Sunday, May 03, 2015

Sunday morning Orthodoxy

Despite my deep disappointment, to put it mildly, with how the churches have capitulated to the rising religion of Universal Equality, and my transgressive interest in all kinds of heretical POVs, I retain a fundamentally positive --though not uncritical-- attitude toward Christian orthodoxy. Sort of a kinship thing: because I was raised in the Faith, I figure I can critique it, but I resent ignorant outsiders sticking their noses in.

I spent many years studying it. Two master's degrees and a doctorate in it. One of the patterns involved in its construction over time is that it never took the easy way out. Take the two doctrines on which Apostolic Christianity (Catholic/Orthodox) is built --and which the Protestants almost universally confirmed until recently: the Trinity and the Incarnation. Given the natural pathways of Jewish and Greek thinking, these are not the forms in which you'd expect Christianity to finally settle on the nature of God and of Christ.  The heresies are much more culturally congruent than what finally came to constitute orthodoxy. Although based on Jewish texts and expressed in Greek forms, it is offensive both to Hebrew piety and Hellenic rationality.

For a Jewish mind, committed to monotheism, Jesus could have been a unique prophet, even a new Moses with a new covenant. But an incarnate deity? And the idea of the holy spirit not as a power but as a co-equal divine personality...well, that kind of thinking came much later in emanationist Judaism and never really trespassed the Shema.

For the Greeks, the modalist versions of monotheism would have worked: a single godhead manifesting itself in a variety of forms. Or even outright tritheism. But to assert the astonishing co-existence of unity and plurality...not likely. And as for Jesus, the adoptionist view or the Arian view...or even the monophysite or docetic view...all fit much more comfortably in a Greek mind than than the Chalcedonian creation of a single divine person (one of three) both completely divine and completely human (though not sinful). As the definition negatively puts it: without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.

FYI for you non-nerds: 
Adoptionism: Jesus was an ordinary man who was adopted into divinity at some point in his life, usually located at his baptism, though some name his resurrection as that point. 
Arianism: Jesus was the incarnation of the godlike Word which the Father --the only true God-- birthed and then used to create the universe.  Extremely popular viewpoint for a long time. Held by Jehovah's Witnesses and the Iglesia Ni Cristo.
Monophysitism: Jesus' human nature was absorbed by his divine nature. 
Docetism: Jesus was an avatar of the divine, whose humanity was only a temporary appearance.

Even though orthodoxy, by virtue of 15 centuries of dominance, seems trite, in its origins it really was the path of most resistance to it surrounding culture, not what one would have expected. And it remains a stumbling-block to ordinary rationality even now.

All contemporary attacks on the classic doctrines of Trinity and Incarnation are attempts to soften the counter-cultural form and make them comfortable for modern Western minds. Joseph Smith, as usual, manages both to adapt and to shock at the same time: his deity evolves (very Darwinian) but is only one of many and not a true creator.

My criticisms of the unique intellectual creation which is orthodoxy are pretty well all psychological and center around the ideal of incarnate perfection and its depressing effect on what Jung called "the empirical human," which is imperfect by definition. My Gnostic issues with God are not specifically Trinitarian, but mostly the old problem of evil, and divine impassibility.

Now back to ExCathedra's blend: half espresso, half French roast. Boom!



Anonymous said...

I love these posts. It is like an online course on theology that doesn't suck. Your coffee sounds good. Is the French roast in a French press?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the reminder, Ex. It is so easy to forget that Christian orthodoxy is pretty nonsensical when you look at it from a purely logical frame. Nothing about Christianity is neat and tidy- at least, it shouldn't be. Perhaps that's why the Protestants are bleeding members- those leaving realize that their denomination has traded faith for cultural politics.

I think too many Christians forget that their religion has traditionally been countercultural. The sooner they realize that, the better, I think. Then they can stop pretending that everybody likes them.


OreamnosAmericanus said...

Aquinas made a strong case that Christian orthodoxy did not contradict reason but transcended it, was non-rational but not irrational. One of the strengths of Catholicism (vs Islam, for instance) is its insistence that truth is single and that God cannot be irrational or capricious, is Logos rather than sheer Will. Doctrine must therefore go beyond reason, but not against it.

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