Friday, June 13, 2014

The Trinity in Politics

One of the places in the West where the effects of her overly rationalistic doctrine of the Holy Trinity may be seen is in her politics.  And it is here that the South, sadly, shows herself to be a participant in large measure in Western heresy.

In the Western Trinity (that of the Roman Catholics and many Protestants), one begins with the simple divine
essence, de-emphasizing the Persons, who only take on their attributes and something resembling personhood through a process of opposing one Person to another.  Speaking of the Western Trinity, Dr Joseph Farrell comments,

This simply reiterates the tension in the doctrine inherent from the beginning.  It repeats the predicament of Plotinos, for there is a fundamental limitation that the dialectic of oppositions imposes upon trinitarian relations.  It can deal with only two terms, two polarities at any one time, and is thus wholly inadequate to deal with the Trinity.  The logic must always, somewhere, compromise the absolute status of the Trinity by compromising the absolute divinity and person of the Holy Spirit.  On the other hand, it must also compromise the simplicity of the essence, for there is always an interior dialectic within it.  The Trinity of persons is incomplete, for just at the precise moment when the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, the whole process, according to Aquinas, collapses back into the essence “from which the proceeding began.”  There is, thus, in the doctrine of the filioque an ubiquitous, nascent binitarianism,109 a tendency that Saint Photios does not hesitate to call “semi-Sabellianism.”110

In the final analysis, the filioquist triadology has no real Trinity, but only a dyad of Father-Son opposed to Essence-Spirit.111 

Source:  ‘A Theological Introduction to the Mystagogy of St Photios’,, posted 9 September 2009, accessed 13 June 2014

When this Western doctrine of the Trinity is transferred to the political realm, it looks much like the parliamentary system of today’s western European nations, the [u]nited States, and their colonies around the world.  It too is based on a system that starts with a simple essence (‘the people’), from which are formed two opposed entities (the legislature and the executive).  This dyad in its turn produces a third entity (the judiciary) that is in opposition to the other two.

So what Rush Limbaugh, the TEA Party, and many conservatives laud to the hilltops, the [u.] S. Constitution, is in actuality one of the most refined manifestations of heresy mankind has ever witnessed.

The South, for her part, is fully a part of this catastrophe, though she knows not what she does, careful as she has always been to defend orthodox beliefs in every sphere of life.

But her political philosophers give her away.  They are always praising not Christian virtues in politics but worldly ones:  Thomas Jefferson and ‘jealousy’ in ‘The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798’, Patrick Henry and ‘self-love’ of States and people in the Virginia Ratification Debates of 1788, the self-interest upstirred by John C. Calhoun's system of the concurrent majority, etc.  And more directly, every constitution of the Southern States, and of the Confederacy, has had a structure similar to the one described above.

In a nation whose people think rightly about and have true communion with the Holy Trinity, things are different.  There, all orders of society generally move together as one under the guidance of king and bishop toward their one goal, the salvation of their souls.   The reader may see two examples from Orthodox countries, one from St Nikolai Velimirovich (Serbia) and one from Prof James Kelley (the Eastern Roman Empire), in the Easter message posted 23 April 2014. 

Another important example comes from Russia, in the long years prior to her fall to the Soviet invaders: 

In order that State life should develop strongly and correctly, flourish with education, and bring forth the fruit of public prosperity, it is necessary that family life should be strong with the blessed love of the spouses, the sacred authority of the parents, and the reverence and obedience of the children, and that as a consequence of this, from the pure elements of family there should arise similarly pure principles of State life, so that with veneration for one’s father veneration for the tsar should be born and grow, and that the love of children for their mother should be a preparation of love for the fatherland, and the simple-hearted obedience of domestics should prepare and direct the way to self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness in obedience to the laws and sacred authority of the autocrat… (Metropolitan Philaret in Vladimir Moss, Autocracy, Despotism, and Democracy, Part 1,, p. 12).

The Russian example is therefore one of familial love between the Tsar and the people (not of ever-present distrust and undeclared warfare between ruler and ruled as in the West), just as it should be among every people that professes a right belief in the Holy Trinity.

No government will ever be perfect in this fallen world, but we make them so much the worse when we place within them unnecessary vices and conflicts due to a false understanding of God. 

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes something that makes for a fitting end to the week’s posts on the Holy Trinity:

Our social programme, said the Russian thinker Feodorov, is the dogma of the Trinity.  Orthodoxy believes most passionately that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not a piece of ‘high theology’ reserved for the professional scholar, but something that has a living, practical importance for every Christian.  The human person, so the Bible teaches, is made in the image of God, and to Christians God means the Trinity:  thus it is only in the light of the dogma of the Trinity that we can understand who we are and what God intends us to be.  Our private lives, our personal relations, and all our plans of forming a Christian society depend upon a right theology of the Trinity.  ‘Between the Trinity and Hell there lies no other choice’1 (The Orthodox Church, New York, Ny., Penguin, 1997, p. 208).

And what is it we see day after day, if not Hell itself unfolding all around us in the South and throughout the Western nations?

(Thanks to JA for helping me with these ideas some years back.)

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