Wendell Berry confesses the Christian faith, but it is nevertheless an easy task to find criticism of Christianity in his writings. In one place he even suggests that Buddhism is superior to Christianity in how it approaches man’s relationship to the creation: ‘Buddhism, for example, is certainly a religion that could guide us toward a right respect for the natural world, our fellow humans, and our fellow creatures. I owe a considerable debt myself to Buddhism and Buddhists’ (‘Christianity and the Survival of Creation’, p. 306). He has stuck with Christianity, though, but not, seemingly, because its teachings contain more of the truth than Buddhism or any other religion, but mainly because he was born into it. It is his ‘native religion, for better or worse’ (ibid.). Such statements are no doubt a cause of consternation to the tradition-minded folk of the South, who see Christianity, agrarianism, and the South as being closely intertwined, if not inseparable. What can be done, then, to heal this rift that exists between Mr Berry, Christianity, and his native land?
II. Western Christianity and the Creation
The first thing that can be done is to realize that the Christianity Mr Berry is at odds with is not the genuine Christianity found in the Orthodox Church, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, but rather its Roman Catholic and Protestant forms (what we shall call Western Christianity from here on), which, like other sects that have gone into schism from the Orthodox Church, like the Nestorians, Monophysites, or Iconoclasts, have added to and/or taken away from the Apostolic Tradition she retains unimpaired. When he says, for instance,
Throughout the five hundred years since Columbus’s first landfall in the Bahamas, the evangelist has walked beside the conqueror and the merchant, too often blandly assuming that their causes were the same. Christian organizations, to this day, remain largely indifferent to the rape and plunder of the world and of its traditional cultures. It is hardly too much to say that most Christian organizations are as happily indifferent to the ecological, cultural, and religious implications of industrial economics as are most industrial organizations. The certified Christian seems just as likely as anyone else to join the military-industrial conspiracy to murder Creation (ibid, pgs. 305-6).
he is speaking of Western Christianity (as we shall see).
He then points out what he sees as the root of the evil in the Western denominations: dualism.
I have been talking, of course, about a dualism that manifests itself in several ways: as a cleavage, a radical discontinuity, between Creator and creature, spirit and matter, religion and nature, religion and economy, worship and work, and so on. This dualism, I think, is the most destructive disease that afflicts us (ibid., p. 313).
But this dualism is not a part of Orthodoxy; it is an innovation brought into Western Christianity by the speculative theology of St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, which is much different in kind than the experiential theology of Orthodox theologians. Philip Sherrard tells the story in his book The Rape of Man and Nature:
In the fallen world as seen by St Augustine—the world in which we actually live—things are far worse, and this separation between the uncreated and the created is now truly abysmal. Through the Fall man and the rest of the natural order are deprived of even that extrinsic participation in grace which they possessed in their pre-fallen state. Their original and true nature is now vitiated, totally corrupt and doomed to destruction. It is a lump of damnation.
. . .
From St Augustine we may turn to the other major representative of western mediaeval theology, St Thomas Aquinas; and it is against this background of the radical disparity in St Augustine’s thought between the world and the Church, nature and grace, or nature and what is now regarded as the supernatural, that the efforts of St Thomas to ‘save’ the natural world must be viewed. Unless it is viewed against this background the fact that his thought helped to consolidate the rift between the world of nature and the divine and so contributed to the process of desanctification we are tracing may seem inexplicable.
It must be remembered that by the time St Thomas set out upon his attempt to reconcile all views, however contradictory they might appear, in an all-embracing synthesis, the idea of the separation between the natural (understood now in the non-Augustinian, Aristotelian sense as a physical reality) and the supernatural was so deeply embedded in Latin thought that is was impossible to establish any genuine ontological link between them. . . .
. . .
The immediate conclusion is that there must be different principles appertaining to the natural and the supernatural spheres. There must be, as St Thomas put it, a double order in things. This means that nature itself—the natural as such—is now accorded a status of its own, to all intents and purposes independent of the divine; and the Augustinian dichotomy between nature and grace is replaced by a dualism between the natural and the supernatural. Assuredly, God is still regarded as the author of nature, but essentially nature works according to its own laws, and it is quite sufficient to take account only of these laws in order to discover how nature does work.
. . . Indeed, the only knowledge which man as a rational creature could effectively obtain was said to be that which he could derive from the observation of phenomena through the senses—a proposition which is at the very basis of the later scientific attitude to knowledge.
. . .
Analytical Thomist methodology, . . . effectively promotes the idea that there is an uncrossable boundary between God and man, between the divine and the human. Implicit in it is a failure to grasp the full significance of the unity of the two natures in one person; and the immediate consequence of this was to be the neglect of the possibility of man’s personal participation in the divine and a growth in the conviction that he may know the truth concerning God only indirectly by means of his rational faculty operating within the one sphere accessible to it, that of the natural world. And here again what is implicit is not man’s supra-rational and personal participation in the inner meaning, the indwelling logos of this world, or his disclosure of God’s self-expression within it, but a belief that he may decipher, articulate and eventually dominate it as a self-sufficient entity by the use of his individual reason in disregard of, if not in contradiction to, the truths of the Christian revelation (pgs. 105-9).
One may discern in the above much of what troubles Mr Berry about modern Western Christianity.
III. The Orthodox Church and the Creation
Now that we have established some of the fundamental ideas about God and the creation in Western Christianity, we ought to look at what the Orthodox Church teaches about them. Mr Berry’s note on church buildings will serve as a good lead-in:
The holiness of life is obscured to modern Christians also by the idea that the only holy place is the built church. This idea may be more taken for granted than taught; nevertheless, Christians are encouraged from childhood to think of the church building as “God’s house,” . . . (‘Survival’, p. 309).
Again, this is the Western view:
As for the communication of grace, through which alone man and the world may be redeemed from depravity, this, it was thought by St Augustine and his mediaeval successors, was confined to the visible Church and depended on the performance of certain rites, like baptism, confirmation, ordination and so on, which it was the privilege of the ecclesiastical hierarchy to administer to a submissive and obedient laity. The magnificent scope of the Logos doctrine with its whole ‘cosmic’ dimension—the idea of God incarnate in all human and created existence—which from the time of the Alexandrians and Cappadocians down to the present day has been one of the major themes of Orthodox Christian theology, was tacitly but radically constricted in Western thinking. . . .
In these conditions to say that everything in the created order by virtue of the simple fact of its existence possesses, even if unaware of it and so in a potential state, an intrinsically sacramental quality which unites it to the divine, would have been tantamount to blasphemy. Instead, there was a radical separation of the sacred from the secular: everything inside the Church (understood as an earthly society) was sacred; outside the formal limits of the Church, or in nature, the activity of the Spirit was denied: everything outside these limits was secular, deprived of grace, incurably corrupt and doomed to disintegration (Sherrard, p. 106).
However, the Orthodox say of the Church:
The Church is the union of all that exists, or, in other words, she is destined to encompass all that exists: God and creation. She is the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan: the unity of all. In her are found both the eternal and the temporal, with the latter destined to be overwhelmed by eternity; both the uncreated and the created, with the latter destined to be overwhelmed by the uncreated, to be deified; both the spiritual things of all categories and matter, with the latter destined to be spiritualized; both heaven and the earth permeated by heaven; both the nonspatial and the spatial; both “I” and “thou,” “I” and “we,” “we” and “thou,” united in a divine “Thou,” or in a direct, dialogical relation with Him. The Church is a human communitarian “I” in Christ as a “Thou,” but at the same time the Church’s “I” is Christ. The Church is the “I” of the prayers of all sentient beings: earthly beings, angels, and saints; in this way prayer has a great unifying role. In the Church all pray in me and for me, and I pray in all and for all. In the Church all things are united but unconfused in this unity. The Church is the body of Christ and as such is united with Him and distinct from Him. The Church is the immanence that has transcendence in herself, the Triune community of Persons full of an infinite love for the world, maintaining in the world a constant movement of self-transcendence through love. The Church is Christ extended with His deified body in humanity, or, in other words, she is this humanity united with Christ and having Christ imprinted on her with His deified body. If the Son of God had not become incarnate and had not deified the body through the Resurrection and Ascension, then the link that connects God with creation would be missing, just as God’s love—meant to be poured into us and to attract us to the union with Him in love—would also be missing.
The Church, therefore, has a theandric constitution. Her content consists of Christ united with the Father and the Spirit according to His divine nature, and united with us according to His human nature. Being included in the incarnate hypostasis of Christ, the Church could be called Christ, if we understand Christ as extended into humanity. The Church is “Christ Himself, who exists from before the ages in the bosom of the Father, who at the fulfillment of time became man, who is and always lives with us, and who works, saves, and extends Himself throughout the ages.”
These two factors, Christ and humanity, are so united in the Church that one cannot be seen without the other, nor can we speak of them separately (Fr Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God, Vol. 4, pgs. 13-4).
What we mean to show with this quote is that the dualism in Western Christianity between God and His creation is not present in the Orthodox Church. God is present in His creation and vice versa. Mr Berry is at pains to show this to his Western kinsmen in this passage and in others:
We will discover that the creation is not in any sense independent of the Creator, the result of a primal creative act long over and done with, but is the continuous, constant participation of all creatures in the being of God (‘Survival’, p. 308).
In the Orthodox Church, this idea has always been a vital part of her doctrine about God. The Metropolitan Bishop Kallistos Ware writes,
God, although absolutely transcendent, is not cut off from the world which He has made. God is above and outside His creation, yet He also exists within it. As a much used Orthodox prayer puts it, God is ‘everywhere present and filling all things’. Orthodoxy therefore distinguishes between God’s essence and His energies, thus safeguarding both divine transcendence and divine immanence: God’s essence remains unapproachable, but His energies come down to us. God’s energies, which are God Himself, permeate all His creation, and we experience them in the form of deifying grace and divine light. Truly our God is a God who hides Himself, yet He is also a God who acts - the God of History, intervening directly in concrete situations (The Orthodox Church, p. 209).
Vladimir Lossky adds,
Every created thing has its point of contact with the Godhead; and this point of contact is its idea, reason or logos which is at the same time the end towards which it tends. The ideas of individual things are contained within the higher and more general ideas, as are the species within a genus. The whole is contained in the Logos, the second person of the Trinity who is the first principle and the last end of all created things. Here the Logos, God the Word, has the ‘economical’ emphasis proper to antenicene theology: He is the manifestation of the divine will, for it is by Him that the Father has created all things in the Holy Spirit. When we are examining the nature of created things, seeking to penetrate into the reason of their being, we are led finally to the knowledge of the Word, causal principle and at the same time end of all beings. All things were created by the Logos who is as it were a divine nexus, the threshold from which flow the creative outpourings, the particular logoi of creatures, and the centre towards which in their turn all created beings tend, as to their final end (Mystical Theology, pgs. 98-9).
Indeed, all of creation was made for union with God:
The general basis of the mysteries [i.e., sacraments--W.G.] of the Church is the faith that God can operate upon the creature in his visible reality. In this sense the general meaning of the mysteries is the union of God with the creature, and the most comprehensive mystery is the union of God with the whole of creation. This is a mystery that contains everything, and there is absolutely no part of reality not contained within it. This union begins with the very act of creation and is destined to find its fulfillment through the movement of creation toward that state in which “God is all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). Is there anyone who can explain the meaning and the depth of this union, the way in which the Word of God is present within the reasons of created things and the way He is at work, sustaining and governing them toward their goal of complete union with Him? (Fr Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God, Vol. 5, p. 3)
IV. Healing Divisions
The sundering of God from his creation is only one division Mr Berry is concerned with. There are others: ‘The modern urban-industrial society is based on a series of radical disconnections between body and soul, husband and wife, marriage and community, community and the earth’ (‘The Body and the Earth’, p. 132). Again, he will find the Orthodox Church concerned with healing all divisions as well. Turning again to Vladimir Lossky, he writes,
. . . as we have seen, when examining the teaching of St. Maximus on creation, Adam was destined to unite in his own being the different spheres of the cosmos, in order that deification might be conferred upon them, through union with God. If these unions or successive ‘syntheses’ that surmount the natural divisions are brought about by Christ, it is because Adam failed in his vocation. Christ achieves them successively by following the order which was assigned to the first Adam.
By his birth of the Virgin, He suppressed the division of human nature into male and female. On the cross He unites paradise, the dwelling place of the first men before the fall, with the terrestrial reality where the fallen descendants of the first Adam now dwell . . . . At His ascension, first of all, He unites the earth to the heavenly spheres, that is to the sensible heaven; then He penetrates into the empyreum, passes through the angelic hierarchies and unites the spiritual heaven, the world of mind, with the sensible world. Finally, like a new cosmic Adam, He presents to the Father the totality of the universe restored to unity in Him, by uniting the created to the uncreated (Mystical Theology, pgs. 136-7).
Through his union with Christ in the Orthodox Church, man is able to take up once again his original vocation of reconciling and uniting all things.
But as Mr Berry is particularly concerned with the division of body and soul,
In its [dualism’s--W.G.] best-known, its most dangerous, and perhaps its fundamental version, it is the dualism of body and soul.
. . .
But to despise the body or mistreat it for the sake of the “soul” is not just to burn one’s house for the insurance, nor is it just self-hatred of the most deep and dangerous sort. It is yet another blasphemy. It is to make nothing—and worse than nothing—of the great Something in which we live and move and have our being (‘Survival’, pgs. 313, 314).
we ought also to assure him with the Orthodox approach to them and their healing. Bishop Kallistos says,
Man stands at the heart of God’s creation. Participating as he does in both the noetic and the material realms, he is an image or mirror of the whole creation, imago mundi, a “little universe” or microcosm. All created things have their meeting-place in him. . . .
. . .
Being microcosm, man is also mediator. It is his God-given task to reconcile and harmonize the noetic and the material realms, to bring them to unity, to spiritualize the material, and to render manifest all the latent capacities of the created order. . . .
Man is able to exercise this mediating role only because his human nature is essentially and fundamentally a unity. If he were just a soul dwelling temporarily in a body, as many of the Greek and Indian philosophers have imagined—if his body were no part of his true self, but only a piece of clothing which he will eventually lay aside, or a prison from which he is seeking to escape—then man could not properly act as mediator. Man spiritualizes the creation first of all by spiritualizing his own body and offering it to God. . . . But in “spiritualizing” the body, man does not thereby dematerialize it: on the contrary, it is the human vocation to manifest the spiritual in and through the material. Christians are in this sense the only true materialists.
The body, then, is an integral part of human personhood. The separation of body and soul at death is unnatural, something contrary to God’s original plan, that has come about in consequence of the fall. Furthermore, the separation is only temporary: we look forward, beyond death, to the final resurrection on the Last Day, when body and soul will be reunited once again.
. . .
An essential aspect of guarding the heart is warfare against the passions. By “passion” here is meant not just sexual lust, but any disordered appetite or longing that violently takes possession of the soul: anger, jealousy, gluttony, avarice, lust for power, pride, and the rest. . . . The passions, then, are to be purified, not killed; to be educated, not eradicated; to be used positively, not negatively. To ourselves and to others we say, not “Suppress”, but “Transfigure”.
This effort to purify the passions needs to be carried out on the level of both soul and body. On the level of the soul they are purified through prayer, through the regular use of the sacraments of Confession and Communion, through daily reading of Scripture, through feeding our mind with the thought of what is good, through practical acts of loving service to others. On the level of the body they are purified above all through fasting and abstinence, and through frequent prostrations during the time of prayer. Knowing that man is not an angel but a unity of body and soul, the Orthodox Church insists upon the spiritual value of bodily fasting. We do not fast because there is anything in itself unclean about the act of eating and drinking. Food and drink are, on the contrary, God’s gift, from which we are to partake with enjoyment and gratitude. We fast, not because we despise the divine gift, but so as to make ourselves aware that it is indeed a gift—so as to purify our eating and drinking, and to make them, no longer a concession to greed, but a sacrament and means of communion with the Giver. Understood in this way, ascetic fasting is directed not against the body but against the flesh. Its aim is not destructively to weaken the body, but creatively to render the body more spiritual.
. . .
St Paul, however, is careful to say: “I know that in my flesh dwells nothing good.” Our ascetic warfare is against the flesh, not against the body as such. “Flesh” is not the same as “body”. The term flesh, as used in the passage just quoted, signifies whatever within us is sinful and opposed to God; thus it is not only the body but also the soul in fallen man that has become fleshly and carnal. We are to hate the flesh, but we are not to hate the body, which is God’s handiwork and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Ascetic self-denial is thus a fight against the flesh, but it is a fight not against but for the body. As Fr Sergei Bulgakov used to say, “Kill the flesh, in order to acquire a body.” Asceticism is not self-enslavement but the way to freedom. Man is a tangled mesh of self-contradictions: only through asceticism can he gain spontaneity.
Asceticism, understood in this sense as a struggle against the flesh, against the sinful and fallen aspect of the self, is clearly something that is required from all Christians, and not only from those under monastic vows. The monastic vocation and that of marriage—the way of negation and the way of affirmation—are to be seen as parallel and complementary. The monk or nun is not a dualist but, to the same degree as the married Christian, is seeking to proclaim the intrinsic goodness of the material creation and of the human body; and, by the same token, the married Christian is called to asceticism. The difference lies solely in the outward conditions under which the ascetic warfare is carried on. Both alike are ascetics, both alike are materialists (using the word in its true Christian sense). Both alike are sin-denying and world-affirming (The Orthodox Way, pgs, 49, 50, 116, 61).
Mr Berry’s answer to all these difficulties and divisions is ‘good work’ or ‘right-livelihood’, ideas he finds mostly absent from the Western Christianity he is familiar with:
As the connections have been broken by the fragmentation and isolation of work, they can be restored by restoring the wholeness of work. There is work that is isolating, harsh, destructive, specialized or trivialized into meaninglessness. And there is work that is restorative, convivial, dignified and dignifying, and pleasing. Good work is not just the maintenance of connections–as one is now said to work “for a living” or “to support a family”—but the enactment of connections. It is living, and a way of living; it is not support for a family in the sense of an exterior brace or prop, but is one of the forms and acts of love (‘Body and the Earth’, p. 133).
The virtues he believes will manifest themselves when good work is practiced are faithfulness, gratefulness, humility, neighborliness, an active, this-worldly charity of acts and good skills, courage, life-long devotion, perseverance even in small things, stewardship, and priesthood (man acting as priest of creation) (‘The Gift of Good Land’, pgs. 272-81).
Here, too, he will find that the Orthodox way fulfils his longings.
Fourthly, deification is not a solitary but a ‘social’ process. We have said that deification means ‘following the commandments’; and these commandments were briefly described by Christ as love of God and love of neighbour. The two forms of love are inseparable. A person can love his neighbour as himself only if he loves God above all; and a person cannot love God if he does not love his fellow humans (1 John iv, 20). Thus there is nothing selfish about deification; for only if he loves his neighbour can a person be deified. ‘From our neighbour is life and from our neighbour is death,’ said Antony of Egypt. ‘If we win our neighbour we win God, but if we cause our neighbour to stumble we sin against Christ.’ Humans, made in the image of the Trinity, can only realize the divine likeness if they live a common life such as the Blessed Trinity lives: as the three persons of the Godhead ‘dwell’ in one another, so we must ‘dwell’ in our fellow humans, living not for ourselves alone, but in and for others. ‘If it were possible for me to find a leper,’ said one of the Desert Fathers, ‘and to give him my body and to take his, I would gladly do it. For this is perfect love.’ Such is the true nature of theosis [i.e., the Orthodox idea of salvation: partaking of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4)--W.G.].
Fifthly, love of God and of our fellow humans must be practical: Orthodoxy rejects all forms of Quietism, all types of love which do not issue in action. Deification, while it includes the heights of mystical experience, has also a very prosaic and down-to-earth aspect. When we think of deification, we must think of the Hesychasts praying in silence and of St Seraphim with his face transfigured; but we must think also of St Basil caring for the sick in the hospital at Caesarea, of St John the Almsgiver helping the poor at Alexandria, of St Sergius in his filthy clothing, working as a peasant in the kitchen garden to provide the guests of the monastery with food. These are not two different ways, but one (Bishop Kallistos, Orthodox Church, p. 237).
St Justin Popovich of Serbia (+1979) likewise declares,
And what is the culture of the evangelical, historical, Orthodox Theanthropos (God-man), the Lord Jesus? What is it based on? It is based entirely on the Person of Christ the Theanthropos. God became man in order to lift man up to God. This is the beginning and the end between which Orthodox theanthropic culture moves. Its motto is: The God-man must be pre-eminent in all things. Neither God alone nor man alone, but the God-man. This personifies and actualizes the closest unity between God and man: God is not degraded on man’s account nor is man on God’s. An ideal balance is thus achieved, and an ideal harmony between man and God is found. Man achieves the fullness and perfection of his personality through unification with the God-man. Theanthropy is the only category through which the manifold activity of Orthodox culture is revealed. Beginning with the God-man, it concludes with the ideal, integrated, theanthropized man. In the center of the worlds stands Christ the Theanthropos. He is the axis around which all worlds, both high and low, revolve. He is the mysterious center towards which all souls that hunger for eternal truth and life gravitate. He is both the project and the source of all creative forces of Orthodox theanthropic culture. Here God works and man collaborates; God creates through man and man creates through God; here the divine creation is continued through man. To this end, man brings out of himself all that is divine and puts it into action, creation and life. In this creativity, all that is divine, not only in man but also in the world around him, is expressed and brought into action; all that is divine is active, and all that is human joins in this activity. But in order to collaborate successfully with God, man must accustom himself to thinking, feeling, living, and creating by God. All this reveals to us the goal of Orthodox culture.
What is this goal? To bring more of the divine into man and realize it in him and in the world around him. In other words: to incarnate God in man and the world. Orthodox culture is, therefore, the cult of Christ our God, the service of Him. Indeed, Orthodox, theanthropic culture is the unceasing service of Christ our God, unceasing divine service. Man serves God through himself and all creation around him. He systematically, deliberately, brings God and the divine into all his work, all his creativity. He awakens all that is divine in nature around him, so that nature, led by man with his yearning for Christ, can serve God. In this way, all creation participates in the universal, divine service, for nature serves man, who serves God.
Theanthropic culture transforms man from within, moving from the inner to the outer. It refines the soul and, through the soul, the body. . . . The God-man first transfigures the soul and then the body. The transformed soul transforms the body, transfiguring matter.
The goal of theanthropic culture is to transfigure, not just man and mankind, but, through them, the whole of nature. How can this goal be achieved? Only by theanthropic means: through the evangelical virtues of faith and love, hope and prayer, fasting and humility, meekness and compassion, love for God and one’s fellow-man. Theanthropic, Orthodox culture is built by exercise in these virtues. By practicing them, a man makes his ugly soul beautiful, his dark soul light, his sinful soul holy and Christ-like. The body is transformed into a framework for its Christ-like soul.
Through the practice of the evangelical virtues, man gains control over himself and nature around him. Driving sin out of himself and the world around him, he drives out the savage and destructive forces, completely transfiguring himself and the world, taming nature in and around him. This is best exemplified by the saints. By sanctifying and transforming themselves through the practice of the evangelical virtues, they sanctify and transform nature around them. Many of the saints were served by wild beasts and, by their mere presence, tamed lions, bears, and wolves. Their relationship with nature was prayerful, gentle, meek, and compassionate, not rough, cruel, inimical, and savage.
The Kingdom of God on earth, Orthodox culture, is not created by external, forcible and mechanical intrusion but by an internal, willing and personal acceptance of the Lord Christ through the constant practice of the Christian virtues. . . . The first and greatest commandment of Orthodox culture is, therefore: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). All bodily needs will be added: food, clothing and shelter (cf. Matt. 6:25-32); all in addition to the Kingdom of God. Western culture seeks this addition first . . . . In this lies its tragedy, for it has worn out the soul with worry about material things. . . .
The list of needs that modern man has invented for himself is unending. For the satisfaction of his numerous senseless needs, man has turned this precious planet of God’s into a slaughterhouse. The Lord, Who loves mankind, has long ago revealed the one thing necessary to each man and to mankind (cf. Luke 10:42). What is this one thing? Christ the Theanthropos and all that He brings with Himself: divine truth, divine righteousness, love, goodness, holiness, immortality, eternity, and every other divine perfection. This is the one thing needful to man and mankind, and all other human needs are so peripheral in comparison with them as to be almost unnecessary.
When man seriously contemplates the mysteries of his life and the world around him in the light of the Gospel, he is forced to conclude that his ultimate need is to renounce all needs and resolutely follow the Lord Christ, being united to Him by the practice of evangelical ascesis. If he does not do so, he remains spiritually sterile, insensate and lifeless; his soul withers, dissipates and decays, and he dies gradually until he is completely lifeless and nothing remains. . . . (‘Humanistic and Theanthropic Culture’, pgs. 49-52)
This saying of St Isaac the Syrian’s (+ c. 700) about love may be the most reassuring of all the Orthodox teachings on right-livelihood for Mr Berry:
What is a charitable heart? It is a heart which is burning with a loving charity for the whole of creation, for men, for the birds, for the beasts, for the demons — for all creatures. He who has such a heart cannot see or call to mind a creature without his eyes being filled with tears by reason of the immense compassion which seizes his heart; a heart which is so softened and can no longer bear to hear or learn from others of any suffering, even the smallest pain, being inflicted upon any creature. This is why such a man never ceases to pray also for the animals, for the enemies of truth, and for those who do him evil, that they may be preserved and purified. He will pray even for the lizards and reptiles, moved by the infinite pity which reigns in the hearts of those who are becoming united with God (‘St. Isaac the Syrian’).
Mr Berry has some knowledge of the Orthodox Church. He mentions ‘the Greek Orthodox theologian Philip Sherrard’ (‘Survival of Creation’, p. 308). Howsobeit, either he has not studied about her thoroughly, or else he has conflated Orthodoxy with post-Schism Western Christianity, which it is not. The Orthodox Church is the eternal and unchanging Church of Christ, manifested in time at Pentecost. The Great Schism of 1054 A.D. took Western Europe and her children away from the Orthodox Church, which began the process of disintegration that so greatly distresses Mr Berry. This separation between East and West was not something that happened all at once. It began as we have seen with St Augustine (+430), but really didn’t develop all that much from there until the rise of Charlemagne (d. 814) and the Franks who found his theological innovations useful in bolstering their imperial pretensions again Constantinople, the center of the Christian world at that time. The Schism was not long in coming thereafter.
He is not alone in perceiving something amiss in the West after the Schism. Richard Weaver, to name another Southerner, noted this at the start of his book Ideas have Consequences. Yves Congar, Tage Lindbom, and others have written about it as well. But for all this, he needn’t abandon Christianity altogether for another religion (especially Buddhism, which denies the reality of every bit of the creation Mr Berry cares so much about), nor need he weary himself with reforming Western Christianity’s teachings and practices. All that is needful is his entry into the Holy Orthodox Church, the original, pre-Schism Church of the West, and his proclamation of her teachings to those who are near at hand and to all who are afar off (Acts 2:39).
Berry, Wendell. ‘The Body and the Earth’. The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry. Wirzba, Norman, edr. Berkeley, Cal.: Counterpoint, 2002.
--. ‘Christianity and the Survival of Creation’. The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry. Wirzba, Norman, edr. Berkeley, Cal.: Counterpoint, 2002.
--. ‘The Gift of Good Land’. The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural. Berkeley, Cal.: Counterpoint, 1981.
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