Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Soloviev's "The Russian Church & the Papacy"

The following is from an excellent blog (now lost) by an Evangelical considering both Catholicism and Orthodoxy. This individual was convinced that both were the origin of the true, historical Church established by Christ and was planning on converting to one or the other after much consideration. This is one of his reflections that is about a very interesting book. Soloviev was a Russian Orthodox who is believed to have converted to Catholicism on his death-bed.
[from Irenaeus, the blog author and would-be convert of either Orthodoxy/Catholicism]

I thought I might blog more on this book, but I don't know if there is much I want to say. Catholics would like it, and the Orthodox, well, not so much. It presumes a lot of history I don't have down cold. The writing, however, is strong and engaging.

Whether it's finally compelling or not, I found most interesting his discussion of the relationship of Christology to the State, suggesting that the politics of the East were infected by the heresies of the East, with deleterious consequences. Please note, I'm not trying to annoy my Orthodox readers by posting this. I plan on returning to Markides and his positive valuation of Orthodox life shortly:

This "Orthodoxy" of the Byzantines was in fact nothing but ingrown heresy. The true central dogma of Christianity is the intimate and complete union of the divine and human without confusion or division. The logical consequence...is the regeneration of social and political life by the spirit of the gospel, in other words the Christianization of society and the state. Instead of this synthetic and organic union of the divine and the human, the two elements were in turn confused or divided, or one of them was absorbed or suppressed by the other.

To begin with, the divine and the human were confused in the sacred majesty of the emperor. Just as -- in the confused thought of the Arians -- Christ was a hybrid being, more than man and less than God, so caesaropapism, which was simply political Arianism, confused the temporal and spiritual powers without uniting them, and made the autocrat something more than the head of the state without succeeding in making him a true head of the church.

Religious society was separated from secular society, the former being relegated to the monasteries while the forum was abandoned to pagan laws and passions. The dualism of Nestorius, condemned in theology, became the very foundation of Byzantine life. Or again, the religious ideal was reduced to bare contemplation, that is, to the absorption of the human spirit in the Godhead, an obviously Monophysite ideal. The moral life, on the other hand, was robbed of its practical force by the inculcation of the supreme ideal of passive obedience and blind submission to power; that is to say, of an ideal of quietism which was in reality the denial of human will and energy, the heresy of the Monothelites. Finally, an exaggerated asceticism attempted to suppress the bodily nature of man and to shatter the living image of the divine Incarnation -- a logical though unconscious application of the Iconoclastic heresy.

This profound contradiction between professed orthodoxy and practical heresy was the Achilles' heel of the Byzantine Empire. There lay the real cause of its downfall. Indeed it deserved to fall and still more it deserved to fall before Islam. For Islam is simply sincere and logical Byzantinism, free from all its inner contradictions. It is the frank and full reaction of the spirit of the East against Christianity; it is a system in which dogma is closely related to the conditions of life and in which the belief of the individual is in perfect agreement with the social and political order [Catholic Answers abridged edition, pp. 38-40].

[Irenaeus speaking] I'm not sure what I think of this; given how the East has suffered under the Islamic hordes, I winced at that last paragraph. (I think it was CS Lewis, however, who remarked that Islam is simply the greatest Christian heresy.) I also question the criticisms of asceticism; from reading Markides (and others), it seems to me that prayer is a high task that has real results in the real world. I do believe our theological beliefs have concrete effects in the real world, however, of which most people are simply unaware. (It's always interesting doing intellectual history with people and explaining to them the historical roots of what they believe and why they came to believe it.)

The following paragraph I found more compelling:

The two great historic experiments, that of the Middle Ages and that of modern times, seem to demonstrate conclusively that neither the Church -- lacking the assistance of a secular power which is distinct from but responsible to her -- not the secular state -- relying on her own resources -- can succeed in establishing Christian justice and peace on earth. The close alliance and organic union of the two powers without confusion and without division is the indispensable condition of social progress [46-47].

PS: I also think that Western historians of various stripes have consistently misinterpreted and denigrated and neglected the Byzantine Empire...

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