30 July 2012

Newly Added to the Blog Roll: Blue Jean Theosis

If you direct your attention stage right, you'll see there is a new link among the Orthodox blog rolls. I would like to introduce the Codex's readers to Blue Jean Theosis, the blog of a new convert to Orthodoxy, the servant of God Christopher. Now, I know what you're thinking: "Oh boy, another new convert blog." True enough, new convert blogs are almost as ubiquitous as conversion books. However, Christopher's conversion is not the typical "I used to be RC/Protestant until I learned about Church history" sort of story. Christopher was, for many years, a practicing Buddhist. Having deeply penetrated the Far Eastern mysteries, Christopher found himself shocked to discover personhood behind the supposedly transpersonal eastern divinity. This ultimate led him on a quest for the personal God that landed him squarely into the Orthodox Catholic Faith.

Blue Jean Theosis is down to earth, mystical, and a fascinating insight into the mind of someone who has explored the (now fashionable) trip through Far Eastern spirituality and found that the search for truth within it led him home to Orthodox Christianity. I am looking very forward to reading more of Chris' meditations on the intersection of the Far East and Eastern Orthodoxy

Saint Kenelm, the King-Martyr of Mercia

17 July, OS

Reprinted from Brittania Biographies:

In AD 821, King Cenwulf of Mercia died at Basingwerk, while campaigning against the Welsh of Powys. He left two daughters, Cwendreda and Burgenhilda, and a son, a child of seven years old, named Kenelm or, more properly, Cenelm, who was chosen to succeed him. Cwendreda envied her little brother and thought that, if he were killed, she might reign as Queen. She therefore conspired with her lover, Askbert, who was her brother's tutor and guardian, and gave him money, saying, "Slay my brother for me, that I may reign." Burgenilda was not privy to this wicked deed, however, for she loved her little brother.

So Askbert took Kenelm out into the Forests of Worcestershire on a hunting trip. After the exertions of the chase, the young lad soon tired with the heat, and decided to lay down under a tree for a nap. Askbert, meanwhile, began to dig a grave; but the boy suddenly awoke and admonished him, "You think to kill me here in vain, for I shall be slain in another spot. In token, thereof, see this rod blos-som." And he thrust a stick into the ground, which instantly took root and began to flower. It grew, in years after, to be a great ash tree, which was known as St. Kenelm's Ash. Unperturbed, Askbert took the little King further into the forest and up to the Clent Hills, near Halesowen, where the child began to sing the "Te Deum," the assassin smote his head clean off; and then he buried him in the thicket.

Now, at the same time, a white dove is said to have flown into the church of St. Peter in Rome, with a letter in its beak which it deposited on the high altar. And men took the letter and tried to read, but they could not make it out, for it was written in English. At last, an Englishman was found, however, and he read the letter. It stated that Kenelm, the little King of the Mercians, had been cruelly murdered and his body hidden in a thicket.

So the Pope wrote letters to the kings of the English and told them what an evil deed had been done in their land, and men went forth to seek the body. As they went, they saw a pillar of light shining over a thicket in Worcestershire and, there, they found the body of Kenelm. They carried him to the Royal Mercian Abbey at Winchcombe, in Gloucestershire, where he was buried with all honour and reverred as a martyr. But over the place where they found his body, they built a little chapel. Today it is the Church of St. Kenelm at Romsley in the Clent Hills.

27 July 2012

St. Deusdedit, Archbishop of Canterbury

14 July, OS

St. Deusdedit was the first native bishop of Canterbury following the Augustinian mission to Britain, coming originally from Wessex. He was elevated to the episcopal throne in March of 655 AD by St Ithamar of Rochester. Although the famous Synod of Whitby, which brought the local church in Britain into unanimous conformity with the Orthodox dating of Holy Pascha as defined by the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea, took place during his reign, he is not recorded as having been in attendance (the most likely cause being an outbreak of plague which prevented travel). Shortly after the Synod, St. Deusdedit reposed this life, on 14 July 664. The Bosworth Psalter (a pre Schism source) designated the date of his commemoration as a major feast day of the English Church. He was originally laid to rest in St. Augustine's church in Canterbury, but his relics were later transferred to the new abbey in 1091. His shine remained there until the English Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, and are now presumed lost.

St. Deusdedit, pray for us sinners!

24 July 2012

Revolution and the Restoration of Romanity, Comments on Aleksandr Dugin's “The necessity of the Metaphysics of Chaos”

[Note: To those waiting for the second installment of my discussion of identity, I promise you, it is forthcoming. Today's essay is a product of recent reading and I wanted to get it out quickly, so it got priority. My apologies. -J]

I begin this essay with the admission that, because I do not read Russian, I am forced to confront the ideas presented by Professor Dugin in translation, which may result in some inaccuracies of detail; however, given the rise in popularity of his “Fourth Political Theory” among my philosophic and intellectual circle, I feel that addressing some of the problems with his larger ideas that come across in the essay is warranted. I also must confess a certain longing for the geopolitical situation that Professor Dugin envisions as the end result of his “new way.” However, as I will attempt to demonstrate in this essay, Dugin's end-game is, ultimately, the restoration of a kind of political order that pre-existed the Roman world (and in that world, or cosmos, we must include Hellenic philosophy and culture) and is, frankly, inferior to it.

Dugin refers back to the essential dichotomy of order and chaos, striving back and forth toward the omipresent Logos as the birth of western philosophy with the pre-socratic Heraclides of Ephesus. Heraclides' philosophy identifies a common Logos in which all things participate, even unknowingly, as quoted by Sextus Empiricus “So we must follow the common, yet the many live as if they had a logos of their own. Though logos is common, yet the many live as if they had a logos of their own.” [1] Dugin asserts:
    The European philosophy was based on the logocentric principle corresponding to the principle of exclusion, the differentiating, Greek diairesis. All this corresponds strictly to the masculine attitude, reflects the authoritative, vertical, hierarchical order of being and knowledge. This masculine approach to the reality imposes order and principle of exclusivity everywhere. That is perfectly manifested in Aristotle’s logic where the principles of identity and exclusion are put in the central position in the normative manner of thinking. A is equal to A, not equal to not-A. The identity exclude non-identity (alterity) and vice versa.” [2]
Within this quote, we begin to see what Dugin is suggesting through what he identifies as criticisms of 'Western' philosophy; namely masculine 'domination,' vertical/hierarchical order, and exclusivity are—if not negatives—at least grave weaknesses of the philosophic system. By quoting the principle of identity defined by Aristotle in this regard, Dugin is actually asserting that the principle of identity might not hold true. A might not be equal to A and sometimes might actually be equal to not-A.

Such an assertion, no doubt, finds a great many supporters in our contemporary context. Exclusivity, masculinity, and hierarchy are the typical bogey-men of western academics, and much of their prejudice has filtered into the popular culture. In upholding the non-exclusivity of truth, people are willing to violate principles of identity; Dr. Peter Fosl noted this anecdotally from his dealings with undergraduates in philosophy classes a few years ago:
    I remember once posing the following question to a class I was teaching: if we take the religions of the world, isn't it true that at most one can be right and that perhaps none are right? Every single student in the class answered in the negative, holding that all can be right. When I pointed out that such an option would violate the principle of non-contradiction in the sense that it would mean that both X is true and X is not true (where X is a religious doctrine, for example that Jesus is God). To my amazement, every student was comfortable with tossing out the principle of non-contradiction.
    At the time I figured that the event showed that people are more interested in moral and political practices of tolerance and even simple manners than with logic. But I later thought to myself that my students might be onto something about the curious way "truth" plays out in religious discourses. There may be a sense in which it's wrong to use ideas of truth and falsehood as they appear in the sciences, philosophy, law, etc. But if one takes that option, one does have to accept, I think, a set of consequences that most religious believers would be loathe to tolerate (for example, that believing in Jesus may have little to do with salvation). [3]
The principle of non-contradiction (a corollary of Aristotelian identity) is here identified as an essential in exclusivity. Fosl is generous in his evaluation of the motives of his students; I suspect that most undergraduates at the liberal arts college at which he teaches would rather melt into the floor than be seen as possibly believing that someone, somewhere might be in possession of a exclusive truth. But, when faced with Fosl's justification of this principle of non-exclusivity, we come upon an interesting couple of ideas. The first, and most important for this analysis, that the nature of “truth” may not be the same in religious discourse as it is in other disciplines. {As a side note, I wrote a bit about Fosl's claim that believing in Jesus might not have much to do with salvation a few years ago. Interested readers can check that out here.}

Such an assertion begs the question, though, “What would a non-exclusive truth be?” Pressing the limits of language, we might be able to articulate such a concept as the 'furious green idea'--a grammatical possibility, but still functional nonsense. Non-exclusive truth has to be within this category as well. If exclusivity is ever not an essential component of truth, then we are faced with the possibility of many co-existing truths; which is another way of saying no truth at all. Fascinatingly, this is precisely what Dugin is asserting about post-modernity in his essay, saying:
    [...]postmodernity as a sum of non-co-possible fragments which can coexist. It wasn’t possible in the Leibnitz’s vision of reality based on the principle of co-possibility. But within the postmodernity we can see excluding elements coexisting. The non-ordered non-co-possible monades («nomades») swarming around could seem to be the chaotic, and in this sense we usually use the word chaos in the everyday talk. [4]
To be fair, Dugin asserts that this “chaos” is not the chaos which he advocates. His vision of chaos is actually “a kind of post-order and the Greek Сhaos as pre-order, as something that exists before the ordered reality has come into being.” [5] Here, however, we see Dugin betray that what he really seeks is a restoration of a earlier philosophic-cosmological system that was defined by the pre-socratic philosopher Anaximander. It was Anaximander who first articulated the limitless, boundless prexisitng unity out of which all things that have being arose. In his commentaries on Aristotle's Physics, the neoplatonic philosopher Simplicius of Cilea writes of Anaximander:
    Anaximander from Miletus, son of Praxiades student and descendant of Thales, said that the origin and the element of things (beings) is apeiron and he is the first who used this name for the origin (arche). He says that the origin is neither water, nor any other of the so-called elements, but something of different nature, unlimited. From it are generated the skies and the worlds which exist between them. Whence things (beings) have their origin, there their destruction happens as it is ordained. For they give justice and compensation to one another for their injustice according to the ordering of time, as he said in poetic terms. Obviously noticing the mutual changes between the four elements, he didn't demand to make one of them a subject, but something else except these. He considers that genesis takes place without any decay of this element, but with the generation of the opposites by his own movement. [6]
Dugin speaks of chaos as “something that precedes being and order, something pre-ontological.” [7]

Maybe the case that Dugin wants to make—indeed, it is the case that he does seem to make in parts of the essay—is the identification with Chaos with the apeiron, and that a restoration of the ontology of pre-existing Chaos out of which Logos can arise is the only way to save the Logos from the perversion of post modernity. However, in another part of the essay, he gives us the intellectual history of Chaos “as something that preceded the Logos abolished by it and its exclusivity was manifested and dismissed by the same move. The masculine Logos ousted the feminine Chaos, the exclusivity and exclusion subdued the inclusivity and the inclusion.” Here, we see Chaos not as a the boundless, limitless first principle, but rather as the opposition to the Logos (made clear by the description of the Logos as essentially masculine and Chaos as essentially feminine). This begins to set red flags off for me, because I see cloaked in philosophic language a return to the Babylonian creation myth, where the pre-existing feminine Chaos dragon Tiamat is slain by the male warrior hero Marduk, who then builds and orders the world from her carcass. [8]

A return to this creation myth would not bother me, perhaps, if I were not an Orthodox Christian—and if I did not believe that Orthodox Christianity is an essential component in Romanitas or Romanity. Vladimir Moss provides us with a starting point to understand Romanity as “the principle that legitimate political power is either Roman power, or that power which shares in the faith of the Romans, [that is] Orthodoxy.” [9] This idea is, we shall see, entirely inconsistent and, ultimately, incompatible with Dugin's thesis.

Perhaps the greatest definition of Romanitas is the Eastern doctrine of synergia between Church and State, which was articulated most succinctly by the sainted emperor Justinian in the sixth century:
    The two greatest gifts which God in His infinite goodness has granted men are the Priesthood and the Empire. The priesthood takes care of divine interests and the empire of human interests of which is has supervision. Both powers emanate from the same principle and bring human life to its perfection. It is for this reason that emperors have nothing closer to their hearts than the honor of priests because they pray continually to God for the emperors. When the clergy shows a proper spirit and devotes itself entirely to God, and the emperor governs the state which is entrusted to him, then a harmony results which is most profitable to the human race. [10]
This is the Roman ideal: the Orthodox emperor presiding over the ecumene as the pater familias of the kings of the nations which make up the Roman world, supporting and supported by the divine priesthood of the Church. This creates a unity, a singularity, of Christian/Roman understanding. There can be only one emperor because there is only one God; there can be only one Church because there is only one God. Here we see that the principle of identity and the principle of the non-contradiction of truth are absolutely impossible to divorce from any kind of Christian understanding.

But, Christianity ups the ante. Again, with Romanity, we must confess the Orthodox Christian faith. To do that, we must confess the Symbol of Faith espoused by the Holy Fathers of the First Council of Nicea. In that Creed, which is held up by the Orthodox Church as the definition par excellence of our Faith, we are required to believe in the singular divine-human person of Jesus Christ, the same divine-human person defined in the prologue to the Gospel of St. John as “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made […] and the Logos was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”[11] Here we see that the Orthodox Christian understanding of the pre-ontological nature of reality is that the Logos transcends Being, it is the Logos out of which all things arise. And that Logos was made flesh, in the divine-human person of Jesus Christ—a male human being. The Roman Orthodox Christian can no more abandon the Logos than be can believe that the Logos can be perverted. And yet, this is precisely what Dugin asserts: The Logos that was the guarantee of strictness of the order serves here to grant the curvature and crookedness, being used to preserve the impassibility of the ontologically border with nothing from the eventual trespassers. [12]

Again, we see a dramatic example of the Heracleitan position; the Logos is common to all, and yet men act as if each of them possessed a private logos. Professor Dugin, for all his laudable goals, has underpinned them with theory which is very much possessed of a private logos. While he heaps praise upon the “eternal nascency” of Chaos, saying:
    To sum up, the chaotic philosophy is possible because chaos itself includes Logos as some inner possibility. It can freely identify it, cherish it and recognise its exclusivity included in its everlasting life. So we come to the figure of the very special chaotic Logos, that is completely and absolutely fresh Logos being eternally revived by the waters of Chaos. This chaotic Logos is at the same time exclusive (and it is why is properly Logos) and inclusive (being chaotic). It deals with the sameness and otherness differently. [13]
Dugin attempts here to create a logical space within Chaos for the continued existence of Logos, like a Venn diagram where Logos represents a subset of the all-embracing Chaos; this sounds very attractive, because it attempts to allow for a continuation of the Logos-centric tradition while acknowledging the existence of other traditions that exist de facto outside it, and by dealing differently with differences. But what he claims is as impossible as the furious green idea; because the Logos-centric tradition is crowned by the claims of Orthodox Christianity, the Logos itself is outside Being and the source of Being. For the Logos-centric tradition to exist within the eternal nascence of Chaos, as Dugin puts it, the Logos would have to in some way be defined as Chaos, which is antithetical to the truth-claim proposed by adherence to Nicene Orthodoxy. As a result, Dugin's idea of a multipolar world, with multiple truth-claims mutually co-existing within their own thought-space inside the eternally nascent Chaos is antithetical not only to Orthodox theology but also to Orthodox politics, while presenting the possibility of an existence for it within another context. This is why the idea is so dangerous. Like the post-modernity it reviles, it attempts to infinitely reproduce within itself a truth with is essentially outside itself—namely, the Logos that became flesh and dwelt among us.

If there is to be a revolution away from post-modernity (which is really modernism fulfilled), it has to be through learning to embrace the Logos the way that transformed the ancient multipolar chaotic world into the Roman Orthodox ecumene; the way that does not denigrate the upholding of Romanitas through the principles of the Orthodox emperor and the Orthodox priesthood, synergistically cooperating to bring all of the cosmos into the ecumene. From my perspective, Dugin is not offering us a way to return to the glory of Christian Rome (which is the essential political norm for Orthodox Christians) but a chance at living in the world inhabited by Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné.

And, as the old cliché goes, it might be a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

[1] Sextus Empiricus, Against the Mathematicians, VII 133
[2] A. Dugin, “The necessity of the Metaphysics of Chaos” 

[3] Peter Fosl, response of a questionon AskPhilosophers.org
[4] A. Dugin, “The necessity of the Metaphysics of Chaos”

[5] ibid.
[6] Simplicius, Phys. p. 24, 13sq.
[7] A. Dugin, “The necessity of the Metaphysics of Chaos”
[8] Thorkild Jacobsen, "The Battle Between Tiamat and Marduk" Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 88, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1968), pp. 104-108
[9] Vladimir Moss, The Restoration of Romanity, p. 15
[10] Justinian, Novella Six
[11] John 1:1-3, 14
[12] A. Dugin, “The necessity of the Metaphysics of Chaos”
[13] ibid.