Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Free Mind: The American Founding Fathers vs the Orthodox Church Fathers

Justifications for the modern, individualistic, social compact theory of the [u.] S. come in many forms.  Here is one by Vito Mussomeli based on his view of God and man:

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free:
Beginning of Jefferson’s Statue for Religious Freedom, passed by the Virginia Legislature in 1786


With one intro line Jefferson explains the core of human liberty. Our minds, a composite of intellect and heart that defines us as human, are forever free to choose what to believe, where to inquire, who to love and who to turn from, including the Ineffable God who created us. If you wish to bootcamp humanity into armies of belief or regiments of affection, first you must remove our Creator. Both our Infinite God and our own minds recoil at the militarization of our lives. If we need not bow to our Creator, we never need bow to anyone or anything.

Here is the core of free will. Hebrew/Christian scriptures explain we are created in the image of our Creator. It is our minds, the seamless Being of our hearts and our intellects that are created in the image of our God. If our minds were not free, we would not be like our Creator. It is in our freedom that we are like God and, therefore, we must neither be enslaved nor enslave others.

Jefferson added something perhaps to explain the Ineffable to a strictly intellectual mind –

That (because) all attempts to influence it (our mind) by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore, are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do;(emphasis added)

But can that be true?  That our Creator can create a Being that is not free? Such a Being would not be “like unto God”. The question is its own answer: any mind that God creates can only be ‘enslaved’ if it is not “like unto God”. We are not God but our Creator’s Life flows through us as the waters flow through the gills of fish.

The power of free will is quintessentially the power of sovereignty. Such power only makes sense when choices are individually made. Free will does not enforce a groupthink modality.
In our Founding, America accepted Jefferson’s view that personal sovereignty underlies our personal creation by Nature’s God. Personal sovereignty is the personal power to decide, to craft beliefs and loves and life and living. This means our Creator expects all people to self-govern themselves. It is our core duty. Yet not only may we differ, person to person, in fundamental beliefs of Life and Death and Transcendence, but in the mere earthly beliefs of how best to govern ourselves.

Our Founders believed in the ability and inevitability of human nature and existence to change. If systems of law are made, they must reflect this changeable world by providing a capability to adapt. Our inalienable powers of self-reflection, self-will and self-inquiry are parcel to our power to change. There is no Public or Governmental Natural Law, therefore, no Public or Governmental sovereignty over us. For our Creator has created neither. The public square and public government are our creations.

When individuals gather into a polity, they share their personal sovereignty with one another through compact or covenant to create a structure for their governance. But this sharing does not produce a separate sovereignty in their governmental structure because sovereignty is only and always personal. Sovereignty is seamless and cannot be divided in the same way you cannot axe a human mind into two minds and have the person continue to exist. What our Creator has not forced on us, our Creator has not provided to any of our artifacts.

Therefore, the powers of any government are wholly rooted in the personal sovereignty of every citizen. We are free to join or leave, to believe in this way or that way, in one God or another God or no God, in this government or that or none. Our God has forgone unconditional loyalty and we must also. For what Almighty God has decided not to do, no human person may decide to do … there lies the world of Cain. And there is the vanity of vanities.

 . . .

This needs to be corrected on a number of levels.

First, the definitions of terms need some rewriting.  The Glossary of the Philokalia, one of the greatest Orthodox manuals on the spiritual life, defines heart, reason/mind, and nous/intellect as follows:

HEART (καρδία - kardia): not simply the physical organ but the spiritual centre of man's being, man as made in the image of God, his deepest and truest self, or the inner shrine, to be entered only through sacrifice and death, in which the mystery of the union between the divine and the human is consummated. ' "I called with my whole heart", says the psalmist - that is, with body, soul and spirit' (John Klimakos, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 28, translated by Archimandrite Lazarus [London, 1959], pp. 257-8).

'Heart' has thus an all-embracing significance: 'prayer of the heart' means prayer not just of the emotions and affections, but of the whole person, including the body.

REASON, mind (διάνοια - dianoia): the discursive, conceptualizing and logical faculty in man, the function of which is to draw conclusions or formulate concepts deriving from data provided either by revelation or spiritual knowledge (q.v.) or by sense-observation. The knowledge of the reason is consequently of a lower order than spiritual knowledge (q.v.) and does not imply any direct appre- hension or perception of the inner essences or principles (q.v.) of created beings, still less of divine truth itself. Indeed, such apprehension or perception, which is the function of the intellect (q.v.), is beyond the scope of the reason.

INTELLECT (νοϋς - nous): the highest faculty in man, through which - provided it is purified - he knows God or the inner essences or principles (q.v.) of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Unlike the dianoia or reason (q.v.), from which it must be carefully distinguished, the intellect does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning, but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or 'simple cognition' (the term used by St Isaac the Syrian). The intellect dwells in the 'depths of the soul'; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart (St Diadochos, §§ 79, 88: in our translation, vol. i, pp. 280, 287). The intellect is the organ of contemplation (q.v.), the 'eye of the heart' (Makarian Homilies).

From this, we see that the mind/reason is not what makes us particularly made in the image of God, but the nous.  Nor is the mind the seat of man’s being, but the heart, where the nous is found.  Since this is so, we must go on to note, then, that the exercise of the mind, of choice, of free will, is not the greatest good, but rather union with God.  This in turn requires humility, the cutting off of our own will for the sake of loving, trusting, and obeying God and man.

These two differing ideas of the good lead to two very different political orders:  the first to the constitutional republic/democracy so popular today, which arises from the conflict created by the theory that each man is a sovereign who MUST exercise his personal sovereignty in the face of others in order to show that he is truly a creation of a vaguely defined ‘God’ and in order to affirm his unique, individual existence (a theory that is the product of unlove and distrust); the second to a hierarchy, which arises when men imitate the harmony of the self-emptying of the Three Persons of the One God, the Holy Trinity, confirming their unique, individual existences by making themselves the servants of all.  This is shone to us in an outstanding way in Christ’s death on the Cross for sinful man, by which His divinity and lordship are affirmed (Phil. 2:5-11). 

Mr Mussomeli is also drifting into Gnosticism by equating the image of God with only the immaterial aspects of man.  But the whole man - soul, nous, and body; material and immaterial - is made in the image of God, which is clearly shown in the icon of man’s creation.  The body is not extraneous in the work of salvation/deification; it too has value:

All of this foregoing is important, but the point we wish to emphasize is this one:  The mind is not free.  It is in the worst sort of thralldom to the devil and the demons and to the fallen passions because of the Fall of Adam and Eve.  St Macarius the Great in Homily XLV directly confronts the false, shallow, Enlightenment optimism of Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers that just government and a good national life can be obtained by balancing the powers of a few outward departments:

2. There have been also divers kinds of wise men according to the world; of whom some have displayed excellence by means of philosophy; others have been admired for their expertness in sophistry, others have dis- played oratorical skill; others have been men of letters and poets, and have composed histories according to the con- ventional plan. There have also been different kinds of artificers, who have practised the arts according to the world. Some have carved in wood all kinds of birds and fishes, and figures of men, and in those have endeavoured to display their excellence. Some have taken in hand to fashion portraits, statues in bronze and the like; others have erected great and beautiful buildings; others, mining the earth, bring up the silver and gold that perishes, others precious stones. Others, possessing personal beauties, were elated by the comeliness of their countenances and were the more enticed by Satan, and fell into sin. And all these artificers of whom I have spoken, being held by the serpent who dwells within, and not knowing the sin that abode with them, have been captives and slaves to the evil power, gaining no advantage from their science and their art.

Just before this, St Macarius expanded upon this idea of being in bondage to the devil, saying that no man

 . . . had the power to discern the evil which had invaded the soul in consequence of the first man's transgression, and had darkened it, that it knew not the change which had passed over it that the mind at first was pure and saw its Master, being in honour, and now, because of its banishment, is clothed with shame, the eyes of the heart being blinded, that it may not behold that glory, which our father Adam before his disobedience beheld.

Source:  Ibid, chapter 1.

Until the body, soul, and nous have been purified by much repentance, ascetic effort, and the sacraments of the Orthodox Church, the mind sits in a dark prison, and none of the lofty philosophizing about the sovereign individual can be true. 

The Russian, Orthodox philosopher Ivan Kireevsky has more to say on this idea of purity being necessary to grasp the truth.  His ideas, which summarize much of what the Church Fathers have to say about this matter, are beworded briefly below:

 . . .

1. Reason that is uncultivated and for a long time unpurified is an unreasonable reason, an iniquitous and untrue reason.  There are distinctions in reason, as in all other external things.  There is a perfect, spiritual reason, there is an average reason of the soul, and there is a rather coarse carnal reason.

2. The one who will not care to personally follow the narrow Evangelical path, and will neglect to purify his mind, is blind of soul, even if he has mastered all external wisdom; he keeps only to the letter that kills, without accepting the spirit that gives life.

3. Right and true reason cannot penetrate deeply into the soul without great and prolonged effort and labor; for to the degree that man’s lusts are mortified, to that degree does true reason grow and flourish.  But this ascetic labor must be of a particular kind; it must consist of external effort and mental activity.  The one is not effected without the other.

4. All those who have complied with the instructions pertaining to external labor while neglecting inward spiritual activity – the enlightenment and purification of reason – have lost their senses, have become corrupted by various passions, or have fallen into pernicious heresies.  And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient (Rom. 1:28).

5. The mind that is purified and enlightened can understand everything external and internal, because the person is spiritual and judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man (I Cor. 2:15).

 . . .

Source:  Unnamed author, https://web.archive.org/web/20050907021120/http://strannik.com:80/watchful_gate/Kirievsky.pdf, downloaded 16 Nov. 2017 (thanks to C for the link)

The Fathers of the Orthodox Church are unanimous:  Only those who have been healed of the fallen passions are free (i.e., the saints); all others are slaves to some sin or another, their thinking is darkened, and all talk of personal ‘freedom’ and ‘sovereignty’ is deceptive.  But if we try to put those ideas into practice despite this, as has been done in the after-Schism West, we put ourselves and those involved in the republican/democratic ‘experiment’ in great danger, earthly and ghostly, as well as those around us.

Since the body, soul, and nous have thus been darkened by the Fall, it is vital for us to remain in the God-given hierarchy to which we all belong (and which has been given to us for our good), and not strike out on our own as self-ruling sovereigns.  We hope to say more about hierarchy in the next post.


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

Anathema to the Union!

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