Monday, May 14, 2007

The lifeblood of Christianity

Before I get started, I have to ask for prayers for Madeleine McCann, the toddler abducted in Portugal. Every parent knows that brief flash of horror when you lose sight of your child in a crowd when you've turned away for a few seconds. I can't imagine the torture of losing them for good. Please pray also for this Orange County family, who lost their three children when a big rig hit their minivan while they were stopped in traffic on the freeway.

In view of these sorts of things happening lately and work consuming a lot of what is normally free time, I have been spending what moments I have left with the kids. I have a finely balanced system for timing my writing in between work and kids that is probably best described as "controlled avalanche," and this usually produces some things worth saying as ideas mulling around the subconscious gradually crystallize into some expressible form. Getting them down is an essential process, because otherwise, I will be juggling them mentally until I get something written down, and that becomes progressively more stressful as time goes on. But sometimes I get SO busy that there aren't even enough spaces in the schedule to fill in the snowmass with good quality powder. And rather than subjecting people to a river of slush, I prefer to spend time on responses to other people's ideas, which I can draft more quickly. The good thing about doing that is that such discussions have a habit of overflowing into new ideas for writing, as they have recently (see my comments on this thread over at Michael Liccione's blog). That means it's just about time to shake the slopes and see what comes down.

That idea of "overflowing" is itself part of the theme I'd like to establish. Just like the case of writing itself, creativity can't result from confined systems. There has to be an overflow from experience, and by "overflow" I mean the pressure that reality exerts on one's thinking to keep it active and responsive. That pressure is real, and the attempt to confine that pressure is ultimately futile. The only question is whether your conceptual outlook is sufficiently flexible to adapt to new experiences; otherwise, it will just break. I strongly believe that Christianity is the only mode of life capable of actually responding to reality in this way, not fleeing from contact with reality (which intellectually impressive systems like Hellenism, Hinduism, and Buddhism often do) nor trying to hold together the pieces of a machine that is obviously broken. The entire history of Christianity, East and West, testifies to a tenacious grip on reality where other conceptual frameworks have lost it. Christianity clings to reality even at its most awful, which makes it the only true consolation in the worst of circumstances (and it is hard to imagine worse than the ones with which I introduced this post).

The most startling testimony to how important confrontation with reality is to Christianity is the fact that Christianity itself breaks under the pressure of reality when it loses this adaptability, as one can see in Evangelicalism (see also my comments here) and in the anti-Western Orthodoxy Drew Johnson, Michael Sullivan, and I confronted over on Michael Liccione's blog. The temptation for Christianity is always toward Gnosticism, the ultimate escapism, but this is also intellectual suicide. Speculative theology, using the mind to apply theology to reality, has always been the lifeblood that keeps Christianity from Gnosticism, and it remains so today. This is the fundamental truth recognized in Pope Leo XII's Aeterni Patris, which acknowledged St. Thomas Aquinas's paradigmatic role in preserving this ancient method of the Fathers. The problem with Gnosticism wasn't speculative theology per se, but this ungrounded speculative theology detached from reality. And I'd like to think that even outsiders to the apostolic churches, like Gagdad Bob and the Maverick Philosopher, are nonetheless drinking from the true fount of divine wisdom in their resistance to such unreal philosophies.

Anyway, the point is that this mental, speculative engagement is part of what keeps the blood flowing in the Christian community. If the faith is starved of its ability to seek understanding, the organism dies. The faith may have been once delivered to the saints, but if its modern-day adherents are simply curators for the faith, which they experience but do not change, then what is being preserved is not the apostolic faith. Life requires overflow, and overflow manifests itself in the creation of dogma. That is how Catholicism shows itself to be the Church; it continues to announce dogma in continuation with the same process. Christian churches that cut off speculative creation of dogma are ceasing the process that gave them life, and eventually, they die because of it.

UPDATE -- In line with the theme of this post, see this comment I wrote at Sacramentum Vitae.


Sophocles said...


Thank you for the invite here.

First off, from Michael's blog,

"I have real doubts as to whether your own view doesn't preserve the letter of Cappadocian theology at the expense of the spirit."

I would say I merit your thinking of me in unfavorable terms from my tone to Drew throughout this thread. Actually, we began our spar over on Energetic Procession and it spilled over here. (Hmm, the theme of your post "Overflow").
I apologized to him over there for my behavior and do so now to you as well Jonathan for my tone on previous posts here. For the content I do not apologize, but for the manner I spoke it. I ask your forgiveness.
As to this post, man, I feel you about the "writer's block", of sorts, you speak of. I haven't posted anything for awhile on my own blog but have found an outlet in responding to others' posts.

As to your observation on knowledge East and West, again, I loved the way you put words to it, the choice between these two different knowledges.

At this point, forgive me, it's late and I have more to say but it is difficult to coherently put together some of the things I wish to say. But nevertheless, I will return to finish and instead of erasing this comment because I didn't finish it, I will let it stand to let you know I did read your post(several times) and to once again thank you for the opportunity to visit.

CrimsonCatholic said...

Glad to have you, and feel free to offer more thoughts whenever you have time!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sophocles!
You're a good man. No one should ever have to apologize for the content of what they write. As for the other stuff, well, we're all sinners, and I'm sorry for what I wrote to you as well, especially in the posts at Energetic Procession. In any case, as far as I'm concerned it's "water under the bridge."
I definitely feel yours and Jonathan's pain on "writer's block." On numerous occasions, I have felt like I had "reader's block" as well!
Overall, I think Jonathan's post here had a lot to do with what Newman called the "Chronic Vigor" of dogmatic development, that it is always confronting the world at the cutting edge of eschatological existence.


Sophocles said...


Thank you. That means alot to me and I have genuinely enjoyed the opportunity to converse with you.
To be continued for sure....


Forgive me if I don't finish my initial post. My heart belongs to the matters currently being posted at Energetic Procession. This "other world" wherein the Orthodox move and dwell and have their being is my passion to make more available and "real" to my friends and any and all who may hear. Which in a way, come to think of it, ties in nicely with your post on Sacramentum about the two knowledges of East and West and therefore may, with your permission, of course, satisfy the requisites of keeping my promise to finish the post. Ha ha.

This other world which has its own "knowledge" which is the stuff of the Orthodox mind, seemingly narrow and austere to the outsider but nut once you're in it.
I want to post there along these lines so thanks for letting me air some of my thoughts.
Jonathan, with your permission, may I add you to my blog roll? I'll eventually post some new material there so you won't be bored if you visit, I promise!

The Lord bless both you guys.



CrimsonCatholic said...

I completely understand, and I'll check in over there (although I don't post there anymore on these subjects). Anybody who wants to add me to a blogroll is always welcome.

"Chronic Vigor" is a good phrase, but in the interest of simplicity, I would call it "Life." :-)

Arturo Vasquez said...

I find the last paragraph of this post a bit problematic. Just from my readings in the Patristic church, I don't think they were driven by Anselm's "fides quaerens intellectum". Is understanding the essence of the Christian experience? Isn't the goal of Christianity the transmission of life, eternal life, that comes through Faith?

I am not going to begin making all the necessary distinctions that we both have in mind here. But I don't think the best icon of Christian salvation and the Church lies in the medieval lecture halls in which "questiones disputatae" were hashed out with much vigor.

Maybe you can elaborate a bit morw on what you are saying.