A Generous Orthodoxy
24-07-2007, 01:19 PM
As you suggest I would think a Generous Orthodoxy is an essential element of any who claim to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. And, yes, in this same vein of thought, I appreciate your comments about determining and adding to in a contrived way, as opposed to a process of discovery--these are two completely different things.
But, now we move to the meat and potatoes, so to say . . . to the heart of the matter, when you say in the following:
Quote:Much is made, and rightly so, by the Orthodox of the Patristic heritage; but it is more problematic and contested than perhaps we admit or know. How many of us have read through even the volumes of the Fathers that are available in English translation? I am struck, when I do, by the way in which they build on readings of the Scriptures; but they do not often build on each other - for fairly simple reasons in many cases. So what is this Patristic consensus and who proclaims it? It seems easy enough to reply that it is the 'Church, but that gets us back to where we started; what is that Church?
I am fond of the expression, "In the End, the Beginning," as it has been used by some from T.S. Elliot forward; however, I do not appreciate it when it demonstrates a circular reasoning such as you pointed to above. When it is used in this way, it is a "ring around the rosy" whereby in the end there is really only just the end--ashes and death.
To be sure, if one desires to speak of the Holy Tradition of the Church as the Spirit of Life of the Church, as the work of the Holy Spirit. Then one speaks of a very Beautiful Living Tradition.
But, if one would speak of the Tradition of the Church as being a justification for one's own way of thinking and living, then one has clearly carved an idol which serves to only affirm/validate and edify one's self. Then to varying degrees there is a veneration of a god created in our own image, or worse yet, a worshipping of one's own self in the end.
To me it is a very frustrating thing, but more so, a very sad thing. Initially, when I was first exposed to such ways of knowing and being I observed that this way of living was primarily fear driven. And, fear is a huge part of this circular reasoning which serves as the foundation for such 'religious' justifications, for the way we live and understand. However, I have since come to realize that at the heart of the matter, this is a very old way of operating here, a methodology that can be observed from the first days of creation in the Garden in fact.
But, more to the point here John, you have asked three pointed questions in the following:
1.) What is this Patristic consensus?
2.) Who proclaims it?
3.) What is that Church?
and, at the present, I think we would be doing very well to even just scratch the surface of the first question.
When we speak of a Patristic consensus, what are we really talking about? I hear this phrase batted around all time. Usually, when I hear this phrase employed, it seeks to serve as an authentication of what has been said. It seems to be a stamp or a seal of genuineness as it is used. But, to be honest with you, most of the time, it sounds to me more like when someone tells you something, and then when you ask them what they base their assertion on, they say, "I read it in a magazine somewhere." To which one normally replies, something like "Oh," and then the conversation is over, it just comes to an end.
But, let's keep going with this . . . let's take this to the next level, clearly there *are* different 'schools of thought' to be found in the thinking of the Church Fathers, just as there are today in the thinking of contemporary Orthodoxy theologians. From the varying opinions on which books of the Bible are considered cannon by the Fathers, to thinking as it relates to doctrine and pastoral care, one can appeal to different sources within the History of the Church and the History of Christian Thought to establish varied positions. This goes without saying that there are 'different schools of thought' to be found within Orthodoxy both ancient and modern day. If one disputes this fact, then one has never read the writings of the past or today . . . or, if one has been Orthodox for a period of time at all, then one must live in a hole of some kind to not be able to see this.
So, yes John, what is this Patristic consensus?
Where I am sitting right now as I bang away on this keyboard, I am surrounded by my silent companions. I have books on shelves from the floor to the ceiling. I have a Church History section, a Theology section, a Language section, a Biography section, a Biblical Studies section, a Bibliology section, a Hermeneutic section, and a large section devoted to Bible Commentaries. And, I am very familiar with most of my books, with most of the authors. As I'm sure most here know, we become aquainted with the authors as people when we read them. We almost feel like we know them after a while. After a while, we start to understand where they are coming from and why they say what they say. We learn more about them as people and the events and circumstances that shaped their lives as they grew into the men and women that they were as they put down words on paper.
But, and here's the thing . . . I am so familiar with these authors that I can say anything that I want to, and I know exactly where to go, I know exactly which shelve(s) to go to in order to pull "the right ones" who will agree with me!
Do you see what I am saying here? Within reason, I can say whatever I want to say about Church History or Theology or Pastoral Care, or really whatever . . . and I can appeal to the proper source to back up what I have just said. And, the more books that I pull from the shelves to back up what I am saying, the more of a consensus that I will build--the stronger my position becomes.
In this sense the more I am trained and the more experienced I am at doing this, the more of a chance there will be that I will overwhelm the ones who have no training or experience. Even if what I am saying just doesn't sound right to the less 'knowledgeable,' after a while they will *simply* be overcomed by what I am saying and be forced to either give in or suffer the modern death called apathy.
But, in the end, what is the difference between 'giving in in this fashion' and succumbing to apathy? In both cases one is really just overwhelmed and suffers a death of sorts.
But, let's say I have convinced one of the consensus that I have demonstrated, and he has decided to subscribe to what I am saying. Then when this convert begins to teach others what he has 'learned,' when tries to remember what he was taught and he attempts to parrot back the same thing which overwhelmed him . . . at best, what is it that will be reproduced here??? What is it that he or she really knows and is pointing toward now?
Is this proclaimer pointing to the Church based on a true consensus?
Or, more to the point, what is it that forms the foundation for this proclaimer's way of knowing?
What type of mindset is he or she modeling when he or she operates from this state of being?
Or, worse yet, what is going to happen to this person and his or her disciples when someone else comes along who knows which books to pull off of the shelves which will completely contradict what they were taught by the first person?
And, possibly right now some are thinking, well this chap really likes to work in the hypothetical or the land of "what if," doesn't' he? But, if this is the case, please allow me to suggest that unless you live in a hole, there is a very good chance that you are participating in the above way of knowing and being right now! If you cannot see that there is nothing hypothetical at all about what is being said above as it relates to the different schools of thought to be found within an historic Orthodox approach, then chances are you have been overwhelmed at some point as mentioned above.
Take the case of the two teachers (pullers of books) above. Consider their particular groups and schools of thought that they represent. Can you imagine a chance meeting, one day, of two disciples, one from each group? Say one day on the plane, these two people strike up a conversation. At first they learn the they are both "Orthodox" and they are glad to have this chance encounter. But, eventually they 'learn' that they have both been taught different things. And, since they each have based their whole philosophy of Christian living around these things, there is some tension that begins to build. On an increasing basis, their facial features begin to tighten, and their voice tones begin to change in pitch. Eventually, when neither can support what either is saying, they resort to using such terms as Patristic Consensus or the Treasury of the Apostolic Witness, as if this is to wave Harry's wand and overwhelm the other--or as if this is to be the end all or to prove one's position beyond the shadow of a doubt! But, how absurd this is to think that such a magic phrase will cast a spell of some kind that will persuade a thinking man or women. Or, back to our point here, how absurd it *is* to consider two adults waving their magic wands and uttering special phrases at each other while attempting to defend the words of another which represent nothing more than an alter of remembrance of the day they were overwhelmed. Before these two stop speaking there will be a volley of "Well, I was taught this" and "Well, I was taught that." Before the newspapers go up in front of each persons face, so that he or she can escape from this madness, an exercise, or better yet a dance will take place, one that takes place every day in the real world. And, this is frustrating, but it is also very sad, because this type of thing promotes only division and schism, the opposite of any kind of unity/union/communion, and the opposite of what is spoken of in the Royal Law of Love.
Yes, John . . .
1.) What is this Patristic consensus?
2.) Who proclaims it?
3.) What is that Church?
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 - Rick Henry - 24-07-2007 01:19 PM