Friday, September 21, 2012

"Palamism explained In 12 minutes or less"

What I like so much about this podcast-cum-blog post is that it so straightforward. This topic, the teachings and purported teachings of Palamas, is chockablock with confusing, complex, and often unintelligible commentaries. Not so here. Enjoy.

(AFR) - Hello, and welcome once again to Faith and Philosophy. Today’s topic is Palamism Explained In Twelve Minutes Or Less.

A few days ago, a friend of mine sent me a blog entry from some armchair theologian who thought he had refuted the teachings of St. Gregory Palamas, by posting a quotation from St. Basil the Great that had been taken completely out of context. You know, there is a reason why the internet is called the world’s biggest vanity press.

Well, with the commemoration of St. Gregory coming up, I thought this would be a good time to take a look at St. Gregory’s theology. The first thing we must understand about Palamism, is that there is absolutely no such thing. Palamism is the invention of Roman Catholic thinkers—I will not call them theologians—who wanted to justify their own heresy by giving what is the undoubted and traditional teaching of the Orthodox Church an exotic label, turning it into an historically conditioned “ism.” All St. Gregory did was to express the age-old teaching of the Church within the framework of the contemporary controversy over the nature of Hesychast methods of prayer. Behind all of the talk about naval-gazing and seeing lights lay a fundamental distinction that Orthodox theologians have been making since at least the time of St. Athanasius.

In a nutshell, the teaching is this: From the very beginning, humans have had two very different experiences of God. On the one hand, God is perceived as being so radically different, so wholly other from ourselves, that we cannot even refer to Him using words like being and existence in an unequivocal and direct manner. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways,” says the Lord. The technical term for this sense of God’s distance from us, is transcendence.

On the other hand, we humans, at least some of us, have also experienced God as someone closer to us than our very selves. Christianity is the religion of Emanuel, which means, “God with us.” St. Peter tells us that we are to become, “partakers of the Divine nature.” The technical term for the closeness of God is “imminence.”

Orthodoxy is the religion of both/and, not either/or. By this, I mean that Orthodoxy has always affirmed both the absolute and unbridgeable transcendence of God, and His immediate presence and communion with man, even to the point of making us partakers of His very life.

Heresy, on the other hand, is almost always the religion of either/or. I have stated before that there are two kinds of heresy. Enthusiast heresies are connected to some charismatic figure who decides that he or she has a special relationship with God and decides to play the self-annointed prophet. Montanus was one such figure. His followers were said to have baptized converts in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Lord Montanus. Joseph Smith, and most modern charismatics, would fall into this category, as well.

The second type of heresies, and these are far more common, are the rationalist heresies. Most of the major “isms” that have afflicted the Church over the centuries, from Sabelianism to Calvinism, have been of this type.

What all of these heresies have in common is the determination on the part of their heresiarchs to make the experience of God conform to some rational structure. In other words, they all assume that God is supposed to make sense to us.

Let me illustrate with the history of the doctrine of the Trinity. We know that from the beginning, the Church confessed her faith in, and baptized, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We also know that the Church, being the new Israel, believed that there was, and could be, only one God, not three. So the Church confessed that we know the Divine, both as three distinct persons, and as one eternal and all-powerful being.

But this both/and did not compute with the Roman presbyter, Sabelius. 1 + 1 + 1 does not equal 1. You see, he was expecting God to conform to human reason and mathematical logic. So he solved this logical dilemma by treating the persons as mere modes of the one God, rather like God playing different roles at different times, but always the same God behind the mask.

A little later on Arias had the exact same problem, but since Sabelianism had been vanquished, he had to find a different solution. So he demoted the Son and the Spirit to created beings. This left the mathematically simple unity of the Divine being intact. But, this made a lie out of the Church’s experience. For she had always worshipped Christ as God. Thus, Arianism was eventually rejected...
Complete article here.

No comments:

Post a Comment