Monthly Archives: September 2011

Leaving Behind the Adolescent Self

This article was first published on the Classical Conversations  CC Connected Guest Articles blog.

My wife and I are trying to give our children an education we never received, that is, a classical education. You may be in the same position as we; trying to understand what one is doing while one is doing it, committing oneself to something one doesn’t yet fully understand, then believing this is the right course while one is still trying to orient one’s map. It is hard work to both homeschool and do so in a manner that, though as old as the hills, is nonetheless new to us. Recently, however, I have been worried about a new wrinkle. Speaking on the difficulties of building and governing a classical school, Charles Evans said this:

A lot of the parents of the children in our schools have never really grown up. They themselves think very much like adolescents, and they are motivated by adolescent values.¹

This quote has been haunting my thoughts. Though we are not building a classical school in the same manner as Evans, we are building our homeschool based, as best we know, on classical principles. This is hard work, but what haunts me is that the gap I may need to close is not so much a knowledge or method gap as a character gap. In other words, am I trying to teach my children to become virtuous while I, myself, remain largely an adolescent in my values? If by virtuous we mean something akin to becoming the kind of people we ought to be, then I am failing miserably. And really, how hard have I tried? It is frightening that the idea of seeking virtue, and correspondingly, that education should be about cultivating virtue, was never in scope for my entire educational career; it just was not on the radar. Could it be that, while I seek to create a classical education for my children, I and my adolescent mind are the main roadblock to its success?

Quickly I see three obvious indicators (there must be many more not-so-obvious indicators) that I might still have an adolescent mind. First is that I continue to wonder what I will be when I grow up. The problem is that I am grown up. Now is not the time to plan future careers as much as it is to build upon the career I have already made. Sadly I have largely failed in this regard. Second, I have great difficulty in staying focused and am easily distracted. I recognize this is not specifically an adolescent characteristic, and it might have more to do with my DNA, nonetheless I find the adults I admire the most tend to focus on what is important and stay focused. I, however, tend to look for the next interesting thing, the next shiny object. This is all the more difficult in the age of the Internet. I can barely read a page in a book without turning my attention to my computer or iPhone to see if anything has changed in the last two minutes. And thirdly, I have little sense of civic duty or public service. I do not think we all need to become civil servants, but the act of extending oneself outward for the betterment of world should by now be as natural as breathing. Unfortunately, I have too much separated myself from the world and tend not to serve others. (My wife is much more of a natural servant than I.) Now add to this my general whininess… you get the picture.

And yet, I do believe there is hope. Reason would tell me that if I can know I still live with adolescent values then I can’t be entirely under their spell. I know I am in dire need of growing up, and may be until I die, but I also know that to be grown up, that is to be a complete man, is my goal. A “complete adolescent” does not yet know the need or value of becoming a complete man. There is also hope because one can choose to take steps away from being an adult with an adolescent mind towards being a complete adult. What are those steps? I can’t say definitively, mainly because I still lack wisdom, but here are six suggestions (not in any particular order):

  1. Love virtue: This may be the second most difficult one on the list to do. I do not think that one can truly love virtue without the help of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, one can study virtue and trust God in the practice. One can seek to understand what virtue is, how it looks in a person’s life, how it plays out in human actions and in history, and how one might acquire virtue. I do not believe that one can truly study virtue and happily remain with an adolescent mind. But the topic of virtue is not as common today as it once was, so we may need to reach back in time to find our definitions and examples. But then we are educators; reaching back in time should be joyful anyway.
  2. Examine oneself: We have all heard the Greek aphorism, “Know thyself.” This is also not an easy thing to do. We tend to put up lots of barriers to knowing ourselves. Maybe it is because true self-knowledge is frightening. And the study of oneself can slip into self-absorption and narcissism. We must be cautious but it must be done.
  3. Study the nature of man: What is man? The classical study of man has tended to fall off the map these days since science has re-directed us to the biological, chemical, and physical elements of human existence. The study of man is not, however, fundamentally an analytical affair, rather it is normative. We could say that it begins with the basic understanding that man posses a soul, and then proceeds to questions of human nature, questions of morality, questions of God’s image in man, and questions of gender differences and roles. And like the study of virtue, we may need to reach back in history to find the best ideas about man.
  4. Seek examples, find heroes: I need inspiration. Maybe that is a weakness, but history is replete with heroes who have been lauded and studied. Studying examples of virtuous men is good practice. The key is to find them. Our greatest example is Christ himself, who humbled himself, even to death, for the life of the world. We should spend our entire lives getting to know Christ.  But there are many more who, though far from the perfection that is Christ, exemplify lives of virtue. Consider, for example, George Washington or Thomas Moore. Or consider mythological heroes such as Achilles or Sir Galahad. Ask how they are are virtuous, and also ask how they are not. Study them in their context and imagine oneself in their shoes. This activity ties into the examination of oneself.
  5. Fear God: This is the most difficult one on the list. There is no fearing God without the help of the Holy Spirit. To fear God is not merely to be afraid, or to tremble, it is also to take God at His word, to know the utter contingency of our existence, and to worship God with our entire lives. To know the greatness of God, the smallness of man, and also the image of God in man, is to then know the greatness of man. To see both the greatness of God and the contingent greatness of man is to challenge full-face the adolescent mind as an end.
  6. Pray: To pray is also to do something very difficult. One can choose to pray, but often prayer chooses us. To pray for wisdom and virtue, to pray to “grow up” and to become a man, can be scary. Not only is change difficult, but God often takes us through trials, sometimes severe, so that we “get it” at the level of our souls. To know and embrace virtue is not a mere mental assent to something good, rather it is a visceral, troubling, joyful rending of one’s soul such that the world has changed in some small but deeply profound way. We should pray for that, and pray that God will carry us through.

I hope I have the eyes to see the way to becoming a man. Like you I can only trust God. And like you I know that that trust is born along in my choices and ensuing actions. I work and God works; it is the way He has made my existence. The struggle for virtue is at the heart of a Christian classical education. If I desire virtue for my children (my students) then I must seek it first myself. If I do that then there truly is hope I might leave my adolescent self behind and finally begin to become the man I ought to be.


¹ Building a School, Charles Evans, delivered at the 2011 Society for Classical Learning Conference.

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Waiting for Monet

Monet painted many lilies,
vibrant under a summer light
more so than even life,
but life in winter
with its bare trees in the park
and its buried bulbs
has another vibrance
that Monet also knew I’m sure.
Think of the beauty of a starry night
above the high desert where
city lights are forgotten;
those lights speckling the darkness
are really just stars in an
immenseness so much more
than all the stars put together,
and yet we fall down before
all that beauty
like toppling statuaries.
But we have not really acquiesced,
like when we drove out before dawn
through thick stubbles of sheared hay
under and moonless sky as we opened
stretched barbed wire gates and
following barely visible tracks
toward the canal
then checked our pockets for cartridges
and our packs for lunches.
We beheld the sky
once blanketed with stars
lit up with pale blue and the
dotted lines of high flying geese.
We waited motionless
for the low flying ducks.
We hid like children
playing adults playing soldiers
fighting the force of nature.
There was really no acquiescence
except the fading stars before
the sun, then the sun,
then the stunning beauty
of the fragile beasts
dead in our hands, gutted,
and their dead eyes still staring,
perhaps pleading,
as though God’s eyes might
be looking for an answer
to a question He will ask
at an undisclosed time.
And the line is drawn
to the killing of all things
and the spilling of blood
overspilling the altars.
From tabernacles everywhere,
those sacred places we call home
and elsewhere,
the ground cries out
like it did to heaven when
Cain shrugged and really
did not think it such
a big deal,
though he must have thought
it would be nice for lambs
and lions to get along at least.
But today soldiers walk the streets
where they say the garden
must have been,
and where the angel with
the flaming sword left
his post eventually of boredom.
Other angels came later
carrying messages. They always
seem to start with “Be not afraid”
but I think they were joking,
a little fun you know,
because angels do not normally
get out much I would think.
I also think Monet saw the stars,
and the dead eyes questioning,
and the horrors war.
Yet I doubt he saw an angel
whether with message
or with sword.
But he did paint water lilies
as though he was teaching God
something about His creation
something that God already knew
but was waiting
for Monet.

(November 2009)

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Love and Mastery: Considering Jesus the Teacher

Jesus Preaching, etching by Rembrandt (ca. 1652)

I sometimes cringe when I hear Jesus referred to as a great teacher, because I know that title is often used to say he was “merely” a great teacher, and he is so much more. But he was a great teacher. And like Jesus, the best teachers in my life led by example. Think about the best teachers you have had. You might remember the subjects they taught, but you probably remember more the way they taught, their mastery, their skill, and most importantly, their character. Maybe some were a bit disorganized, some a bit quirky, but they loved seeking the truth, were passionate in helping you to grow in knowledge, and they were humble about it. They were people who I wanted to imitate. I am convinced that to become a great teacher one must believe and embody the twin ideas that teaching with love is greater than teaching with mastery, but teaching with true mastery is also teaching with love.

Consider the following scene. Jesus and the disciples are in the upper room for the passover. Jesus knows he is going to his crucifixion and that his disciples are generally clueless. In the Gospel of St. John 13:3-17 (ESV) we read:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

This famous passage is full of things to ponder, but I want to zero in on something specific. Notice the lesson Jesus wants them to learn: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” One could say this is the logos of the lesson. It is simple, straightforward, and profound, and from the context of the upper room discourse this is a message Jesus really wants them to get. But now look how he got to that message. Jesus lays aside his outer garments and begins washing their feet. This is not only outside the expected behavior of a teacher, but it also produces a striking image for them. And not only that, it produces a tension that must somehow be reconciled in their minds. Peter’s response most likely is just the verbal expression of what they were all thinking. “How can this be?” “This is not right.” Jesus creates a dilemma his disciples need resolved. Then Jesus asks them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?” That is exactly what they are wondering. This tension creates the proper context for his message: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” He then lets them in on his teaching process: “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” But Jesus also knows they still will not truly understand until later: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”

Think how powerful the image of Jesus washing their feet must have been in their minds, especially when they began to link it later with the crucifixion. When the Holy Spirit opened their eyes and helped them to remember all that Jesus said and did, this scene must have stuck out. Whenever they thought of their Lord they would remember that he was the one who washed their feet, who then told them to do such for each other, and to know that this upending of the normal order of things is at the core of the kingdom of God. Jesus says, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” That is powerful.

How then did Jesus teach them? He showed rather than merely told. In other words, he taught them mimetically.

We observe that Jesus:

  1. connected his lesson to prior knowledge. That is, when he took off his outer garments and began washing their feet he relied on their cultural understanding of servants and masters. They knew what he was doing even if they did know what to think of it. And they felt the tension, so they needed a resolution.
  2. gave them an example or type. That is, he created an image of a master serving his servants. Imagine the scene, they had to sit there and watch him wash their feet. Individually they each had to physically experience their feet being washed by their teacher. This must have been a powerfully visceral example.
  3. compared this type to other types. That is, he called attention to how this new type contrasted with what they knew to be the normal order of things. They could see it, but he made sure by connecting his example to what they thought they knew was right. The comparison must have been startling. By calling it out, Jesus made sure they understood that seeing the distinction was critical.
  4. expressed the idea. That is, he told them directly and simply the point of the lesson. He gave them words they could not forget: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
  5. applied the idea. That is, he told them to do as he had done, to be servants of each other. Later he would give them the greatest image of application they could ever hope or fear: his death on the cross.

Imagine Peter, years later, facing into his own crucifixion for the sake of the gospel. Imagine him looking back on his experiences as an apostle, all that he had gone through up to that point, all that he had preached and all that he had suffered, and then he remembers that evening sitting in an upper room when his beloved lord stripped himself of his outer garments and washed the disciples’ feet; how his master and teacher got down on his hands and knees and became their servant. Peter must have remembered how Jesus looked, the color of his eyes, his voice, his expression, and his simple and elegant message. And he must have remembered his own confusion, his emotional response, and then his wonder at what it meant. Facing death, just as in life, Peter would have confronted the question, “What type of man will I be?” Fortunately in his mind and soul Peter would always have the indelible image of Jesus the master as servant, an image given as a gift━a gift he was able to receive, in part, because Jesus had connected that critical lesson to prior knowledge, then gave Peter an example or type, then compared that type to other types, then expressed the idea clearly once Peter was ready, and finally told him to apply the idea in his life.

Jesus was a great teacher. He taught with love and he taught with mastery. And he demonstrated both his love and his mastery by laying down his life for the sake of the world. That we would all become that kind of teacher. I am convinced some of us already embody a great deal of that type. My wife does so more than I. Regardless, all of us can do no better than to imitate Christ.

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Orthodox & Protestant comparison on Salvation

I generally cringe at simple explanations of salvation. Maybe that is because I grew up with the Four Spiritual Laws and The Bridge Diagram evangelism “tools,” which I do not like anymore (and never really did anyway). Maybe it’s also because we know that salvation is so profound that we don’t want to see it turned into a pithy formula. In that light this video below can be seen as one overly simple explanation of salvation pitted against another overly simple explanation. But sometimes simplicity is a good thing. In fact, one could say that if we cannot get to the essence of salvation in a rather straightforward way then maybe we don’t really understand it. The question I have is which explanation makes the most sense? Which is most accurately Biblical? Or are neither? And is this a fair comparison anyway?

I have to say I like this Orthodox explanation much more than the Four Spiritual Laws/Bridge version, though I find I am still deeply shaped by the latter.

What are your thoughts?

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9/11 and the Kingdom of God

Ten years ago . . .

Firefighter climbing up WTC stairs while others go down, 9/11/2001.

I had to be at work by 6AM PST. I worked in tech support for a large software company on the west coast and many of my clients were on the east coast. As I entered the building the security guard asked me if I had heard that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I had not. When I got to my desk I logged on to my computer and then I thought I would check an online news source to see something about that plane. In my mind I imagined a small private plane. As I tried to access various news related web sites none of them would load. It was like the Internet suddenly ground to a crawl. I knew something must be up, meaning a lot of people were trying to access the same sites as me and the traffic was overwhelming their servers. So I stood up and noticed no one was at their desks around me, but that a crowd had formed at another cubicle across the room. I walked over. Someone had attached a television receiver to their computer and everyone was watching the live newscast. As I approached the first thing I saw was the image of the two towers, one of which had smoke pouring from it. I stood there thinking, “Boy is this ever a major mistake.” I assumed the pilot of a large plane had miscalculated terribly. Then, a couple of minutes later I saw the second plane hit the second tower. Immediately a shiver went up my spine and I knew this was no accident. We all stood there in silence, stunned. Then a number of us ran to our phones. A lot of the agents had clients in those towers. Though they may have never met them, they knew them, they had worked with them, talked with them about their families, and some had become friends of the agents. The phone lines were overloaded; they couldn’t get through. We could tell people were trapped in those buildings. Then I remembered my sister. She was on a business trip and was supposed to fly into New York City that morning. I called her but couldn’t get through. I called my parents. My sister had missed her flight and was fortunately stuck at the hotel. Her husband, a pilot for Continental, was at the controls of his plane returning from Mexico when he was forced to land in Florida. I called my wife and told her to turn on the television. All in all it was a strange and disturbing day: Lots of worries, lots of heartache, lots of speculation. That day also began a two week period for me of many tears as I watched over and over the footage, heard many of the stories of tragedy and heroism, and listened to recordings of last voicemails to loved ones.

I am getting teary just writing this, and yet “my” 9/11 was tame in comparison to many others’. Fortunately, no one I knew died or directly suffered anything serious that day, but I will never be the same nonetheless. That day left its imprint on all of us who, each with our own stories, were witnesses.

Tragedies like 9/11 are defining moments. Recently I have been viewing once again Ken Burn’s documentary The Civil War. That war was probably the most defining “moment” in the history of our nation, and it was an indescribable tragedy. It was, in effect, the “crossroads of our being” as Shelby Foote said. I wonder what we will say about 9/11 in a hundred years. Was it also a crossroads? Maybe so. I hope that in the long run it was a crossroads for good; I hope the direction we go as a nation redeems, in some way, that horrible day.

As a parent I am deeply concerned about this world and the future. And as a Christian facing into tragedies I have to ask if I truly believe that God is sovereign. What I have learned the hard way is that God is good and trustworthy regardless of the tragedies in our lives. I am not to live in fear but to trust God. That is sometimes hard to do. It is in our nature to live in either fear or denial. As I look at this country since that fateful day I do not think we have done a great job as a nation in dealing with 9/11. Even though many people died that day, I believe the real motive behind the attacks was to create a climate of fear. From what I can tell the terrorists succeeded. But it does not have to be that way. Christians are to be salt and light. The early church could have lived in fear. They were a persecuted church and many Christians came to tragic and terrible deaths. But they did not live in fear. Instead they proclaimed the good news. They knew that God was in control, that He is trustworthy, and that true life is much grander than the few years we experience in this age. We should have the same attitude today as those early Christians. We should not fear terrorists or other enemies; we should not fear other 9/11’s, we should not fear death.

I know it is easy to say this from the comfort of my office, but the older I get the more I am convinced that events like 9/11 are touchstones that bring out who we truly are. We can be the kind of people who cling ever more tightly to this world, who fear tragedy might strike us too, and that are loath to give up what little we have. Or we can be people who are reminded by 9/11 that this life is fleeting, that our lives are utterly contingent upon God, and that our lives are not only about the here and now, but even more so about the kingdom of God where no tear shall be shed. To live in fear is to remain only in the kingdom of this world. The tragedy of 9/11 was born from the kingdom of this world and inflicted by its servants. Christians, however, belong to a different kingdom, a kingdom that this world desperately needs to embrace and to love. Christians of all people should not be cowed into a fearful submission by the popular rhetoricians of the day, rather we should confidently turn to God and proclaim that He is the source of all life, and then turn to the world and continue to proclaim.

Remember what Christ said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (St. Matthew 6:25-33, ESV)

Let us then, as we remember 9/11, and as we rightly mourn the day, continue to seek first the kingdom of God. And let us teach our children to do the same.

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16 Words to Think With

Introduction

“And God said. . .”

“Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.”

In the beginning there was language, and in the everlasting there shall be language. We do not ever get away from language, or from words. The fact of words never leaves us. We are run through with words and their meanings and their power. We do not understand ourselves or each other without words. We do not conceive of the future or understand the past without words. We cannot think or create without words. Words are in our souls because ideas are in our souls. We embody those ideas as we embrace and live through the words of our lives. We all have words. We never get away from words. But we can also choose which words to embrace and to live through. We have no choice that there are words, but we have significant choice of which words will make us who we are. We do well to embrace and to live through the best words we can choose. The list below is a good place to start.

The Words

“These are the words that precede logic.” -Andrew Kern

The following list of sixteen words I unabashedly stole from Andrew Kern (not that he necessarily owns them any more than you). In his lecture, A Celebration of Beauty, Pt 2., Kern listed these sixteen words as words “to think with.” I understand that to mean these are words that should form a foundation upon which our thoughts and, by implication, our teaching and our own education stand. We should take these words into our souls and then see the world “through” them. We should bring these words into our teaching and give them as rich gifts to our students. One could probably add more words, but this list is a great start. I have added definitions that seemed appropriate (mostly and unashamedly copied from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, and a couple from Wikipedia) plus some quotes I was able to rummage to help us think about the words’ meanings and uses (and to think about other things too). However, and this is far more important than memorizing a word list, these are words that need to be pondered over a lifetime and understood beyond their mere dictionary meanings. They should be contemplated in the fullness of their uses and origins, and taken into one’s soul and embodied in one’s life. Also, notice how many have their origins in the 13th or 14th centuries, and also notice how many have their roots in Latin. What does that tell us?

Dignity

Definition: 1) the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed; 2) formal reserve or seriousness of manner, appearance, or language.

Origin: Middle English dignete, from Anglo-French digneté, from Latin dignitat-, dignitas, from dignus. First Known Use: 13th century.

Quote: “What a soul that is which is ready, if at any moment it must be separated from the body, and ready either to be extinguished or dispersed or continue to exist; but so that this readiness comes from a man’s own judgement, not from mere obstinacy, as with the Christians, but considerately and with dignity and in a way to persuade another, without tragic show.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 11.3

Final Cause

Definition: The purpose, end, aim, or goal of something.

Origin: Aristotle? Greek: telos.

Quote: “For the deliberative faculty is the spirit’s power of contemplating a kind of cause—for one sort of cause is the final cause, as although cause means anything because of which a thing comes about, it is the object of a thing’s existence or production that we specially designate as its cause: for instance, if a man walks in order to fetch things, fetching things is the cause of his walking. Consequently people who have no fixed aim are not given to deliberation.” Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, Book 2

Form

Definition: 1) the shape and structure of something as distinguished from its material; 2) the essential nature of a thing as distinguished from its matter; 3) established method of expression or proceeding; 4) a prescribed and set order of words; 5) conduct regulated by extraneous controls (as of custom or etiquette); 6) manner or conduct as tested by a prescribed or accepted standard; 7) one of the different modes of existence, action, or manifestation of a particular thing or substance; 8) orderly method of arrangement (as in the presentation of ideas) : manner of coordinating elements (as of an artistic production or course of reasoning); 9) the structural element, plan, or design of a work of art.

Origin: Middle English forme, from Anglo-French furme, forme, from Latin forma form, beauty. First Known Use: 13th century.

Quote: “But that man with whom the Word dwells does not alter himself, does not get himself up: he has the form which is of the Word; he is made like to God; he is beautiful; he does not ornament himself: his is beauty, the true beauty, for it is God; and that man becomes God, since God so wills.” Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3

Formal Cause

Definition: The pattern or form which when present makes matter into a particular type of thing, which we recognize as being of that particular type.

Origin: Aristotle?

Quote: “[A]s a quality, grace is said to act on the soul not as an efficient cause, but as a formal cause, as whiteness makes things white, or as justice makes things just.” St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica: Nature and Grace, Article Two

Honor

Definition: 1) good name or public esteem; 2) a showing of usually merited respect; 3) one whose worth brings respect or fame; 4) a gesture of deference; 5) an award in a contest or field of competition; 6) a keen sense of ethical conduct.

Origin: Middle English, from Anglo-French onur, honur, from Latin honos, honor. First Known Use: 13th century.

Quote: “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” 1 Peter 2:17 (KJV)

Integrity

Definition: 1) firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values; 2) an unimpaired condition; 3) the quality or state of being complete or undivided.

Origin: Middle English integrite, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French integrité, from Latin integritat-, integritas, from integr-, integer entire. First Known Use: 14th century.

Quote: “Then I have pointed out the truth, and shown the preaching of the Church, which the prophets proclaimed (as I have already demonstrated), but which Christ brought to perfection, and the apostles have handed down, from whom the Church, receiving [these truths], and throughout all the world alone preserving them in their integrity, has transmitted them to her sons.” Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book V

Judgement

Definition: 1) a formal utterance of an authoritative opinion; 2) a formal decision given by a court; 3) the final judging of humankind by God; 4) the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing; 5) a proposition stating something believed or asserted.

Origin: 13th century.

Quote: “In agents that determine their own movements, the outward action goes upon some judgement pronouncing a thing good or suitable according as it is apprehended. If the agent pronouncing the judgement is to determine himself to judge, he must be guided to that judgement by some higher form or idea in his apprehension.” St. Thomas Aquinas, That Subsistent Intelligences have Free Will

Justice

Definition: 1) the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments; 2) the quality of being just, impartial, or fair; 3) the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action━conformity to this principle or ideal; 4) conformity to truth, fact, or reason.

Origin: Middle English, from Anglo-French justise, from Latin justitia, from justus. First Known Use: 12th century.

Quote: “Accordingly, these things have happened to you in fairness and justice, for you have slain the Just One, and His prophets before Him; and now you reject those who hope in Him, and in Him who sent Him.” St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter XVI

Just Sentiment

Definition: [Note: I am kludging together the definitions of “just” and “sentiment.”] 1) an attitude, thought, or judgment prompted by feeling while having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason; 2) refined feeling conforming to a standard of correctness; 3) an idea colored by emotion while acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good.

Origin of Just: Middle English, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French juste, from Latin justus, from jus right, law. First Known Use: 14th century.

Origin of Sentiment: French or Medieval Latin; French, from Medieval Latin sentimentum, from Latin sentire. First Known Use: 1639.

Quote: “I confess, indeed, that that is a just sentiment, and worthy of being particularly noticed — that no one can be punished by the decision of the Church, but one whose sin has become matter of notoriety[.]” John Calvin, Commentary on Corinthians, Vol. 1

Loves

Definition: 1) strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties; 2) affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests; 3) warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion; 4) the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration; 5) unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another; 6) the fatherly concern of God for humankind; 7) a god or personification of love.

Origin: Middle English, from Old English lufu; akin to Old High German luba love, Old English lēof dear, Latin lubēre, libēreto please. First Known Use: before 12th century.

Quote: “And it was not without reason that that remarkable and holy man, when he departed this life, left to me an unbounded regret for him, especially since he himself also glowed with such a love for me at all times, that, whether in matters of amusement or of business, he agreed with me in similarity of will, in either liking or disliking the same things. You would think that one mind had been shared between us two. Thus he alone was my confidant in my loves, my companion in my mistakes; and when, after the gloom had been dispersed, I emerged from the abyss of darkness into the light of wisdom and truth, he did not cast off his associate, but━what is more glorious still━he outstripped him.” Minucius Felix, Octavius, Chapter 1

Nature

Definition: 1) the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing, an inner force or the sum of such forces in an individual; 2) a creative and controlling force in the universe; 3) the physical constitution or drives of an organism; 4) a spontaneous attitude (as of generosity); 5) the external world in its entirety; 6) humankind’s original or natural condition.

Origin: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin natura, from natus, past participle of nasci to be born. First Known Use: 14th century.

Quote: “When men, then, give way to a dislike simply because they are entirely ignorant of the nature of the thing disliked, why may it not be precisely the very sort of thing they should not dislike? So we maintain that they are both ignorant while they hate us, and hate us unrighteously while they continue in ignorance, the one thing being the result of the other either way of it.” Tertullian, The Apology, Chapter 1

Nobility

Definition: 1) the quality or state of being noble in character, quality, or rank; 2) the body of persons forming the noble class in a country or state.

Origin: Middle English nobilite, from Anglo-French nobilité, from Latin nobilitat-, nobilitas, from nobilis. First Known Use: 14th century.

Quote: “He is distinguished not only for his high birth, but also for the nobility of his mind, for his knowledge, and his irreproachable life.” St. Benard, Abbot of Clairvaux, Letter LXII to Pope Innocent

Propriety

Definition: 1) the quality or state of being proper or suitable; 2) conformity to what is socially acceptable in conduct or speech; 3) obsolete : true nature; 4) obsolete : a special characteristic.

Origin: Middle English propriete, from Anglo-French proprieté, propreté property, quality of a person or thing. First Known Use: 14th century.

Quote: “The knowledge or confession of sins, sorrow on account of sin and a desire for deliverance, with a resolution to avoid sin, are pleasing to God as the very beginnings of conversion. In propriety of speech, these things are not the mortification itself of the flesh or of sin but necessarily precede it.” Jacobus Arminius, from On Penitence

Purity

Definition: 1) the quality or state of being pure.

Origin: Middle English purete, from Anglo-French purité, from Late Latin puritat-, puritas, from Latin purus pure. First Known Use: 13th century.

Quote: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” 1 Timothy 4:12-13 (KJV)

Purpose

Definition: 1) something set up as an object or end to be attained; 2) a subject under discussion or an action in course of execution.

Origin: Middle English purpos, from Anglo-French, from purposer to intend, propose, from Latin proponere (perfect indicative proposui) to propose. First known use: 14th century.

Quote: “What is God’s purpose in creation and what is His purpose in redemption? It may be summed up in two phrases, one from each of our two sections of Romans. It is: ‘The glory of God’ (Romans 3:23), and ‘The glory of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21).” Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life, Chapter 7

Virtue

Definition: 1) conformity to a standard of right; 2) a particular moral excellence; 3) a beneficial quality or power of a thing; 4) manly strength or courage; 5) a commendable quality or trait; 6) a capacity to act.

Origin: Middle English vertu, virtu, from Anglo-French, from Latinvirtut-, virtus strength, manliness, virtue, from vir man. First Known Use: 13th century.

Quote: “Since the life to come is to be attained through virtue, chief attention must be paid to those passages in which virtue is praised; such may be found, for example, in Hesiod, Homer, Solon, Theognis, and Prodicus.” St. Basil, Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature

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Are other Christians truly Christian? Considering Orthodoxy and the non-Orthodox

This post was born out of a question posed to me by a friend. The question is: Are other Christians truly Christian, and what does the Orthodox Church say? In other words, according to Orthodoxy does a person have to become Orthodox in order to be saved? As with my previous post regarding Orthodoxy, I must plead a general ignorance to the topic. My writing is a personal project of exploration. I welcome feedback.

Our beliefs

Before I try to give my rather uneducated answer I want to say something about beliefs. None of us hold our beliefs lightly, though we may think we do. It is common for us to say things like, “What’s right for you is right for you,” etc. But we know that can be merely a form of quasi-good manners, a kind of “get along” attitude that keeps us out of trouble at a surface level. As Christians we know that we give in to relativism to our peril and yet, for any number of reasons, we often accept Christians as Christians whether they be Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, or non-denominational evangelical, or anything else (with a few exceptions of course). I sense this is a somewhat historically newish position–at least for Protestants.

As a boy I was given a strong sense of the dividing lines between my tradition, which was Baptist, and other traditions. All others were looked at skeptically and we essentially had nothing to do with them. Ecumenism was mostly absent from the Baptist community I was part of. The the fact that other Protestant denominations were more ecumenical indicated a potential turning from God or letting in the “leaven” of the world, and why would we want to court danger? Another example: I grew up being taught that it was possible some Catholics could be truly Christian, though most clearly weren’t, and so on. Of course I did not actually know any Catholics; my family and I had adopted the typical Baptist fundamentalist position of separation. That was how I was trained.

In short, I believed my tradition was right, that I was saved, that other “Christians” were either not saved or were nominal Christians. I saw them as being good candidates for God’s grace–something I did not need so much of (or any) because I had picked the right version of Christianity. That was how I was trained. And it can get really bad as Christians start staking doctrinal positions and then using those positions to condemn other Christians. You can see this in the comments sections of many so-called Christian blogs where the vitriol flies so thick in the name of God that one wonders if the commenters are really just a bunch of demons having some fun.

But now, from what I can gather, that Baptist church in which I was raised is much more ecumenical and broad-minded (as is much of American Christian culture). I believe that is generally a good thing. Even so, our beliefs are often more dogmatic, more down the line, even more divisive than we admit, or are capable of admitting. The fact is, we really do not think something is only true for you or him or her. If we believe something is true we believe it is universally true. If you step in front of a moving bus you will get run over. That is true for everyone. If God exists then He exists no matter if every person on earth becomes an atheist. If it’s true it’s true. If you believe in limited atonement then you believe it is universally true, not just for you. And for each of us, in our minds and hearts and souls, if we believe something is true then we cannot also believe it’s untrue. We know at a fundamental and deep level that something cannot be both true or untrue simultaneously, though we may say otherwise in casual conversation. This can get tricky when it comes to which “expression” of Christianity one ascribes to. If one is truly (unwaveringly) Roman Catholic then one must believe that the Roman Catholic church is the most Christian (I do not know how else to put it) church one can join and all the others are either somewhat wrong or mostly wrong or all wrong; the same goes if one is truly Baptist or truly Anglican or whatever. It is even truly if we attend a small, non-denominational, easy-going evangelical community kind of church. At some level we say this is right and those others are, at least, a little less right, a little more skewed in their understanding, a little less free in their faith, or a little less Godly. We adopt the habit of good manners in order to avoid conflict and let people have their space, but we don’t really think the Church we go to is wrong and theirs is right–unless we don’t care, but that’s another, and maybe more serious, issue–and maybe it’s a less serious issue.

This is all to say I expect anyone who claims to represent a particular tradition will assume and adopt the position that their tradition is best. The question then becomes what about those other traditions? And what about the individual believer? My limited experience tells me the Orthodox Christian believes his church is the true Church, that it is the church closest to The Way of Christ, and that if one wants to participate most fully in the life of the Church then one must become Orthodox. So what, then, about those other Christians?

What does Orthodoxy say?

I am not a member of the Orthodox Church–though I am willing to go where God leads though I do not know the destination. In other words, as of now I am still an American-individualist, Protestant-trained, former-Baptist, quasi-Calvinist, non-denominational, existentialist-Christian who is fascinated with Orthodoxy because it has become an interesting and fresh wind in both my thinking and in my soul for many reasons, though I still gaze from the outside. My relationship to Orthodoxy raises a big question: From an Orthodox perspective can I (or anyone) still be saved if I am not Orthodox? In other words, what about all the non-Orthodox Christians like me? Are they saved, are they going to Heaven, will they be in the Kingdom of God, are they being sanctified, are they even really Christian?

From what I can gather, the short (Orthodox) answer is yes, other Christians can be “just as saved” as Orthodox Christians.

The longer Orthodox answer is more involved and nuanced. Let’s take a look at some evidences from within Orthodoxy. Here are three sources: Orthodoxy and Heterdoxy by The Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick (2011), The Orthodox Church by Bishop Kallistos Ware (1997), and The Orthodox Church in America web site.

Here is Fr. Damick:

It is part of the fundamental character of Orthodox theology that we do not theologize outside the Church. That is, although we have very detailed theology of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian, we have absolutely no theology about what it means not to be one. God has never told us the spiritual status of the non-Orthodox, except in only the most general terms which cannot be reliably applied to particular people. You can’t find it in the Scripture, in the writings of the Fathers, or in the divine services. All we have been given is the Way.

From this, we can look at a given doctrine or practice and say, “That is not the Way.” But we cannot say, “All of you who have embraced that heresy are therefore forever damned.” We don’t know that. (Damick, p.15)

From this we can see the focus of Orthodoxy is Orthodoxy. It is a cautionary statement, one that warns the Orthodox reader to recognize the borders, maybe even the limitations of Orthodox theology, in relation to the non-Orthodox. In other words, if someone claims that a person is un-saved or un-Christian or damned because they are not a member of the Orthodox Church, that claim is going beyond the support of the Orthodox Church. This does not mean the claim is false per se, but that the Orthodox Church cannot itself make that claim. Damick’s statement is more a warning to Orthodox Christians to be careful before he then goes on to lay out his examination of Orthodoxy and heterodoxy. For someone in my position his statement tells me that, while I know he is claiming the Orthodox Church to be the Church, the Orthodox Church is not condemning me to damnation just because I am not a member of the Orthodox Church. I also take his position to represent the Orthodox Church, which I think is fair given his careful study of Orthodoxy and the history of Christianity, and his status as an Orthodox Christian parish priest. Still, I am not taking his statement as an “out” for me. I still face the question of whether I should become Orthodox.

Here is Bishop Ware:

Orthodoxy […] teaches that outside the Church there is no salvation. This belief has the same basis as the Orthodox belief in the unbreakable unity of the Church: it follows from the close relation between God and His Church. “A person cannot have God as his Father if he does not have the Church as his Mother.” So wrote St Cyprian; and to him this seemed an evident truth, because he could not think of God and the Church apart from one another. God is salvation, and God’s saving power is mediated to humans in His Body, the Church. “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. All the categorical strength and point of this aphorism lies in its tautology. Outside the Church there is no salvation, because salvation is the Church.” Does it follow that everyone who is not visibly within the Church is necessarily damned? Of course not; still less does it follow that everyone who is visibly within the Church is necessarily saved. As Augustine wisely remarked, “How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within!” While there is no division between a “visible” and and “invisible Church”, yet there may be members of the Church who are not visibly such, but whose membership is known to God alone. If anyone is saved, he must in some sense be a member of the Church; in what sense, we cannot always say. (Ware, pp. 247-248)

Bishop Ware makes a similar argument as Fr. Damick, whether someone outside the Orthodox Church is truly a Christian is something the Orthodox Church cannot say. In fact, he goes further and says that even someone visibly part of the Church is not necessarily saved. The implication of this is that mere membership in the Orthodox Church is not enough to be saved, and being outside the Church is not de facto evidence of being damned, but that all is in God’s hands and we are not privy to know all that God knows. Therefore no Orthodox Christian can claim that because he is a member of the Orthodox Church he is automatically saved (or will be saved), nor can he claim that all who are outside the Church are damned. He goes even further by quoting Augustine in saying that there are true believers outside the church. In that sense it is not merely that the Orthodox Church cannot claim someone outside is either saved or damned, but that it must be true, according to Augustine, that many outside are saved and many inside are damned. Again, I am not taking his statement as an “out” for me. I still face the question of whether I should become Orthodox. And there is still that statement that outside the Church there is no salvation. From what I can understand, Ware is saying that anyone whom God will save is a member of the Church, though some not yet visibly.

I heard once an Orthodox Christian say about a relative of his who had died having been a Protestant and never Orthodox, that the relative is “Orthodox now” meaning that they were Christian, died and gone to be with God, and in the afterlife must necessarily become fully Orthodox. Of course I have not idea if this really happened, but I like the basic idea. Certainly God can do what He wants.

Here is the Q&A section of the Orthodox Church in America web site [I have made portions of the text bold to call them out]:

Question:

You talk as if only the Orthodox who believe these things can be saved. What about other Christians and all other men in the world?

Answer:

In the first place it must be made clear that it is not enough for anyone merely to believe these things, or merely to be a formal member of the Church. In order to be saved one must live by the truth and love of God.

It is the common teaching of the Orthodox Christian tradition that the Church has no monopoly on grace and truth and love. The Church teaches on the contrary that God is the Sovereign Lord who saves those whom He wills.

The Church believes as well that salvation depends upon the actual life of the person, and God alone is capable of judging since He alone knows the secrets of each mind and heart. Only God is capable of judging how well a man lives according to the measure of grace, faith, understanding, and strength given to him.

The Orthodox would insist, nevertheless, that an honest seeker of truth and love will see these things perfectly realized and expressed in Jesus Christ and will recognize God, the end of their seeking, in Him.

We all know, however, that our image of Christ is deformed both by the lives and the doctrines of those who claim him, and thus His truth and love and His very person remain obscure and hidden to those who might follow Him if they could see Him clearly.

But once again, let it be clear that every man is judged by God alone according to the actual truth and love in his life. This goes for Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike. And although the Orthodox confess that the fulness of truth and love is found in the life of the church, nominal church membership or formal assent to some doctrines does not at all guarantee salvation.

Again we have an emphasis on God saving whom He wants regardless of official membership in the Orthodox Church. We also see that the focus of the believer is Christ through Whom he comes to know God. I see this statement above as saying that before we talk about being Orthodox let’s talk about seeking truth, following Christ, and knowing God. That is where we begin and end. An Orthodox will claim that the Orthodox Church plays a huge, maybe a primary, role in all this, but it is first one’s relationship to truth, Christ, and God. And once again, I am not taking his statement as an “out” for me. I still face the question of whether I should become Orthodox or not.

Work it out

Finally I want to mention an interesting distinction between the particular Protestantism with which I am familiar and the small corner of Orthodoxy that I have witnessed. For many Protestants and/or reformed-minded individuals, salvation is spoken of as a kind of singular event. One “gives one’s testimony” in the form of a story about that moment when one became “saved.” It is not uncommon to hear the question, “When were you saved?” Salvation comes from making a “decision for Christ” or some such similar idea. It is both a specific point in one’s history (“I was saved on July 17th, 1993,” etc.) and it is a mental assent to specific beliefs or doctrines (that’s when I “believed” etc.). It may be very emotional, it may be very personally profound, but it is still an “at that moment I believed” event. Sanctification, or the process of becoming more like Christ over time, is still considered very important by many Protestants, but it is often a secondary concern, or after-effect, in the economy of salvation, and even for some it has no real part in that economy. However, what little I have observed from Orthodoxy shows me that, though one may be able to point to a significant conversion event in one’s life, salvation is not a past event but a future we hope for. In fact, even the devout Orthodox, even an Orthodox priest no less, will openly say, “I hope and pray that God will save me.” There may be confidence at one level, but there is also a recognition that salvation is fully in God’s hands until the end and it has not yet happened. We cannot know whom God will save, including ourselves. We should not presume to know the mind of God, but we should trust God and seek to be like Christ. For the Orthodox sanctification, from what I can tell, is absolutely central to salvation, not merely in a logical sense, but that one pursues the Christian life in order to be saved while also knowing it is God who saves. It is taking fully to heart St. Paul’s words: “[W]ork out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” For many Protestants, myself included, the idea of “working out one’s salvation” sounds wrong, but there it is.

Some tentative conclusions

This is an altogether too short and too limited examination of the topic at hand. I have only scratched the surface, and I have only looked from one angle. My approach is to (hesitatingly) examine if the Orthodox Church does or might accept a non-Orthodox Christian as being truly a Christian. What I have found is that the Orthodox Church, which for so many centuries fought tooth and nail against heterodoxy, and while still believing the Orthodox Church is most fully and completely the Church of Christ founded by the Apostles, nonetheless is very open and accepting of the idea that the non-Orthodox can just as much be in God’s hands as the Orthodox. This is not only more Biblical in my understanding, but stands in contradistinction to much (though not all) of Protestantism which has tended to display its insecurities through a rather heavy-handed dogmatism and doctrinal hair-splitting.

In fact, what has surprised me is an interesting balance within Orthodoxy where doctrine is held very high, along with knowing where Orthodoxy differs from other forms of Christianity, and yet there is also a fundamental spirit of openness around the idea that every one of us is on a journey and in the hands of God. What I have seen in Protestantism is one or the other, either a high view of doctrine combined with a lack of an ecumenical spirit, or a low view of doctrine so that one can just enjoy a more social and friendly kind of church community without those pesky doctrinal hangups.

For the Orthodox concerned for their non-Orthodox relatives and friends there is some comfort and some additional concerns. First, the fact that someone is not Orthodox does not automatically mean they are not or will not be saved. Their salvation is ultimately in God’s hands and all the Orthodox individual can do is pray and love and place their trust in God. On the other hand, the Orthodox concerned for their non-Orthodox relatives or friends must also face the fact that just because they themselves are Orthodox does not mean they have a carte blanche into the Kingdom of God. They still need to pray and love and place their trust in God. And then, in the end, it is still up to God.

For me this perspective coincides with my own understanding of the Christian life. Regardless of what church I attend, in the end I too must place my trust in God. He is my creator and the sustainer of my life. Only in Him do I have a future. Only in Him can I find salvation. On the other hand, I know God is the maker of mankind, of history, of institutions, of geography, of the mind and body of man, even of his needs. It makes sense that Christ would create His Church with man in mind, not merely man’s psychology in view, but man’s whole experience, including his needs, his desires, his language, and everything else that makes man man. With that in view I must still face the question that while I seek to pray and love and place my trust in God, and while I know that ultimately it is all in God’s hands, I must also ask what is this thing called the Church and what is, or should be, my relationship to it? For me that is still an open and pressing question.

Postscript: One resource that looks promising on this topic, but which I did not consult, is the book The Non-Orthodox: The Orthodox Teaching on Christians Outside of the Church by Patrick Barnes, available as a free download here.

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