By Walt Garlington for the Saker Blog
One way we may be quite certain that the West has lost its contact with the uncreated Grace of the All-Holy Trinity is by considering the guideposts of those who believe themselves to be the champions of traditional Christianity there. The names that come up most often for Roman Catholics are Thomas Aquinas and J.R.R. Tolkien; for Protestants, C.S. Lewis is their waymark. All three represent the same two poles of the post-Great Schism dialectic in the West: Aquinas is the pole of cold, dry rationalism; Tolkien, the warmth and emotions of the sensual/the imagination. Mr Lewis embodies both elements for Protestants with his non-fiction (reason) and his fiction (imagination).
As the West has plod her course after being torn away from the Orthodox Faith by the Bishop of Rome, she has shifted from one pole to the other: from dry Scholasticism to the fleshy Renaissance; thence to mechanistic Deism and its reaction, the volcano of human passions that was Romanticism; followed by frigid scientism, which itself is beginning to yield once again to man’s desire for something living and spiritual.
Such regular, abrupt changes, tending to disorder in society, have generally been unknown in the Orthodox Church, for within her is the fulness of God’s Grace (this has changed somewhat since the fall of the Protector of the Church, the Christian Roman Empire, with the martyrdom of St-Tsar Nicholas II and his family, making the Church more susceptible to worldly attack). But ever since the West lost that Grace, she has been searching desperately for a substitute. Hence the never-ending dialectical swings between reason and imagination; when the West surfeits on one, she then begins to binge on the other.
Father Seraphim Rose of blessed memory explains the movement in the West away from the Orthodox Faith towards these two poles in his Orthodox Survival Course:
‘So we can see that here — and he’s [Thomas Aquinas—W.G.] the pinnacle of Scholasticism — this is a systematization of Christian teaching, and actually subordinates Christian teaching to logic. But logic itself, of course, depends on the starting point. And they thought they were starting with basic Christian revelation. We’ll see soon that there are all kinds of other things entering in, which affect reason. In this Scholastic system logicalness becomes the first test of truth, and the living source of faith is placed in a secondary place. And that’s why later people hated it so much because they felt it to be a completely dead framework in which there’s no life left, idly discussing questions which no one is concerned about, and when you do discuss true questions, you flatten them out and deaden them. And a Western man, under this influence, begins to lose his living relation to the Truth. And thus Christianity is reduced to a system, to the human level. And this is one of the chief roots of the later errors in the West, which can actually be summed up as the attempt to make by human efforts something better than Christianity.
‘ . . .
‘Something else happened. And that is that Orthodox tradition is not only rationalized, it also becomes mixed with romance. The element of pagan legends entering into Orthodox Lives of Saints in this time made it so that there are some Lives of Saints which we have in our Orthodox sources, if you read the same Life of a Saint in a medieval Latin source, you will be completely astonished. . . .
‘And you can see obviously this is absolute fairy tale introduced into a life of a saint, for whatever reasons we don’t know, maybe there’s pagan influences, the result of very good imagination. Well, anyway, this element of romance enters into even such a thing as the Life of a Saint, becomes a total made-up fairy tale. . . .
‘And many other cases we see that in the Roman Catholic sources even from the height of the Middle Ages in the thirteenth century, there are very many of these romantic elements enter in. We cannot trust those sources. And this was the reason that later scholars came to distrust the sources. Also, there, of course, are such things as the legends of the Grail, which come up from Celtic legends, pagan legends, The Golden Legend….’
Fr Seraphim’s mentioning of the Grail is key to understanding what has happened in the West. In their conversation on the Grail legends (skip to the final ten minutes), Jonathan Pageau and Richard Rohlin make the point that this story enters into the Western tradition very quickly after the West’s break with the Orthodox Church, as though she were admitting already that something essential (i.e., the Grace of God) has gone missing, and that no effort should be spared to find it. All the subsequent history of the West is simply a repetition of the Grail story: Western man trying to satisfy the abyss that has opened in his soul now that God’s Grace in the Orthodox Church has been ripped away from him.
For its replacement, the West has tried many experiments of the reason and the imagination, but they have been and always will be doomed to failure, as Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos ably explains:
‘I believe that on the contrary, contemporary theology is conjectural, rationalistic. It is based on the “wealth” which is reason. What Archimandrite Sophrony says is characteristic: “One other kind of imagination about which we wish to speak, is the attempt of intelligence to penetrate the mystery of being and apprehend the Divine world. Such endeavours inevitably involve the imagination, to which many are inclined to give the high-flown label, divine inspiration. The ascetic, devoting himself to active inner silence and pure prayer, resolutely combats this “creative” impulse within himself because he sees in it a “processus” contrary to the true order of being, with man “creating” God in his own image and likeness” (47).
‘Archimandrite Sophrony also writes: “The theologian who is an intellectual [logician] constructs his system as an architect builds a palace or a church. Empirical and metaphysical concepts are the material he uses, and he is more concerned with the magnificence and logical symmetry of his ideal edifice than that it should conform to the actual order of things.
‘“Strange as it may seem, many great men have been unable to withstand this [rationalism], in effect, artless temptation, the hidden cause of which is pride.
‘“One becomes attached to the fruits of one’s intelligence [rationalism] as a mother to her child. The intellectual [logician] loves his creation as himself, identifies with it, shuts himself up with it. When this happens no human intervention can help him – if he will not renounce what he believes to be riches, he will never attain to pure prayer and true theoria” (48).’
Since the West has deformed the Holy Trinity with her doctrines of absolute divine simplicity and of the Filioque in the Nicene Creed (a god resembling very much the god of the Neoplatonists), and also mankind himself through the forgetting of the nous, she cannot attain ‘true theoria’, the vision of and union with the uncreated Light of God; the vision of the logoi of created things; nor converse with the saints and angels – much of which is elaborated upon by St Gregory Palamas and all the other hesychasts who came before and after him. The best traditionalists in the West can do at this point is to create fictional worlds, a fictional Heavenly Kingdom, in a vain attempt to grab hold of that from which they have been cut off. Thus the fawning adoration for the Legendarium of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings by Roman Catholics; and thus the same for Lewis’s Narnia universe by Protestants. Sadly, this is the apex of Christian civilization for the apostate West, sham substitute kingdoms of the mind that they inhabit with imaginary figures who can help them not at all: Sam, Frodo, Galadriel, Aslan, Puddleglum – The Great Eagles of Middle-earth are NOT going to save the West.
We appreciate the wisdom and beauty that is present in works by non-Orthodox Western writers like Tolkien and Lewis, but that does not change what they are: replacements for the noetic Kingdom of Heaven.
Yet it is that very Kingdom that can save her, but it is buried – buried deep beneath the layers of false teachings and destructive practices that have accumulated over the last 1,000 years. It is the Kingdom of the Orthodox Church, the Kingdom of the Saints of the West of the first 1,000 years of her Christian history. If she can recover this Kingdom, she will live. St Nicholas Cabasilas (+14th century), writes regarding it,
‘ . . . the perfect holiness of the saints is God’s greatest gift to men . . . . Rather, it is the whole of his gift. For the choir of saints is the completion and the fruit of all the benefits he has bestowed upon our race; for it heaven and earth and the whole created universe were made; paradise, the prophets, the Incarnate God himself and his teachings, works, Passion and Death had but one purpose—that men might be raised from earth to heaven, that they might inherit the kingdom’ (A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, Hussey and McNulty, trans., SVS Press, Crestwood, NY, 2010, p. 112).
It is true that in the West one may see an eccentric nun or a charismatic bishop attract some attention once in a while, but this is not enough to save the West. And those that the Roman Catholics claim to be saints are sometimes men and women in deep delusion, who engage in harmful (Margaret Mary Alacoque’s cutting of her chest) or disgusting (Catherine of Siena’s wedding ring supposedly made of the circumcised foreskin of Christ) practices. Most Protestants have abolished sainthood altogether by claiming that all Christians are saints.
Such people cannot lead Westerners to the satisfying union with God for which they long, and for which they were made. But the desire for a real encounter with the Divine remains, and it is leading the West in two different directions: one path goes back toward the old pre-Christian gods, and one seeks out ‘new revelations’ (such as Fatima, Lourdes, etc.). Considering what Pope Francis will be doing on Holy Annunciation this Friday (‘consecrating’ Russia in accordance with Fatima decrees), it is important to refute in advance the Mariolatry and other errors of the Roman Catholics that are manifest in these ‘visions’:
‘ . . . A faulty Trinitarian theology, and an undue emphasis on the Augustinian teachings on original sin and the Atonement, together with an all-male hierarchy, led to the loss of the feminine element in Western Christianity and created a “Goddess-shaped gap.” The Virgin Mary was the obvious candidate to fill that gap.
‘ . . .
‘In the Latin Church, Marian exaggeration soared to ever new heights, checked only briefly by the Protestant Reformation. The Virgin had “added certain perfection to the Maker of the universe” by giving Him a human nature—quite the opposite view from that taken by Scripture and Orthodoxy, which saw the Incarnation as a kenosis, a self-emptying, of Christ—”though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor.” Bernadine of Siena’s weirdest fantasy, the “seduction of God,” was described in language more appropriate to a Greek legend of Zeus than to the Great Mystery of the Incarnation. The Virgin was higher than the Church … she had authority over her Son in heaven … she appeased the Divine justice and prevented God from chastening sinners … she and the Holy Spirit produced Christ in souls. “Even the tongue of the Holy Spirit” was “scarcely sufficient to celebrate her praises worthily”! Unfortunately the authors and preachers of such offensive nonsense were frequently canonized, which was naturally taken as a sign of official approval. Such distortions could well be the stuff of which Marian apparitions are made. The Goddess, or at least a semi-divine being, had returned.
‘ . . .
‘Who is this Lady who has appeared thousands of times and is acclaimed by millions’? Is she the Mother of God, whom we know within Orthodoxy from the Scriptures and the services and teachings of the Church? It is almost as if the Marian apparition cult has a life and ethos of its own, almost as if it were a separate religion—Christianity overlaid with the worship of the Goddess and spiritism. The Virgin, not Christ, is the central figure. Heaven speaks through her, not Him. Despite Rome’s official teaching, which still precludes placing Mary on a level with her Son, she is predominant. Geoffrey Ashe seems to have put his finger on it when he says that “the vitality of Christ’s own (R.C.!) Church has often seemed to depend on her rather than on Him.”
‘ . . . The need for the Eternal feminine lies deep in the human psyche. That need is met in the Holy Trinity, the heart of Orthodoxy. Where Trinitarian teaching is unbalanced, and the Holy Spirit neglected, the Goddess is likely to re-emerge either under the form of Marian excess, or in the guise of Gnosticism, with its demand for women priests and inclusive language for God.’
–Miriam Lambouras, ‘The Marian Apparitions: Divine Intervention or Delusion?’
Not goddesses and sacred hearts; not air-tight syllogisms; not Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas; not Gandalf and the Valar; not quantum computers and AI. But instead Sts Ambrose of Milan, Bede and Boniface, Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, David of Wales, Etheldreda of Ely, Felix of Nola, Geneviève of Paris, and so many others. Disinter them from their storage vaults in their empty Gothic cathedral museums (to borrow a phrase from Fr Andrew Phillips); prostrate before them; kiss their reliquaries; carry them in procession through city and countryside; go on pilgrimage to greet them; love the God Whom they loved!
But it is too late for the West, some say.
It is not too late!
Even a part of a teardrop, as St Simeon the New Theologian put it, is enough to draw down the mercy of God upon us!
One example from the life of an Orthodox Saint of the West will suffice to illustrate this:
‘The Holy Martyr Pancharius was a friend of the emperor Diocletian. He abandoned Christianity and became a pagan. His mother and sister sent him a letter in which they urged the apostate to fear God and the dread Last Judgment. Having repented, Saint Pancharius openly confessed his faith before the emperor, for which he suffered torture at Rome. Then he was sent to Nicomedia and beheaded in 303.’
Yes, the West has sinned greatly in abandoning the Orthodox Church, but God’s mercy is limitless, and repentance is still possible. Through the prayers of St Pancharius and all her Orthodox Saints, the true treasures of the West because they are overflowing with God’s Grace, may she make the good confession once more; see the Kingdom of God within the hearts of her peoples; see new generations of saints born to her!