Monday, June 9, 2014

Sometimes the West Admits Its Errors Plainly

In an otherwise good essay on the failures of modern public education, Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg says this, ‘Where Jerusalem and Athens meet, the cardinal virtues are made perfect by the theological virtues that signal the true ends of all human souls . . .’ (‘The False Promises of Public Education’,, posted May 2014, accessed 13 May 2014).  Here in one short sentence is seen the main trouble with the West:  It has imported pagan Greek theology into Christianity, particularly the Neoplatonic theology of Plotinus, which posits a trinity of the One, the Nous, and the World-soul:

There are two finite particulars which the One creates in Plotinos’ system: the Nous (mind) and the World-soul.  The One, without any activity on its part, naturally produces the Nous.  This Nous in turn produces the World-soul in company with the agency of the One.  The Neoplatonic universe thus takes on a definitive, three-storied structural subordination.  At the pinnacle is the One, acting as the Uncaused Cause of all.  In an intermediary position comes the Nous (mind), caused by the One and, along with the One, causing the World-soul.  In the last position comes the World soul, emanating from both the Uncaused Cause and the Caused Cause.  As a study of Aristotelian logic and physics, this subordination is classic: the One has absolutely no distinctions; the Nous has one distinction, that of being caused by the One, and the World-soul, has two distinctions, those of being caused by two different types of causes.

Source:  Dr Joseph Farrell, ‘A Theological Introduction to the Mystagogy of St Photios’,, posted 9 September 2009, accessed 9 June 2014

In the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, as Dr Farrell goes on to show, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit correspond to the One, the Nous, and the World-soul, respectively.  What the Western churches have done in this marriage of paganism and Christianity is to reject the personhood and divinity of the Holy Spirit.  Paul Elmer More, a New England Roman Catholic (from New Hampshire), spells this out most clearly in his book The Catholic Faith (1931).  Speaking of the Apostles’ Creed, he says:

‘In the treatment of the Father and the Son the note is definitely personal, as the words Father and Son themselves imply, and as the activities ascribed to the second person affirm.  On the contrary, the activity connected with the Holy Ghost . . . is not of a person, nor of an individual, but denotes rather the influence of the spirit of God (i.e. of the Father and the Son) working within and upon the spirit of man’ (p. 82).

Roman Catholics, he continues, reject ‘dogmatic trinitarianism’, ‘belief in three persons, equally distinct and equally individual’ and affirm instead ‘a double personality, or the double revelation of a personal God, whose spirit of Grace is the Comforter of our human spirit and its eternal Advocate.’  He quotes Hippolytus for support:  ‘I will not say two Gods, but one God and two persons, and a third economy which is the Grace of the Holy Ghost’ (p. 83).

Prof More quite flatly declares the Roman Catholic dogma of God to be ‘binatarianism’ rather than trinitarianism (pgs. 83-4). 

In the West, therefore, all who accept the Roman Catholic view of God (including the Protestants who have not rejected this part of their Catholic inheritance) confess belief in two divine persons, the Father and the Son, and in one created impersonal spirit (the Holy Spirit).  This dogma has been crystallized in the Western version of the Nicene Creed, which states that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, rather than from the Father alone, as is found in the original form of the Creed and the Holy Scriptures.

From here all the sicknesses of the West do flow.  The Pope, proclaiming himself the Vicar of Christ on earth, makes bold to share with Him control over the grace of the Holy Spirit, giving it to whom he pleases.  Protestants, not well disposed to this idea (and rightfully so), declare the universal priesthood of believers - that the grace of God is available to all who ask for it, without the mediation of clergy of any kind.  Just as in Plotinian theology, so now in Western theology and life, an endless series of opposing pairs is begun, bringing with them endless wrack and strife, not limited to the religious sphere, a deranged shifting between one extreme and the other: the one and the many, dictator vs the masses, ruler vs ruled, socialism vs libertarianism, the Pope vs Protestants, clergy vs laymen, celibacy vs debauchery, heaven vs earth, corporations vs labor, collective vs individual, executive vs legislature, national vs local, and so on and so on.

All of this is quite foreign to Orthodox Christianity, which remains free of pagan distortions, in which the full divinity and personhood of each of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity is preserved.  Here, in Orthodoxy, though elevated to a special rank because of the duties they are expected to perform, bishops, priests, and secular rulers are not cut off wholly from the congregation and citizenry as some sort of separate castes, but remain a part of their number.  All are one in the Church: separate gifts and duties, but one Divine-human Body. 

Humility, love, the cutting off of one’s will for the sake of another, harmony, peacefulness, and other virtues have thus been more readily seen in Orthodox countries (though they have their faults, as any human society will) than in those that have fallen into the downward spiral of Western theology since the Great Schism.  For the life of the All Holy Trinity (which is reflected in the Orthodox Church) is the voluntary self-emptying of Each of the Persons, all equal in dignity and holiness, for the sake of the Others out of love, and not an opposition of One to Another out of a necessity created by the inequality of the Persons.

Because the South’s trinitarianism was stronger than New England’s (though still imperfect, being crusted over with Catholic and Protestant thought), she fared better until recently when the latter’s ideas began to firmly root themselves here.  It is the South’s great need (and that of all Western peoples) to return to an Orthodox understanding of the Holy Trinity, or truly the path of Antichrist will be opened wide as the desire for another savior will continue to grow in the hearts of men amid all the sturm and drang issuing from false dogma.

So, what shall we have?  Life and love from the Holy Trinity?  Or hatred and death from the two posing as three? 

Works Cited

More, Paul Elmer.  The Catholic Faith.  Princeton, Nj.:  Princeton UP, 1931.

Pentecost Monday, 9 June 2014

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