A Critique Of Eastern Orthodoxy: Dangerous Idealisms In A Fallen World

My very first post on this blog was delivered on May 16, 2010.  I titled it “A New Beginning”.  It is posted on my home page after my bio.  It explains much of the tradition that I carry as I wade through the difficulty that is modern life.  But I have no need for pessimism, not after a studied reflection of the Incarnation and its culmination on that Friday afternoon when LIFE itself embraced the freedom of being human and lovingly stole the debt that enslaved man.  To discover a tradition that perfects identity and freedom as liberty.  How else to explain love.

How is the human person acceptable to God The Father?  Its because THE SON IS HUMAN.  God has participated in his creation.  The burden rests now rests on families to safeguard a truth, a unmanufactured wisdom, a piety that expresses a murderous debt as love.

Throughout this blog I have labored to provide essays that cajole the modern reader to recognize ideologies as foreign to the gift of that is a Risen God.  This post is written for a chosen few who labor in the vineyard of Christ’s choosing, acknowledging that faith itself comes to us in fragile earthen vessels in need of defense.

The 20th century was rocked to its core by secular ideologies that sought to displace or eclipse the transcendence of God.  What of theological systems that multiply the felt immanence of God?

The late great Roman Catholic Political Scientist Eric Voegelin wrote for decades cronicalling the pagan ideologies of Fascism, Marxism and Communism as elevations of the human person to dangerous levels that eclipse the transcendence of God.  The murderous, enslaving ideologies of secular life have been well documented in the historical antecedents of the Reformation and the Enlightenment. They will not be recounted here.  What I wish to quarry for the informed reader of this blog in this post is the cultural partiality toward immanentizing the eschaton, rendering both the human person, language and the Church itself as dangerously unhistorical.  This has profound implications for theological anthropology, pneumatology, ecumenism, ecclesiology, metaphysics, philosophy, politics, the development of conscience, the status of arts, the drive to discover causality, or the status of nominalism just to name a few.

The orthodox traditions of the East have profoundly influenced the West, most especially in the discovery of the Fathers, the relative significance of both Christological and Pneumatological Councils, particularly how they have helped the West to shape a response to difficult philosophical questions that ground modernity.

Nevertheless, the most pressing theological controversy embodied in the East/West schism is dangerously real.  It is often dealt with at the margins of theological controversy.  Most often by manque theologians who elaborate on speculative treaties that have no definitive status with the entire Church.  What we wish to quarry here is the field of intelligibility, given in eastern orthodox liturgy, of how the East perpetuates dangerously unhistorical strivings in defiantly maintaining theologies that eclipse the Tradition that intrinsically safeguards a pluralism that is a true Catholicity.

Part I.  The One Flesh Sacrifice Of Sacramental Realism; Eucharistic Ecclesiology And The Recapitulation Of The One & The Many.

At its most simple level, the One Flesh of the New Covenant is the sacramental resolution of a problem insoluble by fallen rationality (by the intelligence governed by the immanent necessities of logical reasoning.)  The problem is that of the irrational but actual coincidence of the one and the many in every dimension of creation.  This dilemma confronts every rational inquiry intent upon discovering the necessary causes or constitutive order, of some aspect of reality; it forces logically impossible alternatives on every human project, and in fact may stand as the very paradigm of fallenness, the fatally necessary disunity of the flesh.  It is particularly pressing in the tension between the individual exercise of personal freedom and the communal demand for social unity for, while no rationally satisfactory way of providing for the coincidence of individual freedom and community has ever been discovered, it is the universal experience of human beings that they are not able to live happily and in peace except in free communion with each other, a communion which ever and again they discover to be irrational absurdity.  Welcome to the paradox of Catholicity and the intrinsic dangers given in Eastern Orthodox liturgy to resolving this very paradox.

The Greek Metropolitan John Zizioulas characterizes and embodies the dangers of resolving this intrinsic anthropological paradox in favor of explicating the dogmatic implications of ‘Christos Totus” or the Corporate Christ.  This is demonstrated in Eastern theological categories of grace and ecclesiology.  In the ‘Christos Totus’ a epiclesis dangerously arouses a philosophy of immanence, eclipsing the true transcendence of Christ.  This stands in direct opposition to the nuptial symbolism given in Western Eucharistic ecclesiology and liturgy illustrating the theological importance of Mary and her integral relation to Christ.  Eastern orthodoxy criticizes the West for deployment of a nuptial symbolism (a sacramental realism) to account for the unity and multiplicity of our salvation in Christ as a mistaken reliance.  The East wishes to neatly resolve such difficulty in postulating a Christ-Church unity (Christos Totus) that is not nuptial but DIALECTICAL!  This is a profound theological error analogous to philosophical idealism and their attendant political and social difficulties.

A dialectical hermeneutic is the bane of intellectuals.  If not redirected toward a nuptial realism is destructive in its rigor of unhistorical logic.  Dialectical designates an effort, proceeding from Pythagoras, through Heraclitus, Zeno and the Eleatic tradition down to Plato, through Philo, Plontinus and the Neoplatonic/Augustian philosophical, theological tradition to Hegal, Marx, by way of Kierkegaardian reaction to Hegeliansim, to contemporary theologians such as Barth and Tillich, to accurately associate concepts that are at once mutually exclusive and mutually implicatory.  In affirmations whose inner tensions is such that it can neither be isolated nor identified with each other as the more primitive binary rationality as the Eleatics would have it.  Such a dialectic embodies a true concrete human experience, it does not open the interiority of finite freedom, the dialectic is merely expository.

Augustine’s City of God was the first theological work within the Latin tradition to undertake a serious analysis of this tension, universal within human subjectivity.  This is the ‘two loves that built two cities.’  Antecedents are found in Tertullian and Greek Fathers.  It has many names, from the Scotistic intuition of haecceitas, as innate idea, sentiment, categorical imperative, feelings of absolute dependence, Angst, Zeitgeist & Daisen in Heidegger, the illative sense, the Will To Power, elan vital (no its not a shampoo) or ultimate concern.

Efforts to avoid the paradox by retreat to logical reasons, to avoid a truth encountered universally, is seen throughout other Eastern world religions and in the west under Tillich’s “self salvation” which points back to Parmenides’ preference for the rational necessity of ‘Way of Truth’.  In Heraclitus as the lonely exception, in the Elatic preference for logical clarity over the opinion of elders safeguarding parochial power, or Kantian dichotomization of reality in the twin indubitables of res extensia/res cognitas, the ‘koans’ of Buddhism or the existential riddles, Nicholas of Cusa, the ratio of Whitehead, Hegelian Absolute or Paschal’s wager.  We need not mention how such ‘necesssity’ is ubiquitous throughout the statecraft of Fascist and Totalitarian governments.  Throughout, dialecticians embody an accurate statement of the paradoxical Christian experience of finite freedom, all to the detriment of a true theology of grace; one that does not criminalize political differences or forcibly annihilate the human person.

The danger of dialectical theology, especially the kind demonstrated in Orthodox liturgy as a ‘Christos Totus’ is that dialectical thought does not just express a rational necessity but is experienced as a radical historical immanence that is always destructive.  The western nuptial realism of eucharistic ecclesiology is different:  for the Triune God transcends history as covenantally immanent within history.  This is the Good News that we keep forgetting, the radicality that is the Incarnation.  The Patristic tradition affirmed by men like Henri De Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, hearken back to Irenaeus who affirms that Christ to be One Flesh with His Church in the Eucharist.  Zizioulas and many Eastern orthodoxies depart from this Tradition in exhorting to be in  dialectical identity with the Church.

It is understandable that from Plato to Husserl the dialectical theoreticians remote by time and training from Catholic sacramental realism should tend to deny the historical existential paradox in favor of its final theoretical, nonhistorical resolution.  Thus they resolve the paradox by finally banishing from history the finality of the mind’s quarens.  All originating from the epiclesis that a risen Christos Totus, called upon to be immanent in history.  The theological problem facing any Christian thinker is that of providing an intelligible account of that immanence within the confines of human freedom, identity and liberty.  Did not the opening statement of Gaudium et Spes provide one?  The political governments of the West has performed such in grounding politics in natural law.  Theologically, it means discovering the nuptial immanence of an eternal Lord that does not bring violence.

II.  The Eucharistic One Flesh or The Eschatological Corporate Christ?

The Greek Orthodox theology of grace and evidenced and demonstrated liturgically rejects the nuptial union of Christ and the Church, its realism, its covenantal character.  Such rejection and embrace of dialectic places a dangerous burden on the believing individual creating an irreducible distinction between Head and Body of Christ, in ignoring moral norms that ground distinctions within positive law; in inciting an eschatological reality that can procure violence in immanentizing a morally reprehensible eschaton.

Any dehistoricization process that proceedes rationally, in ignoring the self evident realism that is the paradox of the one and the many, is dangerous.

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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7 Responses to A Critique Of Eastern Orthodoxy: Dangerous Idealisms In A Fallen World

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  6. Symeon Jekel says:

    I am very open to learning more about this line of criticism. Unfortunately I really can’t make heads or tails of this entry. Can you show explicitly what Zizioulas says that exemplifies the danger you describe?

  7. Zizioulas’ approach is completely unhistorical. Reality is mediated historically. He denies this by approaching theology through philosophical idealism: the dialectic. Thanks for reading the blog.

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