I would like to wish Western Christians a beneficial Lent.
Yesterday, I came across a remarkable story about the completion of a new temple in Yasenevo near the southern edge of Moscow, evidently the neighborhood with the highest elevation in the capital. Please read the short article by Andrew Gould in the Orthodox Arts Journal, “A Miracle of Liturgical Art: The Church of the Protection of the Mother of God at Yasenevo.” The story has many gorgeous photographs (linked to larger versions if you click them).
The new temple is dedicated to the Protection of the Theotokos (Храм Покрова Пресвятой Богородицы в Ясенево) due to its placement overlooking the city. The temple’s exterior foundation has commemorative crosses for Russia’s major military engagements throughout history, making it a war memorial church, which fits well with its patronal dedication to the Feast of the Protection. This naturally has endeared the new temple to servicemen throughout the country, who have contributed funds for its construction. From the article:
The true miracle of the Yasenevo church, though, lies not in its richness, but its poverty. Astonishingly, this church, constructed in just seven years, had no major individual donors. There was no great oligarch or wealthy institution footing the bill. Rather, the money came in small donations from ordinary people and pious organizations – 80,000 donors in total.
Likewise, the astonishing mosaic work was not the work of a professional studio, but of students and amateurs, all volunteers. There was one professional iconographer hired to draw the great Pantocrator, but beyond that, the work was planned by highly-capable art students. They could not afford to buy Italian tesserae for the vast areas of gold, so they asked for donations of gold jewelry from across Russia, and developed their own technique for depositing the gold onto ceramic tile fragments. The mosaic workshop was run by a retired master who taught anyone who showed up. On the day I visited, she introduced me to her crew for the day – a hairdresser, an economics student, an architect, all there on their day off from work to come lay tesserae, and doing work like skilled masters. In total there were at least 225 of these volunteer mosaicists, some of whom arrived with no skills, but only a life-long dream of making an icon, and ended up creating works of incredible beauty.
My guide, Elena, explained that almost everything was built like this – the landscaping, the marble work, the unexpected and charming decorations that could be seen virtually everywhere. I found that the construction site felt like a liturgy – the workers could feel their priestly role in this work. Everyone involved in the project recognized that a miracle was taking place – that God had ordained that this project was to be different from any other – that this church would be built only with love, and that it would outshine all others.
Glory to God! I realize that I sometimes sound repetitive, but truly consider the import of this new “people’s temple” in the heart of the former Soviet Empire—built by the normal folks out of love in order to glorify neither the revolution nor the worker but God almighty. And it is exquisitely fine! Could anyone have predicted such an accomplishment thirty years ago? Amazing!
The article notes that the temple’s crypt contains replicas of major pilgrimage shrines in the Holy Land (like the Franciscan Monastery in D.C.). I expect Muscovites unable to go to Jerusalem will visit Yasenevo on certain feast days. The following video provides some moving imagery of the edifice:
Gould includes links to a panoramic virtual tour on the temple’s web site as well as to the patriarch’s homily at the consecration. The temple page has an extensive photograph collection and additional virtual tours.
One of the article’s comments notes that the Pantocrator (ruler of all) icon of the Lord is not in its customary location in the dome but rather in the apse behind the altar. This is where we should expect the icon of the Protection—especially in a temple dedicated to the Protection. That move is curious, but the result really impresses. The virtual panorama allows you to see two of the eastern side domes, and both of them depict Christ—the northeast one is standard, but the southeast dome has a young, beardless Christ. I assume that the western side domes also depict Christ, but the virtual tour does not include them.
On the Orthosphere, Alan Roebuck responded to my comment in his “Predestination Again” thread (see “Calvinism Again” for the comment that Roebuck addressed as well as a cornucopia of Calvin castigation). I finally wrote an obviously inadequate but hopefully insight-seeding response:
I do not know what to make of the instances of προορίζω in the New Testament. I am not a biblical scholar or a theologian, but I am confident that it cannot mean what Calvinists take it to mean. As others have noted, scripture has much to say about the nature of God, directly and through examples and images—especially that God is love and that he is good—that he “is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Now, you will say, undoubtedly, that your understanding of predestination coexists with such a nature of God, but I think that is forcing a square peg through a round hole—it does violence to our understanding of love and goodness. You may speak about human blindness, but I cannot accept any system that undermines the very foundations of human judgment. God is not a deceiver. You may point to the fall and human depravity, but such a path makes the ministry of the law, the prophets, and the apostles a big charade. God only delivers a message to beings that can understand it—and God is not a deceiver.
The word προορίζω only occurs a few times in the Bible—six according to a search that I just did (if the instrument worked correctly). It is a mistake to overturn the general and consistent message of the Gospel to make it fit into a theology defined by a few passages that became central to theological thinking only with Augustine in his anti-Pelagian activity. The doctrine was a fringe concern in the Christian world until the Reformation, and I think that is evidence that there is something suspicious about the controversy—and about Augustine’s resolution of it. Myself, I think that anyone acquainted with realist metaphysics (the understanding of the vast majority of [educated] Christians before the modern period) would not take Pelagianism seriously. For it is clear that human beings do not have being of their own power. They cannot do anything of their own power. Everything about us is derivative from the father of lights, the treasury of good things, him by whom the world was made. I attribute the Greeks’ lack of interest in the Pelagian dispute to this very fact—that the controversy seemed stupid to them. Augustine was philosophically trained enough to know better, and his line of attack sowed a poisonous seed that germinated a millennium later. [I should have noted that the Latin Christians in Augustine’s Africa were keen on rhetoric but not well formed in philosophy; only later did educated Western Christians acquire familiarity with ontology.]
You ask, “How can you say, on the one hand, that God causes all things (which would presumably include that some remain hard-hearted and are lost), but on the other hand, that a God who would refuse to turn sinful men toward him is ‘abominable and a demon and worthy of contempt?’ This seems inconsistent.” It is not inconsistent because causation of things does not include the inexplicable corruption of things—this state (or un-state) of evil that we casually affirm to be a thing by our manner of speech in order to convey what we mean really is nothing (of the sort or anything else). God doesn’t cause evil because evil is nothing. I suspect that a Platonist approach to metaphysics is required to make traditional Christian doctrine intelligible, and that is why the confusion of the Reformation did not occur until the spread of an alien understanding of the world (nominalism) had replaced the patristic one. [See “The Necessity of Knowledge,” “Square Circle,” “Nominalism, Nihilism, and the Will,” and “Whence the Will?” for more on this.]
You mention the first chapter of Ephesians. Like I said, I don’t know what προορίζω really means. It doesn’t appear to be a common word (according to Perseus, at least), and even in the New Testament, it appears only a handful of times in Paul’s letters and in Luke’s Acts. It literally means to pre-establish or mark beforehand limits or boundaries (horizons is a related term). There are many ways that one could interpret the passages with it—the standard Calvinist way, or the Arminians’ Calvinist rejoinder method, wherein God foresees men’s action and then sets up the world accordingly. I found it interesting to see that Augustine argued against that very interpretation in his On the Predestination of the Saints. His point is that God’s grace would not be grace if it were doled out on account of human worth. For him, it seems, any question of justice or merit confuses the fundamental truth that God’s grace is totally a gift. That is a good argument, but I don’t think that we have to resort to the Calvinist or this anti-Calvinist interpretation. Perhaps, God’s predestination—God’s setting of markers done outside of time from all eternity—is simply God’s assignment of roles and natures. This might be general—our general human purpose—as well as individual—in how we fit into the providential unrolling of history. I am very uncomfortable in dealing with the later; I have no idea how providence works, and yet it seems that God does work intimately through the messiness of history. God certainly knows all possible worlds—all the roads not taken and the trillions upon trillions of contingent possibilities for our cosmos. Maybe, he threads the loom to maximize goodness based on what free creatures do (per Leibniz). Maybe, he assigns definite roles regardless of our actions, and it is up to us to play (with grace given to all) the part assigned to us, but we, for no reason (that disgusting quality of evil), fall short of the ideal performance. A simple reading of several biblical narratives makes it seem that God has assigned some pretty dreadful parts to certain individuals (pharaoh, Judas), which lends credibility to Calvin’s evil puppet-master interpretation of scripture. On the other hand, maybe God’s providence is simply the skill of the master lemonade-maker, who creates sweetness from that which is bitter—men’s folly isn’t God’s will, but it is co-opted by God for the greater good. Maybe, some men get bad parts (there has to be an Iago in Othello), and God’s ultimate judgment will take that into consideration, just as the critic grades a performance with an eye to the material and what is possible given the constraints of the role. Maybe predestination is simply a way of speaking of God’s grand salvific formula—the elect are the chosen people . . . chosen as instruments to enact the Gospel Plan—that wonderful military operation wherein the Lord stages a counter-offensive to regain lost territory. Abraham, the Hebrews, the apostles, the preachers and converted of the Great Commission, the Christians of our day who strive to live in hope and in the light of the Resurrection . . . maybe this is the meaning of predestination—that the pilgrimage routes to the New Jerusalem, the path of the righteous, or the ingenious recipe of the master lemonade-maker is what is marked out from the foundation of the world. There is much ambiguity in the scriptures. Many are called but few are chosen—perhaps the chosen are simply the ones who answer the call. I don’t know. I only know that God is good, and that we must reject Calvin’s laying evil at God’s feet.
As a related topic, Kristor and I had a lengthy discussion on the “origin” of evil some years ago. You may be interested in reading the discussion, along with the comments:
“Orthodoxy and Evolution”
“Kristor on the Fall”
“Kristor Promotes Ignorance”
“Kristor Elucidates the Darkness”
“Kristor Poses Evil Problems”
I discovered on George Michalopulos’ site (“An Orthodox Response to George Weigel, Neo-Conservatism and Latin Hatred of Russia”) that George Weigel expressed his dismal opinion of Russian Orthodoxy rather bluntly in March 2014 (toward the beginning of the Ukrainian civil war) and that some Orthodox Americans have recently responded to those and subsequent words through the American Orthodox Institute (“Patriarch Kirill and Russian Orthodoxy Deserve Respect Not Insults: An Open Letter to George Weigel”). Although I have found Weigel pleasant in person, I have never been fond of his thinking. I object to him even on Latin grounds for his unacknowledged Americanism (see “Catholic ‘Americanism’”). His low opinion of the Russian Church has more to do with his political views than it does with Roman Catholic religio-tribal considerations. He would just as quickly condemn the renewal of Christendom in Western Europe as he does that of Russia.
On the Orthosphere, Alan Roebuck has posted another piece explaining the Calvinist understanding of predestination: “Predestination Again.” Perhaps against my better judgment, I commented:
Mr. Roebuck, I find this doctrine and the Calvinist tradition in which it plays such a significant part so repellent, blasphemous, and objectionable that I have doubts whether I should even engage this post (could there be any profit to the endeavour?). Nonetheless, I have a question about a step in your argumentation. You state that a man (a Christ-hater) could never begin to notice the good points about the gospel without God’s causing him to notice it so. I agree, but then I would say (without committing to the mechanical specifics, as I do not know them) that God causes all things (qua things . . . that is, all being and true actions of beings). Whenever we do anything good, or turn toward the good, that is because of God, just as our existence is. So, we’re in complete agreement that God is the source of all reality. My objection to Calvinism is that, as I understand it, it holds that God is the one who refuses to turn men toward him, having eternally chosen that they should rather reject him and perish. That is abominable and makes God into a demon and worthy of contempt, as Mr. Bertonneau rightly notes above. Of course, it is absurd that we creatures would be better than our perfect creator, and so we cannot lay the cause of evil at God’s feet (to use a questionable image). So, we’re left with a mystery of why we human beings err — the inexplicable, unintelligible “reason” behind our lack of truth and good will. That is the fundamental story, but the phenomenal level is what I would like to address.
On the everyday level, why couldn’t our previous Christ-hater begin to see the good points of the gospel? As Christians, we come to a fuller understanding of the faith all the time. There are many aspects of Christian doctrine that used to appear objectionable to me until I considered them in a new way, sometimes by reading or hearing a different perspective that I never considered and sometimes from having one of those eureka moments that revealed something novel to me. [Either way, as above, I attribute all journeys toward truth as divinely inspired — revelation from above and below, so to speak. I differ from Calvinism with this in that God is constantly sending such revelations to all men (it’s casually called “life”), often through willing servants — i.e. Christians.] And, as you note, we gain additional information all the time — and we alter our judgments accordingly. Why couldn’t the Christ-hater experience a mind-shifting piece of information — such as a Christian who manifests Christ in his life? That seems to be the most useful evidence in the history of the faith for moving hearts and minds.
You contrast love and desire with knowledge, but I am not convinced of your argument. Take, for example, the common occurrence of someone hostile to Christianity who was raised in a perverse “Christian” home. Our “apostate” never actually knew the gospel; he simply experienced a mind-spinning set of contradictions tainted with hatred and vice. He may mock Jesus the Christ, and I do not disagree that such amounts to blasphemy of a sort, but he really isn’t mocking the Second Person of the Trinity but rather a grotesque caricature of him that exists in his mind. [Let’s bracket the tricky tangential questions about intensionality, and I’ll just say that, in some way, the objects of our consciousness are our mental constructions of them and, in some other way, they are the objects themselves, and one goal of knowledge is to shrink the distance between the two.] For he has never seen Christ, and, having never seen or heard about him, he has never truly rejected him. Then, this fellow encounters Christians (through providence, to be sure, in addition to Christians’ readily accepting to be wielded by their cosmic Field Marshal) who jar his expectations, differing as they do from the repulsive dysfunctional hypocrisy of his past experience. When things do not appear as we expect them, we tend to investigate more — and to modify our opinions as more information becomes available. And so, our lost sheep becomes found. This is not an exceptional story — it happens everyday, thank God.
It also seems that we do change what we love or desire, and this often (maybe always) happens with a change in our knowledge. I do not know whether Calvinism holds that men desire the Good by nature (I doubt it), but I subscribe to that doctrine. Men desire the Good (God) by nature, but they also desire all sorts of lower goods and rank them in importance differently. When men discover that something is truly more valuable than another, they alter their estimations. In such a way, they never change what they desire ultimately, but they frequently modify the ranking of goods, and this happens due to knowledge (or conversely to ignorance — and/or possibly unintelligible sin). We desire what we know and find good — whether people or art or animals or matters of sustenance. Life is a constant barrage of experiences wherein we discover new things — and taste and see whether they are good.
When a man finally witnesses the ultimate Good, he knows that his heart must rest in it (Him). As Christians, we have seen the light; we have found the true faith. The great commission is for us to share that amazing bit of good news to everyone. And in this, we have a purpose in God’s great strategic design — not that of puppets but that of soldiers.
Good-natured Professor Bertonneau responded to my comment by noting how good of a chap Alan Roebuck is. I responded:
I admit that there are many good folks who, sadly, are Calvinists (which makes me hate the error ever the more), but I find certain doctrines of their sect wicked. Blaming God for evil, which is what their doctrine ultimately does, is blasphemy — the worst kind of blasphemy — for it makes God into not-God. Of course, such is impossible, but it is also blasphemy — it “speaks evil.” And I do not expect a reconciliation of that difference. The move is so fundamental — it’s really a radical re-understanding of what (not to mention who) God is. It strikes me as Koranic, as you noted — God the Sovereign Will, divorced from Goodness. As for Augustine, I have a love-hate relationship with him. I love him for who he is (who cannot but love him as one gets to know him through his writings?), but I hate a good deal of his legacy. Yet, we cannot blame the bishop for the history of the West following his death.
Another good-natured Orthosphere writer, Kristor Lawson, once tried to defend my good nature to another Calvinist on the site. Unusual for him, he was wrong. I am not good-natured, at least not in that way. I hate Calvinism with red hot passion, as I have occasionally noted in posts. See, for example, “Ely Cathedral”:
The vistors’ center page mentions that Cromwell (hot coals be upon him) had the cathedral closed during his tyrannical reign, during which he used the cathedral as horse stables. Calvin and his minions were perhaps the most disgusting and worthless creatures to carry the name Christian before the French revolution.
In religion, I take cold, bloodless, intellectualized Calvinism as the most notable disembodiment of harmony between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. It is purely Apollonian, where the emotive, the bodily, and the thirst for transcending the self have been expelled as pagan accretions to popery. This most distilled form of Protestantism rids Christianity of all “religion of immanence”—and religion itself. It turns faith into propositional assent and the Christian life into social morality. In other words, it is a unique form of godless Stoicism interpreted through the languages and imagery of the scriptures.
From “Square Circle”:
Anyway, you can see how Mohammedanism and Calvinism are similar departures from the Christian tradition and from reason. For they hold that God creates arbitrary things arbitrarily. They separate the divine will from the divine reason and the divine essence, and by doing so, they rob God and the world that he makes of reason—their deity and their cosmos are mindless, just like that mechanistic pagan philosophers of old that Socrates attacks (and the mechanistic scientists today who reduce the world to atoms swirling in the void). It requires such a theological position to hold that God could will good to be bad and bad to be good . . . for it makes God’s will arbitrary and incomprehensible—even to God himself. It makes God a being . . . a limited, imperfect being in time, subject to change—divided and irrational. In short, it makes God worse than a good man. Therein, you can see how unenlightened piety can result in terrible blasphemy. For the Mohammedans, like the nominalists and the Calvinists who came later, posited what they did from a sense of piety . . . how can God be constrained? Yet, they understood not what they did, and the consequences have been disastrous.
From “C.S. Lewis: Hellbound?”:
The religion that Robbins holds is a perverse form of Christianity. Indeed, it is a disease of religion, whereby the natural perception and appreciation of the sacred that even the pagans enjoy has been stifled and suppressed. It is no wonder that such a malady of the soul has borne the secular atheism of modernity into our world . . . Ye shall know them by their fruits.
From “Calvinism Redux”:
I single out Calvinism from among the Protestant traditions for two reasons. First, as I just described, I think that Calvinism has been far more influential in shaping American society and religiosity. Lutherans, Anglicans, and even Christians from the ancient faiths in the United States often become Calvinists—mostly unawares—by imbibing their new national culture.
Second, as I have written before, I consider Calvinism to be the purest, most distilled form of Protestantism. This idea is controversial, and perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me that Lutheranism and Anglicanism have strong traditional currents. They are breaks from Rome, but they, to varying extents, manage to hold onto the Catholic tradition in many matters. Calvinism, by contrast, is a rejection of the Catholic tradition. When I read Calvin, I was surprised to see how often he mentions the Fathers and their works. He often refers to councils, creeds, and ecclesial precedents. However, he employs such reference not as an authority for himself but as a foil to Roman doctrines and authority. In this, he does not transgress argumentative rules. It is permissible and useful to wield someone else’s authorities against him to show his inconsistency. Such does not imply that one holds them as an authority for himself. For Calvin and his followers claim for themselves an unadulterated understanding of Christian doctrine through their interpretation of the scriptures. The apostolic patristic ecclesial experience holds no authority for them when it conflicts with their peculiar interpretation of the Bible; in other worlds, it holds no authority.
I understand Protestantism as the spiritual form of modernity (I write a bit more about this here). Its specific difference, more than anything else, is a rejection of the past and of the past’s authority. It is inherently anti-traditional, which is why it continues to fragment doctrinally. Any new religion has doctrines that distinguish it from other religions, and it maintains such doctrines over time through its own tradition. Yet, if it is an inherent characteristic of the religion to throw off tradition, it will continually generate new religions. Indeed, Protestantism excels in the proliferation of new religions. When you witness inter-Protestant ecumenical rapprochement, it almost always occurs among groups that have lost interest in doctrine . . . Why worry about such differences? Just give us that mere Christianity . . .
The Reformation created various religious traditions that make up the essence of Protestantism, but in every way, Calvinism shows itself the more radical and, therefore, in my opinion, the more fitting representative of Protestantism. If you think that Protestantism is simply a movement to regain the religious teaching and practice of the early Christian community—without papist distortions—then you could argue that Anglicanism or Lutheranism or whatever else you hold to be true is the best exemplar of Protestantism. I, obviously, reject that definition of Protestantism; it is utterly ridiculous, given the distortions and innovations to which Protestantism has subjected the legacy of the Christian faith. The Reformation has more to do with post-scholastic philosophy and nominalism than with the world—and world view—of the New Testament. Calvin is but a pious Hobbes who works on different problems. . . .
Calvinism renounces the “religion of immanence,” which is, ultimately, all religion. The particular Christian and, in my opinion, archetypal version of the religion of immanence—the sacramental understanding of the world—is cast into the outer darkness by Calvin and his followers. In doing so, Calvinism has rendered the modern understanding of the world void of the divine. In place of seeing God in all things, we have a world thoroughly secularized. It is but a short distance from the profane to the dead, and our modern lifeless world of mechanism and chance owes its pedigree to Calvinism’s rejection of religion.
With Calvin himself, Calvinism ceases to be a religion. However, the Calvinist tradition has functioned as a deficient religion for its adherents over the last five centuries. As I suggested in the previous entry secundum Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the inherent secularism of Calvinism may have channeled its people’s energies into extraordinary secular pursuits that brought about the Anglo-American modern world. Nonetheless, Calvinism’s Sunday services, reminders of divine sovereignty, and culture of biblical literacy kept most Calvinists Christian. However, century by century, the interior rot of spiritually starved Calvinists led many sects into consciously and openly post-religious existence. Consider how the Congregationalists became Unitarians and theosophists. Their most faithful descendents today pass their Sunday morns in the United Church of Christ, in light of which, decadent Calvinism is not even irreligious social morality but rather social immorality. Lest I scandalize those few pious Presbyterians left, I acknowledge that Calvin did not have Jeremiah Wright in mind when he exhorted the men of Geneva to preach Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, as the United Church of Christ, various Presbyterian assemblies, and other Reformed bodies show, Christian praxis, divorced from the sacramental life and the traditions of the Church, becomes mere social morality. In place of theosis, the secular Calvinists trumpet faddish interpretations of social justice.
One may argue that we cannot blame the sorry state of contemporary Western Christians on poor John Calvin. One could argue that the spirit of secularism has invaded all religious bodies, rendering cultural Catholics just as secularly minded toward their religion as people from the Calvinist tradition. However, I would respond that the spirit of secularism largely originates in Calvinism. We can thank John’s cursed gift for ruin on a ecumenical scale.
Of course, there have been many good and pious Christians who come from the Calvinist tradition. They suckle poison in their milk from birth and still manage to grow into men. Unlike Calvin’s view of man after the fall, I do not think that the Reformation reduced Protestant Man to a state of total depravity. Like the Mormons, Calvinists still read the holy scriptures, though with a sickly hermeneutic tradition. In the spirit of Augustine, I suspect that even the most egregious heretics benefit from proclaiming and hearing the name of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the Reformers managed to keep, piecemeal, elements of the Catholic tradition. I do not deny that, despite itself, Calvinism has nourished many souls. Nonetheless, it has served them poorly.
Jack the Ripper [the commentator whom I was addressing] finds my tangential attack on Calvinism to be a cheap shot. I think that it fits, and I have more than a general disdain for Calvinism. My hatred for it runs deep and wide; I see its deleterious effects everywhere. It has marred the civilization that I love and spiritually stunted, if not damned, millions of Christians who were trained to fear God but not to love him—or anything else. Clerical rhetoric aside, how does one love something that is ugly? Calvin’s depiction of God is ugly. Honestly consider the doctrine of God’s eternal plan to create men in order to damn them to everlasting hell and tell me that you do not find it revolting. Contrast the message of Calvin with that of Saint Paul in his second epistle to the Church at Corinth (5:14-21):
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
I do not wish to engage in scriptural warfare, with contrasting passages, because it solves nothing. The tradition of the Church is not the tradition of John Calvin. The seed of Calvinism can be found in Augustine’s errors, novel in his own time and sensibly rejected for a millennium before the Reformation. If you wish to see thorough traditional biblical commentary with regard to Calvinist doctrine, the web provides an endless resource.
In short, Calvinism is a shameless abomination in Christian history. For centuries, it has given scandal to the name of Christ. Countless Christians have gone into apostasy not from sin but from a sense of decency and justice because all that they knew of God was through Calvin’s hideous blasphemy. Well-intentioned heathen have sunk further into hopelessness and despair or have chased idols through empty appetitive pursuits, art, scholarship, and political utopianism to quench their thirst for God, having found no living water in the dry well of Geneva’s lord.
Weber was likely right. Calvinism played the midwife for so many accomplishments—and for how many lost souls?
With the former, worship devolves into an intellectual act. Calvinists historically have attempted to remove all non-cognitive aspects of worship from their services and from their architecture. The sermon became the central act of a Christian service; instead of the holy mysteries, Calvinists receive unending catechesis. High walls were built around family enclosures so that the congregants could only hear the preacher’s words. Visual representations of Christ, the saints, and the holy stories were banned and destroyed in iconoclastic fits. The body no longer was useful for such cerebral work. Only the voice—and mostly the voice of the preacher—was allowed to excel in its natural talents to glorify God. I suspect that many crusty preachers in their secular academic robes—note well the relevant fact that Calvin did not wear vestments to his services but rather his university robe—considered hymns a condescension to human weakness. What perversity—but how fitting a perversion for the new Cartesian modern man of only mind and will. Whereas the Christian temples of East and West testify of God the creator, maker of heaven and earth and of all that is therein, whereas they celebrate in color, in glass, and in stone the providence of God throughout history, from Adam unto our very days, whereas the worship performed in them addresses men as bodies, souls, and spirits, Calvinism reduces the Word to words and worship to harsh Sunday school lessons.
From “Forgiveness Sunday”:
As a modern, it is difficult to approach the statements of Christ without hearing them through the medium of the contemporary world view, just as it is difficult for someone who has been tainted with Calvinism to read Saint Paul without seeing in his works Calvin’s ugly theology.
Clearly, New England was always a seedbed for political and religious lunacy. Mary Baker Eddy had a lot of company back then. We should not expect the progeny of utopian Calvinists to have turned out well balanced. Look at the history of the nineteenth century, and you will see that New England’s “progressivist” social engineers have been misunderstanding man and the human community for many generations. Perhaps, New England’s transformation was simply the maturation of its cultural life cycle. Maybe, secular Leftist Massachusetts is the existentially logical consequent of Congregationalism. Having no love for either, I still find it sad to know that the latter became the former.
I love how various feasts involve the blessing of something basic and earthy . . . water on Theophany, palms on Palm Sunday, eggs at Pascha, fruit on the Transfiguration. Irreligious and deracinated Protestants sometimes find such practices to be pagan, but they make manifest the Christian doctrine of Christ’s recapitulation and perfection of all creation. Even the pagans recognize the sacred. Calvinists do not excel in spirituality by dismissing the sacred. They rather lose all sense of transcendence. The logical conquence of Calvinism is indeed the United Church of Christ—faddish politics occasionally wrapped in scriptural swaddling clothes.
From “Mercer on South Africa”:
I do not find Mercer’s argument convincing. How is it that the Protestant Anglophone (or the Protestant Dutch) world did rather fine for itself for four centuries before it began to self destruct? I never have a good word to say about Calvinism, but I do not see how we can blame the English speaking peoples’ slow ethnic suigenocide on Calvinism, aside from its general deleterious effects on the souls of its confessors.
From “Mormons and the Church”:
As far as the lamentable history of the Puritans’ children, well, I think that their original Calvinist and egalitarian errors have evolved into the chief perversions of American society. Look at the intellectual history of New England since the eighteenth century, and you will find one malady of the spirit after another. Those WASPs have done much to destroy the world. Had they been mediocre or weak folks, they would not have done as much damage. So, I suppose that Mormons were part of this story, yet their own mutations were far more beneficial. I would rather live in a country populated by Mormons than one populated by Unitarians or the average congregants in the United Church of Christ—those religious cultures most directly descended from the Mayflower.
Like Charlton, I am impressed by how Mormons have semi-corrected many of the problems inherent in the Protestantism of their ancestors. Mormons respect and acknowledge hierarchy, reject iconoclasm, and have some sense of sacramentality, though without decent metaphysical support. Mormons do a fine job in seeing one’s life as the setting of both spiritual warfare and the preliminary taste of paradise rather than a mere test that determines one’s everlasting fate in “real life.” Mormons abandoned the bibliolatry of their forebears, though they kept the mistrust and outright ignorance of the continual apostolic tradition of the Church. In other words, Mormons are extremely fascinating.
From “Ancient Jewish Icons”:
The exhibit as well as my amateur archaeological adventures in the Holy Land contradict the iconoclastic notions of biblical Israel held by certain Protestant groups—as if the detailed descriptions of the two Temples and of the Temple rituals in holy writ were not enough to dispel the folly of white walled Calvinists. The Lord, the Lord our God, is a Lord of color and form. Let the iconoclasts seek after their nihilism; we worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.
It seems rather funny now that I seriously considered attending Calvin College in Grand Rapids. Incidentally, my first formal Trinitarian instruction occurred while I shadowed a theology course there. Moreover, I must admit, heresy or not, Calvin College had the most attractive student population that I have ever seen—that lovely Dutch-American blood . . . which reminds me of perhaps the greatest indictment against Calvinism, yet—to have marred such a gorgeous and genial people as the Dutch. One might as well have rendered an elf into an orc!
A blessed feast day of the Holy Apostles to you!
I have not posted anything since the U.S. Supreme Court revealed its ruling in Obergefell versus Hodges. In general, I have not felt much like writing during the last year, having succumbed to a rather base gloom. However, for the synaxis, I would like to share the following statement from the Russian Orthodox Synod of Bishops:
When our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ instructed His Apostles to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21), He foretold of the future what was already true in the days in the Roman Empire: that a Christian would never be one who sat dismissively apart from the world and its governance, but neither would a Christian be one for whom the ever-changing whims of social governance would be the chief voice ruling his life. We are, as His followers, children of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14); we follow the Shepherd Whose voice we know (cf. John 10:4), trusting that His guidance will lead us out of all error into the haven of eternal life.
With the June 26th 2015 decision of the United States Supreme Court’s “Obergefell v. Hodges” case, every pious Christian has been given cause to consider anew these words of the Saviour. While our faithful living in the United States, and indeed all citizens of this country, are and shall remain thankful - both to God and to the founding ideals of the state - for the freedom in which they reside, which permits as one of its core values the free expression and practice of religion, neither we nor they can accept principles, created by juridical fiat from an organ of the state, which so blatantly go against the Teaching, Will, Law and Love of God. While the U.S. Supreme Court may have affirmed in law that a so-called “marriage” between two persons of the same sex is to be recognized, no pious Christian can see this as anything other than an attempt by the state to render unto itself what rightly belongs to God; for it is God, not the state, the courts or the electorate, Who fashioned male and female from the dust, Who blessed the clinging of man and woman together in marriage both in Eden and in Cana (cf. Genesis 2:18-25; John 2:1-11), and Who has sole claim over the fundamental nature of this bond. He Who is the only Lawgiver and Judge (James 4:12) is not bound by the determination of worldly judges, and He Whose word is truth (John 17:17), Who said to Thomas I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6), is not subject to the redefinition of truth by any social or governmental body.
While we reaffirm today, as we have always done, the unchanging reality of repentance as a path open to all, without qualification, and abhor those who would react to any sin, or any sinner, other than in love and with the promise of new life that true repentance may bring, we nonetheless shall not succumb to the prevalent social trend of our day, which equates recognition and acceptance of sin with love. For the legalisation of sin is precisely what this judicial act accomplishes, whatever may otherwise be its aims or intentions. Marriage has been from creation, is now and will always be a union of a man and a woman, and the Church shall recognize and bless nothing else in the stead of this sacred union that has been established by God Himself.
We deeply regret that the United States Supreme Court has taken a decision which, in so definitively spurning the revealed will of God, opens the peoples of this land to an increase of suffering and sorrow, and a further decrease of moral stability. That which societies from time immemorial have honored - the strong place of the traditional family, the need for children to be reared in the embrace of a father and a mother - has been dismissed through an act of overstepped judicial authority, and we lament the profound trials this act will inevitably bring, since the departure from God’s Will always results in suffering. Yet we are children of a sovereign and unchanging God Whose power is not thwarted by the acts of men, and we encourage the faithful of the Church not to grow weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9) in the face of worldly trial. The Law of God is sure and steadfast, and against it nothing shall prevail. Our hearts remain calm and unshaken, and we fervently entreat the God of our Fathers to show His mercy upon this land, to guide its peoples and government aright. And to a world that has grown lukewarm to the truth, for which the choice between right and wrong is further greyed by political errors such as this, we exhort the same surety and confidence that has been borne by Christians through the ages, spoken firmly through the mouth of the prophet:
If it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).
I defer to the bishops’ statement from this past weekend; proper reaction is honestly beyond me. I have known for my entire adult life that the American regime has been headed toward nasty times, but I confess to being surprised by the speed of decline. I never expected to witness the coming dystopia in my lifetime; I had assumed that democracy and liberalism would slowly kill the republic over the next few centuries. Now, I wonder whether our nation (what nation?)—our constitutional order (um . . .)—our society (whose society? Oh, phooey!) can survive my generation.
As some of you know, I was a fan of the late Battlestar Galactica (reimagined) series. It has many gem moments. A sequence that impressed was a conversation (in “Resurrection Ship”) wherein Bill Adama asks the prisoner Sharon why the cylons hate human beings. She responds (17:40 - 19:27),
It’s what you said at the ceremony before the attack, when Galactica was being decommissioned. You gave a speech; it sounded like it wasn’t the one you prepared. You said that humanity was a flawed creation, and that people still kill one another for petty jealousy and greed. You said that humanity never asked itself why it deserved to survive. Maybe you don’t.
I watched the series with strong sympathies for the cylons, and it appears, from what I gathered in discussions with other fans, that I am in the minority there. I have sometimes wondered about how I would respond to a hypothetical invading force (extraterrestrial, terrestrial, flesh, or machine) that had the stronger moral argument. Should one side with one’s own Gomorrah as a loyal patriot—my country, right or wrong—or should one enlist for the other team? A traitor for an aggressive invader or a dissident who cooperates with a welcomed liberator that will restore order? Of course, such situations historically have been far messier and bloodier. Would I be a scoundrel to defect to a defender of Christendom?
On the lighter side, note that it is All Star Game Week in Cincinnati. It is good to see so much civic enthusiasm and life in my hometown. Love for one’s own makes it that much more painful to see it disgraced.
I hope that you are enjoying the summer, even in these dismal times.
On the Orthosphere, Bonald continues his survey of Christian confessions by summarizing his reading of The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky. A reader posted a lengthy comment, and I responded with the following:
That is a lot. Well, let me add this note for those interested: “St. Maximus on the filioque” (a brief post by Peter Gilbert about Maximus’ letter concerning the controversy). Gilbert’s explanatory notes are helpful, and they show—once again (and for the billionth time)—why patristic texts serve as ambiguous testimony in these disputes. All of this has been hashed and rehashed for centuries. CP researched the issues and decided one way. Others have done the same research and differed in their judgment (myself included). Given the muddied waters, I wonder whether most (all?) of the folks who enter into these treacherous rivers allow other considerations to drive their wayfaring. Take, for instance, the issue of the Bishop of Rome’s authority in the early centuries. As I once blogged,
I have “been there and done that” with endless arguments over papal claims, replete with innumerable patristic references, scriptural commentary, conciliar minutes, and canon law case precedents in cross-diocesan judicial appeals. My basic opinion, sufficient for the present purpose, is that one can build a case for papal supremacy by employing extraordinary circumstances as normative ones. During all the Christological controversies, some bishops played ruthless politics for the sake of the faith while others did so for personal power. A pious bishop in exile often sought assistance wherever he could, and canonically questionable actions were taken and justified by the higher goal of defending the faith from heresy. Rome was usually a haven of sanity during these disputes; early Western Christians were not as a theologically interested, philosophically educated, or politically connected as their Greek brethren in the East. Hence, the Roman Church was blessedly boring while the major theological controversies raged across the Empire. It was often necessary, then, for orthodox hierarchs to seek Rome’s interference in ways that defied common practice. Papal supremacists see their justification therein. The will needs very little evidence to claim the inviolable correctness of its desires . . .
Nonetheless, the normal position of ecumenical Church government was decentralized and conciliar. Such is the Orthodox ideal to this day, though it has taken many forms, with the autocephalous system’s being the current organization. At any rate, the subject has become a moot point. Rome largely abandoned its orthodoxy centuries ago, and whatever primacy the bishop of Rome should have had has become an anachronism. Petrine fundamentalism aside, the Churches’ deference to Rome rested as much on the Roman Christian community’s sobriety and fidelity as on Rome’s status as the old capital, on its being a major center of power, communication, commerce, transportation, and ideas, and on its giving the world countless martyrs, especially Saints Peter and Paul. When Rome forsook its faith, it forfeited its special honor.
The second point that I hold firmly to be true undoubtedly sways the way I read the ancient controversies and their texts. If one particular interpretation behind the Council of Sardica leads to clown masses and the pope’s authority to declare anthropogenic global warming, I know what I am deciding!
CP criticizes the Orthodox for becoming reactive toward Latin theology, and I believe that he is correct. Roman doctrine and the Orthodox rejection of it have strongly influenced Orthodox theological thinking for centuries, and this is both understandable and unhealthy—in the same way that reaction toward “Enlightenment” thought has largely determined the thinking among those who reject it ever since. Moreover, when the Orthodox see the consequences of Latin tendencies, they begin to question even ancient Latin elements that may have led to the Reformation, Trent, and the first and second Vatican councils. That seems reasonable to me.
At some point (and perhaps always), the Greeks and the Latins began to speak past each other when they focused on certain theological and philosophical issues. Many readers here are familiar with the Christological controversies that led to and resulted from Chalcedon and with contemporary attempts by many in and among Rome, the Orthodox, and the Non-Chalcedonians to excuse it all as a big, sad misunderstanding. I wonder whether these softies are right—and whether perhaps the same dynamic is at work with many East-West controversies, like CP’s example of the Palamite issue. For certain, when we approach the inner life of the Trinity—when we begin to conceive of divinity—we are well beyond a safe harbor. Everything that we think—every idea, every mental tool—applies to creation. When we apply such to God, we should be very careful—and humble. CP calls Gregory’s distinction of the divine energies an outrageous innovation—just as the Orthodox might call the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception an outrageous innovation. Both doctrines developed from prior, ancient commitments that played themselves out philosophically within their respective community’s theological-philosophical system.
P.S.) See Gilbert’s delightful recent post, “Don’t Curse Plato.”
Update courtesy of my brother:
Well, it appears that Laudato Si may be less objectionable than the hype led us to believe: “Top Ten Takeaways from ‘Laudato Si’” (Warning for the uninitiated: Jesuit journalism! . . . which reminds me of an old joke that we students used to share—Si cum Jesuitis, non cum Jesu itis!)
Kristor offers insight as usual on the Orthosphere: “Sex in Church.” I highly recommend it. From the brief essay:
The West went off the rails when we began to think that the symbols of our liturgies supervened upon physics, as merely conventional epiphenomena thereof, and as therefore deficiently real, or material, or important, so that we could with impunity make of them whatever we wished. In truth, of course, the supervention runs the other way: physics supervenes upon, and is itself a symbolon of, that Truth to whom liturgical symbols all refer, and intend, and from whom they are derived; so that all importance, all material, all phenomena are enactions of those symbols, or of their functions, implicates, and corollaries. And you can’t control the Truth, for he controls you, absolutely. No matter what you think or do, he is in fact your Lord. If you try to mess with him, you only mess up yourself.
Recently, I was arguing with a friend over “homosexual marriage,” and my friend asked whether the Church should allow marriage for sterile men and women who are incapable of procreation. I replied that it should (as it does), even though one of the chief roles of marriage is for the creation and raising of children. For marriage is more than a social institution, albeit the foundation of society, and more than a biological necessity for the continuation of the race, though it fosters human survival and allows for human flourishing. For marriage is primarily a reflection of truth—that is, a reflection of God and of God’s providence. The masculine and the feminine are not social constructs or grammatical conventions but distinctions at the heart of being. As Saint Maximus (along with the wise from many religions) reminds us, man is the microcosmos. Human beings are God’s keystone on the edifice of the universe that crowns and recapitulates all the motifs of the overall structure—and it is no architectural flaw that we are male and female. Likewise, marriage is central to God’s impressive design—a masterful synthesis of those complementary patterns. “Same sex marriage” is not only sterile, but its sterility is a consequence of its absurdity. For it fails to instantiate marriage at all—it misses the mark completely. It can only grossly parody the unification of the masculine and the feminine in a manner similar to the way the stage can only imaginarily represent love or virtue. Yet, drama recognizes this shortcoming, as do its participants and audience. The abomination of our age has no such sobriety—or modesty.
I wish Western Christians a blessed Holy Week and my fellow Orthodox a fruitful continuation of Lent.
Laura Wood of The Thinking Housewife wrote a tribute to Lawrence Auster yesterday on the second anniversary of his passing: “May Perpetual Light Shine on Lawrence Auster.” Keep him in your prayers.
I miss the privilege of daily visiting Auster’s site and of reading his words. He was truly a one-off genius. When I wrote about my first encounter with Auster in “Auster’s A View from the Right,” I noted that, contrary to reports of his being humorless, I found Auster quite funny. Laura Wood reminded her readers of that quality this past year when she quoted Auster’s comment about studies (“Live by Studies, Die by Studies”):
The Muslim says, “If Allah wills it.” The Christian says, “In Jesus’ name.” The liberal says, “Studies have shown.” These are the sacred words that establish the authoritative truth of whatever ruinous mischief the liberal is about to propose.
“Studies” are one of the principal means by which the liberal regime maintains and extends its power.
Years ago I attended a conference of Swiss academic types in New York City. Their subject was Swiss immigration and multiculturalism policies. They maintained that multiculturalism and diversity was the way for Switzerland to go, because “studies” showed that it worked. Though I was just the guest of a guest at this event, I interposed: “So Switzerland has existed as a successful society for seven hundred years, and you want to change it radically—on the basis of “studies“? They didn’t get my point. Humorlessly they maintained that their studies were the best authority.
Auster’s death was bitter for us, but perhaps his passing was an act of providential mercy. Auster lamented the state of his country, of Christian institutions, and of the West in general. The decay has become ever more apparent since Auster’s death, though he foresaw such clearly and with heavy heart. May he find rest in the Kingdom of God.
As an offering in memory of Auster, I present a video from the Eastern American Diocese of R.O.C.O.R. about the divine litugy:
Requiescat in pace, servant of God, Lawrence Auster.
I wish you a blessed feast today! С праздником!
As usual, I offer various media links that show today’s often frigid festivities. The Telegraph features some vivid photographs of icy plunges and cross retrievals: “Orthodox Christians celebrate Epiphany with ice swimming,” as does the International Business Times: “Russian Orthodox Christians plunge into icy rivers and lakes to celebrate the Epiphany.” The Jerusalem Post covers the commemoration on the Israeli side of the Jordan River: “Christians from around the world flocked to the Banks of the Jordan River to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany.” Channel One news covers the event in Moscow and beyond: ”Миллионы верующих отмечают сегодня Крещение.”
In war-torn Lugansk, in the eastern Ukraine, the town celebrated the feast as a full-fledged civic event in addition to the blessing of the waters:
Folks from Pokhvistnevo in the Samara Oblast took their dips at midnight; it was 3 degrees Fahrenheit there on Sunday night according to WorldWeatherOnline. Russians are crazy:
A news story from Novy Urengoy in Yamalo-Nenets covers the local celebrations well, beginning with the liturgical celebration followed by the outdoor baptism renewals that intrigue Westerners (it was -6 F. in Novy Urengoy):
Belarusian media feature freezing White Russians near the Church of All Saints in Minsk, who show themselves just as adventurous as their neighbors:
Merry Christmas! May you enjoy this festive time, especially on this “old civil new year’s day,” which is also the feast of Christ’s Circumcision and of Saint Basil the Great.
For today, I offer an older French documentary film directed by Jacques Valentin about the Holy Mountain, Les Moines du Mont-Athos.
The film is easy to follow if you know French; it is paced forgivingly for fringe Francophones.
I learnt a new fact while watching the documentary—there are female cats on Mount Athos. I never knew that there was an exception to the exclusion of female humans and domesticated animals—besides the Theotokos, of course. However, cats of both sexes inhabit the autonomous peninsula, and their endless generations are there to manage the vermin. Therefore, my longstanding qualification for a monastery’s true Orthodoxy—the significant presence of cats—has additional Athonite authority. Unfortunately, the conspicuous absence of goats does make me question the Holy Mountain’s commitment to the faith. Monasteries have to come cum cattis caprisque.
A quick online search found an esempio felinissimo:
I suggest that Orthodox apologists include this widespread miracle that attests to the trueness of our faith—that the Orthodox religion even sanctifies the typically ungodly and demonically proud cat. ὅπερ ἔδει δεῖξαι.