six months to working through these issues, you will begin to see why tinkering with the Trinity must end badly.

Primary Sources

Hilary of Poitiers, “De Synodis.”  St Hilary explains how the early Fathers had to break the back of certain categories before they became acceptable.

Athanasius.  Contra Arianos.  This work is very difficult to read but it is his best work.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Christ: Five Theological Orations.  The best thing ever written on Trinitarianism.

Gregory of Nyssa.  “Great Catechism” and “On Not Three Gods.”  Advances the argument that the Trinity is one mind, will, power, and energy of operation.  This is why Gospel Coalition types won’t engage me when I ask them how many minds are in the Trinity.

Basil.  On The Holy Spirit.

Pseudo-Dionysius.  The Divine Names.

Basic Trinitarianism

Letham, Robert.  The Holy Trinity.  Letham has a number of blind-spots but he covers the material better than any.

Lacugna, Catherine.  God for Us.  She is a liberal Jesuit and that comes out in her writing, but she does a fine job on the Cappadocians.

Torrance, Thomas.  The Trinitarian Faith and One Being: Three persons.  The two best texts by a modern on the Trinity.  Torrance has few equals.  And no, his so-called “neo-orthodoxy” does not come out in this.

Intermediate Issues

McGuckin, John.  Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy.  Excellent survey of Cyril’s thought and he makes the argument that Chalcedon, far from being a Western council, specifically made Cyril the standard for Christology.

———–.  St Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography.  Just fun.

Beeley, Christopher.  The Unity of Christ and In Your Light We See Light.

Advanced Issues

Barnes, Michel.  The Power of God.  Explores Gregory of Nyssa’s use of “dynamis” in Christology.

Farrell, Joseph.  God, History, and Dialectic.  Be careful but some good analysis.

Photios.  Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps the Filioque can be salvaged, but not by positing the Father-Son as a single cause.

Jenson, Robert.  Systematic Theology, vol. 1.

Philosophical Foundations.

Perl, Eric.  Theophany: Dionysius’s Philosophy.

Gould and Davis (eds).  Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of JP Moreland.   Some outstanding essays on what it means for universals to be exemplified.

Maximus the Confessor.  The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ.

Moreland, J. P. Universals.

Cooper, John. Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting.

Morris, Thomas.  The Logic of God Incarnate.  This is tough and I am not sure I agree with all of his conclusions, but it is an important study nonetheless.

Plantinga, Alvin.  Does God have a Nature?  Yeah, yeah, classical theism and all.  Plantinga’s arguments can’t simply be brushed aside.

Unleash the theopoets

Flow and Highlights

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus [PB]

I will capture the flow of Gregory’s life along with crucial highlights. McGuckin’s thesis suggests something along the lines that Gregory “midwifed” a new Christian vision into the old imperium.

Gregory’s Post-Hellenic Vision

Gregory opted for something like a Christian Hellenism, or rather the New Byzantine vision (I understand this language is somewhat anachronistic, since Gregory would have seen himself as a Roman). This method and vision allowed him to bring order to a then inchoate biblical theology. It was a bridge between the Hellenic and Semitic worlds. He was able to hold apparent opposites in creative tensions, and he refused to collapse mystery and symbol into logical deduction (McGuckin10). In fact, in Gregory’s hands Christology is never allowed to escape its proper context of reflection: “the dynamic mystery of the economy of God’s salvation of humankind” (390).

In order to counteract Julian, Christians had to offer an inspiration for a new imperium and society (117ff). Both Gregory and Julian agreed that “a culture cannot be divorced from its religious inspiration without being fatally compromised.” In this battle Gregory forges a keen anti-Hellenic apologetics. Much of it is similar to Augustine, albeit with the promise that Christianity is able to synthesize old and new (121).

Indeed, the birth of Byzantium is the new public confession of the Spirit as homoousion. Gregory’s confession of the Spirit is the positive triumph of what was best in Origen: it is the present spiritualization of the current order and the ascent to divine vision (309). Gregory is able to do what his master could not: correlate the eschatological vision with historical unfolding. Gregory’s social program is connected with his anthropology (151). Image and archetype are reconciled in the hominisation of God as a poor man. The human condition is mixis between clay and divine image.

Theological Method

This is not merely an attack on Eunomios. It is a vision for theology (263). He attacks two theological positions: a) that the Son and Spirit are without cause (agenetos); and b) they are caused by the Father as something other (hetera) to him.

principle of causality: it is something other than what is meant by God’s causing the created order. It indicates the manner in which the Father relates his being to the other two persons.

The Theological Orations

They have a triadic structure to them.  Or. 27 and 28 deal with theologia as our perception of God.  Orations 29-30 deal with the Son’s relation to the Father.  Oration 31 deal with the Spirit.

The Monarchia of the Father

  • The Son is generated, not from the ousia, but from the Father’s person.  Otherwise, the Son, having the same essence, would generate himself!  Contra Eunomius, this means ingeneracy or generation is not constitutive of the divine essence.
  • The divine being is primarily the Father’s being, not a generic class of being (McGuckin 294 n352). The Father personally communicates this being to the hypostases of the Son and Spirit.
  • Gregory draws from the earlier church’s vision of the triad as a single coherent process of unfolding the life of the Father.  Therefore, threefoldness is just as much a principle of unity as of differentiation (296 n355).

Feasting in the Spirit

The doctrine of the Spirit is the mean between Jewish monism and Hellenic polytheism (273). Jews celebrate feasts by the letter, Greeks in the body. Christians feast in the Spirit. As McGuckin notes, this fits in with Gregory’s “matrix of liturgical discourse.”

It is through the Spirit that the Father is known and the Son glorified. The idiomata do not define the essence, but are themselves defined in relation to the essence. The three stages of revelation are progressively perfected.

Conclusion:

This is a hard read. And it is not quite the same “kind” of work as McGuckin’s masterpiece on Cyril. The latter is a theological commentary; this, as the subtitle makes clear, is an intellectual biography. Still, McGuckin’s scholarship is world-class and this is easily the best biography on Gregory.