Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Refugium Peccatorum

Invariably, any post that does not proceed to denounce and trounce upon Catholicism in the name of the Orthodox Church succeeds in eliciting disappointment from all sides. Orthodox reader's leave (anonymous) comments to the effect that I've betrayed the glorious Russian-Greek-Arab-Whatever-Holy-Church-of-God-that-aptly-represents-the-court-of-heaven-which-is-all-Russian-Greek-Arab-Whatever. To which I say, folks, I'm Italian...we all know that heaven is composed of olive toned skin, oceans of Marinara, fields of Basil (and no damn Oregano in the Marinara), the heavenly banquet's main course is stinco di maiale and we all learn that cannoli was the mana in the desert.

Then I have Roman Catholics who appear either bewildered or frustrated that I am not looking to totally trash their (and my former) church...in fact, they actually try egging me on!

From a confessional standpoint, any organized religious body has to insist upon its uniqueness, especially when there are other religious bodies making similar claims and demanding allegiance. From a scholarly standpoint (to which I am irrevocably oriented), such claims, though sociologically necessary, cannot be sustained under critical investigation, regardless how ferverently one emotes in defense of their veracity. This is most true in the case of Christianity in which we can trace enough its historical development to regard claims of a particular apostle founding a particular church and granting it any particular authority and thereby determine that these claims must be designated as faith claims at best. We can go further and say the same about any claims indicating that a particular cultural manifestation of Christianity is a universal norm for the religion. This to is a faith claim. We can, however, state that two particular cultural manifestations of Christianity, though mistaken in their claims to being the universal and original exemplar of the original model, derive (and yet differ from) a common point of origin, which itself was one branch among others vying to become Christianity's identity in late antiquity. This understanding should temper any temptations to trumpet supremacy over another.

Distinctions ought to be made between intellectual system and experiential system of a religion. Distinctions of particular points of theology, ecclesiology, or teaching are properly speaking matters of the mind...which in the most pejorative sense ought to make one pause to consider the possibility that many such distinctions are "in the head." The exist and thrive in the mind, but seldom if at all make any tangible impact or have any historical influence on a religion's experiential knowledge, which often times is based on a combination of unsystematic ritual texts that contemporary commentators strain to find systemic thought in, and folk customs that have been hallowed as "immemorial custom." It is entirely possible to meet Catholicism at the level of experiential knowledge while formally disagreeing with its intellectual propositions (variances in theology, doctrine or ecclesiology). Catholics can apply the same principle to the Orthodox Church as well. The failure to be able to do so is largely indicative in our increasing loss of the experiential knowledge of Christianity. Experiential knowledge of the religion as defined by a grounded (and structured) pursuit of a life based upon principles for living demonstrated in the sacred narrative with guidance by and formation within a community is, barring the exception of some monasteries, thoroughly displaced by hyper-individualistic piety and removed intellectual extrapolation. It is either indicative of a failure of Christianity, or a condemnation of our failure to speak the experiential language of religion.

It is wise to cast a leery eye on anyone who has bounced between Catholicism and Orthodoxy and carries with them either a) clear signs of lacking stability (in the Benedictine sense) or b) an overbearing "convert's zeal." Ultimately, any religious association (no matter what the level) requires stability to acquire the experiential knowledge mentioned above. Swaying as such invariably has a negative impact on one's experiential knowledge of both the church one leaves and the church one enters. It is hard to have an appreciative (not to mention mature) perspective on either if one's experiential knowledge was itself immature and only partially formed. "Convert's zeal," meanwhile, clouds one to the historical factors that have shaped one's religion and have often acquired a "sacred significance" that often obscures the objective fact of the events.

The greatest pitfall in which one can be entrapped is the fantasy that one can find ecclesiastical refuge in either Orthodoxy or Catholicism. At the risk of offending pious ears, neither is a paradise. Whatever problems you had in one will follow you to another, and you will have to be willing to exchange one set of baggage for another. Anyone who tells you the opposite is either a liar or provincial in their view, having lived only in a carefully created womb of devotion that takes pains to remove or deny evidence to the contrary that would challenge its strictly defined parameters.

There is no "refuge" for us weary sinners in an organized religion. How many times have we grown frustrated with our own coreligionists or religious authorities to prove this out? "Refuge," if it may be found, is found on the more personal level of the community one develops for pursuit of the praxis of the Christian life. For us non-monastics, this community increasingly violates old confessional boundaries, discarding barriers sustained by removed intellectual extrapolation in favor of the experiential knowledge born out of praxis. This is, indeed, the ancient Christian path to contemplative knowledge of God and true religion.

1 comment:

  1. "For us non-monastics, this community increasingly violates old confessional boundaries, discarding barriers sustained by removed intellectual extrapolation in favor of the experiential knowledge born out of praxis."

    I completely agree! Many of my best moments of Christian living have been encountered while working with Christians from many denominations. We are slowly beginning to network on social projects such as soup kitchens, or other philanthropic events. Also, many Church musicians work and perform in Churches which are not their typical worship choice. These persons are often very knowledgeable about the nuances of the faith, since they sing at Catholic, Episcopal, Church Scientist, or Non-denominational Churches almost every weekend.

    I recently have found the blog, and like all our your topics! I am in the process of converting to Orthodoxy.