Friday, January 26, 2018

Hierarchy: The American Founding Fathers vs the Orthodox Church Fathers

We had just begun to speak of the importance of hierarchy in the last post.  God no more created men and women as disconnected, atomistic individuals (i.e., sovereign individuals) any more than He did the holy angels.  Both exist within hierarchy; both are actually part of one great hierarchy that includes all the created world, seen and unseen.

Dr Clark Carlton, a native Southerner, quoting Archbishop Alexander Golitzin, defines hierarchy this way:

A hierarchy is therefore a community, a single corporate organism, bound together by the exercise of a loving and mutual providence, whose origins and enabling power come directly from God.  This corporate element means that the given creature, angel or human being, discovers its salvation and deification as the member of a community.  The path to union lies through and within hierarchy, not outside of it.

Archbishop Alexander, quoting St Dionysius the Areopagite, says further about hierarchy,

Hierarchy, in my opinion, is a sacred order, and knowledge, and activity, assimilated, so far as possible, to the divine likeness, and led up in due degree to the illuminations given it from God for the imitation of God (p. 163)

The deiform hierarchy is filled with sacred justice, and administers that which each deserves in a saving manner, granting in due time and sacred manner each one’s share in divine things in accordance with due measure and analogy (p. 166).

This is the all-holy law of the Thearchy, that [the beings of the] second [rank] are to be led up to its most divine radiance through [the beings of the] first [rank] (p. 168).

The purpose . . . of a hierarchy is the assimilation to, and unity with, God, possessing him as guide of every sacred science and activity, and looking as unswervingly as possible to his most divine beauty, both conforming and perfecting its participants as divine images, most transparent mirrors, and unspotted recipients of the primordial light’s Thearchic ray who, being filled in sacred manner with the radiance thus bestowed, unselfishly illumine in their turn those who follow [them] in accordance with the divine ordinances (pgs. 173-4).

The difference between the American/Western social compact composed of discreet, completely disconnected atom-citizens who are related to one another like marbles in box, and the Orthodox hierarchy of interconnected men and angels could not be more striking.  The telos or end of the first is the freedom of the individual from as many constraints as possible.  But as others have asked, ‘Freedom to do what?’  Whatever fits into his definition of ‘life, liberty, and property/pursuit of happiness’.  Therefore, the goal of the first is nihilism dressed up as freedom.  But the telos of Christian hierarchy is salvation:  attaining ‘the likeness of God and union with him’ (St Nikodemos of Mt Athos, A Discourse in Praise of the Archpriesthood, The Orthodox Word, No. 285, 2012, p. 169).  From the first comes the darkness, chaos, and conflict of hell; from the second, the light, beauty, and harmony of heaven.

The South, thanks be to God, had the idea of hierarchy in mind from her beginning:

In seventeenth-century Virginia, order was fundamentally a hierarchical conception.  The classical expression of this idea was the Anglican Homily of Obedience, which was read in the churches of the colony:

Almighty God hath created and appointed all things in heaven, earth and waters, in a most excellent and perfect order.  In heaven he hath appointed distinct and several orders and states of archangels and angels.  In earth he hath assigned and appointed kings, princes and other governors under them, all in good and necessary order. . . .  The sun, moon, stars, rainbow, thunder, lightning, clouds and all birds in the air do keep their order.  The earth, trees, seeds, plants, herbs, corn, grass, and all manner of beasts keep themselves in order. . . .  And man himself hath all his parts . . . members of his body in a profitable, necessary and pleasant order.  Every degree of people in their vocations, calling and office, hath appointed them their duty and order.  Some are in high degree; some in low, and every one have need of the other (David H. Fischer, Albion’s Seed, Oxford UP, 1989, p. 398).

And this ideal still holds some sway in the South, though not nearly as much as at first, because of the inroads the modern mindset has made since the end of the War, which preaches the destruction of all hierarchy (always described ominously as ‘oppressive’).  Amongst the common people, it is manifested in the careful use of proper titles, like Doctor, Pastor, Coach, etc.; in saying Yes, sir, and Yes, ma’am; and such things.

Southern leaders continue to uphold it, too.  Wendell Berry, for ensample, a Southerner of the present day of high rank, warns mankind not to forget that he belongs to an orderly Chain of Being (an image of hierarchy used since ancient times,, that doing so imperils him and the creation (see e.g., ‘Poetry and Place’, Standing by Words, Counterpoint, 1983, p. 180).

The most well-known expression of Southern hierarchy, though not the only one (it was present also, e.g., in the extended family and in one’s neighborhood), was slavery (or paternalism, warrenteeism, or whatever name one wants to give it).  It began as something akin to a caste system, with permanent lords and underlings, which is a corruption of true hierarchy (something we shall see in a moment), coming into being as a way for the Southern planters to enjoy the life of contemplation and good fellowship, focus on governance, and so on.  But it would grow in likeness to a hierarchy as the system was influenced by Christian thought, though it never quite got there (efforts were made to enlighten the slaves with the Christian faith, which is most important, but other knowledge like reading and writing was more or less withheld).  This likeness is illustrated quite clearly by the statement of the slave Tom to his master Porgy in William Gilmore Simms’s novel Woodcraft (published in 1852):

Ef I doesn’t b’long to you, you b’long to me! . . . You b’long to me Tom, jes’ as much as me Tom b’long to you; and you nebber guine git you free paper from me long as you lib.

Source:  Lewis P. Simpson, The Dispossessed Garden, U of Georgia Press, 1975, p. 59.

This reflects the Orthodox vision of hierarchy as described by St Dionysius (paraphrased by Pachymeres), in his writing of the angelic hierarchy, in which the Seraphim are at the highest level, the ones closest to God (

Some say that the lowest angel is also called Seraphim, according to the same principal of communion spoken of above, for the lowest ones participate in the highest, and the highest in the lower, although the latter do so totally, while the former partially and in a more obscure manner.

Source:  Fr Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God, Vol. 2. The World: Creation and Deification, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2000, p. 145.

In both cases, the various orders from lower to higher are not totally separate as in a caste but mingle with one another without destroying the identity and integrity of the orders.  This again is a reflection of Trinitarian life (ibid.), wherein each Person, in His boundless love for and humility towards the other Two, is interpenetrated, indwelled, by the other Two, thereby confirming the unique identity of each Person (i.e., perichoresis:

In all of this we see that it is not the sovereign individual of Mr Mussomeli, Jefferson, et al., whose ties to others are largely voluntary and revocable at any time, who lives a good life in a just society.  Rather, it is the man (and angel) who lives in God-created hierarchy.

The Earthly Hierarchy.  Tsar Alexander III of Russia receives his sceptre during his coronation ceremony.  Image from, 24 Jan. 2018

It is true that man has the gift of free will, but this does not mean that he must use it like an alchemical power to create and re-create his reality to suit his whim - to dissolve and co-agulate a government, a belief system about God, etc. in order to prove his likeness to God.  Indeed, when the heart has been enlightened by God’s uncreated Grace, it will have no desire for ‘choice’ - only a deep longing for the Holy Trinity, a longing to be a slave of Christ, of man, and of all the creation.

Man is part of a hierarchy, whether he wishes it or not.  He cannot change this by making a decision with his discursive reason.  The South has too often, since her break with the Mother Country, tried to have it both ways, to affirm both hierarchy and the sovereign individual.  But such a system is a chimera, a monster, that will only destroy Dixie (and anyone else who tries to implement it) in due time.  And the beast is pretty near to being full grown here in the South.


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

No comments:

Post a Comment