Archive for May, 2009

Way to What End?

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Thank you for your comment on the newly posted lecture “Disagreeing to Agree”, my contribution to the recent Common Word symposium at the University of South Carolina (currently first in the queue here).

With your usual nose for controversy, you’ve pointed—very rightly and not at all surprisingly—to what I expected, and fully intended, my (Christian) audience to find the most challenging claim of all: namely, that “the deified man attains a station that in some mysterious sense is beyond even that of the Second and Third Persons of the Trinity”. (For readers of Anamn?sis who have not yet consulted this paper, I should add that this observation comes in a footnote (36) at the tail end of the paper (p. 27) and should be pondered in context before I’m thrown to the Inquisitors!) The whole point of my conclusion was to push through the dogmatic limits of exoteric theology, having given them their full due, in order to underscore the “dimensional” difference between theology and metaphysics.

I agree with you that an Orthodox theologian qua theologian would never have said this. But I disagree that no Christian sage or saint has ever done so. Eckhart, naturally, comes to mind. If you look back at the dialectic I flagged (on pp. 10-11) between Thomas’s words to Jesus (“My Lord and my God”) and Jesus’s words to Mary Magdalene (“Do not cling to me … for I must ascend to my God and your God”), it should be clear that I’m proposing no more than did the Meister in praying God to be quit of “God” or in saying “God insofar as He is only ‘God’ is not the highest goal of creation” (see my Not of This World, p. 251).

But in this particular talk, I didn’t wish to rely on the teaching of someone who, rightly or wrongly, was (nearly) condemned by the Church, so I chose instead to challenge my fellow Christians with the words of a canonized saint—indeed one of the most important and honored saints in the East, Gregory Palamas. Granted, Gregory didn’t draw the conclusion I did, or not at least as far as we know, but he did supply the premise—and a perfectly extraordinary premise it was—by explicitly telling his readers that the deified man is “not merely uncreated”, nor even just “unoriginate”, but also “principial” (anarchos). However you slice it, this was an astounding claim, especially given the language of the Nicene Creed, wherein one is told, just as explicitly, that while Christ is not created, He does have an Origin or Principle (arch?) inasmuch as He is “begotten by the Father”. A slip of the tongue by the saint? Rhetorical or poetic license? An unguarded moment? A deliberate clue for future seekers? It could be any of those things; but whatever the intentionality, or lack thereof, the text of The Triads definitely says what it says.

To put the point as baldly as I did may well have “blinded” my audience, but only for a moment I trust. When their eyes have adjusted, some will doubtless turn away, supposing this claim must have been prompted by the Evil One! Others, God willing, will be intrigued enough to look further, deeper; like you they will realize—given the rest of the lecture—that I intend no disrespect or dishonor toward Christ, quod absit. But they may also come away seeing that they’ve not yet given as much attention as they should to the fact that while Christ was certainly “Truth” and “Life”, He was also (by His own admission) “Way”. But Way to what End?

New Lecture Posted

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Thanks—to several inquirers and correspondents—for your patience. End of term academic responsibilities and numerous other commitments over the last few weeks resulted in a much longer delay than I had expected in revising and posting the lecture I delivered in March at the University of South Carolina Common Word conference.

The lecture, “Disagreeing to Agree”, can now be found on my website by clicking on “Scholarship” and then on “Articles and Papers”; it’s currently first in the list on this page. Or you can download it directly here. The lecture is to be published with the other conference proceedings, and streaming video and audio should be available by mid-summer on the USC Common Word website.