Last Friday at Acton University, Fr. Gregory Jensen gave an engaging lecture on the dual subject of asceticism and consumerism. The “East Meets West” part might not be what many would expect. Rather than contrast a consumerist West with an ascetic East, Fr. Gregory insists that both consumerism and asceticism transcend cultures and traditions. Inasmuch as all people take part in consumption, an ascetic answer to the challenge of consumerism is (or ought to be) where East meets West. The audio of Fr. Gregory’s lecture will be available on Ancient Faith Radio in the near future, but as a teaser I would like to explore some of the themes briefly here. (more…)
Today at Acton University, Fr. Michael Butler gave an engaging lecture on the subject of Orthodoxy and natural law. Despite the contemporary ambivalence among many Orthodox (if not hostility) toward natural law, Fr. Michael argues that it is present in the Eastern Tradition from the ancient to the medieval and modern periods, focusing especially on the thought of the seventh century Byzantine Saint Maximus the Confessor.
A few months ago, I observed,
While it may be that there are important differences between a Thomist understanding of natural law and an Orthodox understanding of natural law, the historic difference is most assuredly not that Thomists accept it while the Orthodox do not.
Fr. Michael’s research further strengthens this statement and helpfully highlighted some of the similarities and differences between natural law in St. Maximus and that in Aquinas. The audio of his lecture will be available on Ancient Faith Radio in the coming weeks, but in the meantime I will briefly share some of Fr. Michael’s insights here. It’s a little heady, but worth consideration. (more…)
Today at Acton University, Fr. Michael Butler examined the history of Church-State relations in the Orthodox Tradition with special reference to the modern, Russian context in his lecture “Orthodoxy, Church, and State.” The audio of his lecture will be available via Ancient Faith Radio sometime in the coming weeks. As a teaser, I would like to briefly examine two concepts of Orthodox political theory to which Fr. Butler devoted specific attention: symphonia and sobornost.
Due to the influence of Max Weber, symphonia is often mischaracterized as caesaropapism (a term he coined), the state in which a nation’s sovereign is supreme in all ecclesiastical matters as well as those of state. It would be, then, a complete absorption of the Church by the state. Actual historical instances of this would include (to varying degrees) the Church of England where the monarch is the head and Imperial Russia from Tsar Peter the Great’s Westernizing reforms to the Bolshevik revolution. In the latter case, as Fr. Michael noted, one can see a distortion of symphonia for the elevation of state power, but not its essence or, by far, the complete historical picture. (more…)
This morning at Acton University I attended a fascinating lecture by Dr. Edd Noell, “Origins of Economics: The Scriptures and Early Church Fathers.” I have briefly examined one ancient Christian perspective on wealth in the past (here), but Dr. Noell’s survey today was far more expansive. For the benefit of PowerBlog readers, I would like to reflect on some of the major themes of his talk here as a sort of preview of what one could expect once the audio is available for sale. (more…)
Every day matters. This is the very simple message of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God and to live one’s life to the glory of God. You don’t need to be “missional.” You don’t even need to be “radical” (especially since radical commonly means “very different from the norm”).
In fact, the Bible does not encourage superlative adjectives to describe following Christ at all. Adjectival superlatives tend to create new forms of legalism whereby the work and person of Christ is no longer sufficient to be in right relationship with God. The norm is not enough. Although those promoting various adjectives have no intention of doing harm, hearers often embrace the adjective as the basis of genuine faith instead of the language of Scripture.
Young Christian adults are torn in a sea of modern adjectives that tend to become shame-filled and often debilitating burdens. Larry Osborne warns about five tribal communities that may be accidentally doing harm: (1) “Radical” Christians, (2) “Crazy” Christians, (3) “Missional” Christians, (4) “Gospel-Centered” Christians and (5) Revolutionary and Organic Christians. According to Osborne, each of these tribes has inadvertently created accidental pharisaism because if one does not live out one’s Christian life according to the norms and codes of their respective tribe one will be looked down upon. Moreover, for those within each tribe, it leaves them vulnerable to the arrogant narcissism that believes “our” tribe gets Christianity “right” while the others are substandard.
Man’s nature is to reject it, because it can only be thrust on people by force. The most fallen possession is closer to God’s design for man than malicious egalitarianism. Possession is what God gave me (which I usually (mis)use selfishly and sinfully), whereas equality is what government and society give me, and they give me something that does not belong to them. (The desire for) Equality is from the Devil because it comes entirely from envy.
– Fr. Alexander Schmemann, The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983, page 330-331.
(HT: AOI Observer)
Many thanks to Ancient Faith Radio for graciously sharing its podcasts of the Conference on Poverty at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. The May 31-June 1 event was co-hosted by the Acton Institute. The conference was offered as a tribute to Deacon John Zarras, a 2006 alumnus of the seminary who earned his M.Div. degree over a period of several years as a late–vocations student. Deacon John, who fell asleep in the Lord last year, also served as a member of the Board of Trustees and the president of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Foundation.
What follows are four separate audio feeds, including Q&A follow up, from the Poverty Conference. Ancient Faith is broadcasting these as part of its regular podcasts by the Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of St. Vladimir’s. But first listen to Fr. Chad’s May 24 broadcast, in which he addresses negative reaction to Acton’s participation in the conference by some associated with the seminary. He reminds listeners that Acton, on the issue of poverty, can provide a fresh and different approach that’s effective.
From Ancient Faith: (more…)
Over at Think Christian today, I lend some broader perspective concerning the link between money and happiness occasioned by a piece on The Atlantic on some research that challenged some of the accepted scholarly wisdom on the subject.
The Bible is our best resource for getting the connection between material and spiritual goods right. I conclude in the TC piece, “As Jesus put it, ‘life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’” Or to put it another way, we live on bread but not bread alone.
And so money is a good, but not a terminal good. It isn’t an end in itself, but rather is a means to pursuing other good ends. The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us, for example, that we work “faithfully” so that we might “share with those in need.”
Another piece just out today argues that money, when used rightly, can be a means to make us happy. But significantly, the findings of Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton show that such uses of money often correspond to ways not motivated directly by our own pursuit of happiness. Thus, among the “five key principles” they find that helps “turn cash into contentment” is one that resonates directly with the wisdom of the catechism noted above: “Invest in Others.” This means recognizing that “spending money on other people makes us happier than spending it on ourselves.”
Check out the work of Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton in their new book, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.
Augustine observes that humans are constituted in large part by their sociality. As he puts it in the City of God, “For there is nothing so social by nature as this race, no matter how discordant it has become through its fault.”
I have written that a corollary of the natural law is a vision of society as one based on mutual aid. This includes economic exchange as well as the economy of gifts and the corresponding gratitude, as I have highlighted this week.
But this orientation towards others can take a negative turn. As I noted yesterday, Augustine describes a corrupted kind of “spiteful benevolence.”
C.S. Lewis explores this as well in his description of the person who must always be giving to the point of fostering dependency, foisting oneself upon others, and even creating the need for intervention if necessary. This “unselfish” giving of oneself to others can turn into the most depraved kind of selfishness.
As Wormwood relates a description of such a person in The Screwtape Letters, “She’s the sort of woman who lives for others–you can always tell the others by their hunted expression.”
This kind of need to be needed is of course a corruption of love. By contrast, the true expression of love is exemplified in no more glorious a fashion than the truly other-directed self-giving of a mother.
This is something to remember and celebrate this Mother’s Day.