Mr Aaron Wolf poured out a stream of good words recently in his essay ‘Awake for the Living’. One paragraph near the end, however, is a little distressing. About how we can strengthen Southern culture, he writes:
But I propose no grand top-down political strategy. I propose, with Weaver and Lytle and Lukacs and Russell Kirk, art, music, poetry, and sacred texts. Memory, consciousness, mind, imagination—these are the things that will bring about a return to civility, because only through them can a vision for order, rooted in Creation, occur. “Take down the fiddle from the wall,” wrote Lytle in I’ll Take My Stand. But he also told stories. And not just stories about Bedford Forrest; he told stories to and about his own family, always refining them for comedy and poignancy. Above all, we must tell our children such stories, and “remember who we are,” as Mel Bradford put it.
Source: , opened 23 June 2018
There are two problems here:
First, the Western preoccupation with mind (‘Memory, consciousness, . . . imagination’ - all of these are mainly products of the mind).
Second, the idea that a culture can be inwardly renewed through outward cultural artefacts (‘art, music, poetry, and sacred texts’).
As to the first, being overly focused on the workings of the mind, the Russian philosopher Ivan Kireevsky noted that this is the weakness of Western Europeans in general, something they inherited from the ancient Romans. This being the case, it is a one-sidedness that the South, as a child of Western Europe, must necessarily be on her guard against. Here is part of a quote of his we used some time back in an another essay:
‘The living ruins that had survived the destruction of ancient Roman civilization had an all-embracing influence on the newly emerging civilization of the West. . . . If we were to describe the dominant feature of the Roman civilization in one general formula, we would not go far wrong if we said that the distinctive cast of the Roman mind consisted in the predominance of superficial rationality over the inner essence of things’ (‘On the Nature of European Culture and on Its Relationship to Russian Culture’, On Spiritual Unity, p. 200). ‘In . . . all the characteristics of the Romans, . . . we find the same common trait: that the superficial harmony of their logical concepts was more essential to them than the very essence of the concepts, and that the internal equilibrium of their being, as it were, consisted for them solely in the balance of rationalistic ideas and of external, formal activity’ (p. 201).
This character penetrated every aspect of life in Western Europe, ‘shaping and transforming all other influences to a greater or lesser degree in conformity to its dominant trend’ (p. 200).
Source: ‘The Battles of Kosovo and Chancellorsville’,
As to the second, which is related to the first, a culture cannot be restored by external forms and methods alone, art, texts, etc. They can do a lot of good for a culture, to remember them, read them, practice them, and so on. But if there is no living inner spirit in that culture, this becomes a kind of cannibalism, where the culture is forced to feed upon its own body (the fruits it has brought forth in the past) as the only way to sustain itself, which will eventually lead to its death.
What is a living Christian culture? It is the co-operation of the souls of a nation with the grace of God, which is endless, inexhaustible. If either of these two are missing, either God’s grace or man’s assimilation of it into his own life, there will be no true culture. If the only tools the South gives herself to renew her national life are external artefacts, absent the grace of God, that will be woefully inadequate for such a difficult task.
The work of cultural renewal must begin, therefore, as Russell Kirk has pointed out, with the cult, with the life of the inner man, for the foundation of any nation is religion. And Mr Wolf does acknowledge this earlier in his essay to a degree:
Our middle-class addiction to the opioids of technology can be broken. We can renounce liberal democracy, fake history, fake news, and Marxism. But Jesus warned of casting out the demon and sweeping the house clean, without replacing him with something, or Someone, who is sacred. Seven demons will return and set up shop.
But this presents a grave problem for the South, for she has never had a true national religion, only a hodge-podge of Protestant sects with communities of Roman Catholics on the periphery of the mainstream of Southern religious life. Andrew Lytle saw how devastating this is for the people of Dixie. Gregory Wolfe, summing up Mr Lytle’s writings, says,
Lytle wrote that the South lacked a deep religious faith and sense of a unified community in a single church. The South, he said, was the inheritor of Christendom, and remained on the defensive against the Faustian spirit of modernity, which was materialist. “But it is the fractured view of this Christian drama, the loss of its inner meaning, which has confused Southern institutions and required of the family more meaning than it can sustain.”
Source: Beauty Will Save the World, Wilmington, Del., ISI Books, 2011, p. 151
This is the crux of the problem for the South: the ‘fracturing’ of Christianity, ‘the loss of its inner meaning’, amongst a number of different sects. The disunity this causes cost the South dearly during the War, and it continues to hamper efforts at cultural preservation and renewal today.
Christian unity is the most important subject facing the South; nothing matters more when it comes to her survival. It is time she stopped skirting the question and answered it head on: What is the true Faith?
To answer that, we will pick up with another quote from Mr Kireevsky on the rationalistic Western mind and others from Aleksei Khomiakov:
‘ . . . In this way, having subordinated faith to the logical conclusions of rationalistic understanding, the Western Church, already in the ninth century, sowed within itself the inescapable seed of the Reformation, which later summoned it before the court of that very abstract reason that it had itself elevated above the shared consciousness of the Universal Church . . . ’ (p. 203).
Aleksei Khomiakov, another Orthodox Russian philosopher-theologian of the nineteenth century, said on this point, ‘What was the inevitable logical consequence of this usurpation [by the Bishop of Rome]? . . . [A] protestant anarchy was established in practice. Every diocese could appropriate vis-à-vis the Western patriarchate the right that the latter appropriated vis-à-vis the totality of the Church; every parish could appropriate this right vis-à-vis the diocese; every individual could appropriate it vis-à-vis all other individuals’ (‘Some Remarks by an Orthodox Christian Concerning the Western Communions, on the Occasion of a Letter Published by the Archbishop of Paris’, On Spiritual Unity, p. 68).
And from the resulting nightmare of conflicting and distorted dogmas of the Roman protestants [Roman Catholics] and the Northern European protestants has come many of the troubles that afflict us today, such as the Scholastic nominalism that has given quantity the victory over quality, and matter over spirit (Tate, ‘Remarks’, I’ll Take My Stand, pgs. 164-6), or the apathy toward and unbelief in any unchanging truth (Kireevsky, ‘On the Necessity and Possibility of New Principles in Philosophy’, On Spiritual Unity, p. 239).
Summing up the two churches of the West, Khomiakov said, ‘An external unity, which rejects freedom and is therefore not a real unity—that is Romanism. An external freedom, which does not bestow unity and which is therefore not real freedom—that is Protestantism’ (‘Some More Remarks by an Orthodox Christian Concerning the Western Communions, on the Occasion of Several Latin and Protestant Religious Publications’, On Spiritual Unity, p. 127).
For these reasons, then, neither the Roman Catholic nor the Protestant confessions will serve the South well as her religious foundation.
In saying the foregoing, however, the Orthodox Church does not say that Catholics and Protestants are without salvation: She does not seek to limit the mercy of God. Nor does she say the Holy Scriptures and the traditions of these sects are devoid of grace: only that ‘From Tradition alone, or from Scripture or works, people can receive only external and incomplete knowledge, which contain truth for it issues from truth, but is at the same time necessarily false, because it is not complete’ (Khomiakov, ‘The Church Is One’, On Spiritual Unity, p. 35).
Nor, further, does she wish for the destruction of [Western] European culture (and by extension Southern culture), but rather the permeation of ‘the beliefs of all estates and strata’ of it by ‘the principles of life that are preserved in the doctrine of the Holy Orthodox Church’, ‘that these lofty principles . . . should . . . embrace it in their fullness, thus granting it a higher meaning and bringing it to its ultimate development’ (Kireevsky, ‘On the Nature’, On Spiritual Unity, p. 232). [It would be impossible for the Orthodox Church to destroy Western European culture, root and branch, since Europe was for 1,000 years, from the time of the Apostles to the Great Schism of 1054, united in the Orthodox Faith with the rest of Christendom. The acceptance of the Orthodox Faith would rather be a return to the wholeness of life that Western Europeans knew before the Pandora’s box of Modernity was opened by the Bishop of Rome in 1054.--W.G.]
The acceptance of Orthodox Christianity would be the crowning achievement for the South in her religious life, which is the only true life of a nation or of an individual man or woman. From it would come the full flowering of Southern culture, as the darkness of error gave way to the light of the Truth in every heart and mind and soul.
This Orthodox national life is not an abstract idea dreamed up by one of Edmund Burke’s closet philosophers (or in today’s terms, perhaps, a YouTube philosopher). It has been lived for 2,000 years, since the Holy Apostles of Christ began preaching the Gospel to the nations (King Abgar of Edessa is one of the earliest rulers to become a Christian, baptized by St Thaddeus of the Seventy (+44 A.D.); see ). It began to take on its mature form when St Constantine the Great accepted the Orthodox Faith and ascended to the throne of the Roman Empire in 312 A.D.
To get a feel for the texture of it, we will quote a bit from Archimandrite Vasileios’s description of Orthodox life. One will perceive some echoes of it in older Southern life (e.g., the concern for making whole persons rather than stunted ideologues churned out for the sake of furthering the latest worldly ‘enterprise’, capitalism, communism, etc., or the preference for village folk culture rather than the manufactured culture of the professionals). But Southern culture nevertheless remains only a likeness of Orthodox culture and not the thing itself. From the Archimandrite:
Life is not separated from spiritual life. Soul and body are sanctified, speech and silence, action and stillness, presence and absence, one and all.
Grace comes into the whole man. Peace into all his thoughts. Calm into his being. Rest into his inmost self. Light within and all around. And this light [of the Transfiguration of Christ--W.G.] fills the whole creation, it reveals all things. . . .
Today we have a foretaste of the Second Coming: “That day” is the Lord (St Symeon the New Theologian). And one who lives in the Lord, lives in that day. He has already been judged. He has passed from death to life.
In the Divine Liturgy, we call to remembrance all these things at once. All that has happened and all that we await is present. And our whole life has become a Divine Liturgy. The whole man has been sanctified. The timeless light of grace telescopes history and makes everything present at once. It blesses and illumines creation and reveals the meaning, the inner principle of its existence.
Spiritual repose, sanctification, rejoicing, consolation, and blessing find their way into the whole of man’s being through the prayer, which has become the breathing of our spiritual organism. It reaches “all my joints, my reins and heart” (Service of Holy Communion).
You sense this same uncreated light, this blessing and grace, finding its way into the whole of the Holy Mountain [i.e., Mt Athos--W.G.], into all our people, their living space and their ethos.
Our manners and customs are liturgical. And our upbringing, our ethos, our education are those of the Church.
The axis of our tradition and our life is the God-man. The centre of every village is the church. The whole parish, the whole village is one family, one Church. Its feasts and festivals, the feasts of the Church. And the church feasts are the days for its holidays, festivities and songs.
Recreation is modest in character. The folk songs, their words and their music, are related to the music (and the ethos) of the Church. Often the popular singer is also the Church chanter.
And you remember St Gregory Palamas.
As the uncreated energy is poured out and sent forth from the unapproachable essence of God, the grace and light and longed-for beauty which deifies man and his works and his whole world; so also the whole of life is watered from the inexhaustible spring of the Church, from the Holy of Holies of her Divine Liturgy. Every stage of our life is blessed, from our birth, baptism, and marriage, up to our funeral.
Everything is sanctified, blessed. And everything sanctifies and teaches. Joys acquire an eternal meaning and trials are revealed as inexhaustible blessings. This takes place in the personal life of each Christian, in the life of the whole church community, in the life of our nation [i.e., Greece--W.G.].
Everything has a personal character. It is made by a person. Everything respects man. It creates persons.
Everything raises up the human person. Man receives a name within the Church.
Each person is a value on a different plane, which escapes human measurements, criticisms and judgements.
Even from material creations there flows a personal grace, an uncreated radiance, a repose and blessing which deifies man.
The centre of our life is Christ. The centre of each community is the church. The centre of our whole nation is Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), the Great Church of Christ.
When the Empire [i.e., the Christian Roman Empire, whose seat was in Constantinople--W.G.] was in existence, it was from Hagia Sophia that they measured the distances to every single city and land in the known world.
Our mother is the Church. The whole of our life comes from her, and is sheltered and blessed by her.
And when the city of Constantinople fell, the Church did not fall. She kept our nation, our life, our courage. She cared for our people “as a hen her chicks” (Matthew 23:37). Our heart and our ideal is Hagia Sophia, which is not an idol, nor a threat to anyone, but a blessing for all the world.
The City may have fallen, the mosaics in the Monastery of the Chora may have been torn apart, the holy places may have been violated, the Great Church may have become a mosque, a museum. But there is something that does not fall, is not torn apart, is not violated. Hagia Sophia still celebrates. The Church lives. Every chapel, every Liturgy, every Christian believer is Hagia Sophia.
God is everywhere (by divine grace) and nowhere (considered in worldly terms). The Bread of Life is that which is broken yet not divided, ever eaten yet never consumed, but hallowing those who partake of it. It goes beyond the bounds of corruption.
Source: What Is Unique about Orthodox Culture, 2nd ed., Dr Elizabeth Theokritoff, trans., Montreal, Quebec, Alexander Press, 2001, pgs. 29-33
In this kind of atmosphere, Christian arts - the fellow-working of man with God - can truly flourish:
“As you sought the depths of the Spirit, the beauties of speech also were added unto you” (Troparion of St Gregory the Theologian). The beauties of their [the saints of the Orthodox Church--W.G.] speech are a charism, a gift from above, given because they sought the depths of the Spirit. The way in which they write and speak reveals their heart and their ethos. The content of their lives is not separated from the expression of their words, just as the incarnate Word as man is not separated from the Word as God, but is and is known as hypostatically one and the same, as God-man.
The same people are unsurpassed artists of words and healers of souls, saved in both soul and body. This is why their whole life and their works stand out as a true philokalia, a love of the beautiful, and a giver of salvation.
Source: Ibid., p. 23
Through the healing of Orthodox praxis, the cultural works of a people become tongued with a greater fire than that imparted by the dead (T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, ‘Little Gidding’, line 51):
In the refectory and in our cells, we read modern translations of patristic texts. And an uninterrupted continuity is preserved. You do not stumble over the language. You learn everything, you put your whole heart into memorising it, because these words carry fire; they shine, full of life incorruptible. You do not have the sense that you are learning a language, but more that you are receiving life from a single river which flows through millennia. And you do not hear views, but receive uncreated and ineffable grace through the perceptible and explicit signs and words of the Saints.
You feel that the clothing of their words shines with the same grace as do their souls.
Source: Archimandrite Vasileios, pgs. 22-3
Such could be the life and unity of the South in the Orthodox Church. As it stands now, however, we have no shared sacraments or creed, no common national spiritual center, whether a cathedral, a monastery, a hermitage, or what have you, no common worship practices, ecclesiastical arts, or saints. As to what does give the South a measure of oneness, at best we have something akin to the Yankee/American civil religion (Richard Weaver confirms its reality in ‘The Southern Tradition’ when he writes in the second-to-last paragraph, ‘ . . . the Southerner’s beliefs have been a kind of secular religion with him . . . .’): a collection of noteworthy men and women, a great literature, a certain political philosophy, an agrarian mindset, etc. These things are a wonderful adornment for the Southern nation, but as they are also a step removed from the Church, they do not have within them what is necessary to impart and maintain unity and vitality in the generations to come: Today and throughout Southern history there have been different interpretations of the meaning of some of Madison’s and Jefferson’s writings, what it means to be an agrarian (to live ‘on’ the land or simply ‘near’ it), etc., which is unhelpful when looking for a tie that binds.
Here we must look to Orthodox Serbia for a little inspiration. (About Serbia’s significance for the South we have written previously in ‘The Battles of Kosovo and Chancellorsville’ and may be read at the page linked above.)
‘Only unity saves the Serbs’: This is the national motto of Serbia, which is attributed to one of the founders of the Orthodox Serbian nation, St Sava (+1236 A.D.), the first archbishop of the Serbian people. The South must now make this cry her own (though it is well to remember that this is neither a Yankee nor a Roman Catholic unity that smothers freedom. As Mr Khomiakov said above, it is both unity and freedom, and it could not be otherwise, since this unity-freedom comes to the Orthodox Church from the life of the Holy Trinity, Who is both One and Many at the same time.) If we do not stand together under the common roof and within the common walls of the Orthodox Church, then there will be little to protect our cultural heritage or to inspire future works. And salvation itself will become more and more doubtful for our folk as confusion about what is Truth grows.
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
St Paul, Galatians 1:6-7, copied from
Only unity saves 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!