Tuesday, November 13, 2012

On Not Apologizing

Part of me wants to find something to like in Jim John Marks's blog, The Life of Meaning. More commonly I despair of it. Maybe the twelve or so years between us adds up to a lot less patience on my part to his lack of patience in the other direction. Or maybe it's his declared lack of interest in discourse.

So we get to the inevitable post of every Orthodox convert blogger I've ever seen, the one where they declare how different Orthodox theology is compared to all that intellectualized western stuff. It is of course terribly easy to make theological potshots at the naive fundagelicals, and to sneer at the Anglicans, who are educated but spongy. But the ancient rivalry with Rome calls out to be defended.

And the usual defense is mounted: an attack on scholasticism. It is not a differentiation I find compelling. Orthodox writers, namely the church fathers, did not avoid the use of rhetoric and argument; they just were not as rigorous about it as Aquinas was. Moreover, the intellectual structures, the umwelt if you have Germanic academic pretentions, is something that Aristotle and the fathers shared; they implicitly worked from the same basis about how the world may be thought about that their medieval European successors started from. Of course what happened in the sciences is that the Baconian system triumphed and the Aristotlean system did not, because the former could withstand the discovery that much of what was assumed about the world happened to be untrue. And thus it became harder to make the same defense in theology.

Protestantism didn't really happen because of bad theology. It happened first because everyone could see that, whatever the theology, the church was terribly corrupt. And it then became clear that that corruption spread back into the theology, and the premodern picture of an infallible theologizing authority fell apart. Looking back, we see likewise eastern churches which were perhaps less corrupt only because the principalities never allowed the church to rival them (I doubt the patriarch of Moscow could have made the tsar stand outside his palace in the snow). But they were corrupt, and they are still corrupt.

Besides all that, though, it's patently obvious that the kind of categorization of the different churches is exactly the kind of intellectualizing and rationalizing that is supposed to be the bugaboo of the Catholics. If you're going to do that, you are obliged to use what works on real things, which is the Baconian empirical method and not this sort of "just so" ecclesiology.