Friday, December 6, 2013

Deranged Dialectics

In the latter centuries of Christianity’s first thousand years, the West gradually absorbed the pagan philosopher Plotinus’s conception of God into its theology through the teachings of St Augustine.  This new understanding was crystallized in the change of the Church’s foundational statement of Faith, the Nicene Creed, which led to the Great Schism between West and East in 1054 A. D., the change that proclaims the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (rather than simply from the Father, as it originally read).

Though seemingly a small change, it has had enormous ramifications, which continue to this day.  For, loosed from the safe moorings of the true understanding of the Holy Trinity, the West unleashed within itself the errors of Plotinus’s theological system: mainly, a never-ending series of opposing pairs that demolishes what is good and obscures what is true as it unfolds. 

Thus in Western history one finds quarrels between the emotions and the rational intellect, church and state, the Bible and tradition, secular and religious, individual and collective, etc. - conflicts that one does not find in the Christian countries that rejected the change in the Creed and its underlying theology.

A very recent ensample - a reprise of the individualist capitalism vs. collectivized socialism debate:

Pope Francis released his first encyclical on Tuesday. In addition to restating opposition by the Catholic Church to abortion, the new Pope criticized free market capitalism and advocated wealth redistribution.

He said “some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

So-called “trickle down” is not an economic theory. It is a pejorative term used by socialists and others in favor of wealth distribution to describe laissez-faire capitalism. A product of the Enlightenment, laissez-faire capitalism was “conceived as the way to unleash human potential through the restoration of a natural system, a system unhindered by the restrictions of government,” writes Toufic Gaspard. For political economist Adam Smith and other classical economists, the concept was inextricably connected to natural rights.

Laissez faire recognizes the individual is the central unit of society endowed with a natural right to liberty, including the right to economic activity between consenting individuals so long as this activity does not impede the rights of others. In his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith used the metaphor of an “invisible hand” to describe unintended effects of individuals involved in economic organization and self-interest.

 . . .

As a tutored Jesuit and Argentine, Pope Francis is a student of the Jesuit Reductions, the Catholic program of the 17th and 18th centuries to Christianize, tax and govern the people of Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and America. In Paraguay under the Jesuits, according to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, the “economic basis was a sort of communism” ruled over by the caciques, or tribal leaders, at the behest and guidance of the Padres.

We see once again an inability in the West to find a proper balance between two opposites (the economic interests of the individual and those of the society at large), an absence of a center that can hold (apologies to Yeats). 

The wholeness of being in the West has become disintegrated since the Schism.  It is not a light and trifling matter to play with doctrine; the consequences for trivializing them or corrupting them are dire for a single man or woman, society, and all the creation. 

How needful it is, then, for the West to reacquaint herself with the teachings of the Orthodox Church, which is to say, the theology of the First Europe (in Dr Joseph Farrell’s words).  That these dialectical clashes continue unabated is proof of how far the West still is from the Orthodox teaching of the Holy Trinity, the perfect, loving union of three Persons in one Unity, the perfect balancing of one and many; and of Christology, the perfect union of the divine and human natures in one Person, Jesus Christ, without their confusion or change, yet remaining undivided and inseparable.

How these theological changes have manifested themselves in the South specifically we hope to explore in the future.

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