Friday, February 22, 2008

Contemplation or Activism?

Philip Sherrard, touching of the significance of the West's encounter with Hesychasm in the twentieth century, writes:
Thus, into a Western world dominated for centuries by an activist time-bound mentality that is antimetaphysical, anticontemplative, and antisymbolic, has been squarely placed the alternative of what we have called a contemplative knowledge of human destiny rooted in a way of life in which theory and practice, wisdom and method, are inextricably interlocked and whose fulfillment requires a surpassing of all wordly categories, social, political, economic – in short, of that whole realm of the temporal to which the frentic activity of modern humanity is confined. Assuredly, behind this antithesis lies another – namely, that between opposed theological and consequently between opposed anthropological orientations. For at the origin (both metaphysical and chronological) of the activist bias of the modern world lies a system of though which turns God into a transcendent and unknowable essence that, although responsible for setting the cosmic process in motion, does not interiorly penetrate creation in all its aspects, invisible and visible, incorporeal and corporeal, intelligible and material, but leaves it to follow its own course as though it were a self-subsistent autonomous reality. The corollary of such a conception is that the human mind, equated now with its purely rational function, is itself regarded as something sovereign, cut off from the divine and capable of resolving and determining human destiny on earth independently of revelation and grace.
The above photograph is of the Elder Joseph the Hesychast.


Maximus Daniel said...

In pointing to the regulating of God to the "upstairs" he is not only pointing to certain theological currents, but I think he also includes a decisive critique of Marx (which in turn is still a critique of a lot of modern theology (especially some RC theology).

I think Pope Benedict has pointed this out in a simpler way in his recent book on Jesus. Looking at the temptation in the desert where the devil suggests Christ turn rocks into bread due to his hunger Pope Benedict makes the point that this is what a lot of people want to turn Christianity into. To turn Christianity into social activism is paramount to idolatry and the death of God. Feeding the poor must come from a heart grounded in God, or it is just a continuation of the real problem: The dearth of God in mankind's mind, heart, and body.

The gospel is about Christ, and in turn the gifts He bestows on His creatures is most importantly God the Father.

Felix Culpa said...

There's a nice succinct discussion of contemplation and activism in one of the opening chapters of "The Mountain of Silence" (a book about which I otherwise have a lot of reservations, as I'll post about later).

One of the things to remember about both Marx and later Marxism is that they claimed to be speaking in the name of science. It's easy to dismiss the communist dictators of the 20th century as lunatics (and indeed they were), but more difficult to comprehend that they viewed themselves as servants of science; Marxism was for them hardly less infallible than physics. All this, of course, represents the deadly ends to which the western attitudes Sherrad here criticizes lead.

I haven't read the Pope's book, but it seems he's very much in line with Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor.

I don't mean to get knick-picky about your Trinitarian theology, but it's really better to say that Christ reveals the Father but bestows the Holy Spirit. (And, conversely, it's the Holy Spirit Who leads us to Christ, Who reveals to us the Father.)

Maximus Daniel said...

I don't mind you being nit picky about my Trinitarian theology, that's quite alright!

I just wanted to underline the importance of Christ as the exegesis of the Father and the importance of the relationship opened up through Him (by the Holy Spirit) over and above a socio/political message of resistance, anarchy, and solidarity. (Which I think resistance and solidarity are all well and good, but not in themselves. They are made perfect in the context of asceticism and works of mercy).

Regarding the Pope and slavic literature. In my reading of the Pope he consistently brings up Solviev's The Antichrist as the one who has a Phd in Scripture from Tubingen, don't you just love the irony of that. He is also consistently critical of the modes of "infallible" knowledge of science and reason let loose from faith.

I also hold a lot of reservations about the Mountain of Silence, all of the asides in the book are to me quite pointless. I look forward to your critiques, hopefully more than Matthewe-Green's critique, which is spot on but needs more flesh.

Felix Culpa said...

On your first point, Karl Stern argues the same point very eloquently in his "The Pillar of Fire" (see my post with a brief synopsis of the letter to his brother that comes at the end of the book).

"The Tale of the Antichrist" is part of the "Three Conversations" cited by Bp Atanasije in the post on war. To add another twist to the Pope's use of Soloviev: the latter converted to Catholicism.

I'll write about "The Mountain of Silence" once I've finished it. I don't want to give too much away right now, but essentially I like the "Fr Maximos" character, but find that the author himself systematically misunderstands every word that comes out of the former's mouth.

Felix Culpa said...
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