Do Protestants Belong?

by Darryl Hart on June 25, 2013 · 285 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Articles,Philosophers & Saints

Marburger-Religionsgespräch

Hillsdale, Mich. Ever since I have lived, moved, and had my being in conservative circles, I have encountered an unspoken ambivalence about Protestantism. (Truth in advertising: I am a Reformed Protestant, Calvinist for the church-history challenged; worse, I belong to the pint-sized Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Proceed with appropriate grains of salt.) At my first program with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, I met a female undergraduate from a conservative liberal arts college who told me she was Pentecostal but on her way to converting to Roman Catholicism. Why? “To be a consistent conservative is to be Catholic.” An initial lesson in the corridors of intellectual conservatism was that I, as a Protestant, was an inconsistent conservative.

If readers think I am playing the role of victim, please abandon the thought. I am a big boy and am used to all sorts of disappointments. My parents are dead. My communion is marginal. My books seldom ascend above 300,000 in Amazon rankings. And the teams for which I root (Philadelphia) are without form and void. Life is hard and then you die. Calvinists don’t want to be empowered and affirmed (unless they catch the pietist bug of earnestness).

Associating conservatism (intellectual and political) with Roman Catholicism is not merely the untested assumption of an intellectually ambitious coed. Pat Buchanan recently invoked the link between Rome, conservatism, and the West in a column for American Conservative, “The West Loses Faith.” Among his assertions were the following:

[Quoting Hilaire Belloc], The bad work begun at the Reformation is bearing its final fruit in the dissolution of our ancient doctrines – the very structure of society is dissolving.

To be Catholic is to be orthodox.

Why not follow our separated brethren of the Protestant faiths, and choose what doctrines we wish to believe and what commandments we wish to obey? And how have those churches fared that have accommodated themselves to the world?

To be sure, a regular bi-monthly column by Buchanan cannot flesh out the necessary connections between conservatism and Roman Catholicism to constitute a convincing argument. But Buchanan is not the only example. Brad Gregory’s book, The Unintended Reformation, along with Christian Smith’s petulant How To Go From Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic echo Buchanan’s point: Protestantism ruined the West by introducing notions like private opinions, state churches, unfettered markets, and culturally accommodated Christianity.

Given this emerging conservative consensus on Protestantism, it may be time (and where better to do it than on the Front Porch with Jason pouring Daiquiris?) to raise a few questions before the cement dries. Do traditional conservatives really want to make religious orthodoxy a test for membership? Do Christian conservatives really want to identify their faith with a particular geographical landmass (as if Jesus only died for the West, a thought that surely would have surprised the Jewish-Christian apostles)? Do intellectual conservatives really want the magisterium to decide who makes it into the conservative canon (as if folks like Roger Scruton, Michael Oakeshott, or Leon Kass need to be inspected by the local bishop before receiving two conservative thumbs up)?

One place to start the conversation is to consider the origins of Protestantism itself in a European setting that was hardly as unified as the romantic notions of Christendom allege (the English and French were not wild about papal supremacy, not to mention the nastiness that attended the Investiture Controversy). Someone could plausibly argue that Protestantism arose in response not simply to the brazen sinfulness of various Renaissance popes, but also as a correction to the Vatican’s grasp on political (as in temporal) power. Can someone say, conciliarism? Aside from the question of whether or not Christ had Unam Sanctam in view when he said his kingdom was not of this world, Francis Oakley’s current trilogy on medieval political theology shows that aspirations for papal supremacy (and infallibility) drew more upon ancient (and pagan) notions of sacral kingship than they did on Christian reflection:

. . . while the Gregorian reformers and their successors had certainly intended to deprive of any sacred aura the kingship of the German emperors, they were not themselves totally unresponsive to the allure of sacral kingship itself. That ancient complex of notions cast a very long shadow across their own ambitions for supremacy in Christian society. Had it not done so, it would be hard to explain how the popes of the High Middle Ages permitted themselves to emerge as full-fledged sacred monarchs in their own right . . . . [O]ver the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the bishops of Rome moved authoritatively to the forefront as the true (or most convincing) successors to the erstwhile Roman emperors.

Then later:

Long, then, before James of Viterbo came to explore during the great standoff between Boniface VIII and Philip IV of France, the full ramifications of understanding the church or Christian commonwealth as a kingdom with the pope as its early king and in matter temporal no less than spiritual, the thirteenth-century popes had begun to close in on something approximating that mode of thinking. Despite the ideological ground yielded earlier on to the Gregorian onslaught, we have seen that a stubborn aura of sacrality continued in subsequent centuries to cling to the temporal monarchs of Europe. By the end of the thirteenth century, however, it had come to be dimmed by the astonishing degree to which the papacy itself, once the great enemy of sacral kingship, had come to conform itself to the lineaments of that archaic phenomenon and to appropriate it for itself so many of the appurtenances attaching to it. (Francis Oakley, The Mortgage of the Past, 171, 184)

Where the contested nature of monarchy (spiritual and temporal) becomes particularly dicey for American conservatives is that we are folks (I thought) who prize limited power and are suspicious of centralized and consolidated authority. Whether I need to be as provocative as to suggest that Protestantism was the outworking in the religious sphere of the doctrine of subsidiarity – that is, let local churches (at least outside Italy) oversee their own affairs rather than being regulated by a foreign pontiff – American conservatives (especially FroPos) do esteem localism, diversity, and freedom in ways that do not exactly accord with older papal claims about universality and singularity. In fact, the tension between the Vatican and the U.S. Roman Catholic church throughout the nineteenth-century that resulted in Americanism being condemned as a heresy by Leo XIII demonstrates that reconciling the politics of a federated republic and the Vatican’s form of government and oversight of Christendom was not so easily accomplished. To be sure, Roman Catholicism received a make-over at Vatican II thanks to the reflections of John Courtney Murray. But I hear that Murray’s reconciliation of the American founders and neo-Thomism is increasingly debatable in certain Roman Catholic sectors.

None of this is to suggest that Protestantism is the consistent outworking of conservatism, or that Protestants and Roman Catholics can’t live together under the intellectual conservative tent (or hang out at the Porch). It is, though, a caution about assumptions that conservatives increasingly make about the faith that binds them and the West together. Is it quite so faithful or so binding?

{ 285 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Chris Schumerth June 25, 2013 at 6:59 am

Interesting. I do often find myself defending Catholics, which probably concerns my somewhat-anti-Catholic father. But as a Protestant with an affection for FPR, I hope we do, in fact, belong!

avatar Slumlord June 25, 2013 at 8:17 am

This is a very interesting topic and one which I’ve put a lot of thought into.

I personally think one can be a Protestant and conservative but it’s hard.

The problem with Protestantism is its inherent subjectivity, most Protestants interpret the Bible as they see fit, their emotions get the better of them and surprisingly their interpretation of the Bible ends up being congruent with their desired emotional state.

I’ve written about this before in a blog post of mine. However there is one type of Protestant that is supremely conservative, and that is the Protestant-Catholic, someone like C.S. Lewis or John Henry Newman. In this latter case, he guided himself to Catholicism through a Protestant approach, or to put it more succinctly he was Catholic in a Protestant sort of way. C.S. Lewis, whilst not Catholic was nearly so, and his objection to the Catholic Church was quite sound but wrong in my opinion.

The right of Conscience is what I feel is has been better developed in Protestant rather than Catholic thought. By this right of conscience, I don’t mean the idiotic self excuse and right to interpret the Bible as I see fit, rather the right to live according to the truth. Amongst weak minds this right gets abused, but amongst first rate minds, who recognise that conscience has obligations as well as rights, it produces a type of man that, whilst remaining Protestant, is more Catholic than many Catholics. Benedict recognised this as well and I feel that this was the reason why he beatified Newman.

What you see amongst this disciplined latter group of Protestants is a convergence with Catholic teaching, and this convergence is not accidental. It’s once you start being objective about human nature, dispassionate with regard to facts and rigorous in your thinking, that the teachings of Catholicism begin to rely less on the authority of the Pope but upon the authority of the truth, something which a man of conscience is always bound to obey. It’s my opinion, that these good Protestants will have a powerful role in the future of the Catholic church, especially with regard to doctrinal development. I say this as a Catholic.

G.K. Chesterton foresaw the demise of Protestantism but he also foresaw that that Catholicism would end up keeping its “best bits.” I can see a Church will be more liberal in some ways in the future and yet more strict in others. In the end I feel it will be a place many good Protestants will find a peaceful home in. Any man honestly searching for the truth is conservative. Protestant or Catholic.

Crudely, the Pope is for morons; he’s there to stop people from being stupid. Honest and intelligent men will arrive at the truths of Catholicism without any need for an appeal to Papal Authority and I think this emphasis on Papal Authority, in light of the apparent disaster of Vatican Two, has done enormous harm to the Catholic Church. Benedict and JPII,

avatar Slumlord June 25, 2013 at 8:27 am

Oops, somehow the last bit got left off.

Benedict and JPII both recognised it and saw their office as not one of “authority” but more like oracles who proclaimed the divine truth. Yeah, I know some people will disagree with this but if stop thinking of the Pope as someone who is telling you what to do, and instead start thinking of him as someone who has been protected from saying something stupid, Newman’s toast to conscience makes a hell of a lot of sense.

avatar Katy June 25, 2013 at 11:16 am

The association is strong because:
1) Rome has a longer (modern) history of addressing true conservatism and flirting with distributism (The Servile State, Chesterton’s essays, etc.). Her social and economic philosophies are (as a whole) more critical of capitalism and individualism than Protestants (as a whole).

2) Lutherans and Reformed are less likely to tie their political/social conservatism (which may be exactly like their RC friends’ conservatism) with their confession of faith. (Not speaking for broad American Christianity here, obviously). Civic duties spring from our doctrines (Vocation, Two Kingdom Theology, Law and Gospel), but we admit that nonChristians, too, desire to do what’s best for their community.

3) The association of the Enlightenment, unfortunately, with the Reformation, and with some Protestants’ embracing the modern idea of “rights” as as divinely gifted as the Solas, instead of as just a political/social theory. Conservative (politically speaking) RCs seem to be more wary of Lockean philosophy. Of course, some RCs have jumped into bed with Rousseau and Voltaire (or Che Guevara), and we can all point to the ELCA and PC-USA and Episcopalians and titter. But, there is a convincing argument that BOTH the Enlightenment AND the Reformation came out of the 12-14th century developments, that is, Late Medieval Roman Catholicism (both its sins and virtues, it’s false doctrines and preservation of the Truth).

But instead, the cartoonish version many RCs have is:
Age of Orthodoxy/the Church —>
Reformation/rank rebellion and subjectivism —>
Enlightenment and the Age of Reason—->
The Horrors of the 20th Century—>
Post-Modernism/Nihilism/Atheism

Therefore, for them, the Protestant Reformation brought about all of our modern maladies. This explanation is not historically acceptable. For one, the Age of Confessions (Augsburg, Heidelberg, Trent, Westminster, Concordia) was anything but subjective. Everyone was stating objective Truth, they just disagreed with what that Truth was, and on what authority it rested.

“It’s my opinion, that these good Protestants will have a powerful role in the future of the Catholic church, especially with regard to doctrinal development”

That has always been the case, since Trent.

avatar Phil June 25, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I suspect Protestants have an uneasy relationship with conservatism for the same reason that Americans have an uneasy relationship with conservatism: they’re born of rebellion, largely individualistic, deeply suspicious of authority, and anti- (or at least blind to the) sacramental. It’s a burden, but not one that cannot be overcome. It requires only an awareness of the tension and a willingness to be openly and intentionally critical of the fundamentally anti-conservative tendencies of the Protestant and American traditions.

I’m speaking as an Orthodox Christian, though, (where you’ll find the subsidiarist ecclesiology you mention Mr. Hart–in all it’s messiness), so the framing of the essay strikes me as both odd and slightly off.

avatar Paul June 25, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I’d be interested to hear what you think about Orthodox Christianity vs. Roman Catholicism. If you are looking for hard-line preservation of tradition and values, you certainly would need to go all the way back to the Eastern Church which still celebrates the liturgy of John Chrysostom and isn’t subject to the second Vatican council. I find it interesting that it wasn’t mentioned in the article.

avatar Rob G June 25, 2013 at 1:47 pm

If Weaver’s right about nominalism in Ideas Have Consequences and Bouyer’s right about Protestantism in Spirit and Forms…, then there is a connection between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Gregory fleshes this connection out in considerable detail, although he doesn’t lay the blame so much on nominalism as on earlier theological/philosophical errors. The fact that the connection is not so direct as some Catholics like to think does not mean there is no connection at all.

This makes adherence to conservatism of the traditionalist sort a bit trickier perhaps for the Protestant than for the Catholic (or in my case, the Eastern Orthodox), given the former’s closer relationship to Enlightenment thought, and its largely anti-traditional bias. This does not, however, make it impossible, as the presence of a great many Protestants in the traditional conservative camp demonstrates.

avatar Keaton Christiansen June 25, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Dr. Hart,

As a graduate of Hillsdale now a Lutheran seminarian, I have gnashed many a tooth over the dynamic you describe. At Hillsdale, it seems there is a more vocal base of Roman student and faculty, unafraid to allow the inference that the Tiber is the wellspring of the Western Cannon. “The West has One Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and the Roman pontiff is its prophet. ”

Eastern Orthodox, OPC, and Confessional Lutherans would also claim the same heritage, but we are not so brazen as to allow the inference to stand that our theological position is somehow the sole possessor of the entire heritage of human wisdom. Rome’s theological rhetoric allows–nay–encourages this inference.

All of this is very attractive to young college sophomores who are looking for a more mature philosophical grounding. RCIA provides needed practical wisdom for a maturing young adult, coupled with a sturdy enough theology that everyone runs to swim the Tiber (or the rubicon?).

Protestants (or Confessional Lutherans, who don’t like being called “protestant”) are perfectly capable of doing the same sort of thing. Some protestant theologies are similarly compatible with the wisdom of the Western Heritage. But we don’t, because our respective “church cultures” haven’t had as much practice doing this. If someone’s incumbent theological tradition tended to start and stop with reading Lewis, it doesn’t surprise me that an encounter with the Church Fathers points to Rome. Rome talks the loudest about the Church Fathers, western heritage, and their connection to their Church. So they win a large percentage of the popularity contest.

And it doesn’t help that they have a lot of poets.

avatar Trent June 25, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Aye, aye, aye…

Are there any other RCs out there swishing Campari and tut-tutting who’d like to comment on how “no good Scotsman” would long remain a Protestant? Please.

First things first: a Blessed Feast of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession to all of you. Good Christians one and all, rejoice.

Second things second:

Many RCs make smug reference to papal/Roman supremacy inhering in the “constant and universal faith of the Church” from its inception, only to be shockingly disavowed by the Eastern patriarchs in 1054, and then again by the Lutherans in the 16C. So often is this absurdity trotted forth, and with such confidence, that few seek to gainsay it. It’s hard to go do the necessary homework and slog through ecclesiastical histories, the writings of the Church fathers, medieval decretists, canon lawyers, &c. Most of us wouldn’t know where to begin! So most of us just assume that the homework has been done, and the evidence is in favor of Rome’s claims, leaving anyone arrogant enough to attempt such a thing with the lonesome task of arguing with the Church of Rome — and its prize Doberman, “The Western Tradition” — out of the reserves of your wee private judgment and your deft use of quick-and-dirty abstract principles. And the NIV. And so, we resign ourselves to the thesis that the papacy and the papal church really are conservative — indeed, the most conservative thing on God’s green earth! But can we Protestants come in, too, please?

Sure, one could grant this (for purposes of fomenting a discussion), and then tease out the rationale for departing from such a bastion of tradition, when it would be permissible to do so, the difference between revolution/rebellion and reform, &c. That would be fun and interesting. But it would also be pointless, because it would be based on spurious history. Do your homework.

A better option would be to club that sickly, tired conversation in the cradle and get on to something different: if you would like to know what the Church Fathers actually had to say about all of the proof-texts Rome uses to ground its claims of supremacy, (and they had A LOT to say about it) then read this essay. I recommend printing it out. It’s about 50 pages or so, and worth every line. Compare it to the pop-apologetic chicanery put out by Ignatius Press, like that tendentious smattering of gerrymandered quotes that Peter Kreeft wrote, “proving” that the the Church has always recognized the Bishop of Rome as its supreme and infallible earthly head.

And lest anyone allege that my comments here constitute a tacit apologia for “Protestantism” in general, let me deny that right here and now. I have little love for “Protestantism” per se, mostly on account of the fact that I’m not convinced that it really exists. As a Confessional Lutheran, I consider myself a Catholic, even if the pope does not. I’ve done my time as an RC-inquirer, but never swam the Tiber. Why? Because many (if not most) of the doctrines which Rome teaches the mystery and gravitas of which seem to captivate inquiring evangelical Protestants, I already believed as a Lutheran. Others I discovery were simply unsupported by the catholic tradition of the Church, and Rome’s self-substantiating fiat was not enough — specifically because it itself was coincidentally (?) the most spurious and the most crucial of the doctrines in this second set. In short, I learned that I did not need to become a Romanist to deepen in my understanding of and love for the catholic faith — quite the opposite: it became quite clear to me that I emphatically needed not to become a Romanist. Unfortunately, Rome has a lock on the adjectives, so most people scoff at the notion that one could “convert to Catholicism” or “become Catholic” without making a decision for Rome and inviting the pope into your heart. And, indeed, that would be a poor choice of words. It would be better to say that one can “commit to catholicity” without doing so. The latter option, methinks, is a significantly more daunting task, more wrenching, and more difficult. There are not as many pat answers, and this is unsettling. And the siren-song of the Roman magisterium is perennially sounding. Come home to Rome! Rome, sweet home!

I think not.

I don’t wish my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters ill: far from it — I rejoice that they, too, are within Christ’s Church. But it is an absurdity of olympic proportions to simply let stand the assertion that the Roman Church has been the most faithful with the apostolic tradition. That’s the whole debate: have they, or have they not? For now I’ll simply say that I doubt that there is any necessary connection between a genuine conservatism and one’s specific theological creed. Otherwise we’ll have to do an arm-wrestling Round-Robin with Richard Gamble (or Darryl), Bruce Frohnen, and Roger Scruton to find out which one of them is the real deal.

Read the essay.

avatar Trent June 25, 2013 at 6:24 pm
avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. June 25, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Secretly or not, every conservative likes conformity. Only the circumstances of contemporary American society make a conservative, seething against government bureaucratic tyranny, look like a rebel. With respect to spiritual matters, the best place for a conformist is the Roman Catholic Church. A Catholic can wake up on a Sunday morning anywhere in the world and, differences in language aside, be sure to hear the same readings during the Liturgy of the Word as are listed in the Roman Missal. That fact is a great comfort to people who long for consistency in a realm that, despite its heavenly source, must first be lived out here on planet earth. It is that very fact that impelled my decision to convert to Catholicism four years ago.

Much to my surprise, however, not a day goes by that I don’t question my decision. I remember my RCIA leaders telling me that the day of my confirmation will be but the beginning of my spiritual journey, and they were right. Catholicism offers much to learn, contemplate, and pray about, but therein lies its flaw. There is so much to learn that I find myself using all of my time trying to memorize prayers, learn about the Saints, and mind the liturgical calendar, leaving little time for me to love my neighbor. In short, I feel like I can never be Catholic enough to satisfy the Church’s teachings. Conformity on that level is not comforting but stultifying. I left the Protestant faith of my upbringing because the Word was being interpreted as freely as modern poetry; I now find that I miss the days when the Word–Sola Scriptura–was the heart of my spiritual life. My struggle continues, which is true in numerous ways for millions of fellow travelers. Let’s hope that conservatism recognizes the most vital way in which all believers conform: they are joined on a quest for spiritual truth.

avatar love the girls June 25, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Rob G. writes : “then there is a connection between the Reformation and the Enlightenment.”

Years ago I wandered onto a reformed forum run by Jon Luker where I was the lone Catholic and having no idea what a reformed Calvinist was. I was rather surprised to find that they were essentially followers of Descartes with a total depravity twist.

The principles they operated from were essentially modern, but yet they had a better sense of the social order than most Catholics. Strange.

avatar Bill Huber June 25, 2013 at 11:14 pm

It is a matter of disposition. Catholicism explicitly reveres tradition,while Protestantism does not.

avatar John Gorentz June 26, 2013 at 12:50 am

Dr. Hart, I hope this is only slightly off-topic, but I’d be glad to someday hear what you have to say about Richard Nation’s book, “Hoosier Hills,” and his thesis that the local agrarianism in southern Indiana (which was resistant to the forces of progressive commercialization) was something that grew out of the Catholic (and primitive Baptist) doctrines of the depravity of man. I don’t have my own copy of the book to check my memory – but it seems he was saying the Catholics and this particular flavor of Baptist were resistant to ideas that came out of New England protestantism – ideas about making the world a better place. They didn’t think it possible. So they didn’t get involved in grand societal improvement projects. They preferred to stick with self-sufficient agriculture.

I don’t recall that all this is covered in this particular book, but these agrarian types didn’t support movements like Temperance, Prohibition, Canals, and Railroads. They also were willing to accept chattel slavery, and weren’t much good to northern abolitionist efforts to eradicate it.

The part that I’d especially value your opinion on is the linkage between theology and political views. How does one analyze cause and effect for something like that?

avatar Jon Cook June 26, 2013 at 8:25 am

Love the comments by Trent. In reading the essay and all the other comments, the thought finally coalesced that “there is a way that seems right to a man but the end therein is destruction.” All the talk about whether the structures and implicit or explicit influences of Catholicism and Protestantism support or refute conservatism and which we should be part of miss the whole point that we are talking about what it means to be a believer in and disciple of Jesus Christ, and the original protesters were not protesting about the structure of the Church but about the fundamental doctrines regarding Christ, His work, how sins were forgiven, and who if anyone controls any of it. As a Protestant, I do see some value in the structures still extant in the Orthodox churches and I do see some realities of the “unintended consequences” that are laid at the feet of the Reformation, but I also still see the same terrible flaws in fundamental doctrine still existing in the Roman Catholic church, which is why I will not, and cannot, consider converting. Please don’t mistake me, I have and love my sincere Catholic brothers and sisters, and truly believe they are my brothers and sisters, and by no means do I think us Protestants have it all right, but I do believe, as Katy already said, “the Age of Confessions” was “anything but subjective” and got things more right than most.

avatar Rebecca Kirby June 26, 2013 at 8:57 am

@ Kenneth. There are only six precepts of the Church. Anything else you add is up to you. You don’t have to learn every single prayer or learn about every Saint of the Day. The Liturgical Calendar can take care of itself. Loving your neighbor should come before those things.

avatar Trent June 26, 2013 at 9:08 am

Wait — only six precepts of the Church (of Rome)? What about that Leo’s-tome of a catechism? I’ve been reading RC theology for many years now, and this “six precepts” thing is new to me. What are they, if you don’t mind me asking?

Let’s keep in mind that Our Lord gives only two precepts, saying that they epitomize the whole Law — love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Indeed, these and these alone must be done to gain righteousness.

avatar Rebecca Kirby June 26, 2013 at 9:42 am

@ Trent. The six precepts are:
1. Assist (attend) Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation (there are also six of those throughout the year)
2. Fast and abstain on the days appointed.
3. Confess mortal sin at least once a year, preferrably during the Easter Season.
4. Receive the Eucharist at least once a year, preferrably during the Easter Season.
5. Contribute to the support of the Church.
6. Follow Church laws regarding marriage.

Nota bene, these precepts do not preclude living the commandments or reading Scripture or any other thing any obtuse person wants them to negate.

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. June 26, 2013 at 9:54 am

Your words are reassuring, Ms. Kirby. I have not given up on the Church, and my neighbor will always be my priority, except the jerk next door who once called my dog a “lousy mutt”; call me what you will, but leave Chester out of it.

I suppose that I feel what many immigrants must feel upon becoming American citizens: the zeal of renewal. I agree with you that the extent of my quest for knowledge beyond the Six Precepts is for me to determine, but when I am among so-called cradle-Catholics and the topic turns to religion, I do not want to feel left out. In my experience, the everyday Catholic talks about Saints and Saints’ days much more frequently than he discusses the Six Precepts, a fact which awakens that lumbering ogre Peer-Pressure. Regardless, I accept it all because, as the adage goes, nothing worthwhile is easy.

avatar dgwired June 26, 2013 at 11:08 am

Thanks for the comments so far (and, no, I haven’t read Hoosier Hills). What I continue to find curious are a couple matters: 1) when you think of FroPo convictions, liberty, limits, place, Rome and the Vatican don’t necessarily come to mind; 2) which leads to the second point — historically, Rome and the Vatican — until Vatican 2 — were very uneasy with notions like liberty, limits, and place. Sure you can find parts of Roman Catholic theology to support those notions, but so can you with Lutheranism, Calvinism, or Syrian Orthodoxy (I imagine).

So the question remains, why the association in conservative circles that Roman Catholicism is conservative? If you take pre-Vatican 2 Rome, you get a European conservatism that is not exactly a Yank’s cup of tea. But if you take post-Vatican 2 Rome, you get George Weigel and Gene McCarraher shouting at each other.

avatar Trent June 26, 2013 at 11:31 am

@Rebecca:

Nota bene, these precepts do not preclude living the commandments or reading Scripture or any other thing any obtuse person wants them to negate.

Understood. Do know that I’m not here suggesting that the Precepts negate or preclude anything — I’m just suggesting that they are of human, not Divine, origin and that they turn grace into law, as salutary as the effects of adhering to them might well be.

“No — infinite humiliation and grace, and then a striving born of gratitude – this is Christianity,” Søren Kierkegaard.

And here’s more shameless promotion of my blog, since we’re about to hijack this feed with a theological conversation that might be better suited to a different forum:

“Come to me all you who are weak and heavy-laden, or else it’s a mortal sin.”

Peace.

avatar Trent June 26, 2013 at 11:36 am

@Kenneth:

There should be a qualifying adage, one that goes, “…but not everything difficult is worthwhile.”

“No man ought to lay a cross upon himself, or to adopt tribulation, as is done in popedom; but if a cross or tribulation come upon him, then let him suffer it patiently, and know that it is good and profitable for him.” Blessed Martin Luther.

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. June 26, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Trent,

Perhaps Luther would tell me that my conversion was motivated by vanity, but I think that I know myself well enough to say that I genuinely felt called to Catholicism, which means that the cross indeed came to me, as it were. I also know–or at least my wife tells me–that I am lazy, so seeking the difficult way is not my nature. A carpenter will say that once a home-improvement project is begun, it becomes, hydra-like, many projects. I see my conversion as such a project. By the way, do you find it easy to follow Christ in your own denomination? Two Precepts or Six, the Way is a lifetime of work.

Concerning the direction of this thread, Darryl Hart’s original point is that religious affiliation should not be used as a measure of the authenticity of one’s conservatism; my point is that all pilgrims conform to conservatism in their search for God.

avatar pb June 26, 2013 at 12:46 pm

“historically, Rome and the Vatican — until Vatican 2 — were very uneasy with notions like liberty, limits, and place. ”

Mistaken notions of liberty, sure. Limits and place, you won’t find condemnations of either.

avatar Rob G June 26, 2013 at 12:52 pm

“we’re about to hijack this feed with a theological conversation that might be better suited to a different forum”

Yea, verily.

avatar Trent June 26, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Kenneth,

I don’t know what Luther would say. I certainly wouldn’t say that you’re lazy, or that your conversion was motivated by vanity — I don’t even know you! I don’t pretend to have spoken in anything but generalities here.

I do not find it easy to follow Christ. “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. v, 17). I fail every day.

“[M]y point is that all pilgrims conform to conservatism in their search for God.”

And I agree with that point, Brother.

avatar John Gorentz June 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Limits and place, you won’t find condemnations of either.

No condemnation, but a religion that claims to be universal is not going to be comfortable with some of the turns that can be taken by attachment to place. There were patriotic bishops who didn’t seem to have a lot of trouble with the ideology of “blood and soil,” but I’ll bet there were also those who didn’t approve.

We Lutherans don’t seem to have a lot of trouble going nationalistic. We used to have Slovak Lutheran and Norwegian Lutheran organizations, each closely tied to a local language. There are American flags next to the altars of many Lutheran churches, though there are also many Lutheran pastors who don’t approve of identifying the church with a particular nation-place. I dunno, would you ever see a national flag up next to the altar of a Catholic church? Our church was without stars and stripes until 9/11, when our pastor gave in.

BTW, when my son was attending Hillsdale I was somewhat amused to see that the one of the small liberal-arts colleges in Michigan that didn’t start out as a church college now had a guy dressed up in vestments to give some sort of religious aura to the secular proceedings that we parents attended. I was somewhat amused, but mostly found it to be a distasteful. I didn’t think any the less of the Catholic church for it, but I did think a little less of Hillsdale College.

avatar Trent June 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm

@John Gorentz

Yeah, I’m not going to say that flags in the chancel is a good thing. I find that incredibly profane. I personally don’t want them in the nave at all, but if they must be in the sanctuary, they should not be in the chancel.

I am a Hillsdale graduate, myself, actually. The figure of whom you speak is Fr. Duane Beauchamp, and he’s an Anglican. When I was at Hillsdale I was very bothered by its civic-religiosity. Having Fr. Beauchamp (bless him) at commencement doing something vaguely sacral always gave things a weird feeling of the ceremony being neither fish nor fowl…

Interestingly, Fr. Beauchamp is no longer the campus chaplain; one Bp. Beckwith is, though he was brought on quite awhile after I graduated. I’m still puzzled at why Hillsdale has a college chaplain. I guess Anglicanism is the most latitudinarian tent. And everyone likes vestments with their pomp and circumstance, so what the hey?

avatar Rob G June 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm

“why the association in conservative circles that Roman Catholicism is conservative?”

Rome is the last large and strong bastion against modernity (philosophically understood) in the West. Mormonism is too new — it carries no historical or traditional weight. Protestantism is divided, and even its more conservative manifestations are on a slow train towards modernism. Eastern Orthodoxy is just that — eastern. It doesn’t have the numbers, the presence, or the clout here to affect the West much, nor was it present when modernity went down. It came to it late, and second-hand, so-to-speak.

Richard Weaver once wrote that the Old South was “last non-materialist civilization in the Western World.” One can, I think, make somewhat of a similar claim about Rome.

avatar Josh June 26, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Mr. Hart,

Do you think it is necessary to conserve the cultural tradition handed down from ancient Greece and Rome?

I do not suggest that Protestants always answer no to this question, but it seems to me that the notion, that Catholicism is more fully and consistently conservative, has something to do with the old question about the relationship between Athens and Jerusalem. I’m not sure what else to say about that, but it always strikes me as the starting point in this kind of discussion.

avatar Trent June 26, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Rob G:

“Rome is the last large and strong bastion against modernity (philosophically understood) in the West.”

This and other comments purport that “Rome” (our metonym of choice for the RCC) is a monolith. It’s very important — an article of faith, in fact — for the Roman Christian to affirm that it is. But the so-called “hermeneutic of continuity” which (it is claimed) gives univocity to the lone Latin see’s pronouncements over the course of two millenia, wedding the “spirit” of Unam Sanctam, Exsurge Domine, and the Tridentine Canons and Decrees with that of Vatican II, is a philosophical and epistemological unicorn. It isn’t apparent to anyone who isn’t required to believe it. Moreover, it would make Ruth Bader Ginsburg blush.

Also implicit in Rob G’s comment is the thesis that it is the mission of the Church to transform the world. While this is a thesis that could be argued (though not one that I agree with), it is not one that I should be assumed. So, too, with the assertion that one can “make a somewhat similar claim about Rome”, i.e., a claim comparable to that of the Old South being the “last non-materialist civilization in the Western World.” If one can make that claim, I, for one, would like to see it made and developed. For now, I’ll just say that I’m not sure an institution which came up with the idea of the “parvity of matter” as a way of grading sins can ever be in that contest.

The Lutheran critique of Rome is that it got to the point where it was not a faithful conservator of the tradition that was entrusted to the Church, and that there was no exclusive promise from Christ to all of Rome’s bishops for all of time that Rome a) was infallible and supreme among the apostolic sees, or b) would necessarily remain a faithful conservator simply by dint of being Rome. So far, that’s also the Eastern critique. But this critique has only to do with theology, and I’m trying not to go too far down that path.

That having been said, the foregoing presumption on the part of RCs with respect to theology seems to breed similar presumptions with respect to politics, culture, &c. Since Rome claims to have ever been the Church itself which other ecclesial bodies can only separate from or rejoin, it likes to claim that every culturally sanative influence which the Church has ever had on the world (the “culture,” if you wish) has been its influence. Benedict of Nursia? Surely he was not just a Western Christian — no, he must have been a Roman Catholic and a devoted papalist. Augustine of Hippo? Boniface of Mainz? Patrick of Ireland? The same claim is made. Were you a Christian in the West before 1517? Then you must have been a Roman Catholic. Were you a Christian in the first century? Roman Catholic. Yet it make just as much sense (and just as little) for me to claim that all of these men were “Lutherans.” But Rome continues to do this all the time today — with all of the abovementioned saints (and many more), as well as with any number of luminaries ranging from C.S. Lewis to Shakespeare. “That person is just too wonderful to have not been a Roman Catholic!” But you can’t take the historical developments of one era and then use it as your heuristic guide for cherry-picking all of your favorite dead people for your team. I call shenanigans.

Conservative? It all depends on what you’re conserving. As a Lutheran, I see it as the duty (yea, the Great Commission) of the Church to conserve the deposit of faith and carry it to the ends of the earth. Rome, on the other hand, says that doctrine is “developing.” Hmmm. Yet Rome’s faithful become indignant right along with the best of them when liberal jurists claim that the US Constitution is a “living document” whose doctrines are developing.

There’s a reason God Himself wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets and instructed His prophets to follow suit. Man’s purportedly sacred “living traditions” become perverse without fail. As with politics, so, too, with theology. Rome is not conservative; they’ve just reserved for themselves the singular right to be liberal. As far as I’m concerned, the Roman Catholic Church is simply a denomination that started in 1563 with the close of the Council of Trent. A very rich denomination with a very mixed past, but just a denomination. RCC =/= CC.

What this means for individual Roman Catholics is another thing. I’m not impugning any individual’s bona fides as a Christian or a conservative. That’s none of my concern here. But neither can anyone simply assert carte blanche that the Church of Rome is the world’s arch-conservative institution, or even the oldest, pace Dr. Birzer (sorry for the Hillsdale College inside-baseball). And I won’t lie, I think it’s important to take a pin to Rome’s balloon on some matters. The spirit of the Borgias still lives, and it must be kept at bay. The Lutheran quarrel with Rome is actually quite friendly, all things considered…

Again, Rome is no monolith. Exhibit A and Exhibit B. Remember that next time you hear Gregorian chant and feel either jealous or smug.

avatar Trent June 26, 2013 at 3:57 pm

We should keep in mind that infanticide and pederasty are part of the cultural tradition handed down by Greece and Rome.

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. June 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm

@Trent

To be fair, those practices probably began with Australopithecus afarensis and not with the Greeks and Romans. Kind of a low blow, eh?

avatar John Gorentz June 26, 2013 at 4:24 pm

@Kenneth A. Cote, Jr.

Why Australopithecus afarensis and not some earlier species?

avatar Trent June 26, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Oh good grief. That wasn’t a blow. It was an observation that “cultural tradition handed down from ancient Greece and Rome” (and other cliches of its ilk) doesn’t mean much by itself.

We should also bear in mind that Greek democracy and Roman republicanism were not at any point repristinated from abstract principals in a cultural and historical vacuum, pace Strauss. One also has a hard time seeing how Charlemagne and Alfred the Great (or William the Bastard) were simply “handing down” the Greek and Roman traditions. Yes, they were, and no, they weren’t. They were substantively shaping and altering it as well, and that’s OK. It’s not a package deal that gets rugby-passed on through the centuries.

And who said anything about beginning?

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. June 26, 2013 at 4:44 pm

@Trent

You could have made your point without referring to killing babies and anal sex with boys. But your rhetoric worked: it had shock value. You implied something about beginnings when you ascribed evil to two specific cultures. Evil is everywhere and always has been.

@Mr. Gorentz

Go as far back as you like. I used the term figuratively.

To all,

Good Night and God Speed.

avatar Trent June 26, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Speak for yourself, Kenneth. I don’t think anyone else took it that way.

avatar Josh June 26, 2013 at 6:42 pm

I never defined cultural tradition as simply abstract principles, nor did I suggest the Greeks and Romas were without flaws. Yes, culture, tradition, western civilization are difficult terms to pin down, but it does not then follow that they don’t exist, or can be dismisses as cliches.

I’m not even arguing that one side is right or wrong. I’m not even sure there are two distinct sides. It is more of a suspicion, or a hunch, that the topic has something to do with the differing views Catholics and Protestants have concerning the influence of Greek philosophy on Christian doctrine, and Roman political order on ecclesiastical structure.

avatar Josh June 26, 2013 at 6:42 pm

I never defined cultural tradition as simply abstract principles, nor did I suggest the Greeks and Romas were without flaws. Yes, culture, tradition, western civilization are difficult terms to pin down, but it does not then follow that they don’t exist, or can be dismissed as cliches.

I’m not even arguing that one side is right or wrong. I’m not even sure there are two distinct sides. It is more of a suspicion, or a hunch, that the topic has something to do with the differing views Catholics and Protestants have concerning the influence of Greek philosophy on Christian doctrine, and Roman political order on ecclesiastical structure.

avatar Slumlord June 27, 2013 at 3:18 am

It’s not about it being old, it’s about it being right.

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. June 27, 2013 at 7:44 am

The Arkenstone belongs to all of us, my friends. Let us clasp hands; the orcs are on our doorstep.

avatar Rob G June 27, 2013 at 7:52 am

I’m not a Catholic, but an EO, and thus accept the Eastern criticism of the papal claims. O/w, when I found Protestantism no longer tenable 20+ years ago, I would have become RC instead of EO. Still, despite the problems that I see in the RCC, there is no doubt in my mind that the West would be considerably worse off had not Rome in recent years stood up vocally against communism and the so-called sexual revolution. We have become a culture of bastardy, buggery, and baby-killing; say what you like about the RCC but it has been the largest and most vocal of the opponents of this trend.

“the Roman Catholic Church is simply a denomination that started in 1563 with the close of the Council of Trent. A very rich denomination with a very mixed past, but just a denomination. RCC =/= CC.”

I’ve heard that argument before from a confessional Lutheran friend, and I must say I find it historically inane. The existence of the RCC and the EOC antedates the very concept of the “denomination.” This argument implies not only that confessional Lutheranism is the most faithful and accurate continuation of historical, patristic Christianity, but that the existence of the “one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church” of the Creed is fundamentally invisisble. This flies in the face of the Church’s own self-understanding at the time of the acceptance of the Creed(s).

The biggest difference between the RCC and the EOC on the one hand, and the various Protestantisms on the other, when it comes to “conservatism,” is the fact that the former bodies do not subject Tradition to the hermeneutical whims of the individualist exegete. The Protestant invariably sits in judgment over what is passed on. If this applies to Tradition (big T) in the theological sense, how much more does it apply to such things as political and cultural tradition? The Reformation let loose the spirit of individualist autonomy into the Western world, and for that it must accept responsibility.

avatar Katy June 27, 2013 at 9:40 am

(1)This argument implies not only that confessional Lutheranism is the most faithful and accurate continuation of historical, patristic Christianity, (2) but that the existence of the “one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church” of the Creed is fundamentally invisisble

Yes to the first (why wouldn’t a Lutheran think that, as I assume you do about the Eastern Church?), no to the second. The One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church is where the baptized gather (visible), Gospel is preached (invisible, although a priest or pastor is visible, and real ears receive the Word) and the Sacraments administered (visible).

avatar Rob G June 27, 2013 at 10:10 am

Lutheranism isn’t patristic; I’ve been waiting 20 years for someone to show me a church father who believes in sola scriptura, rejects asceticism, and accepts external justification. I’ll be waiting a long time.

avatar Dave138 June 27, 2013 at 10:33 am

This argument has gotten fairly heated, and there’s a lot more that I wish I had time to type. Not that I have any great wisdom to hand down, but I’m sorting through many of these issues myself, and sometimes thinking aloud is helpful. Anyway– one major point. I can’t help but wonder if OPC/PCA Presbyterians and LCMS/WELS Lutherans arguing with the segment of Roman Catholicism that ranges from Steubenville Neocaths to the SSPX is really representative of the greater reality of things as they stand today. Throughout this thread, I hear both sides bringing up things that the majority of the other side either no longer believes or at least has considerably nuanced over time. I’m not saying we need lesbian PCUSA “ministers” battling that other small segment of RCs who deny the real presence in the Eucharist and want female priests, but we’re not really getting at the warp and woof of either tradition if we deny infinite shades of grey in between (yes– even for Rome, although I doubt it’s best theologians (Neocath blogging laity aside) would deny this. Lest I seem to be putting myself above the fray, I’ll confess I’ve settled into a tiny ultra-traditionalist Anglican jurisdiction myself, so I understand anachronism.

As for conservatism, I would not be surprised if Protestantism did, in fact, bare a greater resemblance to what is generally called “conservatism” in America today– at least conservatism in its Whiggism, neoliberal form, as at least one major phenomenon precipitating the Reformation seems to be the rise of the new urban merchant class.

avatar Trent June 27, 2013 at 12:12 pm

This hardly seems the place for it, but since you asked, Rob G, and since your sanctimonious dissing of the Lutheran tradition is just plain bad form, I’ll give you a few leads on what to read:

St. John Chrysostom on Justification

The Church Fathers on the Sufficiency of Scripture

St. Ambrose on Justification: A Study in the Catholicity of Lutheran Theology

And if you’d like to familiarize yourself with what the Lutheran Church actually believes, teaches, and confesses concerning the justification of the sinner before God, rather than thrashing a canard (“external justification”), then you should read Article III of the Formula of Concord (Solid Declaration), “The Righteousness of Faith.”

Surely my cousin, who earned his Ph.D in Patristics at CUA and is finishing up at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, just had no idea what he was doing when he felt compelled by his studies to become a Lutheran. Surely he and others were completely bamboozled.

I don’t know how well-read you are Rob — in truth, I don’t know you at all — but if you’ve had to “wait 20 years,” I think there’s no amount of evidence that could convince you at this point.

There is no church communion whose theology is completely normed by the “consensus of the Fathers.” Everyone cherry picks their patristics. Including the EO. Especially the EO. Perhaps since you’re EO, you’d consider listening in on the 16 C. theological dialectic in the West to be a waste of your time; whatever the case may be, I’ll go ahead and say that the best defense of the catholicity and orthodoxy of Lutheranism is Martin Chemnitz’s Examen Conciliī Tridentinī, the English translation of which spans four thousand-page volumes. You’ll forgive me for not reproducing it here. Suffice it to say, it convinced me. But I’ve been drinking the icky Western Augustinian Kool-Aid, man, so I’m a pretty unfit judge. I’m lucky I can even read well enough to misinterpret stuff.

Peace.

avatar Rob G June 27, 2013 at 1:42 pm

I’ve read Chemnitz, the volume on Scripture and Tradition twice, actually. Also Piepkorn, Sasse, Oberman, and a fair amount of Luther himself. Not to many any number of more contemporary Protestant works relating to sola scripura. I’ve also read the dialogue between the Lutherans and the Orthodox that occurred in the 1500′s.

I’ll see your cousin and raise him Jaroslav Pelikan, eminent church historian and editor of Luther’s works in English.

If you don’t want scorn, don’t prompt it by getting all triumphalistic and stuff.

Peace out.

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. June 27, 2013 at 2:59 pm

My iPhone has been chiming like a church bell. This thread is amazing. Per Darryl Hart’s question, anyone who wants genuine, red-blooded, domestic-made, fire-and-brimstone, carnivorous, conservative Protestantism should read Cotton Mather’s “The Devill in New England.” Anything else is just a flimsy import. (Of course, I’m being facetious. Anyone want to place bets on who will be the first to “turn the other cheek”?)

Go forth and do the Lord’s work.

avatar Eric Phillips June 27, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Rob Hogg, I presume?

Pelikan backed the wrong horse in the Seminex controversy, and then when ELCA went immediately and predictably downhill, had nowhere to go. Having decided that Missouri had been taken over by “fundamentalists,” he didn’t want to go back there, so he became EO. If I got it into my head that I had to choose between ELCA and EO, that would be an easy choice for me, too, though I might go to Rome instead, as Robert Wilken did in the same situation.

You say you’ve never found “a church father who believes in sola scriptura, rejects asceticism, and accepts external justification.” The third one, as my cousin has noted, is a canard that someone with your background should be able to see through. On the first point, that’s the same thing as saying you’ve never found a church father who had to _assert_ sola scriptura, which is the same thing as saying you’ve never found one that had to confront a wayward, centralized, irreformable version of the church with its own source material, which is the same thing as saying that people who lived in the Late Middle Ages lived too late to be included in the Patristic period.

The asceticism thing is fair to a point, but then, the Church Fathers didn’t have to deal with nearly so many monks and nuns who took vows in order to save their own souls from Hell, or from 50,000 years of Purgatory, which was barely distinguishable from Hell. Reformation thought is not identical to Patristic thought, but then, neither is present-day neopatristic EO thought. Both are conditioned by their own historical contexts. But both are conscientiously trying to accomplish the same end.

avatar Eric Phillips June 27, 2013 at 3:33 pm

The RCC is hands-down the largest, most influential conservative institution in the world. So it gets to do a lot of leadership in the culture wars, just like the U.S.A. gets to do a lot of leadership when it comes to promoting peace, justice, and democracy in the world.

Oh, and its conservative authority structure helps at least as much as its size. If we defined the RCC by the actions and beliefs of individual RCs rather than the pronouncements and policies of the hierarchy (as often ends up happening in the Protestant world, where authority is much more localized and open to challenge), we might not be having this conversation.

avatar Dwight Lindley June 27, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Darryl,

Thanks for this timely post: you raise a question in need of frank, charitable discussion.

Tbat said, I’ll leave judgments about 4000-page Lutheran tomes to others and simply raise a question about your use of Francis Oakley: you quote him in order to support the claim that “aspirations for papal supremacy (and infallibility) drew more upon ancient (and pagan) notions of sacral kingship than they did on Christian reflection.” Leaving aside the misleading oversimplification of that claim, the larger problem is that it distorts Oakley’s argument by snipping out part and leaving the rest. You who have read Oakley (unlike most of your readers here, I presume) know that his overall narrative depicts an unfolding dialectic between two different theological-political views: the Eusebian sacral-monarchical view on the one hand and the two-kingdom, Pauline/Augustinian view on the other. And as Oakley makes clear (in a way your post does not), this historical dialectic unfolded for centuries within the R.C. Church. Does it lead of necessity to the Reformation, as your Hegelian Phillip Schaff would have it? Whatever you or I might think about that, Oakley has not written the third volume in the trilogy yet, and so it seems wise at minimum to be clear that you are developing a position in response to only one strand of his complex historical narrative. Telling the whole story would leave you in a more difficult position, but those are usually better in the end, no?

cheers,
–Dwight

avatar John Gorentz June 27, 2013 at 9:42 pm

irreformable version of the church with its own source material,

Some might say this notion of “source material” is a late concept, something the protestants had to invent to substitute for the authority they rejected. Might even be Pelikan who put that idea in my head. On 2nd thought it wasn’t Pelikan, but it might have been Pelikan who wrote it convincingly enough that I quit rejecting it out of hand.

avatar Katy June 27, 2013 at 10:14 pm

“So it gets to do a lot of leadership in the culture wars, just like the U.S.A. gets to do a lot of leadership when it comes to promoting peace, justice, and democracy in the world.”

I hope that Rome is doing a better job than American is.

avatar Rob G June 28, 2013 at 6:50 am

“Rob Hogg, I presume?”

Don’t know the gentleman. My last initial is, as indicated, ‘G.’

“Reformation thought is not identical to Patristic thought, but then, neither is present-day neopatristic EO thought. Both are conditioned by their own historical contexts.”

The difference being that EO thought strives consciously to be faithful to the patristic consensus while Reformation thought places itself in judgment over it. Luther himself said that all the Fathers were wrong when it came to St. Paul, hence “Luther’s discovery.”

The point to the EO of reading the Fathers is not to find proof texts for its theology, but to “acquire the patristic mind,” to think theologically as the Fathers thought, to see as they saw. It is not possible to achieve this while wearing Reformation-crafted lenses.

avatar Trent June 28, 2013 at 8:12 am

The difference being that EO thought strives consciously to be faithful to the patristic consensus while Reformation thought places itself in judgment over it. Luther himself said that all the Fathers were wrong when it came to St. Paul, hence “Luther’s discovery.”

OK, Rob, this is just dumb. “Patristic consensus”? “Reformation thought”? And who are you quoting with “Luther’s discovery”? Yourself?

Here’s what I’m going to do, Rob. I already linked to some Church Fathers saying very “Lutheran” things. For some reason, you either didn’t read them, or you read them and are pretending that they don’t exist. But just so the record can show how intellectually dishonest you’re being, I’m pasting some of the quotations below. That way everyone can see what you’re ignoring. And I’m only going to excerpt from St. John Chrysostom’s commentaries on St. Paul’s epistles, since he’s not only a big-leaguer that everyone respects, but Eastern, to boot, so there’s an appreciable amount of irony in you ignoring him:

What does this mean? That he has justified our race not by right actions, not by toils, not by barter and exchange, but by grace alone. Paul, too, made this clear when he said: “But now the justice of God has been made manifest apart from the Law.” But the justice of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ and not through any labor and suffering. (Discourses Against Judaising Christians, Discourse VII:2)

“To declare His righteousness.” What is declaring of righteousness? Like the declaring of His riches, not only for Him to be rich Himself, but also to make others rich, or of life, not only that He is Himself living, but also that He makes the dead to live; and of His power, not only that He is Himself powerful, but also that He makes the feeble powerful. So also is the declaring of His righteousness not only that He is Himself righteous, but that He doth also make them that are filled with the putrefying sores (katasapentai) of sin suddenly righteous. And it is to explain this, viz. what is “declaring,” that he has added, “That He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” Doubt not then: for it is not of works, but of faith: and shun not the righteousness of God, for it is a blessing in two ways; because it is easy, and also open to all men. And be not abashed and shamefaced. For if He Himself openly declareth (endeiknutai) Himself to do so, and He, so to say, findeth a delight and a pride therein, how comest thou to be dejected and to hide thy face at what thy Master glorieth in? But what is the “law of faith?” It is, being saved by grace. Here he shows God’s power, in that He has not only saved, but has even justified, and led them to boasting, and this too without needing works, but looking for faith only. (Homily on Romans 3:19ff.)

They said that he who adhered to faith alone was cursed; but he, Paul, shows that he who adhered to faith alone is blessed. (First Corinthians, Homily 20, PG 61.164)

For you believe the faith; why then do you add other things, as if faith were not sufficient to justify? You make yourselves captive, and you subject yourself to the law. (Epistle to Titus, Homily 3, PG 62.651)

After speaking of the wages of sin, in the case of blessings, he has not kept to the same order: for he does not say, the wages of your good deeds, but the gift of God: to show, that it was not of themselves that they were freed, nor was it a due they received, neither yet a return, nor a recompense of labors, but by grace all these things came about. And so there was superiority for this cause also, in that He did not free them only, or change their condition for the better, but that He did it without any labor or trouble upon their part: and that He not only freed them, but also gave them more than before, and that through His Son. (Epistle to the Romans, Homily 12, Rom 6:23)

And if any were to cast in prison a person who owed ten mites, and not the man himself only, but wife and children and servants for his sake; and another were to come and not to pay down the ten mites only, but to give also ten thousand talents of gold, and to lead the prisoner into the king’s courts, and to the throne of the highest power, and were to make him partaker of the highest honour and every kind of magnificence, the creditor would not be able to remember the ten mites; so hath our case been. For Christ hath paid down far more than we owe, yea as much more as the illimitable ocean is than a little drop. (Epistle to the Romans, Homily X, Rom 5:17)

For all have sinned, and are under the curse. However he does not say this yet, lest he should seem to lay it down of himself, but here again establishes his point by a text which concisely states both points; that no man has fulfilled the Law, (wherefore they are under the curse,) and, that Faith justifies. What then is the text? It is in the book of the prophet Habakkuk, “The just shall live by faith,” (Hab. ii: 4) which not only establishes the righteousness that is of Faith, but also that there is no salvation through the Law. As no one, he says, kept the Law, but all were under the curse, on account of transgression, an easy way was provided, that from Faith, which is in itself a strong proof that no man can be justified by the Law. For the prophet says not, “The just shall live by the Law,” but, “by faith:” (Homily on Galatians 3)

Suppose someone should be caught in the act of adultery and the foulest crimes and then be thrown into prison. Suppose, next, that judgment was going to be passed against him and that he would be condemned. Suppose that just at that moment a letter should come from the Emperor setting free from any accounting or examination all those detained in prison. If the prisoner should refuse to take advantage of the pardon, remain obstinate and choose to be brought to trial, to give an account, and to undergo punishment, he will not be able thereafter to avail himself of the Emperor’s favor. For when he made himself accountable to the court, examination, and sentence, he chose of his own accord to deprive himself of the imperial gift. This is what happened in the case of the Jews. Look how it is. All human nature was taken in the foulest evils. “All have sinned,” says Paul. They were locked, as it were, in a prison by the curse of their transgression of the Law. The sentence of the judge was going to be passed against them. A letter from the King came down from heaven. Rather, the King himself came. Without examination, without exacting an account, he set all men free from the chains of their sins. All, then, who run to Christ are saved by his grace and profit from his gift. But those who wish to find justification from the Law will also fall from grace. They will not be able to enjoy the King’s loving-kindness because they are striving to gain salvation by their own efforts; they will draw down on themselves the curse of the Law because by the works of the Law no flesh will find justification. (Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, Discourse I:6-II:1)

So, Rob, what do you think?

Also, I’d love to see the citation to back up your allegation of Luther’s disdain for patristics.

avatar Rob G June 28, 2013 at 8:34 am

Surely you don’t think I’m going to respond to patristic citations without reading them in their contexts? Just like the Scriptures, one can make the Fathers say whatever one wants, as the multitudes of patristic florilegia demonstrate. See St. Irenaeus on this, specifically his analogies of the mosaic of the king, and the homerocentones.

“Luther’s Discovery”:
http://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/justification_by_faith_alone/luthers-discovery/

…and elsewhere.

“I’d love to see the citation to back up your allegation of Luther’s disdain for patristics.”

I will provide it later — don’t have it with me right now.

avatar Rob G June 28, 2013 at 8:43 am

“Patristic consensus”?

Yes, the consensus patrum. Never heard of it?

avatar Dave138 June 28, 2013 at 8:54 am

Honestly, haven’t the RCs and the wider Lutheran world outside the LCMS and WELS already decided they’re maybe not now so far apart as once thought?

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html

avatar Trent June 28, 2013 at 9:36 am

Rob,

Yes, of course I’ve heard of it, even when it’s in Latin! It is a useful term, but it can be used in such a way as to belie the at-times significant diversity of opinion among the Church’s early exegetes. You have been using the term (as many EOs and RCs are wont to do) to allege that Lutheran doctrine was a theological novum (“novum” is fancy Latin adjective meaning “new,” or as a substantive adjective meaning “novelty” — ever heard of it); as the well-contextualized excerpts from Chrysostom above show, even by themselves, this allegation is shoddy. It is naught but pure assertion.

Just like the Scriptures, one can make the Fathers say whatever one wants, as the multitudes of patristic florilegia demonstrate.

No, no one can’t. I call deconstructionist shenanigans. This is more assertion on your part. There are a plurality of exegetical traditions, and “Lutheran” exegesis (insofar as there is such a thing) is no more lacking in patristic foundation than is “EO” exegesis. But if your charge is that we give greater authority to the scriptures than to glosses which can sometimes obscure its plainer meaning, than, well, guilty as charged. There’s nothing magical about the first eight centuries of the Church. Interestingly enough, this view of the perspicuity of the Scriptures was shared by the Church Fathers of the purer antiquity. That was the link farther up that you ignored. Here it is again.

All these, therefore were highly honored and made great, not for their own sake, or for their works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of his will. And we too, being called by his will in Jesus Christ, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men. (I Clement 32)

Thanks be to God. Peace.

avatar Trent June 28, 2013 at 9:39 am

@Dave:

No Confessional Lutheran would ever ascribe to the Joint Declaration, and no Confessional Lutheran church body did.

avatar Dave138 June 28, 2013 at 9:42 am

Perhaps that’s the problem with Confessionalism. It assumes that one group of people in one particular time, one particular geographic location, and one particular culture “got it right” for all time, as though a “view from nowhere” is truly possible.

avatar Rob G June 28, 2013 at 9:47 am

We’ve gotten off-track again, partly my fault. Apologies.

I agree with what Eric P. wrote above: “The RCC is hands-down the largest, most influential conservative institution in the world. So it gets to do a lot of leadership in the culture wars…”

That Catholics of a conservative stripe would link this observation to the Church’s theology and philosophy makes sense.

avatar dgwired June 28, 2013 at 10:15 am

Josh, in answer to your question on Greece and Rome, the issue for Christians is always much more to do with what to make of Jerusalem. Those Hebrews were important and even wrote most of the Bible. That may make me a biblicist. But when it comes to Tertullian vs. Clement of Alexandria, I’ll take my stand with a man of the West. (Hey, wait a minute.)

avatar dgwired June 28, 2013 at 10:21 am

Dwight, I don’t think I was trying to cover up the tension between the Eusebian and Augustinian impulses in medieval political theory. What I did call attention to was that the papacy wound up siding with the Eusebian (which of course affected its attitude toward Conciliarism and eventually to reform). Roman Catholicism may have an Augustianian strand of political theology, but you’re not going to find it in the papacy until Vatican II. Even then, the trappings of sacral monarchy hardly went into mothballs (as the recent Conclave revealed).

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. June 28, 2013 at 10:35 am

Red Sox/Yankees, Ford/Chevy, PC/Mac–old rivalries never die, and they rarely fade away, but there is hope. I am not a theologian, nor do I aspire to be one, so I probably should stay out of this exchange; after all, you folks seem to be having fun. But in the spirit of a reasonably curious educated person who reads the Bible (RSV Catholic Bible, Ignatius Press) and pokes around the theology bookshelf, I think that I have a little something to add. About 20 comments ago someone mentioned Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan, and I found this little passage published in the New York Times on the occasion of John Paul II’s death: “It will be a celebration of the legacy of Pope John Paul II and an answer to his prayers (and to those of all Christians, beginning with their Lord himself) if the Eastern and Western churches can produce the necessary mixture of charity and sincere effort to continue to work toward the time when they all may be one.” The question remains on whose terms will the churches unite, but the spirit of the sentiment, which, according to Pelikan, springs from the pope himself, sounds genuine.

I also found these words, which, I am told, are quoted often: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.” Pelikan appears to have the Roman Catholic Church in mind, but I am impressed with the great variety within the Faith as it is lived. The Catechism holds the Church together, but, ironically, Catholicism in Italy looks different from Catholicism in England, which looks different from Catholicism in Latin America, and so on. The differences, of course, are cultural, at least among the laity, but isn’t it amazing that the so-called monolith of the Roman Catholic Church is constructed of such diverse elements? I am reminded of Russell Kirk’s championing of the great variety of a truly conservative society, an idea that, as all of you know, he got from Edmund Burke, a man who respected–even admired–Catholicism (Kirk himself converted!). Back to Pelikan, if indeed he saw the RCC as a stultifying institution that worships traditionalism instead of valuing tradition, it appears that he spent too much time in his office at Yale to witness the vigor of the lived Faith.

avatar Rob G June 28, 2013 at 10:52 am

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

If memory serves, that quote comes from Pelikan’s ‘The Vindication of Tradition” which dates from the early 1980′s. He was still a Lutheran at the time. He didn’t become Orthodox until sometime in the late 90′s. He never struck me in his writings, either before or after his conversion, as being particularly anti-Catholic. His 5 vol. history of doctrine is very fair-minded and balanced.

avatar dgwired June 28, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Dave138, Confessionalism!? Don’t most people at most places think they get it right for all time. Think Paula Dean, Joe Paterno, Trent’s anathemas, Servetus, Socrates.

avatar Dave138 June 28, 2013 at 1:59 pm

dgwired, I remember N.T. Wright once writing, “Part of the point of postmodernity, under the strange providence of God, is to preach the Fall to arrogant modernity.” Maybe the way forward is a lot more admitting that maybe we don’t have it all right. My point was mainly that many of the churches calling themselves “Confessional” are often more interested in circling the wagons than “semper reformanda.” Of course, it’s a difficult middle ground to steer, and caution is understandable given the opposite direction of the ELCA and PCUSA. But when strict “Confessionalism” is taken to its logical conclusion, I can’t help but see how one isn’t left with Luther’s conclusion that “either he or Zwingli and his followers must be the servants of the devil.”

avatar Joshua June 28, 2013 at 2:56 pm

If I might rephrase the crux of your question, Darryl, I’d put it this way, “Which is better capable of sustaining a culture in the West, the RC Church or Protestantism?” In this formulation the contest goes to the RC Church. To be sure there are subsets of Protestantism which are truly capable of sustaining culture–I am thinking, for example, of some Southern Baptist churches in the backwaters of Appalachia–and I am willing to lend my ear to anyone who would like to argue the merits of provincialism and perfunctory church attendance. Don’t doubt my sincerity. But the RC Church has managed (in the Western world) to create and sustain an enduring and robust Christian culture on a much broader scale than any one Protestant church.

In place of culture, most Protestant churches and believers have adherence to correct doctrine. This is not to say that orthodoxy is anything to shake a stick at. It is to say that doctrine is not an end; it is the handmaiden of right worship. The difference between RC and Protestant on this point lies precisely in the fact that for the RC, Christian and Roman Catholic are synonymous. For most Protestants, Christian and, say, Baptist are not synonymous, and they are not so because there is something beyond the cultural institution of the church–usually adherence to a set of doctrines and ethical principles–which provides definition of one as Christian. For most Protestants, Christianity is not a cultural complex of rite and doctrine guarded by the one true church. Instead, Christianity for the Protestant subsists in the rational adherence to correct doctrine and the attempt to live faithfully according to the ethical principles which follow from those doctrines. I am making a subtle distinction here, but the distinction is significant. To give a place of privilege to a standard which exists external to the worshipping community is to undermine the conditions which must be present for culture to survive. (When the Scotsman, Alasdair MacIntyre speaks about goods being internal to a practice, he makes a similar point.) The RC Church, inasmuch as it itself is the definition of Christianity and inasmuch as it is not a disembodied set of doctrines but a body within which rites, practices, and doctrines are formulated and sustained toward the end of worshipping the one true God… the RC Church is a cultural institution. I am fully aware that especially since Vatican II these conditions do not always apply in the RC Church. But normatively for the RC, to be a Christian is to be in the Church; it is not to believe a set of doctrines (though the good RC will insist on a set of doctrines).

In absence of culture there is no conservativism. There may be doctrinal precision, but there is no culture. This does not mean at all that there is no culture within Protestantism. It means that what culture there is has been siphoned off from what are now the dregs of the larger American culture. Those groups who can draw from a more robust immigrant or, say, mountain culture give the appearance of offering a robust Christianity capable of sustaining a culture, but as soon as the cultural wellspring dries up they will be just as dessicated as those “non-denominational” mega-churches. Without culture there can be no conservativism, and culture cannot be built upon a set of rationalist principles.

avatar Bob Bobenstein June 28, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Interesting… Dr. Hart has posted the following on another blog, where one Lutheran on this thread comes off as quite the hero:

“A post about Protestants and American conservatism provoked one young, saber rattling, Missouri Synod Lutheran to produce the quote of the day. Aside from its punch, it also shows how hard the “hermeneutic of continuity” is to buy for anyone outside Rome and why that hermeneutic looks so self-serving.”
http://oldlife.org/2013/06/winding-up-confessional-lutherans/

avatar Josh June 28, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Ok, Mr. Hart. Your’e up 1-0 in the rhetorical point scoring. Is there a point to this conversation?

avatar Trent June 28, 2013 at 5:10 pm

“But the RC Church has managed (in the Western world) to create and sustain an enduring and robust Christian culture on a much broader scale than any one Protestant church.”

The RC Church has created and sustained a robust Christian culture, has it? There goes the papalist historical metanarrative again. This is how culture comes about? These are broad sweeps–hacks, actually–which, while they are rhetorically winsome, “substitute vocabulary for thought” (hat-tip to Dr. Richard Gamble, who I think is reading this). Whence cometh this thinking of a Western Christian monoculture? When did the Culture start? Is the Culture the same as medieval Christendom? How can we trace the perpetuity and sustenance of the Culture to the institution of the RCC, as opposed to more subsidiary communities?

I don’t find the thesis convincing. You don’t support it here, but where and when others have supported it, it has always struck me as…not credible. It’s unfalsifiable. Its most devoted proponents believe that the influence of the RCC on society anywhere and at any time is, definitionally, good. According to its logic, the Spanish Inquisition is on the same plane as the Italian Renaissance — just Rome looking out for the Culture!

For most Protestants, Christianity is not a cultural complex of rite and doctrine guarded by the one true church. Instead, Christianity for the Protestant subsists in the rational adherence to correct doctrine and the attempt to live faithfully according to the ethical principles which follow from those doctrines. I am making a subtle distinction here, but the distinction is significant.

Josh, you’re not actually making any distinction at all. Riddle me this — how is a person who “rationally adheres” to correct doctrine and the attempts to “live faithfully according to the ethical principles which follow from those doctrines” not “participating in a cultural complex of rite and doctrine”? There is no necessary distinction here. There’s a distinction in your mind, but I think it has more to do with your very caricatured and extrapolated view of “Protestantism”/Protestants. I don’t know how many of your co-religionists you know, but I think you’ll find that most of them are not participating in a manifestly different culture than the “average American Protestant.” And I think your concession viz. Vatican II — i.e., the “weapon of Mass-destruction” — is more piquant than you’re admitting. The canonically-sanctioned bastardizing of the Roman rite — which, really, according to your argument would have to be the backbone of the Culture that Rome has shepherded along through the ages — sort of makes me think that not even the magisterium thinks about culture the way you do. And the magisterium is infallible (says you). And you’re not. Though you could always become a sedevantist, though. They do take culture very seriously.

The RC Church, inasmuch as it itself is the definition of Christianity and inasmuch as it is not a disembodied set of doctrines but a body within which rites, practices, and doctrines are formulated and sustained toward the end of worshipping the one true God… the RC Church is a cultural institution. I am fully aware that especially since Vatican II these conditions do not always apply in the RC Church. But normatively for the RC, to be a Christian is to be in the Church; it is not to believe a set of doctrines (though the good RC will insist on a set of doctrines).

Wow. First, check your tautologies at the com-box, as this is clearly not a place where you can trot them out without completely talking past everyone and everything. And then please reread my foregoing comment about false dichotomies. I’m having a hard-time imaging a a church — or, if you prefer, an “ecclesial community” — which, unlike the RCC, is in fact a disembodied set of doctrines. Do these churches exist only in the noumenal realm? Do you even believe what you’re saying? I can see it now — sounds very Rob Bell: “Simulacrum: Go to Church? In your dreams.” Seriously, though, do you think that this is what non-RC Christians do? Go to church between their ears?

Normally, when I go to church — and we even call it Mass! — there is a building, pews, an altar, a font, a pulpit, a lectern, &c. Oh, and people. And there’s a pastor, who is also very much a person, and not at all disembodied. And there is the truly and substantially present Christ, Whose very Body and Blood we receive in the sacrament. After church some friends of mine and I will often go have brunch, and then we might amble around Old Town and talk about theology or poetry. Or sports. Amazingly, many of the friends I am likely to meet up with on a Sunday afternoon are actually Roman Catholics. They hold the fork just like I do! We even like some of the same things (often alcohol — something both traditions endorse robustly). In short, we’re friends. Sometimes we argue about theology, but it’s usually cordial. It feels cultured, but I’ve been wrong before.

Without culture there can be no conservativism, and culture cannot be built upon a set of rationalist principles.

The problem with this is that there is no such human arrangement as “no culture.” Everyone lives in a culture. I must say, the way the term “culture” is being used by some of the RC contributors reminds me of Clarke and Dawes’ lampooning of British news coverage of an oil-tanker spill: “What are you doing to protect the environment?” “The ship was towed beyond the environment…” And you sure can build a culture upon a set of rationalist principles. It will just be a very crappy culture that most people wouldn’t want to live in, and that many people died in, e.g., the USSR. That’s a dialectical-materialist culture, based on a cultus that worships Man.

All this is to say, I think that there’s a part of Rome that still wishes it ruled the known/civilized world in some way. Rome’s current lot just feels incomplete in light of its own irreformable self-understanding. Why Rome thinks that the Church (whether Rome is the Church, or merely included in the Church) has a more glorious fate this side of heaven than being stricken, smitten, and afflicted, I am not sure. It seems, however, more than a little vainglorious to me.

These words by Anglican divine Charles C. Grafton seem to me to be a truer encapsulation of the fate of the Church in the world than Rome seems capable of believing:

Dear brothers in our common faith: You know full well that the great conflict draws to its close. History is but the record of the never-ending contest between the Church and the world. The Church, because she is the Bride of Christ, must in her collective entity repeat the life of her Lord. She must be betrayed, rejected, crucified, ere she passes to her risen life…Oh, the coming terror and the woe! Oh the trials of that coming century of blood…The world and the apostate Christianity, rejecting the Trinity, the Incarnation, the deity of Christ, his vicarious atonement, His resurrection in the flesh, His Church and altar and ministry and Sacraments and inspired Word, grows more boastful and triumphant. Do the powers of heaven seem to be shaken? Do the stars fall? Does the sign of the cross of persecution begin to appear? Then lift up your heads for your redemption draweth nigh…As the world waxes evil…the Church feels the nearer presence of her Lord’s approach. She has all along known Him to be true to His Word. She discerns His footsteps. She feels a glow as the cloud which hides Him begins to fade.” — Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton, a consecration sermon preached c. 1900

I guess I’d like to reiterate my main objection to the following metahistorical claims which it seems are tacitly being made:

1) that “The Western Tradition” has bequeathed one and only one Culture

2) that the Culture is perpetually begotten and sustained by the Church of Rome

3) that however you’re living and moving and having your being in community, (i.e., living in the Culture) if it’s “good,” you’ve got the Church of Rome to thank for it

4) the converse of [3]

That’s all I’ve got for now. Maybe it will get the conversation going in a constructive direction.

avatar Trent June 28, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Bad html tag up there; sorry. I wasn’t trying to wax that emphatic…

avatar Thomas Lark June 28, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Interesting.
I must point out that Murray the moron was a howling heretic that no right-thinking person ever took seriously. And he was a Jesuit dog as well, and the Jebbies haven’t been right in nearly 100 years, so shot through with atheism, apathy and awful apostasy are they. We have those arrogant SOB’s (“We know better than God!”) to blame for the Americanisation and eclipse of Holy Mother Church (prophesied by Our Lady at Fatima in 1917) that happened when Vatican II was vomited forth on the world. This current pope isn’t much better and is rather like Paul VI, also an ill-educated heretic. I miss Benedict already.
Still, your friend was right when she realised that the apotheosis of conservatism is to be found in Catholicism; I would add: bona fide, orthodox Roman Catholicism. True Catholics adhere exclusively to the Latin Mass and subscribe to all the anti-republican, monarchistic weltanschauungen pertaining thereto. I myself attend a Society of St Pius X chapel and the local indult Mass at a diocesan church. We UTTERLY REJECT Vatican II for the diabolically dangerous heresy that it was and have no truck with any idiot who embraces this sickly-sweet poison.
Again, the best conservatives are Catholic monarchists. We’ve been going wrong not only since 1776 and 1789 but, when you follow the threads all the way back, 1517 and that dyspeptic, anti-Semitic, fat bastard, Marty Luther (now burning in Hell, along with Cromwell and Fat Henry).
Mind you, I have many Protestant friends. But when they’re around me long enough, they’re in real danger of becoming Catholics! Brought four of ‘em into the Church and had ‘em baptised at Easter, four years ago.
Real, right-thinking Catholics: 1) uphold the Voice of Christ Himself—the Sacred Magisterium of Holy Mother Church, which She taught for 19 centuries (until the satanic revolution of Vatican II); 2) support the European empires (you know—Christendom); and 3) support the Confederacy—our noble if short-lived attempt at righting the wrongs of both 1776 and 1860, fighting federal tyranny and having our own country.
CATHOLIC TRADITIONALISM: that, my friends, is real conservatism.
ST PIUS X—ORA PRO NOBIS!
GOTT ERHALTE UNSER KAISER!
GOD BLESS DIXIE, and GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. June 28, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Thank you, Rob G. I’ll read that book.

avatar Rob G June 28, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Kenneth, you definitely want to read Gregory’s ‘The Unintended Reformation’ as well. I recommend you do what I did — read it once straight through to absorb his argument, then read it again more slowly with pencil in hand. The bibliography alone is worth the price of the book. I came out of it with a “to read” list of about 30 titles.
Gregory’s book doesn’t so much offer a new argument, as it offers loads of new evidence, theological and historical, for an old one.

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. June 28, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Rob G.,

I appreciate the recommendation. I’m a rookie at this, so any advice is a big help.

avatar Darryl Hart June 28, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Josh, you asked a question. I answered. So what’s the point of your question?

avatar Eric Phillips June 28, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Dave138 wrote,

> Honestly, haven’t the RCs and the wider Lutheran world outside the LCMS and
> WELS already decided they’re maybe not now so far apart as once thought?

“Wider world Lutheranism” has made all sorts of theologically irresponsible compromises in its blinkered quest for ecumenism and inclusivism. The fact is, although they didn’t sign the Joint Declaration, Confessional Lutheran bodies have more in common with the RCC than their rapidly apostatizing “fellow Lutherans” do.

avatar Darryl Hart June 28, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Joshua, no offense, but your claims about the RC church as a culture are not helping me feel like I belong. Plus, these are claims that need to be proven, or at least give some criteria for proving them. They are historical and sociological claims (unless you want to make them merely theological — at which point the Front Porch gets a lot smaller). I do not how you can say what you do about the RC church and culture with a straight face if you look at the videos in Trent’s comment http://ncronline.org/blogs/distinctly-catholic/david-schindler-hero.

This is, as I see it, a major aspect of the tension that exists along faith lines in traditionalist conservatism. The general outlook is that evangelicals are barbarians. Hey, I’ve written that. But when will RC’s (who aren’t SSPXers) admit that barbarism exists within the RC culture? No fair blaming Protestants for the problem. Ockham was part of Roman Catholic culture. You guys could have offed him.

avatar Eric Phillips June 28, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Rob G.,

> Don’t know the gentleman. My last initial is, as indicated, ‘G.’

Hogg has a ‘G’ too, as he took the name ‘Gregory’ when he received Orders in the Antiochian Orthodox Church. So there are _two_ internet-frequenting EOs named Rob who have done substantial reading in classical Lutheran theology! Unexpected. Were you previously a Lutheran?

> The difference being that EO thought strives consciously to be faithful to the
> patristic consensus while Reformation thought places itself in judgment over it.

The right way to end that sentence would be, “while Reformation thought emphasizes fidelity to Scripture more than fidelity to the patristic tradition.” Which is a good thing to do, since as you and Trent have discussed, the tradition isn’t monolithic, and we need to be selective. Now, it’s true that some Reformation thought (and a great deal of later Protestant thought) discounts _too much_ of the tradition, but the problem with that isn’t so much that they dare to disagree with the ancients, as that this attitude leads them to assume the Modern Zeitgeist instead of the one Scripture was actually contemporary with, when it comes to understanding what the Bible says.

> Luther himself said that all the Fathers were wrong when it came to St. Paul, hence
> “Luther’s discovery.”

I also would like to see this citation. And I remind you (or possibly inform you) that most of Luther’s highly quotable “zingers” can be contradicted or at least heavily qualified from elsewhere in his too-voluminous corpus (there’s an opening for Mr. Lark to make a fat joke). At any rate, “Luther himself” doesn’t mean what you seem to think it does. He doesn’t define Lutheranism. Our enemies named us, remember.

> The point to the EO of reading the Fathers is not to find proof texts for its
> theology, but to “acquire the patristic mind,” to think theologically as the Fathers
> thought, to see as they saw. It is not possible to achieve this while wearing
> Reformation-crafted lenses.

I know about that process first-hand. It helped me become Lutheran. And before you protest that I didn’t remove my specs first, let me remind you that you didn’t either. You can’t take them off. They aren’t spectacles; they’re corneas.

avatar Joshua June 28, 2013 at 10:39 pm

@Trent

Your lack of manners and charity provide me with a good illustration of what I mean by culture. Arrogance, shooting one’s mouth off, and prowling for a brawl–all exemplified by you in this comment chain–are real goods, especially if it’s all in good fun. They are not the best goods, but they are real goods. But try to find justification for these goods in Scripture. On the contrary, you are met with Proverbs 13.10 or James 3. Your brawling spirit, then, springs not from a culture shaped by Scriptural principles but from a broader, more elemental human culture (Scots-Irish?). If you are able–and you appear to be able–to hold together in your person both this elemental culture and a striving to conform to Scriptural principles, then you will be a good man.

But at the same time something unfortunate is happening. That lusty, rowdy, mischievous culture is being trounced by a prissy liberalism. That this could happen at all appears on the surface to be curious, but it is perfectly logical: the rise of rationalism brought about the death of culture. As soon as cultural practices begin to be viewed from the vantage point of nowhere, your culture is on the decline. (In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre, again, insists that goods are not a priori but internal to practices. I am convinced, but few seem to have picked up the point. Also relevant: Philip Rieff links the death of culture to Freud and the rise of deconversion. A person examines his beliefs from the “view from nowhere” and ends up being in a constant state of disillusionment.) So then, in place of cultural practices as the bearer of morality, you have a rationalist system, be it deontological or utilitarian or whatever. And there is no place for the nuance that mischief requires in a rationalist ethic.

Unfortunately, this rationalism has infected the whole Christian world. But in the case of the Protestant churches, they are not just infected. They were born with rationalism in their DNA. This is why, again, Protestants do not typically equate membership in the local church with being a Christian. There is a rationalist principle–right belief, right behavior–by which one is deemed a Christian in the Protestant view. The RCC has none of this because it is not a rationalist principle but membership in a body which makes a person a Christian.

I would like to go on but I have work in the morning. I hope this has at least made it clear that I am not at all speaking about a monolithic “Western Tradition.” I am speaking about culture, its relationship to morality, and its decline at the onslaught of rationalism. I contend that Protestantism is in bed with rationalism and so is incapable of sustaining culture–in fact it undermines it. The RCC has been awestruck by rationalism, especially of late, but it is not so far gone that it cannot return to its Groom.

avatar Slumlord June 29, 2013 at 2:08 am

@ Joshua

If I might rephrase the crux of your question, Darryl, I’d put it this way, “Which is better capable of sustaining a culture in the West, the RC Church or Protestantism?” – See more at: http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2013/06/do-protestants-belong/#sthash.E8OaY0jI.dpuf

The question I want to ask you Joshua is, “Which one of them is true?”

avatar Owen Jones June 29, 2013 at 9:09 am

Most Americans who think of themselves as conservatives agree with most of the foundational propositions of liberalism. For example, everyone has a right to his own opinion. This is why conservatism is incapable of really accomplishing a restoration of anything, or coming up with some new cultural paradigm so to speak, whether it be culturally or in electoral politics. Since Republicans and conservatives agree with most of the underlying, basic propositions of the political opposition.

Front Porch is not a political magazine but an aesthetic. Although one has to be careful not to confuse that with a romanticized traditionalism. It’s really all about aesthetics. That means that truth is not some set of objectifiable propositions but an aesthetic realm that one enters into. It is very easy to demolish an argument based on objective truth, which is why the left nihilists continue to win every argument, every fight. Principles (and the arguments used to defend them) need to be grounded in aesthetics.

avatar Owen Jones June 29, 2013 at 9:09 am

Most Americans who think of themselves as conservatives agree with most of the foundational propositions of liberalism. For example, everyone has a right to his own opinion. This is why conservatism is incapable of really accomplishing a restoration of anything, or coming up with some new cultural paradigm so to speak, whether it be culturally or in electoral politics. Since Republicans and conservatives agree with most of the underlying, basic propositions of the political opposition.

Front Porch is not a political magazine but an aesthetic. Although one has to be careful not to confuse that with a romanticized traditionalism. It’s really all about aesthetics. That means that truth is not some set of objectifiable propositions but an aesthetic realm that one enters into. It is very easy to demolish an argument based on objective truth, which is why the left nihilists continue to win every argument, every fight. Principles (and the arguments used to defend them) can only be grounded in aesthetics.

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. June 29, 2013 at 9:19 am

Now those are wise words.

avatar Rob G June 29, 2013 at 9:19 am

“Were you previously a Lutheran?”

No, I was a conservative Episcopalian when I began studying these issues some 20+ years ago. My exposure to Lutheran theology came via a Reformed friend who recommended Chemnitz many years ago, at a time when I was only vaguely familiar with Orthodoxy. Later, a different friend, a Nazarene who eventually became a confesssional Lutheran but was interested in the EOC, recommended Piepkorn, Sasse, etc., to me.

~~The right way to end that sentence would be, “while Reformation thought emphasizes fidelity to Scripture more than fidelity to the patristic tradition.”~~

No, actually it would read “while Reformation thought emphasizes fidelity to its own novel reading of Scripture more than fidelity to the patristic tradition.”

“I also would like to see this citation.”

I am away from home this weekend and will not return till tomorrow. I’ll provide it then. I came across it in a book (by a Lutheran) on Luther’s hermeneutics.

~~At any rate, “Luther himself” doesn’t mean what you seem to think it does. He doesn’t define Lutheranism -~~

Yes, I’ve heard this before. Still, the opinions of the founder of one’s sect should mean something, no? Why even bother with someone who wanted to shit-can the epistle of James, and who thought Hebrews was a mix of wheat and straw, based on his own novel, private reading of St. Paul? The Mormons can’t get rid of Joseph Smith’s inanities this easily. Why should we discount ML’s

“before you protest that I didn’t remove my specs first, let me remind you that you didn’t either. You can’t take them off. They aren’t spectacles; they’re corneas.”

Nonsense. Have you not heard of the notion of “scales falling from one’s eyes”? Once the light goes on (in my case it was the exposure of sola scriptura as an epistemological dead end), the lenses are seen for what they are.

avatar Josh June 29, 2013 at 9:41 am

Mr. Hart,

I was scratching in the dirt, hoping to uncover some underlying assumption that explains conservative attraction to the Catholic Church. Alas, I have no answers.

I admit the Church doesn’t do much civilizing and binding anymore.

avatar Trent June 29, 2013 at 10:21 am

Uncle! The Eastern Orthodox are the only real conservatives! Everybody — put on your onesies and meet me on the shore of the Bosporus. We’ll all swim together.

Sheesh. Rob, everyone who’s been reading this thread knows by now that you’re not interested in having a debate. You changed the subject when I had you over a barrel, and now you’re just lobbing pot-shots. Mr. Thomas Lark might be the biggest ass in this thread, but you’re about to edge me out for the #2 spot if you keep this up. Goodbye.

@Joshua,

I’ve provided a lot of solid reasoning for the positions I hold — seeing this, you (and others) have often merely pivoted and changed the subject, rather than engaging in dialogue. And then you call me mean and say that I am “shooting my mouth off.” Seriously, you should meet some people who are actually mean. All the same, I do apologize.

While I grant what Owen Jones has said above about traditionalist conservatism (esp. the FPR-varietal) being an aesthetic, that does not mean that it cannot be discussed rationally. There’s a difference between something being fundamentally non-rational (the “traditionalist conservative aesthetic”) and being fundamentally irrational (the romantic-historicist RCC view of culture that I’ve been criticizing). As someone who also reads and admires McIntyre, I think you’re trying to make him say something that he’s not. His critique of rationalism does not equal a critique of rationality more generally, which is what your view seems to be verging on. Weaver’s words that “we reason from facts, never towards them” are apposite here: facts are but the beginning of rational dialogue — something many a rationalist knave ignores. But they are not nothing. And your argument, or whatever it is you’re setting forth, is largely bereft of some pretty readily-accessible facts — for example, your weird understanding of “Protestantism” seems to be culled from a very narrow spread of books rather than familiarity with history and broad personal experience and observation/interaction. You’re unable to get any critical distance from your distaste and pity for your Protestant faux-conservative strawmen, all of whom you must think are bumping around in a haze whilst they try to cobble a livable conservatism out of abstract principles — no doubt in between frequent trips to McDonald’s. And before you or anyone else accuses me of telling you that you need to “take the view from nowhere” (another poor phrase that’s been quoted to a pointless death in this thread), know that I am not doing that. I’m merely saying that your demonstrated lack of historical consciousness and personal knowledge of things more specific than this vague abstraction “Protestantism” makes it hard to know what you’re even saying. Basically, you speak in stereotypes and abstractions. Perhaps this observation makes me arrogant, but that probably has to do with my French heritage. And these funny bumps on my head.

I’ll just remind you that your use of the term “Protestant” is about as specific and helpful as anyone’s use of the term “Catholic” to encompass sorts ranging from the ladies dancing in chasubles and the priest in the Barney-suit to John Henry Newman and Thomas More — and Mr. Thomas Lark! “But those people aren’t real Catholics!” Yeah. Sure they’re not. I attended RC mass for four months in the last year, so I’ve seen the gurus of real conservative culture at work firsthand. And I witnessed a range of liturgical…um…practices, so I’m not claiming that all priests wear Barney-suits, want to ordain women, etc. But there’s plenty of it that skims near the “Liturgical Travesty” asymptote, even if I leave alone the Romish doctrines from which I obviously demur. Oddly enough, though, there’s not much doctrine preached at all, “good” or “bad.” The homilies are shallow, anecdotal “how-to” talks on how to be a good person — with guilt-trips and archdiocesan appeals for money tacked on for good measure. I’ll go ahead and admit that there’s some pretty bad stuff happening in some LCMS parishes, too, but I’ve never claimed that Lutheran liturgical life is the lodestar of Western cultural conservatism.

And can somebody please explain why there are so many RCs who are garden-variety liberals? This doesn’t make them the spawn of Satan, pace Lark, but it makes them…ostensibly very well-situated to be real and authentic conservatives, but for some reason, not conservative at all.

avatar John Médaille June 29, 2013 at 10:37 am

@Owen, I think you have captured the problem precisely. American Catholics have become, culturally, indistinguishable from their Protestant brethren, and the content of conservatism–the thing actually conserved–is increasingly Lockean liberalism.

avatar John Médaille June 29, 2013 at 10:51 am

BTW, I am reading Kuyper on “Sphere sovereignty,” which bridges the gap between subsidiarity and solidarity; it’s a nice complement to Catholic Social Teaching, IMHO.

avatar Owen Jones June 29, 2013 at 10:58 am

Trent,
Just because something is an aesthetic does not mean it cannot be discussed rationally. While an aesthetic experience is irreducibly personal, that does not mean it is subjective, unless you believe that every human being is totally unique. An experience, a perspective, can be universalized, and there is a well established rational, technical terminology in place. On the other hand, it does not mean that it can or should be objectivized, and the primary problem with the development of theology, but especially in the non-Orthodox “West,” is the tendency to try to objectify everything which, as I suggested, is an argument easily destroyed. You can’t argue with an aesthetic experience. Either you are open to it or close to it as a possibility for yourself. The only argument is this: you don’t have a right to have that experience!!!!

avatar Owen Jones June 29, 2013 at 11:06 am

I think what people of the Front Porch persuasion are trying to put their finger on is the nature of the aesthetic crisis that afflicts “modernity,” but especially forms the basis of ideology, and especially of the progressivist type (although arguably all ideology is progressivist). If you see the world as an evil, threatening place, then you are going to try to invent a way to escape. That’s an aesthetic problem.

avatar Randall Jennings June 29, 2013 at 11:23 am

Perhaps the question itself could be turned around to say, “Can I accept Catholicism?” as opposed to wondering if one “belongs” or not in a (probably) increasingly catholic conservative environment. Personally, it seems much of the Protestant reformation was nationalistic. However, in terms of the ongoing revelation of the gospel through history, Protestantism seems to have dug up some real gems as it pursued a clear connection with Christian origins. As a catholic, I look forward to more like Scott Hahn who bring this search back to its obvious home, with no loss of the bold adventure of discovery.

avatar Eric Phillips June 29, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Owen Jones,

> Principles (and the arguments used to defend them) need to be grounded in
> aesthetics.

The awkward thing about that is that aesthetics, in turn, need to be grounded in principles.

avatar Owen Jones June 29, 2013 at 12:18 pm

If what you mean are laws, then I would agree, Eric. There are laws governing the operation of the created universe. These laws exist whether or not a person exists or a person is aware of them. But there is Law and then there are laws. There is the Arche, from which other principles are derived. However, to derive them, you have to have a sensing, feeling person, so in a sense there is no Arche absent human beings to discern them and then talk about them. So first you have the human being. You have to start from there. What is a human being?

So, for example, you have Heraclitus. And Heraclitus observes, senses, experiences the world in a constant state of flux and then he contemplates that. And it comes to him that what he is experiencing is really not the world in flux, but the tension in between that which is lasting and that which is passing away. The result of that meditation is the theological virtues; faith, hope and love. These are principles. They are operative principles of how a human being can (and should) orient himself toward that which is lasting. Before Heraclitus, faith, hope and love weren’t floating around in the heavens waiting to shower down on Heraclitus who just happened to be there to pick them up. They came from both inside and outside, as a result of his experience, and his meditation on his experience, which resulted in a breakthrough for mankind. That’s how this stuff works.

avatar Eric Phillips June 29, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Rob G.,

> No, actually it would read “while Reformation thought emphasizes fidelity to its
> own novel reading of Scripture more than fidelity to the patristic tradition.”

How can you be such a Postmodernist in your critique of Protestants, while ignoring Postmodernism completely when you look at your own tradition? Talk about spectacles! Of course Protestants care about fidelity to their own interpretative traditions. So do EOs. So does every tradition, by definition. But that’s not what Protestants care about most. What they care about most is fidelity to Scripture. That’s why Protestants are much more likely than EOs to pit Scripture directly against tradition—even their own tradition. That’s why a Protestant can be convinced by the Bible to join a different church. Could you be? Now, I mean?

> Why even bother with someone who wanted to shit-can the epistle of James, and
> who thought Hebrews was a mix of wheat and straw, based on his own novel,
> private reading of St. Paul?

Because almost everyone who’s found Luther to be “spot on” in Paul has also found him to be wrong about James. Seriously, aren’t you used to sifting your authorities? You do it all the time with the Fathers, or at least, your tradition does. Why even bother with someone who thought the Son’s knowledge was finite, and that angels and humans used to be the same species of intellectual being, and who believed in reincarnation (via a series of worlds), and in the eventual salvation of the devil? But Gregory of Nazianzus “bothered with” him, and Gregory of Nyssa “bothered with” him, and heck, so did every other important Church Father who lived after the 3rd century, to one degree or another, both East and West, because Origen also offered a lot of good ideas and helpful interpretations. And that’s a _way_ more extreme example than Luther, who after all was just taking the distinction between the universally acclaimed books and the Antilegomena more seriously than anyone in the West had done for a thousand years.

> The Mormons can’t get rid of Joseph Smith’s inanities this easily.

Did JS teach anything _but_ inanities?

> Nonsense. Have you not heard of the notion of “scales falling from one’s eyes”?
> Once the light goes on (in my case it was the exposure of sola scriptura as an
> epistemological dead end), the lenses are seen for what they are.

Right, right. Postmodernism is valid only when you’re critiquing Protestants, not the other way around. You spent a lot of years staring through those lenses–those Pomo lenses, with their strong bias against the idea that texts can have authority–and now you want to believe that that doesn’t have anything to do with your eventual epiphany that sola scriptura is untenable. No, it was the Lord appearing to you on the road to Damascus, touching your eyes so that the scales fell off. It’s just coincidence that both the Lord and the lenses he peeled off your eyes led you to the same conclusion. Right?

avatar Eric Phillips June 29, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Owen,

> However, to derive [principles], you have to have a sensing, feeling person, so in a
> sense there is no Arche absent human beings to discern them and then talk about
> them.

In a totally wrong sense, considering you affirmed just a sentence ago that Law/Arche has objective being, and considering further that the Arche is the Logos, and the Logos is the Son of God, who is a Person and doesn’t need to create derivative intellects to contemplate Himself.

> So first you have the human being. You have to start from there.

Experientially we do, yes. Descartes was right that far, at least. But since the world can’t be figured out correctly and wholly by every new generation with no help from the previous one, and since some of them most important truths can’t be figured out at all, and have to be received via special divine revelation, we learn most of what we know by tradition, not original philosophy. That’s aesthetics and principles both, a whole interrelated system, mutually more inextricable than the chicken and the egg.

> The result of that meditation is the theological virtues; faith, hope and love.

Ok, you need to cite me the passage in Heraclitus where he identifies the theological virtues, or at least point me to an article that makes the argument in a cogent and textually responsible form. Otherwise I will have to conclude that you are … making things up.

avatar Trent June 29, 2013 at 1:24 pm

“Earth, Fire, Air, Water — Faith, Hope, LOVE!” – Heraclitus

avatar Owen Jones June 29, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Eric,

The Arche maybe exist objectively, but without human beings, who can say? There’s nobody to talk about it! Certainly nobody to experience it, try to articulate it in words, write tomes about it, and try to live accordingly (not to mention fight about it). So as a practical matter, we are not talking about objective truths, but rather how a man experiences the world. Does he experience it fragmented form or as a whole, for example.

As for Heraclitus, faith and hope are explicit, love is implicit, in the revelation of his dry soul and its motivations.

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. June 29, 2013 at 5:12 pm

One hundred comments have been posted, so it’s time for a knock-knock joke.

–Knock, knock.

–Who’s there?

–I am.

–”I am” who?

–I AM THAT I AM! You mean you don’t know me?

In the words of Larry the Cable Guy, “I don’t care who you are; that’s funny right there.”

Carry on, and have a splendid Fourth of July. And don’t forget, Monday marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Have a drink in honor of Meade, Lee, and all those men who went to their Maker in 90-degree heat.

avatar Joshua June 29, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Trent,

You’re right that I’ve been dealing in abstractions and for the most part I haven’t taken the time to build a case from concrete examples. Thanks for engaging my argument anyway.

As for my generalizations about Protestantism, it’s true that I have to consciously guard against characterizing all Protestants according to the form with which I was raised and the form that I subsequently encountered at Bible College. This is the crowd who cites 2 Tim. 3.16 to assert that Scripture is sufficient to address anything related to the soul of man. They do have a culture, but it is despite their rationalist attempt to keep themselves pure. They are blessedly inconsistent but unfortunately ignorant about their inconsistency.

As for reason, I am its defender, even though my argumentation resembles throwing a smattering of ideas against a wall and attempting to connect the dots rather than making an argument in a straight line. Rationalism, however, is a different beast altogether, as you’ve already noted.

So now I’ll take my leave. Thanks again for your comments; I look forward to meeting again in another thread.

avatar Eric Phillips June 29, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Owen,

> The Arche maybe exist objectively, but without human beings, who can say?
> There’s nobody to talk about it!

Except for Himself, and the Angels. What you mean, I think, is that if there were no human beings, we, being humans, wouldn’t be able to talk about it. Can’t argue with that. Now, why is this tautology worth stating?

> So as a practical matter, we are not talking about objective truths, but rather how
> a man experiences the world.

Of course we are. We’re just doing so from subjective positions. “How a man experiences the world” is how a man experiences objective truth. There’s no subjectivity without objectivity. No aesthetics, either.

> As for Heraclitus, faith and hope are explicit, love is implicit,

Yeah, that’s definitely not a citation.

avatar Owen Jones June 29, 2013 at 9:20 pm

No, Eric, it’s not a citation. Don’t expect me to do all your work for you. Either you are interested or not. For me to cite it is not going to change anything, least of all your perspective. In other words, you want me to prove to you that aesthetics are really the foundation of everything else, by citing chapter and verse from great thinkers, but that doesn’t prove anything. I was simply citing an example from Heraclitus of what I was trying to convey, certainly not trying to prove anything, simply trying to suggest that truth is an aesthetic experience.

As for truth, classically understood, in classical philosophy and in classical Christian theology, it is a realm, not a set of objective propositions. Living in an intellectual environment conditioned by Descarte, Locke, Kant, as well as prior Catholic theologians, we are taught to divide reality into subjects and objects. Between subjective observers and objects of cognition. But truth is not an object of cognition. From the standpoint of classical experience, this is a deformation or inversion of how we actually participate in reality. I’m not going to cite any great thinker. If you are interested and open to the idea, you can do your own work.

avatar Eric Phillips June 29, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Owen,

> In other words, you want me to prove to you that aesthetics are really the
> foundation of everything else, by citing chapter and verse from great thinkers,

As if that could be proven? And by such a method? No, I was just giving you a chance to prove that you weren’t talking out of the wrong end on the subject of Heraclitus and the distinctly not-pagan theological virtues.

> simply trying to suggest that truth is an aesthetic experience.

And I’m just pointing out that it’s a self-contradictory suggestion.

avatar Chris Travers June 29, 2013 at 9:38 pm

As a Heathen, looking at this conversation from outside, I have a few thoughts (yes, I worship Odin, Thorr, and Freyr).

The fundamental questions become:

1. What is the relationship between culture and rights? Must culture conform to rights? Or do rights emerge from culture?

2. Is there a right to culture?

I think there is a general tendency in many circles (and this is well-deserved) to see many of the problems of the modern industrial world as being that of Protestantism run amok but I am not convinced of either of two points:

1. I am not convinced that all Protestants side with the current excesses. There are large, localist circles within Protestantism. These are good.

2. I am not convinced that the problems go away when looking at culture from a Catholic, Orthodox Christian, etc. viewpoint either. Christianity (like Islam and a few other religions) has a distinctly internationalist viewpoint, which biases the discussion against local culture.

I think what is needed is a wide-ranging discussion as to the nature, value, and limits of culture. In that conversation I don’t see why Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Hindu, Islamic, Heathen, and so forth perspectives should be absent.

avatar Katy June 29, 2013 at 9:56 pm

I’m going to say Thomas Lark’s comment is the best (and funniest) here, and the Good (Fat) Doctor would approve of his rhetoric, if not his theology. He’s just saying what papists used to say (and write) often, before everyone got all sensitive.

(I call Jesuits Jebbies, too.)

avatar Trent June 29, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Owen,

Eric’s not asking you to do his work for you; he (and I, and quite possibly others) are wondering what the hell you’re talking about. We’re incredulous at your weird Zen reading of Heraclitus. As far as I’m concerned, I’d be happy with even a secondary-source citation of someone developing the asinine notion that Heraclitus arrived at the theological virtues, which discovery “resulted in a breakthrough for mankind.” This is ludicrous. There is no onus on anyone to prove the negative.

You know, I’ve heard people like you before. You think that anybody who’s not a weird gnostic-aesthete is a dirty Cartesian. Frankly, you’re hard to take seriously, because the very language you rely on to convey your horribly generalizing critique conveys meaning through specific denotation. Sure, that’s not all it does. Language also conveys connotation. But that’s the point: it does both things. As with language, so, too, with epistemology: it is more multifaceted than you’re acknowledging. And that’s highly ironic. You EO’s do this with theology, too. You talk as though your theology is this vast and expansive ocean that the West doesn’t have the mystic wizard skills to navigate or even comprehend. In truth, it’s just a truncated half-theology that can’t comprehend how Christ’s atonement could both propitiate God’s wrath against sin and heal the wound/cure the disease of sin. But I digress…

But truth is not an object of cognition. From the standpoint of classical experience, this is a deformation or inversion of how we actually participate in reality.

This would be relevant if the question was “how do we ultimately know the Truth?” But it’s not. Many lowercase-t truths are, in fact, objects of cognition, and there’s nothing heinous or Cartesian about saying so. Noetic reverberation isn’t going to help you balance your checkbook. But I understand that we need to get “beyond all that” (checkbooks, poopy diapers, meatloaf) to “real conservatism,” which it seems it is no longer sufficient to say is “an aesthetic,” but must be “a completely non-rational experiential aesthetic, merely.” “How we actually participate in reality” actually includes a lot of subjective, probabilistic grasps of objective things and which we cannot, for whatever reason, participate in fully. It involves having a working knowledge, and being wrong about some things without even knowing it. Yes, capital-T Truth is not propositional, but incarnational — Incarnate, in fact. But not everything is as sacramental as, you know, the Sacraments. There’s a lot of little-t truth out there, too. Some of it’s propositional, and it’s not evil to use logic when sussing it out. Conservatism ought to be concerned with both, because whatever else it is, it is a philosophy that is lived out in what Eric Voegelin called the metaxis: the middling world which is not as it ought to be this side of the eschaton. Part of the dim view through a dark glass that we graciously still have involves quite a bit of prudential Cartesian epistemology. Why? Because there’s nothing wrong with Cartesian epistemology per se. Indeed, there was nothing unique about it. The problem was that Descartes turned one true thing about knowledge and turned it into the only true thing about knowledge. In doing so he perverted philosophy and became the father of ideology.

And so far, Owen, you’re just as bad as ol’ Renée, because you’re doing the exact same thing. You’re actually the most Cartesian person in this thread, when you get right down to it.

avatar Owen Jones June 30, 2013 at 12:36 am

Geez, somebody has some issues.

for now, one of the fragments: “Thinking well is the greatest excellence; and wisdom is to act and speak what is true, perceiving things according to their nature.”

I don’t wish to reduce this or anything else in Heraclitus to some type of dogmatic formulation. Only to try to give an example what I was trying to say about aesthetics as a better way of understanding modernity, the problem of truth, and the problems that conservatives and religious traditionalists try to grapple with. My own sense of this passage is that the path of truth is through the proper, or well formed use of sense perception, but in Heraclitus, it’s the eyes, not the ears. He’s speaking of spiritual perception of course — the developed capacity that few people have to see things as the really are.

I don’t think we need to have a big debate about the truth of empirical statements, such as that rock is hard, or that tree is tall, to realize that the is a much greater and deeper dimension of truth which simply not open to empirical and objective analysis but rather is available to what we might call the open soul.

Voegelin, in his own translations, found faith hope and love in Heraclitus. I defer to him. Could it be that other translations are either jejune or perhaps selectively edited? I dunno. Just didn’t want this thread to get into a big debate about Voegelin.

avatar Slumlord June 30, 2013 at 3:21 am

@Chris Travers

Christianity (like Islam and a few other religions) has a distinctly internationalist viewpoint

It does, because it recognises that certain truths are universal and therefore “international” in nature. However, some of these truths are in opposition i.e individual vs collective rights, and therefore a certain amount of judgement is in order to balance the two. It’s these local “judgements” which permit localist variations in modes of living. Furthermore, these judgements are also conditional to local factors and hence universal truths are no impediments to the development of localisation.

The problem arises when one of the judgements is misinterpreted as the truth. To argue for instance, that gothic is better than baroque and to insist upon it, produces the deadening effect of uniformity. A classic case in point is modernist architecture, which is one style everywhere.

The problem of “the truth” is the central problem of conservatism. Catholicism tends to see truth as more objective whereas Protestantism, effectively makes it subjective, relying more on “personal revelation” and hence intuition. Vague feelings, insights and intuitions tend to trump reality.

avatar Owen Jones June 30, 2013 at 6:27 am

I’m not sure what is meant by being “self-congratulatory.” By suggesting that we might want to frame “modernity” in terms of an aesthetic crisis, I’m saying that it might be a way for people of different beliefs to have a common frame of reference. Then I referred to Heraclitus as someone who I believe understood this clearly, and, if nothing else, he frames the approach taken by Socrates and Plato. For Heraclitus, knowing the truth is not a function of acquiring information or vast erudition. Knowing is like seeing. It is an aesthetic quality, which is also rare. But it is the rare person who sees things that we don’t see that creates the paradigms, so to speak.

avatar Slumlord June 30, 2013 at 6:50 am

Knowing is like seeing. It is an aesthetic quality

No its not. Knowing is a more a akin to a perception of reality. It only becomes aesthetic when a hedonic element is added to it.

avatar Rob G June 30, 2013 at 8:15 am

“You changed the subject when I had you over a barrel”

To be honest I missed your June 28 9:36 post.

“Uncle! The Eastern Orthodox are the only real conservatives!”

Ha! Don’t get your lederhosen in a bunch. Note that I did not promote the EOC anywhere in this thread. If I’ve been defending anything, it’s the RCC!

Eric — of course we sift our authorities. But Origen, the Gregories, Basil, etc. didn’t START our “movement.” ML, as the founder of yours, evinced these sorts of red flags from the get-go.

There’s nothing PoMo about questioning one’s theological presuppositions. I realize that one always has some sort of lenses on. But sola scriptura is an epistemological blinder that prevents one from honestly questioning its conclusions. It ends in either solipsism (fundamentalism) or fideism (Van Til, etc.) if one carries it to its conclusions. And in Luther’s case, it allows the individual exegete even to consider reformulating the Canon to suit his own personal hermeneutic.

avatar Sean Scallon June 30, 2013 at 11:39 am

Given all the comments on this topics it certainly has a touched a nerve. I remember Paul Gottfried (who is Jewish) saying he became disillusioned with Paleoism because too many of its debates were stretched back to the Reformation for “when it all came down.”

A conservative movement which only rested upon Catholicism will not be a very large movement, not even amongst Catholics. It would require a large amount of conversion from Episcopalians, Pentecostals or Evangelicals and other Protestants fed up with modern trendiness in religion for the ordered tradition of (most, not all) Catholic churches. The early Conservative Movement’s intellectuals and leaders were Catholic but they wisely did not limit their membership to just Catholics alone nor make any kind of sectarian demands upon its followers. Otherwise you would not have had Barry Goldwater (Jewish ancestry, Episcopalian in religion) or Ronald Reagan (Irish ancestry, Disciples of Christ religion) as political leaders.

The problem is so much of modern “conservative” rhetoric is very much Protestant in its orientations towards decentralism and free markets and love for the “God of Warr.” It’s hard going to church on Sunday in one of the most centralized institutions on earth and then come back on Monday railing against centralism in he legislature. Now there are those that may say it’s the difference between God and Ceasar yet it should be pointed out the reason sex abuse scandal so crippled the church was due to its centralism. Scandals can hit a separate church or a synagogue and not take down a whole religion at the same time.

It’s amazing when you think that just before L. Brent Bozell ghostwrote “Conscience of a Conservative he spent a year traveling through Spain. And yet, when he came back, he wrote a manifesto that owed itself more to Adam Smith to Francisco Franco. Something’s got to give. Either conservatives have to stop pretending to libertarians whenever it suits the politically or Catholics should tend to their own gardens and think of something else to call themselves politically. I’m tending towards the latter. Oh, if only the SoCreds were still in existence!

avatar Dave138 June 30, 2013 at 12:13 pm

“its orientations towards decentralism and free markets”

Decentralism in terms of government regulation maybe, but all that “free market” rhetoric in the modern context gives the private sector the freedom to centralize, centralize, centralize. Which leads me to the question (and I don’t really have an answer) of, who protects the little guy from the forces of centralization?

It seems nature abhors a vacuum, and if it’s not the “church” (interpret that how you will) or the government, who is it? Left on our own, will we just “do the right thing” (which seems to be the libertarian argument)? But, then, what does that say about human nature and the Fall? It seems to be, more and more, corporatism filling the vacuum.

avatar Dave138 June 30, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Another thought– this discussion seems to be taking place largely between EOs, RCs, and the Magisterial Reformers. However, what about expanding the definition of Protestant? I believe that the very “patron saint” of FPR, Wendell Berry, is himself a Baptist. What place might those former targets of Magisterial Reformed persecution and killing, the Anabaptists, (some) Baptists, and, God forbid, even Quakers, have in this discussion? Some of these, due to certain political positions (ie, pacifism), are obviously outside the scope the American “Religious Right,” but what place might they have in a coalition of the sort of localist conservatism advocated by FPR? Outside of Catholics and EOs, many of those of the “back to the land” variety, emphasizing such virtues as simplicity, whom I have observed in my own experience, have been members of the three groups noted above. Honestly, some have even been non-denominational “community church” types and house churchers.

avatar John Gorentz June 30, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Decentralism in terms of government regulation maybe, but all that “free market” rhetoric in the modern context gives the private sector the freedom to centralize, centralize, centralize. Which leads me to the question (and I don’t really have an answer) of, who protects the little guy from the forces of centralization?

Excellent point, except, perhaps for the use of the word “all.” Too much of the free market rhetoric does what you say, though. Libertarians and socialists are pretty much the same thing in their instinct to eliminate all relationships except that between the autonomous individual and the Leviathan state. (Rand Paul may be an exception among the libertarians. We’ll see.)

We need more corporations, and more corporate power. By this I mean the family, extended families, churches and other religious institutions, ethnic communities, state and local governments, community schools, business partnerships, incorporated businesses, and sometimes, even, the central, national government. Every one of these corporate types can become corrupt and abusive if allowed to have its own way, but a balance of power among corporations, all jealous of their own prerogatives can leave us some space to live.

But the forces of centralization are always at it. Note this article in Friday’s Wall Street Journal: Diageo Leads Booze Brawl in Missouri : Distillers Fighting To Overturn 1930s Wholesaler Rules. The map-chart that goes with it is labelled, “Patchwork Nation : Since the end of Prohibition, liquor distribution in the U.S. has been a hodgepodge of different rules.”

Unfortunately, there are still people, both right and left, who think a “crazy patchwork of state and local regulations” is a bad thing. For some people such a state of affairs is aesthetically displeasing. Those people are dangerous.

avatar Owen Jones June 30, 2013 at 3:15 pm

You see, it’s all about aesthetics.

avatar Trent June 30, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Owen,

No — you think that it’s all about aesthetics. Everyone else here recognizes that aesthetics is a part of it all.

avatar Eric Phillips June 30, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Owen,

> Voegelin, in his own translations, found faith hope and love in Heraclitus.

Thank you. Do you remember, is this in footnotes, or his introduction, or an article written separately?

> My own sense of this passage is that the path of truth is through the proper, or well
> formed use of sense perception, but in Heraclitus, it’s the eyes, not the ears. He’s
> speaking of spiritual perception of course — the developed capacity that few
> people have to see things as the really are.

This is at best a gloss of your own. The ancient philosophers didn’t seek to train their senses, but their minds. What you are calling “spiritual perception” is what Socrates would call “the examination of life.” And certainly the way the philosophers communicated their insights was via reasoned argumentation. They didn’t say, “Just look at it until you see what I see.” It’s a very subversive postmodernist move, actually, and dismissive of your sources, to read a piece of ancient reasoning and then say, “No, really, be serious. That’s not why you think the way you do. You just like stability, or form, or flux, or right triangles, or whatever. All this argumentation is post hoc.”

avatar Owen Jones June 30, 2013 at 5:10 pm

World of the Polis, Vol 1, Order and History.

Eric, you have to be careful not to take what a philosopher like Heraclitus says literally. He’s not speaking in riddles, but the words are symbols. Same with my words. So I never intended any such meaning as: just keep looking until you see it. That would be incredibly stupid. Sometimes I’m not that bright, but hopefully I’m not that stupid.

avatar Eric Phillips June 30, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Rob G.,

> But Origen, the Gregories, Basil, etc. didn’t START our “movement.” ML, as the
> founder of yours, evinced these sorts of red flags from the get-go.

Ah, right, you are founded not on Origen but on Christ. By happy coincidence, we too are founded not on Luther, but on Christ. Our “movement” is a church, and as a church, most of it was defined long before Luther came along. And of course, you are ducking the point we were actually debating. Who “founded” what is quite irrelevant both to your argument and to the point I was making against it when I mentioned Origen: namely that a great thinker can be quite valuable to orthodox theology even if one has to discard errors that are much more serious and many more in number than one has to discard with Luther. If that is true, then yes, the man can also “found” a worthwhile “movement.”

> There’s nothing PoMo about questioning one’s theological presuppositions.

I didn’t say there was. I said there was something PoMo about deciding that a text cannot have authority of itself–even if it is the Word of God.

> [sola scriptura] ends in either solipsism (fundamentalism) or fideism (Van Til, etc.)
> if one carries it to its conclusions.

You mean, if one divorces those two Latin words from their historical meaning, takes them as an absolute precept, and then builds a system out of them, as if they were the seed of all truth? Maybe. The solution is simple. Don’t do that. The Lutherans haven’t. What sola scriptura means is that Church Tradition cannot be pitted against Scripture. Scripture is not by any stretch the only authority, just the only infallible authority–the standard that measures the others.

> And in Luther’s case, it allows the individual exegete even to consider
> reformulating the Canon to suit his own personal hermeneutic.

He didn’t, you know. He never tried to remove James. He said a lot of good things about it, along with the intemperate sentence that everyone quotes (one of those cases in which the man was too quotable for his own good. But if he hadn’t been a rhetorical genius, he would probably not have had so much influence). He just agreed with those in the early centuries (incl. Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian) who doubted whether it was Apostolic.

avatar Eric Phillips June 30, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Owen,

> So I never intended any such meaning as: just keep looking until you see it. That
> would be incredibly stupid.

Well then, you aren’t really talking about the eyes. You’re talking about the mind.

avatar Owen Jones June 30, 2013 at 6:06 pm

The mind has to have input. The primary input is transcendent. The mechanism is the spiritual sense perception which classically is associated with the eyes, the window to the soul. It’s not that complicated. Which doesn’t mean it’s easy. We rely on people like the classical philosophers, the Bible, Church Fathers, etc., men of wisdom who seem to have that extra special faculty of wisdom and a certain sensitivity and are able to communicate their experience of the truth in words we can understand and identify with, at least to a certain extent. A technical language develops. It used to be taught to people up to about 100 years ago.

avatar Rob G July 1, 2013 at 8:24 am

Trent, as for saying I’m an ass, I’d say you’ve been acting the ass from your very first comment. The thread might very well have remained civil had you not jumped in thrashing about uncharitably when the Reformation began to be (somewhat mildly) critiqued, which is just what a person might expect given the nature of Mr. Hart’s initial post.

avatar Rob G July 1, 2013 at 8:57 am

~~If that is true, then yes, the man can also “found” a worthwhile “movement.”~~

Not if that founding is based on novelties, which was my point. There was no “ducking” involved.

“I said there was something PoMo about deciding that a text cannot have authority of itself–even if it is the Word of God.”

Who said it didn’t? However, for a text’s authority to be valid it must be correctly interpreted. Sola scriptura defaults to sola exegete, in which each man’s interpretation is at base as valid as any other’s. There is no authoritative way to distinguish between interpretations.

For evidence that this understanding is not Pomo, but is in fact traditional and “pre-modern” see Andrew Louth’s book ‘Discerning the Mystery.’ Also, the article by S.M. Hutchens, a Lutheran-trained, Congregationalist theologian, called “The Bible Under Spirit & Church,” and the subsequent discussion in the Touchstone archives (easily accessible online).

I didn’t say ML reformulated the Canon, but that he considered it. But why would a person even think to do that? Jefferson, I could see. But Luther, a “faithful son of the Church?” His approach to the Canon undercuts his appeal to Scriptural authority. The Bible loses any formal authority, and becomes authoritative only when it is seen as teaching ML’s understanding of the Gospel.

The quote from Luther that I referred to above is as follows: “Were they not equally blind? Did they not ignore Paul’s clear and understandable statements?” This is quoted by Paul Althaus in ‘The Theology of Martin Luther,’ p. 339, in reference to his understanding of the Fathers’ teachings on salvation.

avatar Bob Bobenstein July 1, 2013 at 8:59 am

Rob G. has a point. Does FRP have a policy for closing down threads when they’ve gotten so far off topic and into ad hominems as to no longer be any way edifying? If there’s a moderator reading this, it might be a good idea. Then everybody on all sides can just go back to their own blogs, with comboxes stacked with people who agree with them, to brag about how they “won” (or that FPR shut the thread down just when they were “winning”).

avatar Owen Jones July 1, 2013 at 9:03 am

Trent,

I employed a turn of phrase. Try not to take my words as absolutes or totally literally in each and every case. Aesthetics — that is, the understanding of how we experience the world and cosmos, our place in history, etc. — is a primary experience. We then form ideas, opinions, beliefs, and words based on that. The challenge is to examine our experiences and apply reason, and an established technical language to those experiences as a means of properly ordering our existence. If my primary experience is of a hostile world and universe in which I live as an alien, then that is going to determine my ideas, thoughts actions and motivations in virtually predetermined, predictable ways that can be analyzed. Such a person is on a constant quest to escape into a second reality, a world of theory, and then come up with a program to institute that second reality, typically by imposing it on others through force and coercion.

Same principle applies with the experience of a cosmos, world, society that is divinely ordered by a Good God who loves mankind. Only in this case I am not likely to exist in a world of my own making, or try to impose some kind of utopian vision on others.

In both cases, we are talking about a primary experience that is aesthetic.

But that’s not the only story. By the proper utilizing of theory, or to be exact, theoria, the mind ascents to the highest good, which is Beauty.

Now, one might argue that this is a Catholic position, and that most Protestants would find this approach anathema — some kind of Zen mysticism! As would “common sense” secular conservatives. But my goal is not to debunk anyone else’s religion but to simply apply aesthetics as a more effective diagnostic tool to better understand the nature of the cultural crisis as an aesthetic crisis. And if the underlying problem with “modern” politics and culture is an aesthetic crisis, a false aesthetic if you will, then it seems the solution is to apply a true aesthetic.

avatar Trent July 1, 2013 at 9:12 am

Well, Rob, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion, though it definitely seems like sour grapes.

It’s important to challenge vague and unsubstantiated assertions if one is to have a serious discussion. That is what I did. I did so with flare and bit of ire. I am sorry if this gave offense. However, I don’t apologize for taking the thread in a different direction, as it has been able to sustain several different conversations at once. Tis the nature of these things.

Meanwhile, the fact remains that you have been bested. The clichés that you have blithely set forth as self-evident truths in the discussion I have shown to be at best insufficient and at worse false. You tried to build an argument — or, rather, you tried to recapitulate a very old, very hackneyed argument — based on false premises. But you think that you’re allowed to do that, because, well…you’re an Eastern Orthodox Christian. You’re genuinely in touch with the Truth in way that the rest of us are not, and this grants you a bird’s-eye view of the situation wherein silly Western Christians find themselves. So you float out these Hindenburgs of hubris and then get enraged when a bit of friction shows them to be so much gas. Well, what did you expect?

The best part about all of this is that I know that I’m an ass, and I said as much. But you’re an ass, too. Not everyone in this thread is an ass, but you and I certainly are. So the name-calling is moot. All that’s left to examine is the content, and in that examination, you have been bested. It’s etched in pixels like cuneiform, logged away in a WordPress server. If you’d like to continue the debate, I’m happy to. Don’t think of it as a challenge, think of it as invitation. One ass to another.

avatar jason taylor July 1, 2013 at 10:00 am

Mr. Hart is a Calvinist. He already believes Jesus only died for some people. Why should it not be the West under that argument?

avatar Rob G July 1, 2013 at 10:09 am

Hey, feel free to consider me “bested,” if it strokes your ego. Sour grapes don’t appeal to my palate. I’ve dealt with this sort of thing before and undoubtedly will do so again, having debated other such closed-system enthusiasts as hyper-Calvinists, Randians, SSPX’rs and even the odd uber-traditionalist Orthodox. As I said above, a good friend of mine is a confessional Lutheran, and he and I went back and forth on this stuff for years (literally) before realizing that we were neither of us making any headway, and that we should both just shut the hell up about it and talk about literature instead. It helped the friendship immensely.

And it’s funny, but in all my comments above, I don’t recall once appealing to specifically EO arguments, esp. given the fact that I was largely defending the RCC. In fact, the only reason I mentioned the EOC is that in these types of discussions it’s sometimes helpful to demonstrate that one does not have a partisan axe to grind. I don’t recall once criticizing any specifically Western idea, nor did I raise any specifically E/W distinctions. As an aside, if you want to see what I’d consider the best EO presentation of this subject, see Florovsky’s ‘Bible, Church, Tradition.’

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. July 1, 2013 at 10:37 am

You’ll probably tell me to mind my own business, but since this is an open forum, I’ll speak anyway. As I said in a much earlier comment, I am no theologian, but I have been reading this exchange with delight, and since at least one of you is interested in winning, I thought that I’d offer my services as a (relatively) objective judge. For sharpness of wit and deftness of intellect, I’d have to give the contest to Trent. Frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it outside the essays of Christopher Hitchens, which is ironic given his atheism. For sheer Christian conduct, however, Rob gets the medal. Simply put, he has debated charitably; moreover, he took the time to recommend to this very ordinary man two works of theology, and he even advised me on how to approach those texts. I appreciate his sharing his experience with a curious stranger.

I know–who asked me? No one, but as Mr. Bobenstein mentioned earlier, some moderation is in order, and I have some time to kill today. Keep in mind that all of my judgments are based on your respective comments; I do not presume to judge you as people. Just one more thing: Disclose your respective addresses, meet somewhere between those points, find a good bar, and have a beer in the spirit of reconciliation.

God bless,

Ken

P.S. No comments about my bad knock-knock joke.

avatar John Gorentz July 1, 2013 at 10:52 am

Ken, if recreational epistemology ever becomes an Olympic event, maybe you could be one of the judges. Maybe you could even help decide whether it should be a freestyle event or done under the Greco-Roman rules. There would also be the question of whether eye-gouging is allowed.

avatar Rob G July 1, 2013 at 11:07 am

Thanks, Ken. I try not to take this stuff personally, but it’s not always easy. I wish I had more time to respond to the opposing points at greater length, but other duties call, alas. (Which is why I often have to content myself with recommending books and articles — you have to put a certain amount of trust in the intellectual sincerity of your opponents, but at times this is misplaced. I don’t care so much about “winning,” as I do about getting the other person to at least see the other side honestly. You know — horse to water and all that.)

avatar Trent July 1, 2013 at 12:20 pm

“For sheer Christian conduct, however, Rob gets the medal. Simply put, he has debated charitably.”

There’s a difference between standing pat next to your own assertions even when they’ve been disproven and “debating charitably.” It’s nice of Rob to recommend some things for you to read — that was charitable. But Rob hasn’t really been debating in this thread, so it is impossible for him to have been debating charitably. I guess that he, too, is “advancing an aesthetic.”

The thrust of Rob’s pseudo-argument is that “Protestantism” is fundamentally discontinuous with tradition, so “Protestants” have a harder time being conservative than RCs or EOs. There are numerous material and formal weaknesses to this argument. I chose to go for the root — the popular parlor-room cliché that “the Reformation” was a singular event which resulted in “Protestantism” and ushered in the Enlightenment and all of the woes of modernity. I began by challenging the assumption that Roman Catholicism is inherently more traditional, i.e., that it has been a more faithful conservator of the apostolic tradition. I offered copious citations substantiating this point. Rob pivoted and made a slightly different allegation, in so many words: that Lutheranism, specifically, was materially/theologically discontinuous with “the patristic consensus.” He attacked the old familiar canard of Martin Luther wanting to “shit-can” the Epistle of James. Eric Phillips has deftly shown this to be a red herring, and noted that the historic distinction between the homologoumena and antilegomena in the canon predated Luther by over a thousand years. For my part, I offered some very lengthy (so as to provide context) citations of that great Eastern patriarch, St. John Chrysostom, affirming forensic justification sola fide — a doctrine frequently calumniated by RCs and EOs as a theological novum that is nowhere to be found in the Fathers. Rob ignored this, or didn’t see it til later, and then ignored it, but made Po-Mo rejoinders about people not being able to understand Sacred Scripture or the Church Fathers with “Reformation-crafted lenses.” Farther down he asserted again that Lutheran teaching (specifically, the “founding” of Lutheranism) is “based on novelties” and advanced another non-patristic viewpoint: that Scripture needs an authoritative interpreter to be understood.

This is not charity. It’s chicanery and intellectual dishonesty. I don’t care how many awesome and interesting article recommendations a person makes; if they’re ignoring primary sources and making tendentious and false accusations, a flurry of Touchstone articles is just obfuscation. Rob has sacrificed charity on behalf of his relentless desire to see everything in neat little rows. “And then Martin Luther broke with tradition and invented Protestantism and Modernism…” Fie on such smarmy, simplistic intellectual posturing.

For those of you who want a conservative aesthetic, read The Little Way of Ruthie Lemming, written by Rod Dreher (a convert from Methodism to Roman Catholicism, and then from there to Eastern Orthodoxy) as a tribute to and memoir of his deceased sister. Ruthie Lemming lived her life with a fierce loyalty to family and place, but perhaps she wasn’t “conservative” by the standards of some in this thread. I wonder if Mam and Paw Dreher and Ruthie knew how lucky they were to have stumbled into an unlikely conservatism…

avatar dghart July 1, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Rob G., you remarked that a polemical pro-Protestant position would naturally emerge in this thread given the “nature” of my original post. Can you explain?

BTW, in your initial comment you invoked Weaver on Ockham and nominalism. Was not Ockham a Roman Catholic? If you trace Luther to Ockham, who proceeded Ockham?

Also, to keep things a little clear here, Russell Kirk was not a Roman Catholic when he wrote the Conservative Mind and fathered modern American conservatism. It’s possible to be conservative and not Roman Catholic. It’s even possible to be Roman Catholic and not conservative. Ask Garry Wills.

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. July 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Concerning your third paragraph, Dr. Hart, absolutely!

avatar BobS July 1, 2013 at 5:49 pm

I don’t really care about the link that some people make between Catholicism and conservatism. I find many conservatives as disagreeable as progressives. Chesterton said that the “business of progressives is to go on making mistakes and the business of conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected.” Conservatives tend to never question authority and assume that the status quo is just and natural. That’s why they often defend the ancien regime even though it was founded by robbery and usurpation; a ruling class established itself by force, and then compelled the peasantry to work for the profit of their lords.

avatar Rob G July 1, 2013 at 6:59 pm

What I meant was that a post of this sort was bound to open up some measure of critique of Prostestantism vis a vis Catholicism (and vice-versa). It’s difficult to broach such a topic without engendering a certain amount of defensiveness on both sides.

Nominalism developed in late Scholasticism, although it had some earlier roots (Roscellinus, for instance). Bouyer, a former Lutheran turned Catholic, considers it a an outgrowth of a decadent Scholasticism: loosely Catholic, but not orthodox philosophically.

More later.

avatar Ariosto July 1, 2013 at 7:49 pm

I sense that Belloc is ultimately the object of critique here, since he wrote _Europe and the Faith_. It would be a misrepresentation of his thesis to suggest that he thought Christ died for the sake of a particular land-mass. The Apostles had an immediate connection to Europe, not least with SS. Peter & Paul, or even Mary Magdalene, who wound up in southern France. So what exactly is objectionable about the close identification of the Church with the land-mass on which it first and most fully flourished? Hart should specify what his complaint is on this point; it comes off too dismissively.

On conciliarism, Hart may have the wrong precursor. It was after all at the Council of Constance that Jan Hus was tried for heresy and burned at the stake. What were the motivations of the conciliarists, if not to preserve the unity of the Church, even in the person of its supreme pastor?

What about the arguments of the papal party that the pope enjoys precisely that supremacy of authority which is consistent with the principle of subsidiarity? i.e., that he does exactly what the local ordinaries cannot do? For example, the pope as an independent authority, formerly with territories under his control, was a sort of counterweight to secular authority. Has Protestantism been able to supply that? Why were so many conciliarists creatures of the French crown or of the Emperor?

The link to Leo XIII is to the wrong encyclical. In the encyclical linked to (Testem benevolentiae), Leo discusses a difficulty that developed in American Catholic religious houses, toward favoring the active above the contemplative works. That’s something we can see arise naturally out of the American spirit, Protestant or not. The encyclical on the topic Murray later addressed was Longinqua, in which Leo discussed the American constitutional settlement. Leo’s objection is limited to the thesis according to which the American constitutional arrangement concerning religion is the best possible arrangement. Leo says that, while Catholics can be grateful for the freedom afforded them, nevertheless in the Church’s view the ideal situation remains one of cooperation between Church & State. Leo was probably slightly more hopeful about democracy than his predecessors immediately after the French Revolution, or even than his successor Pius X.

avatar Jonathan F July 1, 2013 at 8:48 pm

I have been watching the exchange here with some interest since being linked to the original several days ago. It seems to me that the majority of posters have long since side-tracked onto the question of which Christian system is the most “conservative” – but without much regard for politics, so that it’s become little more than a rehashing of the continuing debate over church authenticity, dogma, and authority. Slumlord really started that ball rolling, with his first comment accusing Protestantism generally of “subjectivity” (I am tempted to add, “whatever that means”).

But if I may take the liberty of drifting back to the political question posed? A Reformed Christian myself, I don’t read FPR regularly or closely – as I think most of the other commenters do – but the general tenor of the site seems describable as Agrarian, or at least heavily influenced by such thought. Now this line of thought, it seems to me, is closely tied up to traditionalism, of the sort Chesterton celebrated – I cannot find a link, but his poem on a (fictitious, for all I know) road from The Flying Inn would be an excellent example – a traditionalism we might characterize by, “Well, that’s how it’s always been done.” When that is common thinking – though I have admittedly oversimplified – whether or not it is a line of argument adopted regularly, of course members of the Roman church (or the Eastern, for that matter) will feel more at home.

A Protestant, though, is liable to be less worried about how things “are done” and want to know how they “should be done”. Traditions are, if not necessarily bad, at least in danger of being empty things of man – vain repetitions and whited sepulchers, as it were. Things manifestly have not “always been done” any particular way, and the task at hand is to find out which one is Right. (In more worldly moments, this does slip to the question of which one is Most Useful.)

It is not clear to me, in short, how a Protestant can properly be comfortable as a “conservative” by default. Conserve what? My own views, certainly, are “conservative” in the American political sense, but I am not very fond of the label. (I would prefer to just be Right, though today’s liberals insist on being contrasted as Left rather than Wrong. Er, where was I?)

On the other hand, it is not any clearer how a Romanist can fit into the American conservative box. Even if American conservatism (at least as held at FPR, say) has largely adopted a political stance consistent with Roman doctrine, there is something truly weird about it – call it a Key of Damocles, the Pope sitting there claiming the power to Do Something if your Local Tradition is not actually up to snuff. This is basically a summary of Medieval history from, oh, 950-1500 or so? Admittedly a Protestant summary, but still! The fact that the Thirty Years’ War brought a final end to effective Papal temporal power is one thing; recent developments – as I understand them – since Vatican II are another nudge; but to be an American conservative – by which I mean, someone who wishes to preserve distinctly American traditions – means to hold to a division of powers and prerogatives not entirely consonant with the Roman vision of State – or Church.

avatar Darryl Hart July 1, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Ariosto,

On the land mass where Christianity flourished, you mean Turkey?

On councils, there was that difficult matter of two popes at the same time.

On a counterweight to secularism, how exactly did the papacy provide that.

On Americanism, I’m not sure if you’ve seen this.

avatar Kenneth A. Cote, Jr. July 1, 2013 at 10:04 pm

I finished Dreher’s book a couple of weeks ago, Trent. I was struck by its humility and generosity of spirit. Mr. Dreher is a husband and father as well as a brother, and I think much of the wisdom of his book comes from his having to shepherd his own family through Ruthie’s exquisite agony. At the risk of trivializing Mr. Dreher’s experience, I’d call his fortitude the mark of a conservative–in temperament, not politics. I, too, have a family, and when death comes to a loved one, I hope to remember Mr. Dreher’s example.

Thank you for the summary of your debate with Rob. As I said, you get the prize for theological acumen. Still, the topic is theology, the heart of which is Jesus Christ. Maybe Rob did evade certain points; I’ve already said that I’m not learned enough in your field to detect the finer misrepresentations, ruses, and red-herrings. My instinct tells me, however, that Jesus would favor Rob’s tone over yours. Now, if he were quoting Scripture for the devil’s purposes, matters would be different. Rob says that he is making the best case he can in the time that is available to him, and I believe him. Make your arguments and defend your faith, but don’t join the multitudes queued up at the cross to drive their nails into Christ’s tender hands. He suffered to redeem us for our sins, but we must guard against taking that love for granted. Such is my layman’s perspective.

In closing, you said many posts ago that you don’t know me. Well, here I am: I am a 47-year-old father of two sons; I am also a teacher who just completed his 21st year. I see from the information that you have made public that you, too, are a teacher–of Latin, I believe–and that you recently accepted a position as assistant principal at a private school in Oregon. I find that working with kids is a humbling experience. Let’s put all of this posturing aside and think ahead to the fall when our students will need our best, not our worst.

God bless,

Ken

P.S. No more responses from me. I’ll be spending time with my boys.

avatar pb July 2, 2013 at 1:04 am

Surprise, nothing in the Chrysostom text, as a gloss on St. Paul, above disagrees with RC or SO teaching on justification – sola gratia, etc.

avatar pb July 2, 2013 at 1:05 am

EO, not SO – darn autocorrect

avatar John Gorentz July 2, 2013 at 1:19 am

It’s hard to tell in person, much less on-line, whether and when a person would be better served by a kick in the ass or gentle words. From the Gospels it seems Jesus had a knack for knowing the time and place for each. I don’t have quite as much faith in the internet knowing which is best, but it seems there is plenty of each to be had.

avatar John Gorentz July 2, 2013 at 1:25 am

Just now seen on Twitter, possibly relevant to this discussion: “The invisible church is the Bride, the visible church Bridezilla.”

avatar Chris Travers July 2, 2013 at 1:34 am

@Shumlord:

You wrote, ‘The problem of “the truth” is the central problem of conservatism. Catholicism tends to see truth as more objective whereas Protestantism, effectively makes it subjective, relying more on “personal revelation” and hence intuition. Vague feelings, insights and intuitions tend to trump reality.’

I am not entirely sure about that part about Catholicism vs Protestantism. I don’t think one can understand Catholicism without reading Aristotle or Cicero. I don’t think one can understand Calvinism without reading the Stoics. As a Heathen I can recognize and value what commonalities of truth I find in both. My views on the nature and value of Christianity here would probably be off-topic. At this point all I can say is that I find Christianity helpful in exploring my own non-Christian religion because of what I see as shared heritage.

The problem of truth though is a central problem everywhere. I think it is only by trivializing the problem (as “human rights” advocates often do) that the cultural clear-cutting of today becomes possible. I was arguing about cultural imperialism on the left regarding gay rights, and I ended up finally arguing that it is only where there is real diversity in the world culturally, that we can engage in the dialog necessary to truly understand human growth, potential, and flourishing.

avatar Owen Jones July 2, 2013 at 7:07 am

Let’s take the phenom of Rush Limbaugh for a sec as a case study. Rush Limbaugh is a “Buckley Conservative.” A fusionist, if you will, trying to fuse libertarian beliefs in individual rights and states rights vs. centralization of government with some kind of cultural/and religious “values.” He arrives at the ineluctable conclusion that God underlies it all, and is willing to say that on air, but doesn’t go much further than that for a variety of reasons. Don’t want to hurt your market by being “religious,” for one thing. But the problem is that, while Limbaugh has a lot of keen insights into political motivation on the immediate level, he is basically arguing that facts are more important than symbolism. That’s a favorite saying (slogan) of his. He quotes Reagan’s dictum: “facts are disturbing things.”

The problem is that symbolism trumps facts almost all the time. Facts — presumably here one is talking about objective truths, right? — are not the same as reality. Can we all agree with this, that the term reality points to something larger and deeper than the accumulation of facts (hence my citation of Heraclitus). Certainly not the same as political reality, which is almost entirely grounded in symbols. And symbols (we are talking mostly about language symbols ) are representations of experiences. So neither a political critique nor a political foundation can be laid down that does not examine the range of experiences that produce the symbols. Certainly not one that relies solely on objective facts.

Now, in the religious realm, you have the people who believe that the Incarnation is a fact and every thing else tends to flow from that assertion. Here is where I think most devout Catholics and Protestants would agree. Unfortunately, it’s a very bad foundation and easy to get laughed at by people who are inherently skeptical (which doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for something to believe in).

From a very pragmatic standpoint, something is just not working when it comes to confronting and resisting the totalitarian temptation in our society today. Maybe it’s time for a new “paradigm?”
So my suggestion is to look at the problem of which faith, traditionalism, FPR, fusionism, libertarianism, are all attempt to respond to. What is the nature of the problem in the first place. And I would argue that it’s first and foremost an aesthetic crisis.

avatar Rob G July 2, 2013 at 7:44 am

Trent, you’re basically accusing me of debating in bad faith. Sorry, but I want no parts of a discussion with someone who thinks that, and thus will not continue it. It’s like playing cards with someone who assumes you’re cheating. I’ve had numerous discussions of this sort with folks on the internet and have never been accused of intellectual dishonesty. You seem unable to defend your position without descending to personal attacks and aspersions, and that’s something I choose not to deal with. Life’s too short.

Perhaps it would be more in your line to go to the Triabloggers site, where you can debate the finer points of Protestant theology with equally uncharitable Calvinists, while throwing around the ad hominems willy-nilly.

avatar Chris Travers July 2, 2013 at 8:23 am

Owen Jones:

It is worth noting that the same insight as you attribute to Heraclitus is also central to Hinduism, Buddhism, and possibly various older European pagan faiths as well (not sure whether Heraclitus can be said to have been brought to India by the time the Uppanishads were written, so it may have been either independent or cognate).

In fact reading the Uppanishads alongside early (pre-Platonic) Greek philosophy is quite interesting….

avatar Owen Jones July 2, 2013 at 8:35 am

Of course. That’s because there is a universal truth there. However, one should be careful about taking the next step, which would be to argue that they are the same thing, or that there is some kind of perennial philosophy that can be codified. It’s like saying, because the Virgin Birth or the Golden Rule are not unique to Christianity, therefore all religions are all the same. Aesthetics do not inevitably lead one in that direction.

avatar Trent July 2, 2013 at 9:15 am

@pb,

Surprise, nothing in the Chrysostom text, as a gloss on St. Paul, above disagrees with RC or EO teaching on justification – sola gratia, etc.

Hmmm. Assuming your quip is accurate (a big assumption), I think it’s more relevant to note that nothing in the “Chrysostom text” disagrees with Lutheran teaching on justification. Which was the point I was making.

@Rob,

Both a guilty man and an innocent man will make protestations of innocence. If you don’t like being accused of intellectual dishonesty, then stop being intellectually dishonest. It really is that simple, at least in this case.

It’s quite apropos that you end by telling me that I should go debate “Protestant theology” on a Calvinist blog. “Protestant theology”? There’s that trademark broad brush of yours. You seem like a pretty intelligent fellow; thus, I have to assume that this crass categorical lumping is intentional. That, and your use of “Martin Luther’s greatest hits” as a way of casting aspersion on the theology of the Augsburg Confession. Given all of this, it seems that you actually might be better suited to hash things out on Triablog. You’re the one who wants to tilt at the Generic Protestant Windmill. I’ve been on that blog — years ago. Ironically, it was for a lack of intellectual honesty comparable to yours that I only looked once.

And finally, on that note, calling someone “stupid” is an ad hominem. Calling someone “intellectually dishonest” is not. It’s an inductive inference which actually gives them the benefit of the doubt. It says “you’re clearly an intelligent person, yet you’re repeatedly refusing to acknowledge certain facts (pardon me, Owen) which militate against your sweeping generalizations.”

avatar pb July 2, 2013 at 9:36 am

Chrysostom is in harmony with the joint Cath Lutheran statement on justification. To read into the text a more traditional Lutheran position isn’t warranted.

avatar Owen Jones July 2, 2013 at 9:37 am

If you want an example of a single issue that would discredit progressivism, and unite an opposition, if would be evolution. While there are anomalies in the polling data, it’s pretty clear that some form of “creationism” wins over evolution, but especially atheistic evolution. And it is not a scientific issue, at least according to the canons of modern science. It’s an aesthetic issue. In fact, Darwin’s arguments in favor were aesthetic, not scientific. He admitted not only a lack of scientific evidence, but that the current scientific evidence actually refuted his theory. But he expressed confidence that new scientific knowledge would confirm his theory (which, btw, he borrowed from Herbert Spencer and not the other way around which is the commonly accepted myth).

So various factions on the “right” so to speak, other than the hard core libertarians, have an opportunity here if they would only seize it, to formulate a new social paradigm by refuting the survival of the fittest theories of Darwin and his followers and being popular at the same time!!!!

avatar Trent July 2, 2013 at 9:41 am

Well, it’s good to have the authoritative sound-bite of assertion. I guess I’ll stop reading the Fathers and get myself a CCC.

avatar Rob G July 2, 2013 at 10:11 am

Dude, you read way too much into things. You really do. Like all the non-existent EO triumphalism you seemed to see in my comments. Can’t a rhetorical generality be just a rhetorical generality without your attempt to read the mind of the commenter and make it into something malicious and momentous? Last time I checked this was still FPR. It hasn’t yet been merged into the Psychic Network.

A person who’s not intellectually dishonest has no need to stop being so. (No, I’ve not stopped beating my wife, because I never started.) Ascribe malice if you so desire, but any missed points were not “evasions,” but were simply due to lack of time.

avatar Bob Bobenstein July 2, 2013 at 10:33 am

I assumed this thread would have died a merciful death by now, but out of perverse curiosity decided to check. Maybe, just maybe, if we continue long enough, FPR will be the place that finally solves the problem 4-500 years of church history could not– the problem almost the same rehashed arguments on infinite message boards across the blogosphere could not. All it takes is enough rephrasing of the same arguments and enough avatars of bearded men looking pensive in front of bookshelves or flaunting their naughty pipe smoking to differentiate themselves from their Fundamentalist forbearers. Of course, at what point does it just become theological self-pleasuring, when the “Confessional” Protestant denominations and the RC and EO “traditionalists” are largely multiple sides of the same coin. At least they all have one thing in common– a very similar paradigm and/or mindset.

avatar Trent July 2, 2013 at 10:54 am

The funny thing, Bob Bobenstein (is that your real name, by the way?), is that you’re part of the absurdity. Don’t deny it! You’re a trope.

I’m amused to know that the picture of me in front of elementary school math textbooks has garnered such derision. In any event, I’ll change my avatar to something a little more pedestrian.

Also, I don’t have any Fundamentalist forebears. And I smoke cigarettes, not pipes.

avatar Rob G July 2, 2013 at 11:04 am

But Bob, I wonder if the subject of Mr. Hart’s original post can be discussed without getting into Catholic/Protestant distinctives. After all, the question sort of boils down to “why do a lot of Catholics think Catholicism is more conservative than Protestantism?” or something of that sort. Naturally, theology/philosophy will come up in whatever answer one gives.

avatar Bob Bobenstein July 2, 2013 at 11:10 am

Part of the absurdity? No denial there. We’re all lost in the funhouse. :-)

avatar Bob Bobenstein July 2, 2013 at 11:37 am

Trent,

that link was hilarious. Are you familiar with the discussion board themed Flame Warriors comics?

http://redwing.hutman.net/~mreed/index.htm

avatar echarles1 July 2, 2013 at 6:37 pm

They belong but can never be in full communion with conservatism :-)
(As a Catholic I kid because I love.)

avatar Chris Travers July 2, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Owen:

You wrote: “That’s because there is a universal truth there. However, one should be careful about taking the next step, which would be to argue that they are the same thing, or that there is some kind of perennial philosophy that can be codified.”

The question is what direction the next step should get taken. I think the simple next step, that given the linguistic and philosophical links between India and Greece, that these are part of a common heritage, doesn’t seem hard to defend at all.

Interestingly one of the founders of modern Hinduism, Sri Ramakrishna did teach that all religions were the same (or at least that Hinduism, Islam, and Catholicism were), but I think he meant something different by that then you are arguing against, namely the idea that there is universal truth and that multiple paths could lead to experience of that Truth (Sanscrit “Brahman”). This is of course a distinctly Hindu approach which does not strike me as different from the exercise described in the Uppanishads as contemplating various aspects of the world (lightening, wind, moon, sun, etc) and realizing “That is what you are.” So I don’t know whether that confirms or argues against your position. Certainly he was not arguing either for syncretism or for a codified uniformity.

As far as the Golden Rule though, I think there is an underlying universality in that specific thing, which is that we relate to others based on projecting our understanding of ourselves onto them. Therefore we innately treat others how we expect to be treated. We cannot know the minds of others so we assume they are like our own. One can take this further and (rightly) watch one’s wallet around someone who accuses everyone else of being a thief…

One of the interesting aspects of comparative studies is the fact that one has to analyse similarities to see whether or not they are borrowed, share a common heritage, or are merely accidental. Universals are relatively uninteresting, and counter-universals are immensely interesting. It tells you more, for example, that the sun is female in Norse myth than it does that the sun is male in Greek myth.

avatar Chris Travers July 2, 2013 at 9:01 pm

@Owen:

You wrote: “If you want an example of a single issue that would discredit progressivism, and unite an opposition, if would be evolution. While there are anomalies in the polling data, it’s pretty clear that some form of “creationism” wins over evolution, but especially atheistic evolution. And it is not a scientific issue, at least according to the canons of modern science. It’s an aesthetic issue.”

This is a very Ciceronian perspective ;-). Of course it can never be a scientific issue because of the limits of scientific epistemology.

avatar Fr. John Morris July 2, 2013 at 9:41 pm

There is a comment above that refers to Eastern Orthodoxy disavowing the claims of the papacy. This is inaccurate. Eastern Orthodox did not disavow the claims of the papacy, because we never accepted them in the first place. One looks in vain at the canons of the 7 Ecumenical Councils for any justification of the claims of Rome for universal jurisdiction much less infallibility. Each local Church was self governing led by a primate who was responsible to the council of bishops, not all powerful as the modern day popes. In the ancient Church the supreme authority was an Ecumenical Council, which had authority over all bishops including the Bishop of Rome.

avatar Rob G July 3, 2013 at 7:40 am

Dr. Hart, I happened this morning to be reading the latest issue of Modern Age, in which your piece on original sin and communism appears (haven’t read it yet), and noticed that in another essay in the journal, the one by Nathan Schlueter on Strauss and Benedict XVI, the subject at hand is talked about. The piece mentions the pope’s Regensburg lecture, and his reference to the Reformation therein, as connected to modernity. Also referenced is Fr. James Schall’s book on the lecture, which may have add’l discussion along these lines.

avatar Slumlord July 3, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Chris Travers

Sorry, I’m going to keep harping about this but truth is the central issue. I don’t think it’s an issue about Protestants belonging as it is knowing what to belong to and drawing a dividing line marking when you do not belong. Seriously, from an atheist or Hindu perspective, the wide and local variants of Protestantism pose a problem in picking which one is right. Some denominations approve of fornication “in love” whilst others do not. Which one is right? Which one truly aligns with the will of God?
(Assuming that you believe that God exists)

How can a Protestant who believes in A belong in the same way as a Protestant who believes in -A. The problem with Protestantism is not that it is incompatible with traditionalism,it is that it is also the source of Modernism as well. Protestantism makes truth essentially relative to the interpreter of it. Catholicism, on the other hand, sees truth as an objective thing outside of itself. Catholic struggles with truth tend to resolve about trying to identify it. The Protestant has no such problem as the spirit guides him with inerrancy, even thought the product of this guidance is variant amongst individuals.

I’m not a traditionalist myself, but traditionalism at least implies that there is an objective right way to live, extrinsic to our perception of it. The problem of Protestantism is that each individual gets to determine their own variation of traditionalism which in the end does not end up being very traditional at all.

avatar Fr. John Morris July 3, 2013 at 11:01 pm

You are absolutely correct. Without the standards provided by the Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils, one can twist the Bible to say almost anything. The Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils provide the guidance we need to understand the sacred text. The Protestant doctrine of “sola scriptura” is responsible for the division of Western Christianity as well as the rejection of traditional Christian morality by the dying mainline Protestant denominations. Because the largest Protestant groups have abandoned Biblical morality, our country is in the midst of a general moral collapse.

avatar dgwired July 4, 2013 at 7:52 am

Owen, you wrote: “Now, in the religious realm, you have the people who believe that the Incarnation is a fact and every thing else tends to flow from that assertion. Here is where I think most devout Catholics and Protestants would agree.”

I actually think this is a point at which real tension exists between RCs and confessional Protestants within conservatism. Conservative Protestants (Reformation types, not liberals or evangelicals) don’t think everything flows from the incarnation. It has to do with fundamental differences between cult and culture, grace and nature. I know RC’s are still working grace and nature out in a post neo-Thomist era, but it does strike me that many more RC’s are willing to appeal to the incarnation to sacramentalize the universe. Obviously, Protestants don’t have the same view of sacraments and it extends to culture.

avatar dgwired July 4, 2013 at 7:53 am

Rob G., I’ll have to look at Nathan’s piece.

avatar dgwired July 4, 2013 at 7:57 am

Fr. John Morris, such glib assertions about Protestantism are not helpful and they overlook the very same problems that afflict Roman Catholics. Rome has to make sense of its own magisterium (somehow) — how do you go from Unam Sanctam to Gaudium et Spes without a little opinion and without help from the Fathers and Ecumenical Councils. Also, you have noticed that Roman Catholics in the U.S. are not exactly following church morality.

avatar Owen Jones July 4, 2013 at 8:24 am

My point was not to argue that the Incarnation is the starting point for Protestants. I was simply using it as an example of what people want to see as a fact. The Incarnation is not a fact. And when religious people try to claim that their belief is based on fact, it is very easy to ridicule that. Another way to put it is that any attempt to objectify faith and belief is not only doomed to fail, but in a very important sense is theologically heretical. The problem spills over into politics. When mysticism, the contemplative virtues, the whole vision thing, intuition, is expunged from the Church, it doesn’t just die, it pops up elsewhere. So modern secular politics, but especially on the left, is an ersatz religious mysticism. It cannot be countered by marshaling facts. It cannot be refuted by an argument that presumes to be based on something called “objective truth.” Underlying the divide is a different aesthetic.

avatar Trent July 4, 2013 at 8:55 am

Whatever else it is, the Incarnation is also a fact. The supreme factum, as it were, for as St. Irenaeus of Lyons argued, it is the recapitulation of the divine fiat of Creation. It doesn’t follow that we who believe in the fact (and the truth, and the aesthetic, and the reality) of the Incarnation must make rationalist defenses of it.

…I’ve been outed as a Latin teacher by Kenneth, so I guess I have to caricature myself now.

When mysticism, the contemplative virtues, the whole vision thing, intuition, is expunged from the Church, it doesn’t just die, it pops up elsewhere. So modern secular politics, but especially on the left, is an ersatz religious mysticism.

I’m not sure that the association of “mysticism” with the “contemplative virtues” is a fair one, and even if it were, I don’t think the Church lacks Julians of Norwich above all else right now. This is also pretty reductionistic: one can identify an equally strong penchant for rationalism and positivism in the secular left, and just as credibly (and tendentiously) argue that it is the Church’s abandonment of rigorous dialectic that has led to it. Your metanarrative is too neat.

avatar Owen Jones July 4, 2013 at 9:20 am

Yes, Trent, there are rational arguments in defense of the Incarnation, precisely because it is not an historical fact. You do not need a rational argument to defend the proposition that, say, Napolean was the Emperor of France. You do need rational arguments to defend the proposition that Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity! That’s because it is something that is known and revealed in and through faith, not as a fact. If it were a fact, you wouldn’t need faith.

And yet “conservative” Christians, and conservatives generally, fall into this epistemological trap all the time, thinking that if we just insist that something is an objective fact, then people must get in line, not to mention the somewhat pathetic state of affairs spiritually of a Church that hinges its beliefs and practices on what they insist are facts. There is no virtue in believing in a fact. There is only a kind of smarmy superiority.

So the fight for political supporters goes on, with the leftist secular progressives all talking about their vision and not an insignificant number of people on the right talking about a better tomorrow, only the argument on the right is, see, we can prove factually that it will be a better tomorrow because markets produce greater prosperity and human happiness. And the left says, we have a better vision than you.

So every time a conservative, Christian or otherwise, begins an argument with the left based on “objective truth,” or objective facts, he is bound to lose. The vision thing wins every time. The left offers salvation. The right offers information. Which would you choose?

avatar Trent July 4, 2013 at 10:47 am

I agree with this more than any of your previous comments. However, I think you are over-privileging the role of mystical allure in attracting people to the progressivist paradigm, over and against the role of rationalism, et al. I don’t buy the line that the zeitgeist bugbear of the 18 C. was rationalism, but now it’s post-modern secular mysticism. That frontloads a certain overly-simplistic philosophy of history. As I said before, it is too neat.

As for your comments viz. the Incarnation: I am not saying that it is the sort of fact that is accessible to human reason, i.e, and “objective fact.” I am saying that Christians, by faith, confess it to be an historical fact in the sense that the Christian narrative is historical, played out in human space and time, unlike (for example) Greek and Norse mythology. Many in the Early Church came to faith through the reasoned explication of Old Testament prophecy (to leave aside the pneumatological aspect of conversion — of course it was the Holy Spirit who gave them faith). One thinks of such early saints as Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria who defended the faith via the conceptual language of Neoplatonism. They did not just posit a vision that wooed people. In any event, I don’t want to veer off into logomachy: I don’t think that this argument is decided or undecided by whether the Incarnation is a fact. That it is something confessed as the most real of realities only by faith and not able to be proven rationally, we agree. Perhaps a more fruitful dialogue about this theological bit could be had elsewhere. Like my blog. (Shameless self-promotion — I’ll try to start something over there in the near future; please feel free to take a glance and comment.) I accept that there is a distinction between fact and truth, I’m just not sure that it’s appropriate to apply it here. There are facts, and then there are assertions of facts. Not every fact can or ought to be asserted.

So the fight for political supporters goes on, with the leftist secular progressives all talking about their vision and not an insignificant number of people on the right talking about a better tomorrow, only the argument on the right is, see, we can prove factually that it will be a better tomorrow because markets produce greater prosperity and human happiness. And the left says, we have a better vision than you.

So every time a conservative, Christian or otherwise, begins an argument with the left based on “objective truth,” or objective facts, he is bound to lose. The vision thing wins every time. The left offers salvation. The right offers information. Which would you choose?

Hmmm. Yes, so what do we do? How do we avoid this silly dichotomy? Do we avoid it? Do we build Christendom?

I’m a Lutheran — I know that everyone knows that by now, and I know that I’ve been pegged as a dirty rationalist nominalist follower of a schismatic heretic for being one — and I think that goes to my point: I’m not suggesting that in order for conservatism to thrive, either as a “movement”, an aesthetic, or a philosophy, or a whatever, everyone needs to become a Lutheran. But it does really seem to me that, without necessarily saying it, there are some in this thread who really think that conservatism, whatever it may be, is only practicable by Christians — and “Christians” is defined as “Roman Catholics” or “Eastern Orthodox.” And, frankly, as an argument from first principles, this sort of makes sense, given the respective ecclesiologies/theologies in question.

For example, it really seems like what Owen wants to say, but has been avoiding saying, is that only the Church (which the West separated from way back when) is capable of sustaining conservatism, because the aesthetic he’s articulating is only found in and emanating from the (Eastern) Church. Do an end run around Western Scholasticism and its children, and go East, where you will find the good life and rest for your souls. If you don’t, you won’t really even know what to conserve.

Others, less crass than Thomas Lark, advance a similar argument on behalf of Western Christendom. Stop the silly debate, and come home to Rome, where you will find the good life and rest for your souls. If you don’t, you won’t really even know what to conserve.

The Protestant, for reasons which some might say are the equivalent of sour grapes, is tending to say that, although I believe that I’m right, and more catholic than the pope, one doesn’t need to believe as I do to live the good life. One could even, like Mr. Travers, worship Thor, and still be conservative. On that note, have y’all seen the Archdruid Report?

In order to convince Protestants of the truth of their positions, the EOs and RCs ultimately have to convince the former (rationally or noetically; with or without facts/reason/tradition/history/bribes/ice-cream — somehow) of the truth of their theology, respectively. It becomes not a debate about politics and culture, properly, but about theology.

In order to convince RCs or EOs of the truth of their…position(s)?…Protestants could try to do the same thing. But they have another option: just stop arguing and go live like Ruthie Leming. Especially among confessional Lutherans and Presbyterians, “Two Kingdoms” theology lowers the expectations regarding the possibility of permanent earthly community throughout time and space, especially when we’re talking about a larger scale, i.e. the national scale or the global scale.

Am I way off?

avatar Darryl Hart July 4, 2013 at 11:22 am

Owen, I still don’t think saying the incarnation is the starting point quite gets it. The creed doesn’t begin there. It begins with God the father and creation. The incarnation comes in response to the fall. And once we start talking about sinfulness in Augustinian terms we have a division of humanity and a very different understanding of “flourishing” in the earthly city.

avatar Darryl Hart July 4, 2013 at 11:26 am

Trent, (where did you get Crusty as your gravatar?)

I think you said something important here: “, it really seems like what Owen wants to say, but has been avoiding saying, is that only the Church (which the West separated from way back when) is capable of sustaining conservatism, because the aesthetic he’s articulating is only found in and emanating from the (Eastern) Church. Do an end run around Western Scholasticism and its children, and go East, where you will find the good life and rest for your souls. If you don’t, you won’t really even know what to conserve.

“Others, less crass than Thomas Lark, advance a similar argument on behalf of Western Christendom. Stop the silly debate, and come home to Rome, where you will find the good life and rest for your souls. If you don’t, you won’t really even know what to conserve.”

Whenever I encounter arguments like this I immediately think — immanentizing the eschaton. Most conservatives accept this shibboleth — no matter what their communion. But wasn’t Christendom or the Holy Roman Empire an instance of immanentizing the eschaton?

Plus, a church-based conservatism excludes Kirk (when he wrote Conservative Mind), Scruton, Oakeshott, and Nisbet. Does it leave Pius X?

avatar Trent July 4, 2013 at 12:00 pm

I intend no disrespect when I say that a likely response is, in the words of your friend and mine, Dr. Justin Jackson, “Why would I immanentize the eschaton? It’s already here…”

Am I right?

avatar Fr. John Morris July 4, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Since I am not a Roman Catholic, I would not know how closely Roman Catholic laity follow the moral teachings of their Church. It does not really matter, because morality is given by God, not subject to popular opinion. I am Eastern Orthodox. I was an Episcopalian. The major reason, I left was because whoever could organize the best political campaign could dominate their General Convention and change the doctrine of the Episcopal Church. I do not believe that right and wrong changes with the fads of public opinion.

avatar Fr. John Morris July 4, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I have found that debates about theology are seldom productive. Discussions yes, but debates no. I think that traditionalist Christians who still believe in the Bible can agree on basic moral principles. We need to form a common front against the increasing anti-Christian nature of our society. Unfortunately, the Christian witness has been greatly weakened by the large mainline Protestant groups like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, and, of course, the United Church of Christ all of which have abandoned Biblical teachings on morality and have embraced the rejection of Biblical morality that has come to dominate our society.

avatar Fr. John Morris July 4, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Christian theology is distinctive precisely because of the Incarnation. The foundation of all sound Christian theology is a correct belief in the Incarnation as defined by the Bible, the Fathers, and the 7 Ecumenical Councils. The problem with contemporary Christian theology is that it does not accept sound Christology. The liberals have turned the Incarnate God into a social revolutionary, some of the megachurches have turned Christ into our good buddy. The problem with both approaches is that they have forgotten that Christ began His ministry with a call for repentance. Many modern Christians have forgotten the concept of sin and its consequences.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins July 4, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Someone could plausibly argue that Protestantism arose in response not simply to the brazen sinfulness of various Renaissance popes, but also as a correction to the Vatican’s grasp on political (as in temporal) power.

Hear! Hear! The most important contribution Luther made was not an arcane debate about faith vs. good works, but the beginning of the process of depriving the Bishops of Rome of their temporal power, which seems to have about concluded with the dissolution of the Papal States.

“Conservative” means many things, depending upon who wants to conserve what at the cost of paying what price, but to the extent that localism is extolled, a centralized religious bureaucracy with temporal power is anathema. SOME brands of conservatism rank centralized governance, by the right people of course, as essential.

It is true that to be American and to be conservative poses some dilemmas. I was amused last Sunday to hear, in a service oriented patriotically around the Fourth of July, the reading of Paul’s admonition that the powers that be are ordained by God. Perhaps our rebellion against King George was a mortal sin?

I’m not Calvinist, in fact I’m loosely more of an Arminian Protestant, which some Calvinists would say makes me little better than a Papist. But we can have the humanism of the Catholic Church without the bureaucracy of the Vatican.

I wouldn’t claim that the Bible means anything I want it to mean, but given the number of competing schools of human thought as to what it DOES mean, I go along with John Wycliffe’s view that I have to read it for myself, and struggle with it myself. That doesn’t mean I’m right. But I think Thomas Merton said “I believe that the desire to please you does please you.”

avatar Owen Jones July 4, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Case in point. We have mostly protestant social friends. Or should I say, among our social friends who are believers, they are all Southern Protestants. One is a top drawer M&A attorney. I find it interesting that whenever we discuss politics, we both see ourselves as conservatives, but I notice that all of his underlying arguments are liberal in nature. It is a political, cultural, moral vision based on rights of self-determination. Whereas I find myself working to sort out the implications of a political, social, cultural moral outlook that actually has nothing whatsoever to do with rights, but rather one grounded in the ideal of virtue, operated according to mutual obligations and loyalties, which in turn are grounded in the various loves.

What’s more, I detect in inherently totalitarian aspect to the Lockean arguments, it seems to me, since it’s all about control really. The right liberals believe the individual has a right to control his own destiny and argue that that’s what the Constitution was all about (and I agree with them on that point). The left liberals believe that in order to control our own destinies, we must first merge our wills into a collective.

But who me one person who has ever actually been in control of his own destiny. I don’t even know what that means. I know what people think they mean by that. But it’s a fantasy. As well all know, it’s hard to disabuse people of their fantasy worlds.

avatar Owen Jones July 4, 2013 at 4:14 pm

I do not for one minute believe that you have to be an Eastern Orthodox Christian to have an aesthetic “world-view,” so to speak. And there is no guarantee that being Orthodox in today’s world is going to prevent you from being a Lockean. I’m only trying to make a case that the real problem in the modern world is an aesthetic crisis, and the noxious theories and the obnoxious people who propound them, up to an including the totalitarian mass movements are symptoms of that crisis.

Nor am I trying to propound some kind of absolute, all encompassing theory, Trent, that explains all phenomena, but rather offer a way out of what otherwise appears to me to be an impasse.

An analogy might be the treatment of stomach ulcers. For decades the prescription was to eat something more soothing — like milk. Then some crazy doctor said, wait, maybe it’s a bacterial infection! As a result of that insight, nobody suffers from ulcers anymore (just acid reflux!).

avatar Fr. John Morris July 4, 2013 at 5:32 pm

I am an Orthodox Christian and see no conflict between Orthodox doctrine and the political theories of John Locke. Orthodox dogma deals with things spiritual. Political theory deals with things of this world. Sincere dedicated Orthodox Christians can disagree on political theory and still be faithful to the doctrines of the Eastern Orthodox Church. I do not believe that modern American liberals, or progressives as they prefer to call themselves are followers of Locke. Our progressives are elitists who believe that the common people are too stupid to know what is best for them. Instead, they believe that they have a superior knowledge of what is best for our country and its people. However, as is always the case, ” power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (Lord Action) Recent revelations have shown that the Obama administration is completely corrupted and uses the power of the federal government to advance its political agenda and intimidate his critics. Obama’s corruption is different from the old fashioned graft and corruption. In the past corrupt politicians stole money from the people. Obama and his people are stealing power and self determination from the people.

avatar Owen Jones July 4, 2013 at 6:05 pm

My argument is not that you cannot embrace Lockean liberalism in the political economic sphere and still be an Orthodox Christian (I don’t believe I can do that, and I’m not sure anyone else can without being double minded, but that’s not the gist of my argument). My argument is that people who think of themselves as conservatives in America are really fundamentally liberals in terms of their underlying assumptions, and so that’s why every cultural, political battle that is fought on those terms means that conservatives are going to lose. Because at some point the liberal is going to pull out a trump card that causes the conservative to surrender. Usually something like, “everyone has a right to his own opinion.”

Now, if you want to get into the debate over Christian monarchy vs. Republican/democratic government and the relationship to state power, corporatism, ideological domination, all you have to do is look at Britain pre and post 1688. After 1688, budgets soared, deficits soared, taxes soared, the Parliament took on more and more power to the point that would have embarrassed the most hard core Stuart. The state conspired with corporate financial interests to spread a military empire around the globe (which was not all bad, just saying — that if your bottom line is limited government, then do not get rid of Christian Kings, embrace them).

avatar Fr. John Morris July 4, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Your argument is faulty because the time that you describe was also the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in England. During the same time France kept its monarchy, which bankrupt the country and led to the excesses of the French Revolution. I think that without a moral foundation any form of government will eventually become corrupt as our government has become corrupt. I am afraid if we are honest, we would have to admit that Christian monarchs have not always ruled in the best interests of the people. It would be hard to honestly consider the Romanov monarchy the model of good government or government in the interests of the average Russian.

avatar Owen Jones July 5, 2013 at 7:13 am

I would have to say that, given the initial comment that started this thread — thanks by the way — and all the following comment, that the intellectual stuff behind post-War conservatism is generally generated by Catholics but most of the grunt work is done by Protestants.

avatar Owen Jones July 5, 2013 at 8:05 am

An interesting take on our topic by Stanley Hauerwas, not exactly a right winger, but I think on point. “The end of Protestantism” is hyperbole of course, but serves its purpose. My own view is that nothing is inevitable.

The issue of course is how you can tell if, and what do you do if your Americanism conflicts with your Christianity.

avatar Dave138 July 5, 2013 at 9:59 am

“I am an Orthodox Christian and see no conflict between Orthodox doctrine and the political theories of John Locke. Orthodox dogma deals with things spiritual. Political theory deals with things of this world.”

Perhaps this is a place where at least one form of Protestantism may indeed then be useful. Francis Schaeffer discussed how the modern secular state continued to allow a limited place for religion by shoving it off into what he called the “upper story”– essentially, you can have your spiritual beliefs in the private sphere as long as they do not bleed into the public sphere, which is to be kept “secular.”

Of course, the elites of business and finance have to love this, as they are provided the freedom to enact their “might makes right” policies without having to worry about such annoyances as the Sermon on the Mount– that’s all for the spiritual realm, the upper story.

However, I think this is where another Protestant, Abraham Kuyper is a useful corrective, as he is known to have expressed, in his most well-known saying, ““There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, “Mine!” Of course, this is a strand of Reformed theology against which, if I understand correctly, our original author has been regularly arguing, employing Lutheran “Two Kingdom” theology. That’s, of course, and inter-Reformed debate, but still somewhat germane to this discussion, and, interestingly, a point where maybe the Dutch Reformed intersect somewhat with traditional Catholic teachings.

avatar Owen Jones July 5, 2013 at 10:03 am

St Theophan the Recluse on the cooperation of our freedom with God.

Quote

“The goal of human freedom is not in freedom itself, nor it is in man, but in God. By giving man freedom, God has yielded to man a piece of His Divine authority, but with the intention that man himself would voluntarily bring it as a sacrifice to God, a most perfect offering. “

Quote

“The condition for this indwelling and reigning of God in us,
or the acceptance of His acting in everything, is the renunciation of our own
freedom. A free creature, according to his consciousness and determination,
acts from his own self, but this should not be so. In the kingdom of God there
should not be anyone acting from himself; God should be acting in everything.
This cannot happen as long as freedom stands for itself — it denies and turns
away God’s power. This stubborn resistance to God’s power will only cease when
our free, or self-acting, individual will and activity fall down before Him;
when we pronounce the resolute prayer: “Do Thou, O Lord, do in me as Thou
wilt, for I am blind and weak.”

avatar Dave138 July 5, 2013 at 10:06 am

“During the same time France kept its monarchy, which bankrupt the country and led to the excesses of the French Revolution.”

Although France, at this time, could hardly be considered a traditional Catholic monarchy. This was the time of the Gallican Church. The French monarchs had basically done almost the same thing as Henry VIII, only without officially separating. Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” during the Mass, had every face HIM. And, as for the Romanovs, that really is a pretty good example, as, politically, the “Caesaropapist” model led, in many areas, to what was essentially a permanent version of the Gallican Church, with monarchs appointing and deposing bishops and patriarchs at will.

avatar Dave138 July 5, 2013 at 10:22 am

I mean “everyone face HIM,” not “every face HIM.”

avatar Fr. John Morris July 5, 2013 at 2:17 pm

St Theophan the Reculse was writing about spiritual mattters, not the political organization of the state. Despite the accusations of Western historians, the Orthodox Church never accepted Casearopapism. Instead, the Orthodox view of church state relatios is “symphonia”which is based on the words of Christ, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s “ The ideal was that the state should be supreme in purely secular matters, but that the Church should be supreme in spiritual matters and act as the conscience of society. Despite the propaganda of postmodernists, who believe that there are no eternally true moral values, the founders of America did believe that religion is necessary to provide a moral foundation for society. Until recently, despite the religious diversity of American society, there was a consensus of moral values and a shared concept of right and wrong. We have lost that and are now descending into moral anarchy. We also have lost the concept that religious people have a right to speak on moral issues and replaced it with the idea that religion is private and belongs only within the four walls of the church building. Most of the large Protestant denominations have gone even further and have allowed the secular culture to intrude into spiritual and moral matters and instead of fulfilling the prophetic role to call society to righteousness have changed their beliefs to conform to the values of the society.

avatar Fr. John Morris July 5, 2013 at 2:24 pm

The Russian Orthodox Church after Peter the Great cannot be taken an a good example of the true Orthodox doctrine of the relations between church and state. The canons of the Ecumenical Councils never gave control over the Church to the state. Peter did not follow Orthodox canon law when he reorganized the Russian Church, but instead followed the example that he had seen in Protestant Europe, especially the Swedish model of a state church.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins July 5, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Our progressives are elitists who believe that the common people are too stupid to know what is best for them.

Liberals always have been. When conservatives abandoned noblesse oblige and started enclosing the commons while evicting superfluous tenantry, liberals offered a patronizing concern for the poor and offered them jobs in factories, but certainly considered the common people too stupid to know what is best for them. That’s why common people formed unions and labor parties.

My argument is not that you cannot embrace Lockean liberalism in the political economic sphere and still be an Orthodox Christian

If true, then I probably cannot be an Orthodox Christian. Fortunately, there are many other ways to be Christian.

avatar Fr. John Morris July 5, 2013 at 6:00 pm

One certainly can accept Locke’s political and economic theories and be a faithful Orthodox Christian. The Church is above politics. Orthodox doctrine does not endorse any particular form of government. In a monarchy, we pray for the monarch. In the U.S. we pray the President of the United States. All political systems are man made and as such are always subject to human frailties and imperfection. Just as there have been good monarchs and bad monarchs, there have been good presidents and bad presidents.

avatar Owen Jones July 5, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Of course Locke eviscerated Christianity.

avatar Owen Jones July 5, 2013 at 6:29 pm

There is a big difference Father between Christians accommodating themselves to a political system that is secular and hostile, and Christians formulating a theory of politics that is consistent with the Christian vision, realizing that it is always going to be very imperfect. Biblically speaking, the best form of government is directly under God’s sovereignty with no political power in between God and the people. But we know that that didn’t last very long!

A polity based on obedience, mutual loyalties and obligations, with virtue as the standard, is a very different one than that which is based on nihilistic ideas.

BTW, a conservative in 1776 would be fighting on behalf of the rights of the Crown against the limousine liberals.

avatar Dave138 July 5, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Dr. Hart,

I have an honest question. Let me preface by saying that I do not have an advanced degree in theology, economics, or political science and am, at best, and amateur trying to figure out, often unsuccessfully, how to live a Christian life in a confusing age. I too often let my emotions do my thinking for me, and in my post where I mentioned Two Kingdoms theory, I made accusations that took me into territory where I do not really have that much understanding or grounding. Anyway, this evening, I read the First Things 1/2012 review of your book “From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism,” and, if the reviewer is correct in his assessment of your book, I think I initially misunderstood your argument and actually agree with you much more than I thought. I don’t think I’m violating copyright if I keep my quoting to a few sentences, so I’ll note that I was particularly struck by this passage near the end of the review:

But, ironically, their embrace of the power of the liberal state to further their conservative concerns has worked against them. Evangelicals, in keeping with their penchant for sweeping reform and their tendency to look past the Church to America, took naturally to the grand political strategies of the nascent religious right.This was, Hart insists, in large part a devil’s bargain. The expansion of the modern liberal state and the free market has come at the expense of mediating institutions, communities, and distinctive traditions and values (Hylden 2012).

I agree that, in expanding the power of the state, even if their intentions were good, Evangelicals may have helped to harm many of those mediating institutions we readers of FPR hold dear. I think I previously misread you as arguing for a return to a sort of quietism which would leave the wealthy and powerful unrestrained to do their worst, decimating communities and families in the process. However, I think I’m beginning to understand the arguments of political conservatism, checks-and-balances, etc. as a restraining force necessary in a fallen world.

However, finally getting to my question– if conservatism, as you define it, is designed to reign in the leviathan of centralized state power, in the age of ever increasing multinational corporate power, what is there to reign in the ability of powerful private interests, in the free market, to become a sort of government (unelected, at that) in and of themselves and to curtail the freedom of the little guy and even his ability to compete within the market? If the “military industrial complex” has two sides, while many of the mainstream, Republican conservatives I meet are very suspicious of and interested in curtailing the government side, is there a mechanism within conservative thought for curtailing the power of the private sector? I am familiar with Catholic Distributist theories, and I must admit they are partially what drew me here, but what might be a Protestant, conservative answer? I hope my convoluted writing style doesn’t obscure my question too much and that you will take it in the spirit of honest inquiry.

avatar John Gorentz July 5, 2013 at 8:40 pm

One certainly can accept Locke’s political and economic theories and be a faithful Orthodox Christian. The Church is above politics. Orthodox doctrine does not endorse any particular form of government.

When I had a captive audience (a confirmation class I taught when we were without a pastor) I took the time to show that you could find some basis for claiming Jesus was a socialist, conservative, monarchist, liberal, libertarian, Republican, Democrat — whichever political ideology or political faction you picked, you could find some basis for saying Jesus was one of those. But if you’re lining up Jesus with one of those sides, you’re doing it wrong.

avatar Fr. John Morris July 5, 2013 at 8:47 pm

God has not revealed the perfect form of government to us. However, any form of government will be bad if the people do not demand righteous leaders. St. Ambrose refused Communion to Emperor Theodosius after he was responsible for a massacre in Thessaloniki. Regardless of the form of government, the Church must stand up to the state when its leaders fail to follow God’s moral law. Unfortunately in America, the mainline Protestant Churches have failed in this obligation, but instead support the rejection of righteousness by our government. The Episcopalians rang the bells of their cathedral in Washington to celebrate the rejection of the God ordained definition of marriage by our Supreme Court. I understand that other Protestant communities joined in the rejoicing at the anti-Christian decision of our highest court.

avatar Owen Jones July 5, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Locke’s political and economic theories are derived from his truncated form of Christianity, purged of its “cultural accretions.” His theory was that since we no longer live in the year 300, and society is much different now, we need to remove everything from Christianity that was imposed on it by Greco-Roman thought — i.e. the dogma, the mystical theology, etc., and just focus on Jesus’s moral teachings. That has a political agenda because it was believed that by removing the dogma you remove any incentives for religious wars. You solve the problem of religious wars simply by changing what Christianity is. But what you get as a result is unbelief, or the peculiar American brand of religiosity which is to believe whatever you want to believe because it is strictly a matter of personal taste, so to speak.

What I try to do in my own spiritual and intellectual and moral development is work assiduously to remove any vestiges of liberal thought from my mind, because I see it as fundamentally at odds with Christian faith. You can’t be both. (by liberal I am using the term in the all encompassing sense and not just left-liberal).

Now, I happen to think that the best, and easiest way to be an orthodox Christian is to be an Orthodox Christian, but with that said, I don’t think you have to be Eastern Orthodox to examine closely the origins of liberalism and see it as a Christian heresy and do whatever you can to expunge the liberal temptation from your mind.

avatar Owen Jones July 5, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I fear I am on the borderline of carping, but God revealed the ideal form of government to the ancient Israelites: No King, and only a group of wise men and women called judges to resolve internal disputes and to raise an army when threatened from without. That’s because God is sovereign over Israel and they all existed as a people directly under His rule. Then came Kingship, which God anointed, but only in condescension to their sinfulness, then came Christian kingship. Democracy as a form of government, especially mass democracy of the type we have today, would seem to be the antithesis of Christian government.

avatar John Gorentz July 5, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Especially among confessional Lutherans and Presbyterians, “Two Kingdoms” theology lowers the expectations regarding the possibility of permanent earthly community throughout time and space, especially when we’re talking about a larger scale, i.e. the national scale or the global scale.

When I re-read Richard Nation’s book, I’m going to try this on for size as an alternate distinction to separate the agrarian types from the progressives and their schemes to make the world a better place.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins July 6, 2013 at 11:48 pm

the best form of government is directly under God’s sovereignty with no political power in between God and the people.

But since God has never issued the necessary daily executive orders to run a government, it appears that He in His Infinite Wisdom has no intention of indulging anything of the kind. Thus, ANY government, even one developed by sincere Christians seeking the best form of government, will be considerably less than “directly under God’s sovereignty.” In fact, it will most likely degenerate in to an unholy mess.

Conversely, the congregational form of church governance does not postulate that the Will of God is whatever the congregation votes for. It postulates that the consensus of confessed believers engaged in studying the same Bible under the guidance of the same Holy Spirit will better reflect the will of God than the pronouncements of any Prince of the Church.

avatar Owen Jones July 7, 2013 at 7:19 am

Just reminding folks of what the OT actually says about the institution of government. I would add that too many Christians take the attitude that the Church or the righteous Christian is above politics. It’s true that the NT does not lay out a specific political order. That might have something to do with the fact that part of the NT is written with the expectation of an imminent second coming. At any rate, we do have Christian history to deal with.

For some reason, there are not any great Christian political thinkers. Maybe because there wasn’t a need for one until it was too late! If anyone knows of one, I’m receptive.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 9, 2013 at 11:45 pm

May I suggest the example of St. Ambrose of Milan, who refused Communion to the Emperor Theodosius I after he ordered a massacre in Thessaloniki? He set the example for Christians to speak out against injustice and immoral acts by the secular authorities.

avatar dgwired July 10, 2013 at 11:33 am

Dave 138,

I’m not a policy guy even though your question was about parts of conservative thought. Wendell Berry does come to mind as someone who is as critical of the corporate right as he may be of the government left. But Berry won’t put a dent in fed. govt. So I would like to see states secede. Wouldn’t we be glad to be free of California and wouldn’t Sacramento do better on its own (rhetorical about the latter)?

Short of that, I like what I have read from Ross Douthan and Reihan Salam’s Grand New Party (even if parts will be dated by now).

avatar Owen Jones July 10, 2013 at 12:27 pm

One policy would be a constitutional amendment that says that the Federal Government cannot tax persons, only states. 3/4th of the states might go for this, because it would increase the political clout of state legislatures and governors. Instead of lobbying for more federal handouts, they would more likely lobby for lower taxes. It could be a flat tax as well, although more likely the more numerous small states would want to gang up on the big states and tax them more. So be it. Bottom line, less Federal power, more state’s rights.

avatar B. Will July 11, 2013 at 2:58 am

Being raised between a Presbyterian father (PCUSA) and a Southern Baptist mother, it’s rather odd how I find myself a sort of “Catholic, in a Protestant kind of way,” to paraphrase (or quote?) Newman.

As my (Protestant) pastor once pointed out, the only things that really separate the varied groups of Christianity is specific bits of doctrine and methods of worship. We all worship the same Lord, do we not? And like it or not, all of Christianity can claim the Church Fathers as ancestors. Nobody has a monopoly on this.

That said, what I’ve noticed that weighs on my mind is the propensity of Protestant churches to be co-opted by either excessive sentimental emotionalism, the need to be “relevant,” and/or the infiltration of ideology. As an ex-member of PCUSA (technically I’m still a member but I don’t describe myself as such), I’ve seen the infiltration of all the above, particularly the infiltration of liberalism (Note: the Right-Wing mentality is no better in some of the mega-/tele-churches). The Roman Church has a much lesser problem with these issues. Granted, they are not exempt from dealing with them, but they have the continuous tradition of ~1500 years of dogma, doctrine, and tradition, not to mention the arts, to fall back on. While the Protestant churches (or at least some) have some resources like that (I’m really thinking Kierkegaard, Lewis, and others in the non-Catholic tradition), who besides they can compete with giants like Aquinas, not to mention Chesterton and Urs von Balthasar in the modern age?

Is it impossible for a Protestant to be a traditional conservative? Certainly not-I’m living proof of that. But both sides-RCC and Protest and the rest-have to come to the realization that they’re on the same side and that what means the most to us is not the labels we subscribe ourselves to but the principles we stand for and cherish. Anyone who values the Good, the True, and the Beautiful is a brother in arms to me, be they Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Sympathetic/Thinking Agnostic (Voegelin comes to mind), whatever. Right now we need to focus on preserving what we can from the ultra-radical/progressive/secular/younameit onslaught and worry about doctrinal issues later. God bless!
Your Servant in Christ,
B. Will

avatar Fr. John Morris July 11, 2013 at 9:18 am

I agree that those traditionally minded Christians who still believe in Biblical morality must set aside their doctrinal differences to form a common front to defend our common moral traditions. We have seen a vast cultural shift that has overwhelmed our society. In the past there was a barrier between secular politics and moral and religious issues. However, the left has gone beyond secular matters and used politics to try to impose their rejection of traditional Christian morality on the rest of society.

avatar Chris Travers July 12, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Shumlord:

I think it is epistemologically unassailable that the truth as understood is relative to the interpreter. It is also unassailable that all knowledge is local. It is also true that Protestantism and Catholicism have different ways of addressing these things. The differences you point to I think are rhetorical rather than social. I think the social differences transform these somewhat. My sense of Catholicism (not being a Catholic) is that the doctrines are more collegially developed and with more deference to tradition than in Protestant circles, where the individual is presumed to have greater authority and the social ties are less. I think that this is what makes Protestantism different (and I say this as a non-Protestant) in that it suggests a sort of personhood independent of society which my sense is that Catholics and Orthodox Christians do not share.

I don’t think this is necessarily a problem. The fact is that society emerges from the interplay of the individual and the collective social structures that surround him or her. One might even say that it arises from individuals repurposing (and being creative within) those structures. What is a problem though is the idea that those social structures and bonds don’t matter, and this is what I think divides the sorts of Protestants which belong from those that don’t.

avatar Chris Travers July 12, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Owen Jones:

You wrote: “Now, I happen to think that the best, and easiest way to be an orthodox Christian is to be an Orthodox Christian, but with that said, I don’t think you have to be Eastern Orthodox to examine closely the origins of liberalism and see it as a Christian heresy and do whatever you can to expunge the liberal temptation from your mind.”

I don’t use the word “heresy” because I am not a Christian (and in fact follow a fully orthoprax religion). I would respond a little more narrowly in that I see liberalism as a necessary off-shoot of secular humanism. Secular humanism really strikes me, very much as you say, as an attempt to take Christianity, uphold the moral teachings of Jesus as universal and self-evident, and then re-invent Christianity on an atheistic basis. While I agree with your assessment of Locke descriptively speaking, I would also suggest that it is essentially what you get when you take Christian Humanism (of the Orthodox or Catholic varieties) and explore it from a Protestant individualist, belief-centered perspective.

For this reason I have sometimes referred to secular humanism as Christian Atheism, though perhaps Protestant Atheism might be slightly more accurate.

avatar Owen Jones July 12, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Sounds like a distinction without a difference! Heresy is a functional, descriptive term, not a biased, subjective term. You don’t have to be a Christian to recognize that modern ideologies are Christian heresies, and that their origins lie in earlier, specific Christian heresies.

avatar John Gorentz July 12, 2013 at 11:14 pm

I think it is epistemologically unassailable that the truth as understood is relative to the interpreter.

All it takes to prove this wrong is the existence of one (1) epistemological assailant, right?

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 13, 2013 at 1:03 am

Modern American liberalism of the Obama kind is an outgrowth of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was an elitist ideology that taught that the intellectuals could create an ideal society through the use of human reason. It does not work, because human reason is faulty. Obama and his supporters believe that they are more qualified to run the government than what they consider the ignorant common people. They also believe that as the elite they are qualified to tell the rest of us how to live our lives. Finally, they reject the concept of eternally valid moral and spiritual values. I am not sure that it can be considered a Christian heresy because by its nature it rejects traditional Christianity. I suppose that one can argue that it a Christian heresy because its socialism grew from the Social Gospel Movement which was the idea that Christians could the Kingdom of God on earth. Change Kingdom of God to perfect society and you have modern liberalism.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 13, 2013 at 1:09 am

It all depends on the kind of Protestantism. I find Calvinism as rigid, dogmatic and tradition bound as any form of Christianity, especially the hyper-Calvinism that is sweeping through American Evangelicalism.
However, you do make a valid point. I will not speak about Roman Catholicism, but in my own Eastern Orthodox Church we differ from Protestantism in that we do not believe in individual interpretation of the Bible. Instead, we adhere to the way the Bible has been interpreted through history by the Church as an expression of Holy Tradition which certainly includes the Holy Scriptures, but is also expressed by the consensus of the Fathers, the decisions of the seven Ecumenical Councils and the faith of the Church as expressed through its worship as the standard of doctrine. However there is a paradox here. Despite our strong commitment to Holy Tradition and clearly defined doctrine, we differ from the Western tradition, both Catholic and Protestant in that we strongly affirm individual free will. The West, which unlike the East is highly influenced by Augustine of Hippo, has a tendency to deny free will. Calvinism, which seems to be the fastest growing movement among American Protestants denies free will, teaches a doctrine of total depravity, and predestination in which individual free will plays no role in one’s salvation. It would seem to me that the foundation of any sound conservative political philosophy would be individual free will.

avatar Owen Jones July 13, 2013 at 7:50 am

I don’t know any Catholic or Protestant who is not going to defend free will. As any half educated Christian knows, we all have to defend free will. The problem lies in whether or not we believe in two (or more) contradictory things at the same time.

The real issue for our time is not free will per se, or the lack thereof, but rather control. Who or what is in control. Ideologies are all grounded in the belief in a human controller, either of the individual or the collective. But we are not in control. Any sound doctrine of free will has to be circumscribed by that dictum.

And with respect, Fr. and others, I don’t believe free will can be the foundation of a sound conservative political philosophy. It think the foundation is the Good, and the Good Life, which is achieved through virtue, and through mutual bonds of obligations, loyalties, most of which do not exist today, which it seems to me, is part of the reason behind this website. Now, there can be no virtue without free will (up to a point — free will is not an absolute by any means), but free will is neither the beginning nor the end, simply a means. A very important one, an absolutely essential one, but still a means.

My conservatism, if you will, is based on Richard Weaver: “a paradigm of essences toward which the phenomenology of the world is in a continuing state of approximation.” I think there are three or four of us left!!!

avatar Owen Jones July 13, 2013 at 7:54 am

Chris, I would put the problem of truth in a different way. It’s not that it is relative to the “interpretor,” but rather contingent on the participator. Truth is something that we participate in. It’s not just a matter of “hermeneutics.”

avatar Slumlord July 13, 2013 at 8:06 am

Chris Travers

Truth is understood relative to the observer, but truth is also independent of the observer. The aim of all understanding is in being of congruence with it. Fortunately, our understanding can be tested, to a degree, by seeing how it conflicts with other facts. The truth being a seamless garment of non-contradiction.

It’s true that the Protestant approach to truth is more individualistic, but none the less through individual efforts the Protestant can arrive at the same truths as derived by collegiate Catholicism. With regard to the Catholic deference to tradition, I don’t think that Catholics defer out of a sense of respect to the past, rather, there deference to tradition is because the doctrines taught are true.

Personally, I don’t think Protestantism per se promotes social atomisation, rather, poor thinkers, operating within a Protestant context, are liable to come to conclusions which promote radical individuality.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 13, 2013 at 1:01 pm

With the exception of a movement called Arminianism which is best represented by those of the Wesleyan tradition most Protestants deny free will. Both Luther and Calvin strongly denied free will. Roman Catholicism is strongly influenced by Augustine who is responsible for the Western tendency to deny free will.
The more that I think about it, I can see the point of the argument that liberalism is a Christian heresy. Karl Marx was raised as a Protestant in a part of Germany where there was a strong Calvinistic influence. He later transformed the denial of free will that he learned during his Calvinistic youth into the theory of economic determinism which also denies free will by arguing that the economic organization of society determines one’s fate. Liberals or progressives as they now call themselves also believe that the society determines one’s life condition. That belief is the root of their idea that we can create a perfect and just society through changing the economic and social organization of society. However as the failure of the welfare system should have shown, a bad society does not produce bad people, but bad people produce a bad society.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 13, 2013 at 1:07 pm

One sees the Protestant individualism trough the constant division of Protestantism into hundreds of competing sects. This is especially manifested by the dozens, if not hundreds of completely independent “non-denominational” churches that have no allegiance beyond their own congregation.

avatar Owen Jones July 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm

The problem is that people will say they believe in free will and defend it and yet still hold contradictory views. If you ask them if they believe in free will, they will say yes.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm

You have obviously never spoken with a Calvinist. Calvinism which steadfastly denies free will, is, perhaps, the fastest growing movement among American Protestants.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins July 15, 2013 at 5:16 pm

One sees the Protestant individualism trough the constant division of Protestantism into hundreds of competing sects. This is especially manifested by the dozens, if not hundreds of completely independent “non-denominational” churches that have no allegiance beyond their own congregation.

What’s wrong with that?

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 15, 2013 at 5:37 pm

If you do not know why the continued division of Protestantism into different sects and “churches” that are completely independent of any higher authority are not bad for Christianity, I doubt that you would understand. Suffice it to say, as we say in the Creed, we believe in “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Dozens of independent Protestant sects led by a self-proclaimed preacher are neither One nor are the Holy Catholic or Apostolic.

avatar Owen Jones July 15, 2013 at 5:54 pm

The question at hand is not whether or not Protestants are Orthodox. The question is can they be political/cultural conservatives, or is Protestantism part of the problem — that it somehow leads inevitably to liberalism. At least that is how I understand the question.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 15, 2013 at 6:00 pm

I think that is best to keep religion and politics separate. There is nothing more dangerous than someone who confuses their political beliefs with divine revelation. Such people create dictorships.

avatar Trent July 15, 2013 at 6:49 pm

There is a difference between psychological free will and theological free will. To have a free will in the first sense is to choose to do things and thus be morally responsible/culpable for one’s actions. I’m not sure if there really is a good definition that all would agree on for what constitutes “theological free will.” With that said, however, a Lutheran would affirm a distinction between the condition of the human will before and after regeneration. Lutheranism and (as far as I know) Calvinism agree insofar as they deny man’s ability to contribute to or “choose” his own salvation. While Luther himself denied that the will was free prior to regeneration, the Lutheran confession does not deny, but rather emphatically affirms, the ability of the regenerate Christian to will and to act freely according to God’s good purpose, as well as his ability to act contrary to the same, even to the point of driving away the Holy Spirit and losing his salvation. Lutherans would say that man does indeed cooperate in his sanctification, in all of the inexactness that such a statement propounds.

It seems that these distinctions — between psychological and theological free will, and between the disparate conditions of the human will, i.e., before and after regeneration — have been ignored in the foregoing comments, or perhaps they have been simply denied. The denial would make more sense, I suppose, since our EO commenters do not make a distinction between justification and sanctification. Given this, it would make sense that they would not acknowledge a distinction in the condition of the human will before and after regeneration.

This leads to my last point (for now, anyway):

I’ve been silent in this thread for a few weeks now, or for a time that seems like a few weeks. During the time in which I’ve just been reading the jib-jab, I’ve noticed a few propensities. One propensity (apparently among a small cadré of EOs) is to speak in these vague generalities about this supposed thing called “Protestantism,” as though it were a discrete theo-philosophical entity. This is either rhetorically ironic or just plain ignorant, since it is alleged by the same that there is no catholicity of confession among “Protestants.” If this is so, why do you continue to mishmash all “Protestants” into one clump which bears all of the particular vices of your least favorite theological camp (apparently Calvinism) yet none of the general virtues evinced by the 16C. gnesio-confessional churches? Frankly, as a confessional Lutheran, I’m most interested in your critique of how the churches of the Augsburg Confession have anything to do with the hackneyed abstractions “Protestantism” and “Protestantism.” And you’ll have to do better than “Luther was a dirty Ockhamist.” As Dr. Hart has noted, the original Ockhamist — Bill of Ockham — was a papist. As an aside, we are there Thomists, but no Williamists?

Also, Fr. Morris, you’re setting forth pure assertion when you say that “[d]ozens of independent Protestant sects led by a self-proclaimed preacher are neither One nor are the Holy Catholic or Apostolic.” Again, you’re just trotting out a thesis without supporting it. It’s circular. You haven’t defined any of your terms. You’re just using them as bludgeons.

While I, too, find the tendency of Protestant churches which you described to be problematic, you’re being a bit presumptuous when you say that this ultimately divides the Body of Christ. Perhaps in your eyes, but you’re not God. That is tantamount to saying that all Protestant baptisms are invalid. But the apostolic scriptures, the patristic tradition, and the conciliar consensus is against you on this one.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.I Corinthians xii, 12-14.

Apparently the efficient cause of the unity of the Church is not the work of man, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit, Who is granted in baptism. Could the visible unity of the Church be “better”? Sure. But the wounded Body of Christ is still the Body of Christ. Again, the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton says it well: “The Church, because She is the Bride of Christ, must in Her collective entity repeat the life of Her Lord. She must be betrayed, rejected, crucified, ere She passes to Her risen life.”

I can’t adequately speak to all of what has been said, but perhaps this will get the ball rolling.

avatar Owen Jones July 15, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Surprisingly, the Orthodox Church does not have a term for “free will” and really no tradition that I am aware of that specifically addresses free will as such. Certainly not a dogma on the subject. There is “will” which is part of our created nature, and there is volition, which is a process of choosing, which, when the rational intellect, will and desires are in proper harmony and free of delusion, will naturally choose that which is pleasing to God. Salvation therefore is about being restored to created nature. It’s more than that of course. But one cannot understand the Orthodox doctrine on salvation apart from that.

The focus on the role of free will vs. some type of destiny or – pre-destiny — or when and under which condition each one comes into play — seems to me to be mostly a Protestant focus. It strikes me as a bit like Occasionalism in medieval Catholic thought.

In Orthodoxy, freedom and the proper exercise of will, is paradoxical.

Now, what, if anything does this have to do with politics and culture? One of the fundamental problems in our society today is that we have a rights based political system that is not only naive but frankly leads to the kind of nihilism and atomization on the one hand that a person who understands the importance of culture will obviously decry, but it also, ironically, leads to a kind of totalitarianism of the collective will. It’s not surprising since a rights based definition of man and society stems from the same 18th Century romantic ideas that fed into both individualistic liberalism and collectivist totalitarianism. Both are based on the same intellectual premises.

avatar Owen Jones July 15, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Were it only that simple, Father. Or that easy. Politics is always theology by different means. Always. You can’t get away from it. The political realm is always a symbolic representation of the divine realm. In a so-called secularized society and government such as our own, we have simply gone from a transcendent divinity to many immanent divinities.

avatar Trent July 15, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Alright, then — so we can go back even farther in our hagiography of heretics:

America’s liberal essence (the atomization of the body social, the stupid rights-based body politic) is the fault of modernism, which is the fault of Descartes, who was enabled by Luther, who was reacting to the legalism of Western Catholicism, scholasticism, et al (but not in the right way); both Luther and the Western Church were thralls of that confused African bishop, Augustine, who screwed the pooch on free will by departing from the consensus patrum, which only the Eastern Orthodox Church still actually interacts with/participates in.

The Eastern Orthodox are the only real conservatives! Everyone else is an innovator in some way, a liberal — yea, the very opposite of a conservator. What’s the solution? Go East.

C’mon, Owen. C’mon, Fr. Morris. Just go ahead and say it. Then we can all go home and let Owen and the two or three other real conservatives in the world…pay each other fawning compliments and enjoy their pedigree?

avatar Owen Jones July 15, 2013 at 8:44 pm

As much as I would delight in such a thing happening on a mass scale, not very likely. And I doubt very seriously that such a pitch is going to work very well with the vast majority of American Protestants. Oh, and by the way, if a million Protestants wanted to become Orthodox overnight, it will be, as a practical matter, virtually impossible for them to do so.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 15, 2013 at 9:28 pm

You have brought up some very controversial subjects, in order to honestly answer you, I am forced to make some rather blunt statements that you will probably find offensive. But out of respect for you, I will give you honest answers.
Having spent many years as a part of the Orthodox delegation to the North American Orthodox Lutheran Orthodox Ecumenical Dialogue, I am quite familiar with Lutheranism. To begin with one major difference between Lutherans and Orthodox is that we do not accept the Augustinian doctrine of original sin. Thus we do not believe in inherited guilt or total depravity. Instead, we believe that we inherit the consequences of Adam’s sin, which is mortality, not guilt. We are born corrupt, but not totally corrupt. Thus even before regeneration, we have free will and can accept or reject God’s offer of the gift of salvation. Thus, Orthodox would not agree with Luther’s “Bondage of the Will.”
It is not quite correct that we do not make a distinction between justification and sanctification. It is more correct that we do not see them as two completely separate aspects of salvation. Instead, we believe that to be real, justification must lead to sanctification. Thus we cannot accept the traditional Lutheran classification of justification as a “legal fiction,” because God not only declares the believer righteous, through justification, He also makes him or her righteous, through sanctification. Thus justification is the beginning of sanctification.
Protestants and Orthodox Christians have a different definition of what it means for a community to be a Church in the fullest sense of the word. Here it is important to remember that Eastern Orthodoxy developed its understanding of Church long before the Protestant Reformation. Please remember that we did not develop our beliefs to insult Protestants. To us the Church is made a reality during the Eucharist presided over by a Bishop in Apostolic Succession in communion with the other Bishops in Apostolic Succession. This concept of Church can be found in the writings of St.Ignatius of Antioch, who at the beginning of the 2nd Century was the first to use the word “Catholic” to describe the Church. Thus, we do not accept the Protestant doctrine of the invisible church. I believe that those congregations who are not under a Bishop in Apostolic Succession in Communion with the other Bishops in Apostolic Succession are not fully Church in the sense that an Orthodox Church is Church. Thus we have a very different definition of Church than the “individual church” of Protestantism. Thus to me the independent bodies, of which there are many in the South lack essential attributes of what it means to be Church in the fullest sense of the word. To summarize when Orthodox Christians speak of The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, we mean The Eastern Orthodox Church.
Since you brought it up, I will mention another rather unpleasant subject. If you read St. Cyprian of Carthage’s “On the Unity of the Catholic Church,” you will see that your statement that the patristric tradition would not be in agreement with your statement that all Protestant Baptisms are valid. For one thing Orthodox consider Baptism one part of the entry rite into the Church, that includes not only Baptism but Chrismation (Confirmation using oil consecrated by a Bishop in Apostolic Succession) and finally Communion, which we believe is the actual Body and Blood of Christ. Thus according to Orthodox doctrine Baptism without Chrismation and Communion is incomplete. Some Orthodox would receive a Protestant through Baptism followed by Chrismation and Communion, others, probably most, would treat the Protestant Baptism as incomplete and receive a Protestant through Chrismation and Communion.
I hope that I have respectfully answered your questions. I have meant no offense, but believe that you deserve honest answers to your questions.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 15, 2013 at 9:45 pm

I have to disagree with you. Orthodox most certainly do use the term free will. All of the Greek Fathers affirmed free will. There is no dogmatic definition of free will in the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, because there was no controversy over the issue at the time of the Councils. Actually, all Christians, Eastern and Western, believed in free will until Augustine. Augustine was hardly known in the East and had no impact on the development of Eastern Orthodox theology. However, the West, both Catholic and Protestant theology is highly influenced by Augustine of Hippo. Orthodox consider the 13 Conference of St. John Cassain, which was written as a critique of Augustine’s teachings against free will is a correct expression of our doctrine. Followers of Augustine, both Roman Catholic and Protestant would classify St. John as a semi-pelagian. Later in the correspondence between a group of Lutheran theologians at the University of Tubingen, Patriarch Jeremias II and his theologians rejected the denial of free will found in Lutheran theology. Later, when a effort was made to introduce Calvinism in the East by Cyril Loukaris, the East condemned the rejection of free will as heretical at the Council of Jerusalem Bethlehem in 1672.
Actually, the Eastern Orthodox polity which is that decisions are made by councils can be taken as a model for democratic government. Even a Patriarch, which is the head of an independent national Orthodox Church, lacks absolute authority, but must follow the decisions of the Holy Synod of council of Bishops of his Patriarchate.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 15, 2013 at 10:04 pm

What has happened is that issues like abortion and same sex marriage have blurred the lines between secular politics and religion. The left has embraced moral positions that as an Orthodox Christian I must reject. There is a lot of talk about the religious right, but there is also a religious left represented by Jim Wallis and the National Council of Churches. The Social Gospel movement which developed during the Progressive Era of the late 19th century laid the foundation for the development of the religious left which dominates the mainline Protestant denominations as well as the National Council of Churches. That is why the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, under which I serve as a priest, withdrew from the National Council of Churches years ago. The religious left treats support for abortion and “full inclusion” of gays including blessing same sex marriage as a part of their doctrine and is allied with the political left. They also consider it a matter of Christian ethics that we must support a welfare system, that I believe has failed by any rational standards. Instead of ending poverty, the federal government has actually increased poverty by creating several generations of people who know nothing but life on welfare.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 15, 2013 at 10:14 pm

I never wrote that Eastern Orthodox are the only political conservatives. There are Eastern Orthodox who are political liberals. I really do not know whether or not most of the people of my parish are liberals or conservatives, because I steadfastly keep politics out of my parish. In doctrinal issues Eastern Orthodox are certainly conservatives, but politics should be a completely different matter. Unfortunately, in contemporary America politics and religious issues have been mixed up by both sides. The left has adopted positions on moral issues that certainly violate the teachings of my Church, which makes it difficult for me to vote for a liberal.
I do thank that those of the more conservative religious groups like traditional Catholics, Orthodox, and Evangelicals tend more towards conservative political positions than those of the more liberal denominations who tend towards liberal political positions.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 15, 2013 at 10:18 pm

A million American Protestants could not become Orthodox over night. It takes time to convert to Orthodoxy. A potential convert must receive instruction and participate in the life of the Church for at least 6 months to a year before they are ready to join our Church.

avatar Trent July 16, 2013 at 1:11 am

I am quite familiar with Eastern Orthodox theology already, thank you. I do not need a summary. The problem is not my lack of familiarity with your theology, but your lack of familiarity with mine, apparently.

Thus we cannot accept the traditional Lutheran classification of justification as a “legal fiction,” because God not only declares the believer righteous, through justification, He also makes him or her righteous, through sanctification.

What you have articulated, supposedly in contradistinction to the Lutheran position, is actually, well…the Lutheran position. That justification is a mere “legal fiction” is not “the traditional Lutheran classification.” You’re just wrong on that count. No other way to say it.

Thus justification is the beginning of sanctification.

Just as you differed from Mr. Jones regarding free will, so also I think many other Orthodox Christians would demur from this statement of yours. Most Orthodox, I feel, would say that the sinner is not just until he is holy, i.e, is not justified truly until he is sanctified wholly, i.e., until he has achieved complete theosis. In any event, I think that, depending on what you mean by this statement, it is frankly more amenable to Lutheran soteriology than to that of the Eastern Orthodox, with the difference being that a Lutheran would affirm that a man, having been justified by grace through faith (cf. Romans v, 1), is truly in a state of grace, pardoned of all sin, and has the righteousness of Christ — in a word, is “saved” where he stands, lacks nothing, and would enter Paradise were he to die, just like the penitent thief. The Eastern Orthodox would never say anything so affirmative.

Protestants and Orthodox Christians have a different definition of what it means for a community to be a Church in the fullest sense of the word. Here it is important to remember that Eastern Orthodoxy developed its understanding of Church long before the Protestant Reformation.

There you go again. This is so tiresome. “Protestants” this; “Protestantism” that. There is no such thing as the Protestant Reformation. There you go lumping again. Lutherans (who, frankly, are no more Protestant than you) have an understanding of Church that does not rely on a sequence of events in the sixteenth century. We, too, claim the catholic tradition dating back to the apostles, as well as the Old Testament, as normative of our doctrine.

As an aside, your tone is incredibly condescending. Do you usually enter conversations assuming that your interlocutors are ignoramuses? Is this just part of the “I’m a convert-to-Orthodoxy” shtick? Because I encounter it a lot.

Please remember that we did not develop our beliefs to insult Protestants. To us the Church is made a reality during the Eucharist presided over by a Bishop in Apostolic Succession in communion with the other Bishops in Apostolic Succession. This concept of Church can be found in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who at the beginning of the 2nd Century was the first to use the word “Catholic” to describe the Church.

Hmmm. So it is to Lutherans. However, you’ll have a harder time convincing Lutherans that the distinction between presbyteros and episkopos, priest and bishop, is of divine rather than human ordinance. Because it’s not. Our bishops and priests have as much claim to apostolic succession as do yours.

Thus, we do not accept the Protestant doctrine of the invisible church.

For the love of God, literally, what Protestant doctrine of the invisible church? I don’t believe that the Church is invisible. There you go again, thrashing a canard. It is abundantly clear that you used to be an Episcopalian.

I believe that those congregations who [sic] are not under a Bishop in Apostolic Succession in Communion with the other Bishops in Apostolic Succession are not fully Church in the sense that an Orthodox Church is Church.

OK, then that means that the Eastern Orthodox Church is not fully Church, since they are not in communion with the bishops of Western Christendom who are “in Apostolic Succession,” even if we were only to consider the bishops of the Roman Church.

Thus we have a very different definition of Church than the “individual church” of Protestantism. Thus to me the independent bodies, of which there are many in the South lack essential attributes of what it means to be Church in the fullest sense of the word. To summarize when Orthodox Christians speak of The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, we mean The Eastern Orthodox Church.

Everyone, just remember from now on that every time Fr. Morris uses the word “Protestants,” he may as well use the word “redheads,” as it would be about as helpful and accurate to do so. Likewise, whenever he uses the word “Protestantism,” you could easily substitute the phrase “Loony-Tunes” and have it do a similar amount of explanatory work.

Since you brought it up, I will mention another rather unpleasant subject. If you read St. Cyprian of Carthage’s “On the Unity of the Catholic Church,” you will see that your statement that the patristric tradition would not be in agreement with your statement that all Protestant Baptisms are valid. For one thing Orthodox consider Baptism one part of the entry rite into the Church, that includes not only Baptism but Chrismation (Confirmation using oil consecrated by a Bishop in Apostolic Succession) and finally Communion, which we believe is the actual Body and Blood of Christ.

Well, Lutherans do practice Chrismation, and we also believe that the Eucharistic bread and wine are the actual Body and Blood of Christ. We wouldn’t insist on Chrismation as necessary, however — we would affirm it as salutary, but would never say that one’s entry into the Church was incomplete or deficient if one were to lack it. And neither would Jesus (cf. St. Mark xvi, 16).

I’m just glad that you’re saying all of this. It’s better to have all of it out in the open. However, I must say that I prefer what seemed to be a tacit acknowledgement of the part of Owen Jones that, yes, his position is that it really does come down to being an Eastern Orthodox Christian in order to be a consistent, true, really real conservative — all else being mere approximation. This, at least, is a consistent position.

avatar Owen Jones July 16, 2013 at 8:17 am

I do not believe that you have to be EO to be a conservative, culturally or politically. But since I do believe that the kind of issues attempting to be discussed and debated here and elsewhere about the political culture are essentially aesthetic in nature, then being EO is very helpful in that regard. However, with that said, while Trent is completely dismissive of traditionalist conservative and philosophical critiques of Descartes, Locke, the non-conformists, the Enlightenment Philosophes, the fact remains that there is substantial intellectual criticism of the intellectual fraud that liberalism is, and none of it was conducted by EO theologians, philosophers or political thinkers. I read a lot of this critique when in high school and college when I had never heard of the Orthodox Church. I ran across these works of criticism by being involved in a conservative student campus organization. One of the works was Pursuit of Millennium by Norman Cohn, probably not an EO author!

avatar Owen Jones July 16, 2013 at 8:31 am

I quoted St. Theophan earlier to suggest an Orthodox aesthetic on the nature of human freedom. That’s different than a doctrinal statement. I absolutely believe it has political connotations and implications. Most certainly. And I believe that most Americans would violently disagree with it, in part because it is paradoxical in nature and most people would fail to grasp that.

I appreciate the fact that it is simplistic to lump all Protestants together. The Reformation was many things and many movements, including mass nudism!

But it may be helpful to look at a very similar era in the East — the iconoclastic controversy — that lasted 100 years. Orthodoxy got its iconoclastic revolt almost 1,000 years before the Reformation. It was able to deal with it by incorporating the criticism that was good and proper, while rightly labeling iconoclasm as a heresy.

The Reformation, rightly understood, is an iconoclastic movement. It was an aesthetic revolt, not just a doctrinal one. Most Americans pride themselves on being iconoclasts.

But Orthodoxy in America really has little hope of making any solid impression on the society. Iconoclasm is just too deeply ingrained. Which is why Will Herberg said that Orthodoxy doesn’t stand a chance in this culture. Of course, no one knows where history is taking us.

avatar Trent July 16, 2013 at 8:52 am

However, with that said, while Trent is completely dismissive of traditionalist conservative and philosophical critiques of Descartes, Locke, the non-conformists, the Enlightenment Philosophes, the fact remains that there is substantial intellectual criticism of the intellectual fraud that liberalism is, and none of it was conducted by EO theologians, philosophers or political thinkers.

I’m not dismissive of all such critiques, I’m just skeptical of some of yours in particular because I think they lack a certain amount of nuance. I don’t recall even speaking about Locke in this feed…

…just checked — I haven’t said a word about Locke. With that said, a statement like “Of course Locke eviscerated Christianity” is somewhat absurd.

What I reject is your necessitous linking of “Protestantism” with all of the aforementioned bogeys. It’s sloppy. I do, in fact, appreciate the “criticism of the intellectual fraud that liberalism is” and am well-familiar with the philosophy and the intellectual history, having read it myself. As I think I mentioned before — and since we’re all being autobiographical — I, too, encountered it in high school and college. I, too, inquired into Eastern Christianity, but was compelled to regard it differently — its aesthetic, its theology, &c. So it seems you and I have similar trajectories.

I’m still not sure where you’re finding my “complete dismissiveness.”

And I believe that most Americans would violently disagree with it [i.e., the aesthetic of the nature of human freedom], in part because it is paradoxical in nature and most people would fail to grasp that.

Right. Except the three or four of you that are left who still vibe to the “paradigm of essences toward which the phenomenology of the world is in a continuing state of approximation.” I suppose that those who can’t explain the technicalities of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony aren’t actually enjoying the music, either.

avatar Owen Jones July 16, 2013 at 9:04 am

Perhaps you think my comment about Weaver is arrogant, like, gee, I’m one of only three or four individuals on the face of the earth who can quote him, aren’t I smart! In fact, it was a lament.

avatar Owen Jones July 16, 2013 at 9:07 am

Locke insisted that Christianity be cleansed of its “cultural accretions,” in other words, the contribution of Greek/Roman culture to its theological and ecclesiastical development.

avatar Fr. John Morris July 16, 2013 at 9:43 am

If you mean criticism of political liberalism written by Orthodox theologians, you will not find it. We take Christ command to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and stay out of secular political theory. I am personally politically conservative, but do not speak about political issues from the altar. However, in modern American politics liberalism has been identified with moral issues that Orthodox do oppose such as abortion and same sex marriage. Because these are moral issues, we do address them in writing and from the altar.

avatar Owen Jones July 16, 2013 at 10:40 am

One does not have to be a theologian per se to develop an Orthodox political theory. Certainly Solzhenitsyn falls into the category of a great thinker who was Orthodox and who applied an Orthodox aesthetic to the problems of political disorder.

And I think the notion that Orthodox Christianity should stay out of “secular” political theory is just suicidal. Also, it’s not historically accurate to say that Orthodox Christianity has never done that. Also, the axiom to render unto Caesar involved obedience to the ruling political authorities, that is to say, Christ was saying that He did not come into the world as a political revolutionary, which is what the Jews of the day expected a Messiah to be. That phrase cannot be used as an excuse for Orthodox people not to think!

To say that there are no political implications of the Christian God-man relationship almost sounds gnostic to me.

avatar Roger Conley July 29, 2013 at 8:21 pm

I was going to say something until I saw how many comments were already here. Catholics view the Reformation as a disaster, because it broke the unity of Christendom. Shouldn’t Protestants think that too, since the Catholic Church was left standing? I think the historical analysis is kind of shallow, and I think that you’ve got to expect some religious polemics from Catholics, which is not quite the same as saying you can’t be conservative. Of course we think it’s easier to come to appropriate political beliefs if you accept Catholic premises. If we think Catholic premises are true we have to believe that. That’s not the same as throwing you off the porch. But, in any event, it would be awfully hard for me to get angry at any Orthodox Presbyterian. I live in SE Pa and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is, by far, my favorite Protestant denomination and Machen is my favorite Protestant in history. I liked driving past the Orthodox Pres church in Chester & telling my kids that’s where Awana was founded. (Do you guys still do Awana?) One thing I liked about the Orthodox Presbyterians where I lived was that they got to be genuine fundamentalists while not having to go to church in big characterless buildings with great parking lots. I’m going to end with this observation. I think you’ll get further saying Mewman was wrong to say”To be deep in history is to cease being Protestant” than you will by saying he was stupid to say it.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 29, 2013 at 10:12 pm

The Roman Schism broke the unity of Christendom. Had Rome remained faithful to the Faith of the ancient undivided Church, it would not have allowed the papacy to develop and adopt such doctrines as purgatory that led to the Reformation and the shattering of the unity of Christianity in the West.

avatar Roger Conley July 29, 2013 at 11:06 pm

Father, No offense intended, but how is that comment helpful? How do you expect me to respond? Do you really expect me to say something like the following? “Well, if it’s the ‘Roman Schism’ that means it’s the Catholics’ fault and schism is a serious sin, so I better look for some other religion. Which one should I investigate first? This guy’s religion seems to prevent bishops from doing wrong. Maybe I should adopt his?” Or, on the other hand, should I take the comment as made in good faith? Maybe respond by discussing the role played by St Leo and his legates at Chalcedon, discuss the writings of the Fathers, East and West, regarding the See of Peter, discuss the insertion of the Filioque into the liturgy, the events leading up to and following 1054, the Fourth Crusade, the Councils of Lyon and Florence, talk about the opinions of Manuel II Palaiologos, then review various views of purgatory from the Maccabees to the Early Fathers, then up to Trent and then say, for all the above reasons I think I’ll stay Catholic? It seems to me that the response I get from you will be unlikely to justify all that work. And besides, I haven’t really read your other comments, but my brief review indicates that you think a person’s religious opinions have nothing to do with his political conclusions. If I have this right, why are you posting here at all. In short, it seems to me that your comment is conclusory, pejorative and is about a topic other than the one I wrote about. In short I am utterly at a loss as to how to respond to it.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 29, 2013 at 11:53 pm

I do believe that one can be a faithful Christian and be a political liberal, but that one can also be a faithful Christian and be a political conservative. We need to keep religion out of politics and politics out of religion. I merely responded to a comment that I considered incorrect. I believe that the division between East and West is what shattered Christian unity.

avatar Roger Conley July 30, 2013 at 12:11 am

Well, Father, I guess I think your two sentence response included more religious insults than my inadvertent error justified. And I bet that a careful study of Solzhenitsyn’s work would help get you to a more sophisticated view of church state relations that is fully in keeping with your tradition.

avatar Fr. John Morris July 30, 2013 at 10:41 am

If found my comments insulting, I certainly did not mean them to be taken as such. The Orthodox view of Church state relations is based on the words of Christ, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21. In technical terms it is called “symphonia,” the idea is that the Church stays out of purely secular matters, while the state respects the place of the Church as the conscience of society. Of course in America, where we have many religions, it has to be modified somewhat. I would argue that the state must deal with purely secular matters, but respect the right of religious groups to teach and practice their beliefs without state interference. As you know, the Obama administration in its health insurance policies violates that principle, by forcing religious institutions to pay for medications and procedures regardless of their religious teachings.

avatar John Gorentz July 30, 2013 at 8:06 pm

“We need to keep religion out of politics and politics out of religion.”

As a strong believer in separation of church and state, I question the wisdom of the above statement.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 30, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Why. Religion deals with spiritual matters, politics deal with secular matters. The two are not the same. Religion gives the believer principles of morality upon which to base their politics, but does not give detailed instructions on the application of those moral principles to secular political issues.

avatar Owen Jones July 30, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Body and soul are not the same. But last time I looked they were closely connected. Christianity is not just about principles of morality, it’s about the salvation of sinners. And people don’t base their politics just on principles of morality, or lack thereof. Political order is a symbolization of Divine order. So your vision of Divine order determines your political vision, only it’s not an individual problem. It’s a problem for societies. Societies represent their vision of divinity in and through political symbolisms, political structures. So, for example, monarchy is a very different divine symbolism than democracy with very different theological implications and assumptions.

Politics is always theology by different means. On the pragmatic level there is a lot of room for give and take, of course. But all political problems — the big ones — not the questions of whether we should spend $500 billion or $550 billion on the military — are at root spiritual problems.

avatar Owen Jones July 30, 2013 at 10:05 pm

And…I should add, the fact that the Church does not offer detailed instructions on politics is not a negation of the relationship, because the Church does not address man’s problems by offering detailed instructions. Yes, the Church has many detailed instructions that have built up over time, but they in and of themselves are not the solution to anything. They are means to an end and it’s the end, the telos, that matters, both in the Church and in politics, and they are inextricably intertwined.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 30, 2013 at 10:24 pm

I still believe that God has not given us exact instructions on secular political matters. For example, a Christian must be concerned for the poor, but how we put that concern into action is subject to interpretation. Some believe that the expansion of the welfare state is a good thing to help the poor. Others, like myself, believe that the welfare state has actually harmed the poor by making them dependent on government and discouraging them to work to take care of themselves.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 30, 2013 at 10:30 pm

I believe that it is dangerous to both politics and religion if they become intertwined. Throughout history, there have been many different political theories, none of them divinely revealed. If a person confuses their personal political views with divine inspiration, it can be a very dangerous thing. I go back to the words of Christ that tell us to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.

avatar John Gorentz July 31, 2013 at 1:56 am

“I believe that it is dangerous to both politics and religion if they become intertwined.” That’s why we have separation of church and state. But religion and politics cannot be separated, for reasons that both you and Owen Jones gave.

avatar Owen Jones July 31, 2013 at 7:44 am

God has given us exact instructions on very little. The argument that because God has not given us exact instructions on politics means that the Church, as Church, should have no involvement in politics strikes me as absurd. There are many things that the Bible does not give exact instructions on. If that is the criterion of salvation then we are all doomed.

What we do have is 3,000 years of the history of political order to study from various cultures, up to the present day, and what is obvious is that the political order is always a representation of that society’s experience of and vision of divine order.

And for 1500 years, Christian monarchy was the way in which God was represented in the political order for Christians. Were Christians for 1500 years just stupid until the American Revolution?

If it is dangerous for politics and “religion” to become intertwined, it is even more dangerous to relegate “religion,” i.e. God, to a matter of personal taste that has nothing to do with politics.

The State, as currently constituted, is a clear violation of at least the 1st and the 10th Commandments and that’s how Christians ought to view it. As Burke noted, the modern idea of politics is that the State is all in all. It is founded fairly explicitly on the theory that a society can and should live without God. So God is a personal opinion that inherently contradicts the very purpose of the State and the existence of the State. Therefore any vestige of Christian belief and Christian civilization needs to be expunged from society, either by violence in the Marxist case, or by more subtle methods in the case of liberalism.

So can we please dispense with this nonsense that the Church ought to have nothing to do with politics and honestly address the underlying spiritual disaster that is modern politics. A noted philosopher who was not exactly an Orthodox Christian once described modern politics as demono-maniacal.

avatar Owen Jones July 31, 2013 at 7:56 am

Which gets me back to my original point, which I realize has been dismissed by everyone on this thread, that the underlying problem is an aesthetic crises. The defenders of the modern secular State experience their world differently than an o(O)rthodox Christian. A Christian experiences live in the world as a blessing, not a curse. The deracinated liberal progressive experiences the world as Hell, something that must be destroyed and rebuilt from scratch, or continuously remade in the image of man’s progressivist, utopian fantasies. The vehicle for that re-creation is the State. As the Obama campaign made explicit in the last election, the government is the only thing we all have in common!

I should probably also mention the problem with the libertarian view, which is also a secular progressivist fantasy: that somehow free markets will lead inevitably to an enlightened, rational man in which his efforts to improve himself individually disperse throughout society leading to widespread prosperity and freedom. Consumption is both the means and the end to fulfillment.

American tend to assume that the above are the only two choices, whereas it is entirely possible to have a vision of political order based on virtue and mutual obligations and loyalties.

avatar Owen Jones July 31, 2013 at 8:02 am

Regarding how the Christian ought to help the poor, vs. the role of the State, St. John Chrysostom has actually given us some detailed instruction.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris July 31, 2013 at 8:10 am

You are completely misinterpreting what I wrote. Christians should bring their values to the political system. The Church must also speak out clearly on moral and ethical issues, but the Church should stay out of purely secular political matters. When the state crosses the line between religion and politics and begins to promote anti-Christian values, Christians must oppose the leaders of the state and call for a return to Christian moral values while avoiding becoming involved in purely partisan politics.

avatar Owen Jones July 31, 2013 at 8:48 am

I really don’t think have have misinterpreted, Father. Although I am sure I have failed to make my point clear. Politics is about much more than moral values. The role of the Church is more than just holding politicians accountable to its moral values. Most people these days do not even acknowledge the validity of Christian “moral values” (the correct term is virtues, not moral values — moral values is a secularized deformation of the idea of virtue). The dominant view is that Christian virtues are inherently totalitarian. But with the term “moral values,” everyone is quite comfortable with inventing their own.

Is this a consequence of Protestant influence? I’ll leave that an open question.

It seems to me that the question is a very practical one: absent the idea of a Christian realm, what is the proper relationship and attitude of the Church and the individual believer toward the State in the given political reality. The first step would be to expunge secular liberal assumptions from one’s mind, as if that were the only approach to politics.

avatar Fr. John Morris July 31, 2013 at 10:30 am

I do think that a lot of what is wrong with America can be traced back to the Protestant Reformation. One of the principles of the Reformation is that the Church corrupted the message of Christ, thus the rejection of Holy Tradition as found in the consensus of the Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils. Then during the 19th century Protestant Biblical scholars began to question the Bible, itself through the ill conceived “quest for the historical Jesus,” which is built on the assumption that the Gospels are filled with errors, or as Bultmann put it mythology. Once you dispense with the Holy Tradition and the Bible, each individual Christian becomes their own authority on the truth. This leads to the rejection that there are universal and unchanging moral values. This ties into another principle of the Protestant Reformation, which is individual interpretation of the Scriptures, and in the absence of the Scriptures individual interpretation of what is right and wrong on moral issues. Unfortunately, the Reformation also rejected Sacraments and emphasized preaching turning Christianity into a religion of the mind. This led to an excessive respect for “scholarship” that made the major Protestant bodies willing victims of the liberal theology of the late 19 century which turned Christ from a dying and risen savior into a social reformer through the Social Gospel Movement. Add the two and you get modern liberalism, an emphasis on the vain effort to create the Kingdom of God on earth and intense individualism when it comes to morality.

avatar Owen Jones July 31, 2013 at 10:53 am

While I agree with the above for the most part, if one agrees with your premise then one would also have to agree with the statement that much of what is right and good about America is also the result of the Reformation. Because America is a creature of the Reformation so you can in some sense lay both good and bad at its doorstep. One would have to apply the same argument to Russia when it was an Orthodox nation. Or the Eastern Catholic Empire.

But at the risk of sounding like carping, the problem is not simply one of “moral values,” or how a society derives its moral values. I think one has to dig a bit deeper.

avatar John Gorentz July 31, 2013 at 11:50 am

“The Church must also speak out clearly on moral and ethical issues, but the Church should stay out of purely secular political matters.”

I would agree with this, but I would not agree that religion and politics should not mix. Separation of church and state, yes. Separation of religion and politics, no. Church and state are institutions. Religion and politics are not necessarily.

avatar Owen Jones July 31, 2013 at 11:58 am

On what basis should there be a separation of Church and state. That may be a necessary state of affairs in a society that has many different religions and no single religious identity, or in a society that is not Christian, but what about a society that is Christian. What would be the argument against having a government with close ties to the Church?

avatar John Gorentz August 1, 2013 at 12:13 am

“What would be the argument against having a government with close ties to the Church?”

That argument would be the 2nd commandment (Lutheran/Catholic numbering system).

avatar Owen Jones August 1, 2013 at 7:59 am

Seriously? You learn something new everyday, I guess. Could you elaborate? What do Lutherans have to say about 1500 years of Christian monarchy, some of which was, in the latter years, Protestant?

avatar John Gorentz August 2, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Remember in the early days of the Clintons, when President Bill flashed his bible on his way to church, and then climbed into the pulpit to proclaim his crime bill as the will of God? That’s taking God’s name in vain. If there were actual ties between church and state, that sort of thing would be dangerous as well as ridiculous.

As to what Lutherans have to say about Christian monarchy, I imagine they have lots of things to say about it. For all I know, some of them may be worth listening to.

avatar Owen Jones August 2, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Christian monarchy is a relic, to be sure, but should not simply be dismissed and a secular constitutional republic should not be simply assumed as the ideal. IMHO!

avatar Matt Andrews August 14, 2013 at 1:37 pm

To say to be conservative you have to be a Roman Catholic is a flat out lie. Today Roman Catholic Church is one of the most liberal Churches. perhapes not on paper but in practise. Try Classical Anglicanism. Then you can be a real conservative.

avatar Trent August 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Well, I guess the conversation is over, now. I, for one, am totally convinced now. Let’s all go be Anglicans…

avatar Owen Jones August 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Trying to be a “classical Anglican” is a bit like trying to be a Jacobite. It’s a nice theory but as a practical matter…

avatar Fr. John W. Morris August 14, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Just what is Classical Anglicanism? If you know anything abut Anglicanism, you should know that one thing that Anglicans lack is common doctrine. Anglicanism is based on the Elizabethan Settlement which was a religious compromise designed to avoid specific doctrinal formulations to unite as many people as possible in the English state Church. There are Anglicans who are Calvinists, Anglicans who are very liberal, Anglicans who are almost Roman Catholic and Anglicans who are almost Eastern Orthodox and everything in between. You can get three Anglicans in a room and ask them what Anglicans believe and get 5 different answers.

avatar Matt Andrews August 14, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Fr., you say Anglicans lack common doctrine. Try Richard Hooker for starts. Roman Catholics lack common doctrine in practice. Even on paper there are differences. Each Pope has his own Magisterium and cannot be bound by a previous Pope. Look at the difference between Pius X and Paul V or John Paul II. John XXII taught that the souls of the just do not see the beatific vision until the second coming. His successor Benedict XII rebuked it. There are many many more examples.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris August 15, 2013 at 1:43 am

It is a matter of historic fact that Anglicans do not share a common doctrine. It was deliberately designed with vague doctrinal statements to accommodate as many different opinions as possible. It is called the Elizabethan Settlement and was meant to be a compromise based religion. Historically Anglicanism has had high church, low church and broad church, each of which has its own version of Anglicanism. Today, there are dozens of different groups all claiming to represent classical Anglicanism, but all teaching different beliefs and practices. You can walk a few blocks in New York City or London visiting Episcopal or Anglican Churches and find different religions. The Roman Popes may have different styles and personalities, but they all teach the same basic doctrine. The same cannot be said about Anglicans. Some are almost Roman Catholic. Some are almost Eastern Orthodox. Some are very liberal modernist feminist and can hardly be called Christians. Some are even full fledged Calvinists.

avatar Bradley J. Birzer March 30, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Hi Darryl, thanks for the mention. Just to be clear, while I do consider the Christian church the oldest, continuous institution in the West, I certainly don’t think RCism has a monopoly on Christianity. And, I would argue–as I do in class–that the first 1500 years of the Church are as much a part of current RCism as Protestantism. I even diagram it on the board! Anyway, thanks for the mention.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris March 30, 2014 at 10:27 pm

You forgot the Eastern Orthodox Church, which is older and had kept without change the teachings of the ancient undivided Church. We still follow the Fathers and the 7 Ecumenical Council. Rome added additional doctrine to the teachings of the ancient Church such as papal supremacy, indulgences, etc. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Protestants threw out the Faith of the ancient Apostolic Church and invented a new form of Christianity, based on the teachings of men like Martin Luther, and John Calvin. The new form of Christianity cannot be reconciled with the Faith of the ancient undivided Church.

avatar Trent Demarest March 30, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Wow. Just…wow.

Dr. Birzer, I’m telling you this as a friend — RUN. Insanity’s horse apparently still runs wild in this comment feed. I thought we had beaten it to death seven months ago, but I guess not. Don’t even bother responding to Fr. Morris. Trust me.

RUN!

Also, I hope you’re well. We should catch up via email sometime soon.

avatar Fr. John W. Morris March 30, 2014 at 11:53 pm

That is a real mature response. It only proves my point.

avatar Bradley J. Birzer March 31, 2014 at 11:36 am

Thanks, Father Morris and Trent (great to hear from you, Trent!). I wasn’t forgetting the Eastern Orthodox Church in the least. Given my own love of the East, it would be rather bizarre if I did. If I ever left the RCChurch, it would be toward Orthodoxy or Lutheranism. This is why I stressed “in the West” in the post. Yours, Brad

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