Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Technology and the Creation in Southern Life and Thought - Part III

V.  The Way of the Saints

The foregoing are much better approaches to the creation and technology than those of posthumanists and their fellow-travellers, but now we must speak of ‘a more excellent way’ (I Cor. 12:31 KJV), the way of the Saints of the Church, those great works of Christ (John 10:37-8) (St Nikolai Velimirovich, ‘A Hundred Points of Ljubostinja’, Missionary Letters: Part 3, ch. 99, p. 187), who, having purified their souls and bodies of every defilement of sin, bear within themselves the grace of the Holy Spirit in an extraordinary measure, which manifests itself in sundry ways for the healing of man and the world:  curing illnesses, receiving prophecies, casting out demons, restoring an harmonious bond with the animals, and so on. 

The enemies of God try to overcome the effects of sin - disease, injury, death, famine, earthquake, storm, and other catastrophes; and all the enmity between the creation and man - through human and demonic knowledge and the technology that comes of it.  For the Orthodox Church’s saints, these have already been overcome by the grace of God and by their ascetic labors in cooperation with His grace, as we see in particular in some of the lives of the English and Celtic saints, the Holy Fathers and Mothers of the South in flesh and blood and in the faith. 

We see it in St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne’s (‘Holy Island’) miraculously harvesting a great store of barley out of season (St Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, p. 258), in the winds, sea, and storms obeying his words and prayers (St Bede, Life of Saint Cuthbert, pgs. 62-3, 72-3, 89-90), in his healings of the sick (e.g., Life, pgs. 84-6), in the kindness rendered him by the otters who warmed him with their breath and dried him with their fur after he spent the night praying in the cold ocean (pgs. 57-8).

We see it in the obedience of a flock of geese to St Werburga of Hanbury, and in her ability to understand a complaint of theirs (Vladimir Moss, Saints of England’s Golden Age, pgs. 167-8).  We see it in the staff of St Etheldreda, which she had placed in the ground one night during a journey while she slept, bearing leaves and growing into an ash tree (p. 160).  In the help St Chad of Lichfield received from an hart in converting the Prince-Martyrs Wulfade and Rufine to the Christian Faith (pgs. 111-6).  Likewise, St Cainnech (Kenneth) of Aghaboe developed such a loving bond with a stag that he held his Bible in his antlers while St Cainnech read from it (Dmitry Lapa, ‘St Kenneth, Abbot of Aghaboe in Ireland’, Pravoslavie.ru).

We see it furthermore in St Colman of Kilmacduagh’s close friendship with a rooster, mouse, and fly (Lapa, ‘St Colman of Kilmacduagh in Ireland, Wonder Worker’, Pravoslavie.ru).  In St Columba of Iona, who foresaw future events (St Adomnán, The Life of St Columba, pgs. 112-52), whose prayers and blessings brought forth water from rock, purified a cursed well, calmed a storm at sea (pgs. 161-3), brought a boy back from the dead (pgs. 179-80), kept the wheels on a chariot despite the linchpins being missing (p. 199), forbad the snakes on Iona to harm man and cattle (pgs 177, 225), conversed with holy angels, and shone at times with the brightness of the uncreated glory of God (pgs. 206-31).

Hundreds of years ago, in the supposed ‘dark ages’ of mankind, Paradise was restored, and Heaven joined the earth (to the extent that these are possible before the general resurrection and our Lord’s coming again) in the lives of numerous saints in the Irish and British Isles.  This they did without much technology or the proud mind of man, but rather through contrary ways:  through almsgiving, humility, love, prayer and fasting, making their abodes in forests, swamps, caves, and in simple stone cells on harsh and forbidding islands, and constant remembrance of God - by which they attained holiness, became pure temples of the Holy Spirit, angel-like men who overcame the passions and surpassed their human nature, and tasted of the life which is to come. 

They are the pinnacle of human achievement, and neither the occult dream of man merged with machine nor any other such devilish monstrosity will be able to surpass the saints in their greatness.

VI.  ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit:  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:3 KJV).

Some measure of technology will always be present in the fallen world.  A house, a shirt, a walking stick:  These all come from the mind, will, and hands of man.  So long as we remember our proper end, to seek the Kingdom of Heaven through the difficult labor imposed on us by God after the Fall, no harm will come of our humble use of tools and skills and of the creation of which we are a part.  But when Satanic pride enters our hearts, when we cast aside God’s grace for deification on our own terms, then technology becomes a devouring, destructive beast.

The Orthodox Church calls all the creation to herself for healing, for union with God: 

The history of the world is a history of the Church which is the mystical foundation of the world.  . . .

The world was created from nothing by the sole will of God—this is its origin.  It was created in order to participate in the fullness of the divine life—this is its vocation.  It is called to make this union a reality in liberty, in the free harmony of the created will with the will of God—this is the mystery of the Church inherent in creation.  Throughout all the vicissitudes which followed upon the fall of humanity and the destruction of the first Church—the Church of paradise—the creation preserved the idea of its vocation and with it the idea of the Church, which was at length to be fully realized after Golgotha and after Pentecost, as the Church properly so-called, the indestructible Church of Christ.  From that time on, the created and contingent universe has borne within itself a new body, possessing an uncreated and limitless plenitude which the world cannot contain.  This new body is the Church; the plenitude which it contains is grace, the profusion of the divine energies by which and for which the world was created.  Outside of the Church they act as determining exterior causes, as the constant willing of God by which all being is created and preserved.  It is only in the Church, within the unity of the body of Christ, that they are conferred, given to men by the Holy Spirit; it is in the Church that the energies appear as the grace in which created beings are called to union with God.  The entire universe is called to enter within the Church, to become the Church of Christ, that it may be transformed after the consummation of the ages, into the eternal Kingdom of God.  Created from nothing, the world finds its fulfilment in the Church, where the creation acquires an unshakable foundation in the accomplishment of its vocation (Lossky, Mystical Theology, pgs. 111, 112-3).

If we in the South will humble ourselves and enter into the life of the Orthodox Church and begin the journey toward the ‘consummation of the ages’, we will find that harmony with the creation that our agrarian spirit has expressed a longing for in plantation farm, horse and rider, many a poem, story, and essay, and other ways besides: 

The Christ-like personality, led by Christ to the mysteries of the world of God, sees the Logos and the logic of the universe and every creation as coming from the head of the Creator.  When it is mirrored in the mirror of the soul of such a personality, the creation of sickness and of corruption rises into responsible impeccability and beauty.  Within the Christ-like soul is revealed the final mystery of Creation because it sympathizes with and loves Creation.  The loved always reveals his mystery to that one who loves.  The Christ-like personality observes Creation and nature not as wild predators which must cruelly subdue their prey but instead as weak creatures upon which mercy, compassion, and love must be shown.  For the Christ-like personality, Creation is not matter without a soul to which we must behave with cruelty, audacity, and exploitation, but as a priceless mystery of God upon which we must show compassion and mercy through prayer and love.  “Love every creature of God”, says Dostoievski, “and all the creatures together and every crumb.  Love the animals, love the plants, love every creature.  If you love every creature, you will understand once, then without effort you will begin to understand more and more every day,” (Dostoievski, Brothers Karamazov) (St Justin Popovich, Dostoievski, Belgrade, 1940, quoted in Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, pgs. 206-7).

The complete severing of the creation from God by Protestant and Roman Catholic theologies, based as they are on the metaphysics of Aristotle, St Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas, which reject the distinction in God between His energies and His essence, will never bring forth the full fruits of the Southern agrarian vision (see Philip Sherrard, ch. 2, ‘Christian Theology and the Eclipse of Man’, The Rape of Man and Nature, pgs. 42-62).  These theologies will bring either atheism (God is completely unknowable in his transcendent essence) or pantheism (the creation is divine, for it partakes of God’s essence).  Only life in the Orthodox Church, which alone has kept safe the doctrine of God’s nearness and knowability in his uncreated energies (grace) that fill all the creation, and his otherness and unknowability in his essence (Jay Dyer, ‘How the West Became Atheist’, Soul of the East). 

The lives of our Holy Fathers and Mothers testify to this.  As befits us as Southerners, let us be obedient and pious children toward their priceless teachings and ensamples.

Works Cited

Saint Adomnán.  The Life of St Columba.  Sharpe, Richard, trans.  New York, Ny.: Penguin Books, 1995.

Saint Bede.  Ecclesiastical History of the English People.  Sherley-Price, Leo, and R. E. Latham, trans.  New York, Ny.: Penguin Books, 1990 [1955].

--.  Life of Saint Cuthbert in The Age of Bede.  Farmer, D. H., and J. F. Webb, trans.  Farmer, D. H., ed.  New York, Ny.: Penguin Books, 2004 [1965].

Dyer, Jay.  ‘How the West Became Atheist’.  Soul of the East.  13 Sept. 2014.  http://souloftheeast.org/2014/09/13/thomism-deism/  Accessed 9 Dec. 2014.

Lapa, Dmitry.  ‘St Colman of Kilmacduagh in Ireland, Wonder Worker’.  Pravoslavie.ru.  11 Nov. 2014.  http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/75046.htm  Accessed 8 Dec. 2014.

--.  ‘St Kenneth, Abbot of Aghaboe in Ireland’.  Pravoslavie.ru.  24 Oct. 2014.  http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/74549.htm  Accessed 8 Dec. 2014.

Lossky, Vladimir.  The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.  Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, trans.  Crestwood, Ny.: SVS Press, 1976 [1944].

Moss, Vladimir.  Saints of England’s Golden Age: A Collection of the Lives of Holy Men and Women Who Flourished in Orthodox Christian Britain.  Etna, Ca.: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1997.

Popovich, Saint Justin.  Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ.  3rd ed.  Gerostergios, Asterious, et al., trans.  Belmont, Ma.: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 2005.

Sherrard, Philip.  The Rape of Man and Nature: An Enquiry into the Origins and Consequences of Modern Science.  Ipswich, Suffolk: Golgonooza Press, 1991 [1987].

Velimirovich, Saint Nikolai.  ‘A Hundred Points of Ljubostinja’.  Missionary Letters of Saint Nikolai Velimirovich: Part 3, Letters 201 - 300.  A Treasury of Serbian Orthodox Spirituality: Vol. 8.  Baltic, Hieromonk Serafim, ed. and trans.  Grayslake, Il.: New Gracanica Monastery, 2011.

By Walt Garlington

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