Sunday, May 16, 2010

Reading Group 1a

As I suggested the other day, we will discuss one sub-chapter per day. You will find below first a rough outline of the chapter, followed by topical questions that are meant simply as an aid to starting discussion. If you find this format uncongenial, we can always change it. Happy discussing!

The Moral Idea of the Dogma of the Holy Trinity

1. Introduction

a. One is often faced with the question of the importance of belief on how one lives.

b. Many, including Protestant sects, contrast virtue to dogma, claiming the latter are of moral indifference.

c. Many assert that the dogmas of the Trinity and the God-Man are found nowhere in Scripture.

d. These people ask how adherence to dogma will help them fulfill the commandments.

e. Missionaries attempt in vain to refute such currents of thought.

f. These dispersed children of the Church can be returned only by demonstrating the close bond between all dogmatic truths and a virtuous life and reveal the influence of Church ordinances on the perfecting of the heart.

g.The solution proposed by the founders of Protestantism and Ritschl, that it is a matter of obedience and mental constraint, is unsatisfactory.

h. Obedience is indispensable, and is rewarded with understanding. Moral experience can serve as a verification and confirmation of the truths of faith. But it is insufficient to look at dogmas as exercises in obedience.

i. From the history of the Church it is known that the best dogmatists were preeminently zealots of virtue.

j. The Three Hierarchs (Sts Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chyrsostom) were models of this.

k. The dogmas are indispensable basis for virtue and only the external aspects of mercy can be fulfilled by the unbeliever or heretic, but he cannot perfect his soul.

l. The writings are the Fathers are largely polemical in origin, and therefore do not treat the moral aspect of the dogmas. The living faith of the ancient Christians can be seen above all in their hymnography.

m. Doubts about the salutary benefits of dogmas arise from an inner alienation of souls from the Church. When one speaks of the moral idea of a dogma, one understands a moral truth which is contained in the very essence of a dogma. Scripture teaches us that the knowledge of Divinely revealed truths procures a moral freedom for us and can be examined by the experience of a moral life.

n. Therefore virtue and knowledge of God’s properties are linked with each other and the most important properties of God are expounded in the teaching of the Holy Trinity.

Discussion Questions:
  1. How is Metropolitan Anthony using the word “moral”? How might it differ from our common usage of the word?
  2. What is Metropolitan Anthony seeking to do is expounding the “moral idea” of the dogmas? What is he not seeking to do?
  3. How does Metropolitan Anthony’s approach compare and contrast with seeking out the “moral application” of dogmas?
  4. What is the role of obedience in understanding dogma?
  5. Against whom is Metropolitan Anthony arguing?


Becoming said...

1. Metropolitan Anthony defines the word “moral” as a correct and virtuous action, and also includes in this definition that the experience of this action has an inherent/innate verification and confirmation of the truths of the Christian faith. [58] This differs from common usage in that its common usage would not acknowledge that a moral action corresponds to an epistemological verification of the truth.

2. In expounding the “moral idea”, Met. Anthony is explaining that the moral truth is contained in the very essence of the dogma and that this moral truth only has significance because of it’s inherency within the dogma. [61]
What Met. Anthony is trying not to do, I am not sure. It is somewhere in the area of not seeing morality as the “moral application” of the dogmas ie. that if you believe the truth you should behave in a certain fashion. Instead, one’s behavior, or moral action, should be an affirmation to one’s self about the truthfulness of a dogma. It seems as though outwardly the two look the same but he is saying that the details of this are important because this interplay between morality and dogma is the verification and upholding of each’s(?) truthfulness – the morality will verify the dogmas truthfulness and the dogmas will verify the morality’s truthfulness.[58+61] This is the answer to Ques. #3 also.

4. The role of obedience in understanding dogma is “an indispensable companion of all learning” because, as Met. Anthony says, quoting the Holy Scriptures, obedience will be rewarded with understanding. [57]

5. Metropolitan Anthony is arguing against the secular moralists who have no use for dogma [55]; the Protestant Stundists who deny the value of dogma [55], those of the Tubingen school who deny the Most Holy Trinity and deny that the Lord Jesus Christ is the God-man [56], those who misinterpret the Scriptures to deny the connection between morality and dogma [56-57] and lastly to the Protestantism of Albrecht Ritschl who reduces the aim of the revelation to be for obedience. [57]


Felix Culpa said...

Matthew: You can now propose questions or discussion topics of your own for the rest of us to consider.

Anyone else with comments on this section are also welcome to add whatever they like to the discussion.

Fr. Luke said...

Fr. Deacon,
It would be very helpful to me if you would, using uncomplicated language, answer your own questions for me. Although I understand what Met. Anthony was saying, I don't think I 'get' it entirely. Please explain it a little.
Thank you.
+Fr. Luke

Felix Culpa said...

Without meaning in any way to contradict or call into question Matthew’s excellent responses, here are my own replies.

1.Metropolitan Anthony uses the word “moral” almost synonymously with the word “virtue.” So, for instance, the Metropolitan writes: “It seems to us, therefore, beyond a doubt that until we demonstrate to them the closest bond between all the dogmatic truths of the Orthodox faith and virtuous life, until we reveal the influence of Church ordinances on the perfecting of the heart, until such time, we can by no means return these dispersed children to the Church.” He writes that he is seeking “this bond between dogmas and virtue’”; the Three Hierarchs are brought forward as examples of “zealots of Christian virtue”; and he concludes the subchapter: “And so, virtue and the knowledge of God’s properties are indissolubly linked with each other and, consequently, those most essential, most important properties of God which are expounded in the teaching about the Holy Trinity must contain in themselves an especially important moral idea.” Further such examples could easily be multiplied. What Metropolitan Anthony is NOT talking about is moralism, the tendency to make judgments about other’s morality. But perhaps what I wanted to emphasize more than anything in posing the question is that “morality” or the “moral idea” in Metropolitan is something internal, not external; something linked to the practice of the virtues and the cultivating of the heart, not an outward “correctness” of behavior.

2. My response to the first question goes a long way in answering the second question. As from hearing texts of liturgical prayer, Metropolitan Anthony seeks to give us “spiritual fruit from dogmatic truths.” He is not interested in the simple “moral application” of the dogmas, which is more concerned with providing rules for external behavior.

3. Answered in 2.

4. The role of obedience is one of having a conscious, reasonable, and intelligent TRUST in the Scripture or a given living preacher of the Scripture. Obedience is in return rewarded with understanding. God reveals to us only those properties with serve for our edification, and our own experience serves as verification and confirmation of these revealed truths.

5. See Matthew’s answer.

Bosphorus said...

Let me try to say something about (2) and (3). I take it that Metropolitan Anthony is attacking the notion that we can make sense of our moral lives in isolation from dogma. For Metropolitan Anthony, our moral lives are revealed to us in dogma--our moral lives' true shape and inner structure are shown to us in dogma. That is why dogmas are morally significant. And since they are morally significant in this way, it makes no sense to think that we could so understand our moral lives in isolation to dogma that we could then "apply" dogma to them. The whole "application" metaphor really requires that dogma and our moral lives be intelligible in isolation from one another--since only if my moral life is intelligible in isolation from dogma could I discern what dogma or dogmas might "apply" to it. (None of this is meant to contradict or supercede what has already been said, but rather (I hope) to add to it.)

Felix Culpa said...

An excellent point!

Fr. Luke said...

...“morality” or the “moral idea” in Metropolitan is something internal, not external; something linked to the practice of the virtues and the cultivating of the heart, not an outward “correctness” of behavior...Metropolitan Anthony seeks to give us “spiritual fruit from dogmatic truths.” He is not interested in the simple “moral application” of the dogmas, which is more concerned with providing rules for external behavior."

"For Metropolitan Anthony, our moral lives are revealed to us in dogma--our moral lives' true shape and inner structure are shown to us in dogma. That is why dogmas are morally significant."

These two statements were very helpful to me. Remembering that the word “moral” is used almost synonymously with the word “virtue” helped shed much light on the matter as well. Thank you.

Becoming said...

A few questions:
i) Is the reverse of what is being proposed above true, namely, that those who hold untrue beliefs can be shown to be non-virtuous OR the non-virtuous can be shown to hold untrue beliefs?

ii) Who else has maintained the same thesis that Metropolitan Anthony does or has demonstrated the same point?

iii) How is the connection between the dogmas and the virtues to be understood? Is he proposing that there is there a resulting dogmatic belief that relates to a specific virtue? (I see, Bosphorus, that you do not think there is an "application" here but I am wondering how this works out then, or how it "looks".)


Felix Culpa said...

i) I think what Metropolitan Anthony says is that those who hold wrong dogmatic teachings can only be EXTERNALLY virtuous.

ii) Unsure. Help, anyone? I suppose one could look in two directions: to the Fathers, and to other late 19th-century\early 20th century Orthodox figures responding to German idealism. Or there may be 20th/21st century figures. What about Yannaras?

iii) I'll let Bosphoros handle this one, but I think it will become more clear with every essay just what relationship Metropolitan Anthony is making between a given dogma and virtue -- what he'd call its "moral idea."

Mark Montague said...

It seems important to note that Met. Anthony is assuming that his audience already has a high regard for moral matters; he does not feel the need to argue for that. On the contrary, his goal is to argue for the importance of Orthodox dogmas, and he proposes to do so based on their importance for the founding of a moral life. I bring this up because I think that for many people the situation may be reversed: they grasp and care about the intellectual content of the faith, but have much less interest in the ethical consequences of it. For such a person, this book is perhaps the reverse of what they need, but hopefully it will still be helpful by drawing out the connections between the two, which can then perhaps be used in either direction.

But can such connections be used in either direction? Met. Anthony seems to be claiming that one direction is more appropriate than the other: he wants to start with "the moral idea" and derive/justify the dogma, but he seems a bit wary about going in the other direction. Thus he is wary of the "moral application of dogmas", which would be starting with the dogma and deriving/justifying a moral truth. He seems to think that such an approach does not give sufficient internal weight to the moral truth, but tends toward an external, rule-based morality. Need it? I don't know.

But what about the Tradition of the Fathers? Is there any tradition of basing the significance of the dogmas on their moral consequences? There probably are examples in the Fathers, but I can't think of any at the moment. Met. Anthony has well illustrated that the great Fathers cared highly both for the dogmas and for the virtues, but that does not address the question of which derives their significance from the other. Just thinking, for example, of the discussions surrounding the ecumenical councils, I don't ever recall the argument being made that a particular dogma is important *because* of its moral consequences. The Fathers were, it seems to me, concerned about the truth of the dogmas themselves, whatever the moral consequences; that simply didn't enter in to the question. In response to this question, one which Met. Anthony acknowledges (p. 60), he argues that it is because they were involved in polemics; "This is why the patristic theological works do not often enter into an examination of the very content of the dogmas, but revolve in the realm of proofs and refutations." (p. 60) This does not seem a very compelling argument, but it seems to be the only one he offers as to why his approach differs from the patristic.

Moreover, it is this phrase, "the very content of the dogmas" that raises my doubts about Met. Anthony's approach. Is he really suggesting that that the "moral idea" of a dogma *is* it's essential content? Not what the dogma itself means as a claim about the world and its creator? This is worrying, and is repeated on p. 61, but for now I'll just assume it is a bit exaggerated language.

The best argument that I can see in favor of Met. Anthony's approach is at the bottom of p. 61: "... they [the Fathers] always added that the Lord revealed only so much about Himself as is indispensible for our salvation, that is, for the process of the Christian perfecting of oneself." Is that sufficient? Do other people have thoughts on all this?

Becoming said...

for i)I agree, hence his anti-moralist points. If this is not measurable are we to accept this as true? I'm not thinking of those from the Tubingen school and those he mentions that do not exercise their virtue from the inside out but instead are only external. I'm thinking of other religions as well. Or perhaps he is only seeking to apply this to deviations of "Christian" beliefs.

ii) Thank-you. I'm not sure where to start with this one.

iii) I'll sit on this one for a while.


Felix Culpa said...

Mark: Excellent comments. But I'm not convinced that Metropolitan Anthony is really arguing FROM morality TO dogma. Could you give us some examples of where you see this?

Bosphorus said...

Let me try, however haltingly, to say something to Becomings first (iii) above--the one he directed to me. It will help me to begin with a thought of Iris Murdoch's:

We [humans] are not isolated free choosers, monarchs of all we survey, but benighted creatures sunk in a reality whose nature we are constantly and overwhelmingly tempted to deform by fantasy. Our current picture of freedom encourages a dream-like facility; whereas what we require is a renewed sense of the difficulty and the complexity of the moral life and the opacity of persons. We need more concepts in terms of which to picture the substance of our being; it is through and enriching and deepening of our concepts that moral progress takes place. Simone Weil said that morality was a matter of attention, not of will. We need a new vocabulary of attention.

I want to concentrate on the middle-to-last bit of this (I quote the rest for atmosphere). Note Murdoch's claims that we need more concepts in term of which to picture the substance of our being, and that it is by enriching and deepening our concepts that moral progress takes place. I am strongly tempted to think that Murdoch here says something very much of a piece with what Metropolitan Anthony is saying. For him, the dogmas of the faith are the sources of the concepts we need in order rightly to picture the substance of our being, and the dogmas thus supply, enrich and deepen our concepts; that is, by coming to understand the dogmas we make moral progress. In a crucial sense, we cannot see what is there to be seen in our moral lives without the tutelage of the dogmas; we cannot respond ordinately to what is there to be responded to without their tutelage. The dogmas allow us to attend rightly to the moral world. Without them, we are morally blind. (This is one reason why I believe Metropolitan Anthony rejects "application". To apply one thing to another is typically to be able to see each of them distinctly and then to see them in relation to each other. But if we are morally blind without the dogmas, then we cannot see moral life for what it is such as to apply the dogmas to it.) We grow morally as we behold the world in a vision enlightened by the dogmas.

Again, I say this haltingly. I am working it out as I go.

Mark Montague said...

Felix: sure - I agree with "Becoming's" list of people that Met. Antony is responding to, and this list is composed of groups that for various reasons want to discard or de-emphasize dogma. So Met. Antony is proposing an argument where he starts with various moral principles, and is able to justify the importance of various dogmas based on those moral principles. Do I have this all wrong? I haven't read further yet to see if he actually carries out what he is proposing to do.

As an illustration of why this strikes me as a strange project, consider a modern reader who has little in common with Met. Antony's moral sense. Not sharing his premises (a certain moral sense), they'll have no reason to accept his conclusions (that Orthodox dogma is true and important).

I do not think he is proposing that dogmas actually depend upon morals; I rather assume that he would agree that it is because the world is like such-and-so that we should act thus-and-so. (If I'm wrong about that, I really don't know what to make of this work.) But simply that he wants to run the argument the other way: since we all know that we should act thus-and-so, we can infer that the world is like such-and-so.

Felix Culpa said...

Mark writes:

"So Met. Antony is proposing an argument where he starts with various moral principles, and is able to justify the importance of various dogmas based on those moral principles."

I remain unconvinced of this, but will have this question squarely in mind as I read and reread -- I hope we can keep coming back to your question, since I think it an essential and penetrating one.

Bosphorus said...

Mark writes:

"So Met. Antony is proposing an argument where he starts with various moral principles, and is able to justify the importance of various dogmas based on those moral principles."

Like Felix, I remain unconvinced of this, but, also like Felix, I believe it is an important worry. One reason I remain unconvinced is this: if what Mark sees as Met. Anthony's strategy were correct, then Met. Anthony's strategy would be broadly Kantian (prioritizing the practical over the theoretical or dogmatic).

I note two phrases revolving in our discussion that may be causing confusion: (1) "the moral idea of a dogma"--Met. Anthony gives a helpful gloss on this phrase: "a moral truth which is contained in the very essence of one or another dogma, without which it would lose its significance." (Becoming noted this gloss.) Met. Anthony does not try to derive the dogma from the moral idea; he does do something like the reverse (his anti-Kantian strategy). For example, as he writes in Section 5: "The Orthodox teaching about the Holy Trinity is an ontological basis and support of the moral imperative of love." (2) "moral consequences"--is this a phrase Met. Anthony uses? I don't find it. I don't think Met. Anthony is hoping to justify any dogma by tallying up its moral consequences.

So the direction of derivation here, insofar as there is a derivation, is

Dogma-->Moral Imperative

Some interesting questions about such a derivation are: Is the moral imperative of love the moral idea of the dogma of the Trinity (in which case the derivation of the imperative would just be an explication of the dogma's moral idea) , or is the moral imperative derivable from the dogma of the Trinity only because of the moral idea that is contained contained in the dogma (but which is not identical to the moral imperative)? Also: by understanding dogmas as containing moral ideas does Met. Anthony successfully shunt aside the old logical challenge: how do you derive an 'ought' from an 'is'?