Thirty Steps from Honest Uncertainty to Christian Faith

When he finished his setting of the Credo, Stravinsky remarked to a friend that, “it is much to believe.” Indeed. If you start with the banquet of the Creed, you hardly know how to begin, and the whole mass of doctrines it encodes can be pretty hard to swallow at one bite. But there are only about thirty steps, more or less, from complete agnosticism to a profession of Christianity. Many are truisms, that if understood could hardly be denied by anyone; those that depend on knowledge of facts might require a fair bit of (absolutely fascinating) background research (e.g., especially, the Shroud). Each step is of course open to quibble, but such quibbles as I have so far encountered at each step are easily settled. Taken seriatim and in the proper order, none of the steps are as incredible as all of them seem taken at once. Continue reading

Notes on the Ecology of Knowledge

In a recent post, Tom Bertonneau sketched an ecology of knowledge – which I suggested should be called an ecognology – focusing mostly on the social aspects of that ecology. He began with a discussion of homeostasis, which formed the prompt for the following contribution to the ecognological project, which focuses more on its mental and physiological aspects.  

Minds homeostatically seek understanding of their ontological and practical predicaments; when they are disturbed, it is on account of factors of experience that they had not yet quite properly reckoned. They seek clarification of the turbidity that prevents their clear apprehension of things. In short, they seek knowledge. Attaining enough of it – for the time being – they rest – for a while.

In the limit, this search for understanding can attain complete rest only at the comprehension of Truth. While that rest is not something that our finite minds are themselves capable to achieve, we cannot but work at it, so long as we live. We arrive now and then at points of particularly sweet and refreshing rest; then we are disturbed, and the search begins again. All such searches have the Truth as their final end. Truth is the final end of minds, just as a full outermost shell of electrons is a final end of atoms.

Truth is in fact the strange attractor of acts in general, of all sorts of beings. Truth is the archetypal Form of strange attraction; it is that to which all acts, of whatever sort, are attracted, even when they err in their intensions; it is the basic ontological attractor, of which all other attractions partake, and on which they supervene.

So is Truth the superordinate epistemological strange attractor, for all the acts of the human mind and its brain. Beauty is what it feels like to comprehend and implement, enact, or embody Truth. Beauty is what Truth feels like. Goodness is the character of actual conformity of the understanding, and of the rational will, and so of life as lived – i.e., of the whole intellectual, cognitive, physiological and social system – to the Truth. Goodness, that is to say, is the value of Wisdom.

How?

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The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church

[Some time ago, I asked readers for recommended reading on their branches of Christianity.  Below is my understanding of Eastern Orthodox theology, as gathered from Vladimir Lossky’s “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church”, one of the books recommended to me.  This is the second in a series as I work my way down my reading list.  Orthodox commenters should be considered to have more authority than me on this topic, and I will gratefully take their correction.  The goal of this post, and I hope of the subsequent discussion, will be to accurately describe the Orthodox faith, rather than to criticize or defend it.]

Lossky’s book was first published in French in 1944, so Thomist Catholicism is naturally the tradition to which he most often compares his own, and the “individual” vs. “person” craze of that era definitely left its mark.  These points of familiarity will aid western readers.  Lossky sometimes strikes me as too eager to assert differences between East and West, but the purpose is to explain rather than disparage, making it a good book for our purposes.

Lossky (and, I gather, much of the Eastern tradition) is ultimately motivated by a desire to defend two truths:  1) that God is utterly beyond our knowledge and comprehension, 2) and yet He does make Himself really and immediately accessible to us, especially in mystical experience.  God is both inaccessible and accessible, a seeming paradox that would probably please Lossky and the Eastern Fathers who inspire him.  His goal is to preserve antinomies rather than resolve them; the danger of contradiction worries him far less than that of premature epistemic closure, of replacing the real, incomprehensible God with some construction more amenable to the human mind.

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Sex in Church

In a wide-ranging and penetrating essay contra the ordination of women, Peter Leithart argues that because sex is inerasably graven in the logos of man, ipso facto is it graven in the nature of whatever man does, from liturgy to marriage; that worship, being the quintessentially human activity, in which we can reach the sublimity of all our special capacities (for thought, word, deed; for art, music, argument, prayer; and so forth), is the font and archetype of all subsidiary activities, to which it lends them form; so that when we upend or confuse the sexes in church, we must perforce do likewise in marriage, and everywhere else.

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The Essential Disagreement of Religions

Cassiodorus asked me to take a look at an essay by Perennialist scholar James Cutsinger and provide my reactions. The essay – The Mystery of the Two Natures – argues that Perennialist archon Frithjof Schuon was entirely orthodox, from a Patristic (and ergo Nicene) point of view, in his insistence that the divine pole of the Incarnation, entailing as it does the ubiquity of Christ’s saving power, means that there is a transcendent unity of all religions.

I have long admired both Cutsinger and Schuon. They are both formidable scholars, both write (so think) like angels, and both have penetrated deeply and sympathetically into many of the great religions. Both are sane, irenic, and wise, and seem holy (sanctity being a dissemblance difficult to carry off). Like all thoroughgoing exponents of the Perennialist proposal, they reject modernity root and branch. I agree with them, I have always found, in almost everything.  

I enjoyed the article a great deal, learned much from it, and recommend it as a wonderfully clear discussion of the Incarnation, and for its original and penetrating analyses of some of the major Christological heresies. But I disagree with it in two respects, one minor, one crucial.
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Truth is a King

Truth demands our adherence, our conformity. There is no just, no correct argument against Truth, or therefore any just or correct way to act in contravention to Truth – indeed, no possible way, for there can be no way to enact a false or incoherent proposition. It might seem prima facie that it is possible to enact a falsehood. But not so. The only way we can possibly act is in a way that is in agreement with reality, and thus with Truth. We can certainly believe that we are enacting a proposition that is in fact false, and so shape our acts wrongly, as appropriate to circumstances that do not in fact obtain. Acts may err in their aims. But they must conform to reality, or they could not happen.

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The Science of Science

Theology encompasses metaphysics the way that the necessary concrete actuality of God encompasses and outpasses the mere abstract intellectual conception of God as that than which nothing greater may be conceived. Anselm’s Argument is where abstract metaphysical ratiocination entails the Act of a Being whose actuality makes metaphysics possible, ergo necessary.

Only if God exists actually can metaphysics be possible conceptually. Or, ergo, mathematics, or its application in physics.

The Moderns who insist that metaphysics is dead or impossible or obsolescent all argue from the basis of a metaphysical presupposition – a prejudice, and no more – that there is no God. If there is no God, then they are right. But if there is no God, nor therefore any metaphysics, then neither is there anything else, either; including materialist metaphysics, that boasts to abjure metaphysics altogether.

You can’t get any of the beings that are less than the most real being if you don’t first have the most real being. Take a set of beings; one of them is most real, the others all relatively less real. If the most real being is not real at all, then all the less real beings are even less real than “not real at all.” And the only way to be less real than what is not real at all, is to be in the first place inconceivable.

Theology, then, is the science of all science, the science in virtue of which any other science can know anything. If God is not actual, nothing else can be; if God is not intelligible, and knowable (at least in part, and in principle), then nor can anything else be either knowable or intelligible.

Wonder suffuses the practice of all science – drudgery, too, of course, but the drudgery is motivated by the wonder, which is the engine at the base of the whole project. Appropriately, it is at the far sublime edge of theology that science reaches the limit and culmination of wonder: worship.

Necessity or Eternity

What is necessary is necessarily eternal, but the eternal is not necessarily necessary.

Time – which is to say, congeries of contingent events, that are causally related and that therefore, together, constitute worlds, extensive continua along time, space, and myriad other dimensions – occurs in eternity. It occurs eternally (and only then, and only in virtue of its eternal occurrence, temporally), but not necessarily. It occurs freely. So likewise also for God’s Act.

Eternal acts can be free. They are not necessarily necessary. Some may also be temporal, such as this moment in your life, or the Incarnation.

Necessities comprise what Whitehead called the Primordial Nature of God, and Plato the Realm of the Forms: the Nature in virtue of which there is such a thing as order in the first place, the order of all order. The free eternal Act of God, and all its derivates in his knowledge, comprise what Whitehead called the Consequent Nature of God. Both these Natures are eternal, and indeed coterminous, in that together they characterize a single Act; so that they are sections of a single Nature. But of the two, only the Primordial Nature is necessary.

NB: God’s omniscient knowledge does not continge upon creaturely acts, but vice versa. It is only in virtue of his logically prior knowledge of creaturely acts that creatures may act in the first place.

A Better Way to Counter the Charismatics

Since we have a duty to teach our children the important truths, I’m rewriting some of my Orthosphere essays to make them more accessible to young readers. The rewrites will fill in more details, details that the typical Orthosphere reader already understands but which a young person might not know. The latest rewrite is of my essay on Pentecostalism, Strange Fire, and What’s Wrong—and What’s Right—With Pentecostalism.

In the rewrite, I add basic information about Pentecostalism’s beginnings, the distinction (increasingly irrelevant) between Pentecostalism and the newer Charismatic movement, on the basic claims of Pentecostalism, and the heterodoxy and heresy to which Pentecostalism is so susceptible.

To summarize my main point: Pentecostalism’s unique emphasis is on the alleged gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially speaking in tongues, miraculous power, and receiving new revelations from God. But although opponents of Pentecostalism generally focus on cessationism—the doctrine that the miraculous sign gifts ceased with the passing of the Apostles—the real error of Pentecostalism is something much more basic: taking its eyes off the Savior in a mad rush to partake of the thrill of alleged Holy Ghost power.

The Beauty of Being

Commenting on a recent post about Beauty, Shenpen suggested that I had got terribly mixed up about the difference between the map – our feelings of beauty – and what’s really out there, which we feel is more or less beautiful. He said two quite disparate things, at and to make quite different points in his argument:

… what can [it even] possibly mean that beauty is objectively real? That a pretty flower objectively has the same physical properties we think it has?

… “beauty” is not even a property of things, but a property of sensations in our minds.

These two statements resonated together in my mind, after I had read and responded to his comment. Their conjunction got me started.

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