Arimathea | Religion | Auster and Jesus | Comments
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Tuesday, February 26, A.D. 2013
Auster and Jesus

Over the last few weeks, Lawrence Auster has posted good will messages to him in response to his terminal illness and approaching death. I wrote a brief and insufficient memorial post for Auster a few weeks ago, and the master of View from the Right decided to publish two of my letters, including the following:

I read the well-wishes down to B.E.’s, and, somewhat overcome, I started the following message to you:

“I especially appreciate your commentator Zeno’s description of you as our Montaigne. However, as I went through the sincere and thoughtful farewells of so many fellow wayfarers, it occurred to me that I was in the middle of the Phaedo, where the disciples mourn the imminent departure of their friend and teacher, Socrates, while he gives his last lesson. Our hero demonstrates in word and in deed what it means to be a man—to be rational, to be destined for the transcendent. The dialogue is a tremendously powerful work, and it reverberates across the generations in many ways, it seems.”

Then, given the situation and the shared perspectives of your readers, I judged that I should do a search in the thread for a mention of Plato’s work wherein philosophy functions as a preparation for death—and for eternity. Sure enough, another reader brought it up. Nonetheless, I am sending you my original remark. Thank you, again.

Even at this stage in his sickness, Auster continues to bless his readers. Yesterday, Auster offered a beautiful account of what he expects after death in “The afterlife and Christ.” He apologizes in the comment thread for his poor Christian formation and theological ignorance, along with this remark that echoes my own attitude perfectly:

Another sign of my poor Christian formation is that I’ve never been particularly concerned about whether I personally am saved, about whether I have the formal or determined status of being saved, which seems to be the primary, even exclusive, concern of Protestants starting with Luther. I feel the purpose of life is to be with and follow God, and that is the direction in which we try to grow. The rest—whether we are fulfilled—we leave up to God.

Auster need not have apologized or attributed his disinterest in “personal salvation” to improper formation. I have always found the Western need for salvific formulae and the obsession with surety repellant—even before I knew of alternative paths. The attitude betrays self absorption and a lack of trust in God’s goodness. We should do what we should do; we may leave further considerations to the Lord.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, February 26, A.D. 2013
Religion | OrthodoxyProtestantismRoman CatholicismPermalink

Is the obsession with surety really “Western” or is it particularly Protestant? I am reading a basic Catholic/Papist apologetic s book and the author notes that this characteristic is Lutheran not Pauline.

Posted by Bruce on Tuesday, February 26, A.D. 2013


I think that the obsession with knowing one’s spiritual status can be found in the Roman tradition, though it is worse in Protestantism in that those lofty concerns trickle down to every Martin, John, and Henry. Consider the elaborate system devised for categorizing sins and setting indulgences—where daily acts of piety were assigned a particular amount of “days out of purgatory.” Look at the Jesuits’ casuistic tradition—or even the old catechisms. It is not in the Western psyche to rest comfortably with the unknown. The philosophical, analytic tendencies developed in scholasticism cannot rest. That makes for impressive academic output. It also fosters a legalistic spirit in religion—one that, ironically, even the most antinomian of the Protestants share. They are fastidiously legalistic about dismissing the authority of divine law!

The entire West desires a formula for how one may be saved. As the Grand Inquisitor argues, the people want to follow, to submit, to rest assured in the teaching of their betters, and the wild, eery unknown to which the Lord sends us in this world is an intolerable defect of providence—but that has been corrected, of course, by the clergy.

I suspect that the Western mind thinks that Peter’s keys unlock every door—and the Protestants have further imagined that everybody gets a complimentary set.

Posted by Joseph from Arimathea on Wednesday, February 27, A.D. 2013

It is interesting to note that there wasn’t a Protestant Reformation in the east.
Isn’t categorizing sins necessary for the sacrament of confession & absolution? One must have some idea what must be confessed and absolved. Otherwise, you have the Protestant “general” confession.
I’m interested. What, in general, is the Eastern alternative? Just “following God” as Auster puts it?

Posted by Bruce on Wednesday, February 27, A.D. 2013


You present a worthy argument, and I am not confident in my answer. I am not a priest and have no seminary or monastic formation. However, based on my own experience, I would say that the Orthodox approach to confession is pastoral rather than juridical.

Of course, in sin, we transgress God’s law. In the covenant with the Hebrews, there is law—the Law. It is a legislative blueprint for a civilization. Scholars dispute exactly what Jesus meant when he said that he came to fulfill the law rather than to destroy it, but the historical testament of the Church is that the focus of the Christian life is not on checking boxes to make sure that you remain in the confines of what is acceptable to God but rather on attaining perfection by allowing God to unite you with him. Following the rules is merely the most basic step in this process, as the aim is to conform to the rule maker rather than the rules. So, divine law remains—it is simply an explanation of the way we are and how we are to live in the world—but it does not constitute the purpose of life. Legalism is not wrong because it acknowledges the law; it is wrong because it trains people to see the law as an end rather than a gift—a tool—in the struggle to become Christlike.

And let me defend “legalism”—and even the poor old Grand Inquisitor—for a moment. Most people, at least in such diseased societies as ours, need a strong emphasis on law. For we are immature, like the Hebrews of old, surrounded by pagans and drenched in wickedness. As Bruce Charlton notes, theosis is far off the radar for most people, and it is somewhat embarrassing to speak of it (due to us, not in itself). I see his and the nasty cardinal’s point. Nevertheless, God has given us his Word and his Spirit, and the Lord of Hosts does not suffer the soft bigotry of low expectations. Even in Sodom, righteousness was possible. In sordid Rome, the saints shone brightly. Legal reckoning needs to be complemented and directed by a clear view of the higher aim—an aim that Jesus the Christ makes possible even to contemporary Americans.

That is what I mean by pastoral—the shepherds of Christ’s flock have as their main job not to rule justly but rather to keep the flock from danger and to herd it safely home to the master’s fields. As such, confessors need to know the territory. They must have knowledge of potential dangers (wolves, chasms) as well as the requisites for the health of the flock (springs, proper grazing land). For this, a proper knowledge of morality is necessary. This is the real value of moral philosophy for clergy. However, they need not know the exact chemical make-up of every watering hole. They do not have to know the botanical classification of every forb in the field. Such things do have value; knowledge is a good. However, to fixate on the details is to ignore their primary responsibility, which is the health of the sheep. They are chiefly shepherds, not biologists or chemists. Leave the execution of God’s law, the subtlety of moral theory, and the rest of the arts and sciences to those whose specialities such things are. The pastors need to attend to the sheep. They may make good use of other disciplines’ tools and knowledge, but their proper wisdom consists in something else – something practical and of such extreme importance that God himself instituted their profession.

Posted by Joseph from Arimathea on Wednesday, February 27, A.D. 2013

If Roman hyper-rationalism can cause legalism, then so can Eastern mysticism (do I misunderstand the East? I’m pretty ignorant of Orthodox basics.). For example, I hear some talk of Eastern “horror” upon seeing that Papists don’t face East when praying.

Posted by Bruce on Tuesday, March 5, A.D. 2013


Horror? Myself, I feel dismay, but not horror. For horror, read Monomakhos’ thread on the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI. Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon wrote:

Catholic Observer remarks, “If you counted all the Catholic parishes nationwide wherein the Mass is celebrated beautifully and reverently, the number would probably be about equal to that of all the Orthodox parishes nationwide wherein the liturgy is celebrated beautifully and reverently.”

I fear I have inadvertently given offense.

Let me explain, if I may. What I wrote was this: “Still, if an Orthodox Christian visits an average Roman Catholic parish in this country, the experience can be mighty depressing.”

Please, notice the subject of the hypothetical clause—”an Orthodox Christian.” He is the one who will feel depressed.

That is to say, the “depression” to which I referred is specific to an Orthodox Christian who visits an average Roman Catholic parish.

I was not referring to the piety or reverence of the Roman Catholic celebrant or his congregation. I had in mind certain specific things in current Roman Catholic practice that are . . . . well, distressing.

Let me rehearse some of them for you:

I find it distressing beyond words to worship at an altar where the priest stands on the other side and looks out at the congregation during the Anaphora. I must close my eyes in order to endure it.

It is a heavy burden to my soul to open my eyes and behold female acolytes serving at the altar.

It absolutely crushes my spirit when a nun comes up from the congregation at reception time and takes a ciborium from the Tabernacle and—notwithstanding the presence of a dozen priests in the sanctuary—begins to distribute Holy Communion to the faithful. (This happened, most notably, when I attended Holy Mass at St. Michael’s in Munich. I appreciated the Palestrina pieces by the choir, but that nun simply ruined it for me.)

Anyway, I know that Romans Catholics may think me eccentric is my response to these things.

It has to do with cultural expectations, and my own expectations are those of an Eastern Orthodox Christian.

If I have continued to give offense by these remarks, I do beg forgiveness.

I am not one of those embarrassing Orthodox who mindlessly pretend—in spite of massive evidence to the contrary—that the Roman Catholic Church is devoid of grace.

And I added:

And moreover . . .

* The terrible, terrible music that the 1960s-1990s American “hymnographers” foisted upon the long suffering people in the pews. The music reminds me of Benji soundtracks. Awful and unworthy of the mass, indeed! John Foley, S.J., a pox be upon him!

* Not once, not twice, but dozens of times have I had to listen to revamped Simon and Garfunkel pop songs, pieces by Beethoven, and even Broadway tunes as the melodies for saccharine “religious” lyrics at masss. And not just in the U.S. but also in France and the U.K.

* The “Hosanna” chorus from Jesus Christ Superstar sung as the introit on Palm Sunday. Seriously.

* At a Christmas Eve mass once, I saw a “Eucharistic minister” woman (wearing too tight frumpy mom pants, but I digress) *kick* a fallen wafer to the side of the aisle after she dropped it during Communion. A deacon eventually came over to pick it up and eat it. Shameful.

I can go on and on and on. Egregious abuses are not hard to find; they are woefully normal. I wish the poor folks in the new liturgical movement all the best; they need it.

Posted by Joseph from Arimathea on Tuesday, March 5, A.D. 2013

Back to your objection, though . . . I do not think that the cause of this fastidiousness is mysticism but rather the essential Jewishness of Orthodoxy. We are not simply orthodox, but we are also orthopractical. We not only uphold correct belief and correct praise but also correct practice—orthopraxis. This traditionalist way of life recognizes the value of the rubrics, canons, sacred arts, and even popular pious traditions in cultivating a life oriented (pardon the pun) toward Christ—including ad orientem devotion. The entire prescribed Christian life is an organically evolved, unified, and ordered regimen to educate us to walk as children of light.

Now, the obvious danger inherent in traditionalism is the tendency toward not legalism, in my opinion, but its sister vice Pharisaism—where one’s devotion to the diet becomes more important than the health of which it is the means. That is a real danger, and it is for this reason that so much of our wisdom stories and sayings have to do with Pharisaism. Indeed, in the lead up to Lent, we contemplate the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee for a whole week. A multitude of sayings from the desert fathers warn against Pharisaism in its many species, as well. We are wise to remember that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. We must guard against venerating the form at the cost of its purpose.

Nonetheless, the Latins have forsaken all deference to tradition. They have traded obedience to the apostolic way for obedience to the current hierarchy (and even that is true only of the “good” papists). They do not even begin to consider the importance of ad orientem worship or anything else in their ancient heritage. They have gone the opposite path from Judaism—that of spiritualization. Having reckoned that they know the reasons behind pious practices and laws, they feel free to dispense with them.

This reminds me of Chesterton’s story about a fence found on a piece of property. If the modernist does not know why the fence is there, he wants it removed, whereas the traditionalist responds that he may possibly remove it only after he has figured out why it is there. Our tradition is greater than our understanding of it, and we ought not to alter or to disregard it casually. The disaster that befell the Latins following the Second Vatican Council should serve as a warning for everyone.

As far as the orientation of temples in particular goes, we must work with what we have. When Orthodox Christians purchase an existing structure for their temple, they sometimes have to forgo proper orientation, but they do not ignore the canon. Sometimes, such important considerations are eclipsed by other ones, though they would correct it if they could. When they get enough funds to rebuild the temple or to relocate, they construct the temple appropriately. By contrast, the Latins have routinely disregarded properly oriented temples for centuries. Situational aesthetics and convenience trump orientation. Ad orientem arrangements are a quaint historical note for them and nothing more. The same disregard for the past can be seen throughout the Roman Church; like its reformed daughters, it is often a reductionist religion.

Posted by Joseph from Arimathea on Tuesday, March 5, A.D. 2013
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