Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Gospel of the Cucumber, or The authority of epistemological grammar

Irenaeus is one of the great saints of the church, and remains a classic stalwart against the "gnostic" movement within the early Church. This clash was not simply about theology, as simply ideas, but about organization and authority within and among Christians. I think Rowan Williams perceptively picked up how this had catalyzed by the 4th century, with Arius very much a representative of this older form of authority, which rapidly gave way over the 4th century. Of course, this point is too complicated to fully explicate and explore here, but this is my general suspicion:

The early church's authority structure, after (and even during) the apostles, was under question. Where was authority in Christian affairs to be located? Christianity was not a public cult, and had many overlapping similarities with a "philosophy", which referred not to a simple intellectual system, but one grounded in a whole way of life, usually associated with a school and a charismatic teacher. The apostles had appointed episkopoi, and they seem (from the NT) to be "successors" to the apostles. It's not that bishops were equals to the apostles, or had apostolic powers, but they were tasked, among other things, with guardianship with the deposit of teaching the apostles had received from Christ and promulgated throughout the world. A further suspicion I have is that his guardianship and maintenance/presidency of eucharistic rite had conceptual overlaps with the priesthood. However, whether this point was true or not doesn't matter for the longer reconstructive argument.

Anyway, a growing conflict emerged between bishops and "teachers", or those who took up roles more similar to philosophy. However, the conflict was, and would be, rather diverse in the form it took. Not every teacher saw their role as in opposition to the "church" and its bishops. Clement of Alexandria was a great synthesizer. He was the teacher at what would become the School of Alexandria, which was, in a way, a Christian philosophical school that had walked the line. Clement does not seem hostile to the episcopacy and the heap of Christians in the Church, but I think he seems to degrade them as lesser lights. He did not move his school out of the Church, but still saw it as the ground for serious Christians who wanted to ascend from merely being illuminated to being the "knowers", or the Gnostics. Justin Martyr, whose persecution and death further added sanctity to his name, was someone who also straddled the line, operating as a teacher somewhat in conjunction with the churches of Rome.

Of course, these are not figures we'd consider gnostics, for that label has generally been applied to those who've gone the extra step and either completely rejected the churches as degenerate and/or compromised, or at least unhinged the life of the gnostics from those lesser tiers of Christians. Unlike Clement, who looked down but did not abandon these soulish Christians, teachers like Valentinus and Ptolemey rejected associated with the church as simply too worldly, too craven, and all-around unenlightened. A major feature of their schools (which, as those who've broken off, and gone their own way, make them "heretics", or adherents of a hairesis, a separate way) was to emphasize revelations that either clarify or surpass the revelation recorded in the written, or orally reproduced, New Testament literature.

Emphasis should be placed on the first issue because it was the most slippery and would breed generations of heresy hunters. It was this teacher-centric movement that swirled around Origen's fame and infamy. Someone like Clement who straddled both sides of the fence, jealous bishops would hound Origen in his own day, who found refuge among other hierarchs who refused to turn him aside. Egyptian bishops, initially, rejected Origen's cavalier school, which was both probably an overblown judgement derived from wounded pride and fear of losing power, as well as a well-founded suspicion that Origen's teaching hid something for his elite students, and away from the masses of more simple Christians. While Arius represented a final gasp of this movement, eclipsed by an increasingly imperially integrated episcopacy, and being reborn within some parts of the monastic movement (which was not so worldly and educated as the philosopher-teachers), the Origenist crisis would carry on for centuries, usually hashed out and repopulated through monastic interlocutors and polemicists.

Taking this narrative, as I've drawn it, into account, one gets a better picture of the gnostic movement. It wasn't found so much in its extremes, but in how the extremes operated, thought, and made their case that has broader applicability among groups who would ultimately remain within, or at least connected to, the churches and their episcopal guardians. Not every gnostic was a Marcionite or a Valentinian. But their wild ideas were birthed within a context that was wider and more potent than many suspect. If we wish to understand the beating heart of the gnostic movement, we have to appreciate and evaluate its methodological point, not only or merely its cosmology. And yet, even so, we must not simply cast off their cosmological arguments either as simply silly fairy tales, for it's through these that their major concerns manifest.

Irenaeus is, I think, someone who grasped these dynamics quite well and responded with wisdom and zeal in his Against the Heretics. Of course, there are those modern liberals who, through a revisionist lens, anachronistically paint a zealous and powerful churchman (Irenaeus) attacking the free-thinkers of his day, wildly distorting and misunderstanding their doctrine, and foreshadowing future inquisitions. This generally ignores the fact that the philosophers usually attracted the wealthy and well-connected with promises of esoteric, secret, knowledge and mystical, if not magical, powers that may not only aid them in this life, but grant them glory or immortality in other realms, post-mortem, as well. In general, it was the churches that were the weak ones. But I digress.

After pages and pages of reconstructing varieties within the gnostic system, with their differing accounts of the two tetrads (four-fold entities) that make up the ogdoad (eightfold entity), producing the cosmic variety of the spirit world, Irenaeus ridicules the gnostic system. He does so by giving his own cosmology:
There is a certain Proarche [before-all-power], royal, surpassing all thought, a power existing before every other substance, and extended into space in every direction. But along with it there exists a power which I term a Gourd; and along with this Gourd there exists a power which again I term Utter-Emptiness. This Gourd and Emptiness, since they are one, produced (and yet did not simply produce, so as to be apart from themselves) a fruit, everywhere visible, eatable, and delicious, which fruit-language calls a Cucumber. Along with this Cucumber exists a power of the same essence, which again I call a Melon. These powers, the Gourd, Utter-Emptiness, the Cucumber, and the Melon, brought forth the remaining multitude of the delirious melons of Valentinus.
 A nasty, but delicious, satire of his gnostic opponents. But what's his point? Is Irenaeus just trying to laugh the disciples of Valentinus and Ptolemey out of the room with their ridiculous beliefs? Not exactly. Irenaeus continues:
For if it is fitting that that language which is used respecting the universe be transformed to the primary Tetrad, and if any one may assign names at his pleasure, who shall prevent us from adopting these names, as being much more credible, as well as in general use, and understood by all?
 Irenaeus' point is much more substantial than ridicule of beliefs that all modern peoples would find utterly bizarre. For what is the point of these gnostic myths? Valentinus and others like him believed they had received, discerned, or deciphered a credible way to describe the Real, of which the majority of Christians were too stupid or unenlightened to understand. But Irenaeus' casual recounting of the several myths in his matter-of-fact way is itself a kind of polemic? Why? Because these myths were told, self-consciously, as myths. These names and stories were a kind of mystically transformative language games that one entered into so as to find the truth at the end of the maze. Cloaked in mystery, solemnity, and authority, these stories pushed the adherents to dive deeper and deeper into the puzzle. As they swirled from name to name, from conjunctive union to conjunctive union, one's spirit ascended, unburdened by materiality and opened to a clarity of vision through the spirit-mind's eye (the nous). However, shine a light on these stories, drag them out of their dank and dark mystique into the day of common speech. What's the result? It sounds like utter rubbish. Irenaeus knows what he's doing. It's the same way a show like South Park mocked Scientology: tell the story simply as it is without the social apparatus and the shrouded mystery. Viewers laughed as they were confronted with a story about being possessed by dead alien spirits that were killed via volcano by an evil space overlord.

And yet Irenaeus' point goes further. For he is not to simply satirize these views, with an alternative as the common-sense of his day or promoting the cold, sterile, light of rationalism. He was a Christian after all; he proclaimed something that was equally absurd before a majority of his pagan contemporaries. Rather, Irenaeus' ridicule is grounded in the question of authority. Who gave Valentinus, or any of these charismatic-teachers, the right to name these names? As he would mock Colarbasus, a disciple of Valentinus, he describes the aeons being brought into existence as if he had been present at their birth! Again, it's not the ridiculousness of the story (as it was in the hands of South Park creators Stone and Parker), but the authority that makes the claims stand up to scrutiny. Why does Valentinus have special access to these ideas? Is Colarbasus really saying he was present at the birth of the aeons?

Epistemically, Irenaeus grounds his Christian convictions in what he received from the apostles. I'll return to this point at another time, when I discuss Irenaeus' views of scripture and tradition. However, simply put, Irenaeus points to a publicly accessible doctrine, given among and through the common life of the church, as that which was from the apostles. The NT must be read in the context it was produced, not subjected to tortured hermeneutical gymnastics that gets John 1 to be, actually, a retelling of how the Ogdoad came about. The testimony, as its received, recounted, taught, and passed along, determine the language we can, and can't, use. To speak about divine things, we are not, we can not, be left to our own devices. Otherwise, our accounts are just as silly as the generation of Cucumber and Melon from Gourd and Emptiness (presumably a reference to a hole in the ground). And why not? This story makes far more sense to the generally agrarian people of the empire. Why can't Dr. Seuss be a prophet for the enlightened? The urbane would balk, but Irenaeus takes the side of the common and uneducated: what's the difference? more people could grasp esoterica in terms of fruit than abstracts.

Irenaeus point has far more range than simply a means to rebut gnostics, both ancient and modern. One can, for example, take issue with how many Calvinists will try to explain election or their doctrine of covenants. They'll say things like "in eternity past" and tell some story about the 'pactum salutis' or in some pre-temporal moment where God plucked out the elect He was to save. The problem, as Irenaeus helps us see, is that none of this is given in scripture. None of this language is given. So when you hear some Evangelical tell some quasi-tritheistic story about how the Godhead sat down and decided (or the Son volunteered) to save humanity, we ought to blush with embarrassment. Where you there? How do you know what one of the Godhead said to the other? It's a systematic theology working back to generate, and spread, a narrative account to explain its meaning. For Irenaeus, someone who was very much self-aware of his apostolic lineage, the historical was the authentic, for it was only in the teaching delivered from the Christ to His apostles, and guardedly passed down through the episcopal guardians. This witness testimony is precisely not myth, for it's not something to be excavated by a foreign template that, through immersion, one is brought to truth. It's not a dialectical soul searching, batted between a desire for the truth and mythical writings until the mind is unlocked. Rather, it's hearing and believing.

This should also make us wary of any claim to philosophical necessity. Intellectual cleverness, and claims that one idea leads to another, may easily bamboozle, and soon we're describing realities that are simply not given to us. Far beyond predestination and covenants, this same wariness can be applied to many Christological controversies as well. We must never leave the question of authority, for it's this that grounds our language and, ultimately, our access to any claim on the truth. Without it, we are trapped in the world of men and earthly things, and death is all that awaits us. Hence fantasy is always the preferred option, but it is, truly, a sickness unto death.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Anti-Monopoly: Thoughts on the phenomena of the Left

I was sitting over dinner and I got to talking politics. I mentioned how the left-right divide is rather silly through Trump's recent support for buying Canadian pharmaceuticals. Predictably, this ended up being a clamor for partisans, though one that (seemingly) been downplayed by the mainline media networks. To my tablemates, I noted that Bernie Sanders has long been an advocate for buying drugs from Canada, and now Trump and Sanders (again) share a common platform, which has only fueled hostility against Sanders as a wingnut and a danger. One person responded, with a little smirk, that this was absurd: wasn't Sanders a socialist? I responded that this misunderstood what Sanders was about: his socialism was about anti-monopoly, fighting forces that strangled the American people, the commons. Of course, this proposal doesn't fit some doctrinaire socialism (at least in its textbook, static, ideologically identity). But that fails to understand many socialist movements. However, this does not apply to all nominally socialist parties, but I'll come back to that point.

Another strange bird in today's politics is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), current president of Mexico. A traditional and sturdy leftist, known with the reputation of being the incorruptible (a miraculous feat in Mexican politics), AMLO finally won the presidency, after the election being stolen in 2006 and the final destruction of the PRI after its last (perhaps final) disastrous and corrupt run (2012-2018). And yet AMLO, a staunch leftist, has taken up a strategy of "Franciscan asceticism" for the government, conducting austerity measures to reduce pay and cut bureaucracy. Of course, both the PRI and various conservatives complain that AMLO is destroying the Mexican government and starting a brain-drain. But what were these Franciscan austerity measures for? Mexico's government, since its revolution in the 20s, had become, largely, a corrupt patronage machine to benefit the PRI (the single and ruling party to emerge from the revolution and become fixed in the 30s) and its lackeys. Purging the government was not only a means to reduce a bloated bureaucracy, but to cut out corruption and drive away bloodsuckers. In contrast to many whining establishment types, AMLO's strategy (remaining wildly popular, at least from when I last checked) is to reestablish Mexico's public powers for the public, and try to gut the powerful interests in the government without destroying the government's ability to act. It's still to be seen whether this herculean task can be accomplished in 6 years, or if it will collapse.

What's interesting about both AMLO and Sanders is that they represent, in some forms, a traditional leftist posture that has become incoherent to many. I think, in the American context, a traditional and iconic leftist remains someone like Eugene Debs. His socialist party remained a quite popular third  party while he lived. But his platform, while rather nondescript and vague, was linked to labor's struggles against management. Perhaps Debs simply wanted to withdraw the federal government from the struggle and chop off all of the corporate welfare. To simply do nothing would have been the most revolutionary strategy, as management, having become deeply intertwined with federal and state governments, had depended on public police and military force to get their way. Some of the bloodiest ends to striking labor unions was to call in the state police or national guard to start cracking skulls. In the 30s, there's a slight shift, as some corporate leaders feared an FDR presidency, and began to conscript private, almost brownshirt style, gangs to beat up and harass labor unionists. However, this minor shift (and it was not significant, as far as I know) reveals a confidence and interconnection between corporate leadership and ostensibly public government. If Debs had been president, and he called the whole thing off, allowing the market to do its work (with corporate management losing thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars of profit by prolonging the strike), then labor would stand victorious. Of course, today is not the same as yesterday, and new business models, cosmopolitan strategies, and globalist market designs have led the shift to finance and services, which easily gut the capacity of labor unions to act (which had become quite complacent from their New Deal-era victories). Now one plenty of Democratic officeholders can give the nod to the FDR era, wiping their mouths in awareness that these industries have simply imploded and power is located elsewhere.

The problem with a vibrant left (which does not exist in any self-aware or coherent state in the US) is that many times it doesn't understand what it's about. It's not about big government, but about accountable government. It's not about public ownership over the means of production, but about destroying monopoly. Sometimes the only way forward is to simply seize, through legalized means, industries that have become incorrigibly corrupt and beyond negotiation. Certainly, in many countries with natural resources owned by foreigners, this strategy became the only possible one. It was deeply threatening to moneyed interests, and thus many political figures who engaged in it ended up dead by an assassin's bullet (e.g. Mossadegh, Lumumba) or forced out through coup (e.g. Arbenz, Nkrumah) . But the concern here is, and has always been, monopoly. Powers moved beyond the reach of the commons, of the people, should be submitted to radical restructuring. Sometimes this means public/state ownership, but it also might mean a wide redistributive effort so that many become minor shareholders or owners of land. It really has nothing to do with state ownership in general. One can simply look at pre-Chavez Venezuela or post-Allende Chile. In the former case, Chavez' socialism was not nationalizing oil, but reworking how oil profits were distributed. Oil was already nationalized prior to Chavez. In the case of Chile, even though Pinochet blew up the country's economy through shock therapy, he never denationalized the country's copper industry, which Allende had done during his brief reign. And certainly, Pinochet's low government intervention in Chilean industries had no parallel to the rapid boom of spending on the state's military-intelligence network.

It's for these reasons that making sense of current affairs can be dizzying for many who don't know how to sort through the meat of these issues. It's not enough to draw simple parallels between past acts and current ones. They don't necessarily mean the same thing because the context is different, and the context is everything. It's nothing to throw a bone to labor unions if these unions don't actually threaten the power and wealth of those running the show. Sure, at an individual level, it might be appreciated by those who benefit, but it substantially doesn't address the sovereignty of the commons, transparency and public scrutiny, and pertaining to legal (and thus, generally, visible and comprehendible) strictures. Shifting balances of power usually determine consideration as to where the struggle is, and where a concentration ends up sapping the power of the many.

An interesting case may be the career of John Lilburne. Honest or Freeborn John (as he was known and touted himself) was a vocal pamphleteer and Leveler during the English Civil Wars. As the conflict heated up, John was an ardent parliamentarian and enemy of the king's party. He attacked Charles I's efforts to self-finance without parliamentary authorization. However, as the conflict progressed, Lilburne's sympathies changed. When Parliament gained an upperhand in the war, thanks to the rise of the New Model Army and the reshuffling of powers through the Self-Denying Ordinance, many in the Army and in London rejected parliamentarian efforts to simply strike a better deal with the king. This tactic, of the "peace party", benefited many wealthy landowners in the Lords and Commons and saw the war as simply trying to redraw the lines of power. They, not the king, should have a greater role in governance. Charles smarted against these efforts to reduce him to "the doge of Venice", a titular figurehead for the oligarchic rulers. Lilburne sided with London and the Army, who had not spilled their blood and burned up their wealth to simply profit their social betters and masters. However, with the rise of the Army, and its increasingly authoritarian turn under the leadership of Cromwell, Liliburne turned back to a kind of royalism. Honest John would rather opt for a king than rule by oligarchs or the military, who had gained, through the conflict, more power than the king ever had. John's concern was for magna carta and the common law liberties that were for all Englishmen. Of course, Liliburne was not always consistent, being something of a propagandist and showman; he turned his trial under the Protectorate into a circus. But he was genuinely committed, ultimately suffering imprisonment, dying in his cell for his conviction and his opposition to Cromwell (before his death, he became something of a Quaker, but this movement was not yet solidified).

Lilburne represents a classic case of leftist opposition. It has not so much to do with a concrete set of policies, which depend upon specific context, but a resistance to tyranny. This meant a concern for the public quality of the commons, even though in Lilburne's case, a king was an acceptable polity as long as he remained accountable to the commons. It was a concern to stay true to common laws and common liberties, even if these were grounded in somewhat mythical and legendary accounts. It was the freedom for people to hold powers, all powers, accountable for their actions when they threatened the public good. It meant a concern and advocacy for a free press, which meant not simply the existence of critical opinions, but general accessibility and reproducibility on a low threshold. Hence why recent efforts to crackdown on "fake news" should be troubling, since many news efforts are from those who struggle to meet their budget and attempt, as far as able, to not rely on corporate advertisement. Another classic concern, that seems to have gone by the wayside, is concern about a standing army. Not only was it expensive, but it gave the governing powers a means to inflict warfare easily. But now, few except a few stragglers on fringes of both US parties ever dare to restrain or reduce the military budget. Ironically, Ron Paul, a libertarian who I think is a bit naive about free-trade and its ameliorative effects, is one of the few who has consistently advocated reducing the military budget. Ironic not because it's inconsistent or unlikely, but because it receives so much flak and venom from the so-called party of small government.

But this sort of inconsistency is quite normal for members of ruling coalitions or deep-state establishments. Hence why so many ruling and empowered socialist governments end up, intentionally or not, promoting policies that strengthen the hand of the monopolists. Many European socialist governments, whatever the nomenclature, fit this mold, and stand for Eurozone bureaucracy, a moderate welfare state that is firmly entrenched in financial interests (which slowly grinds into ineptitude until austerity measures or privatization send it into oblivion), and a lapdog status within the NATO orbit of geopolitics. I have a friend who, when I mention the merits of socialism, likes to cite his anecdotes of visiting Ukraine in the 90s. He cites the widespread poverty, social breakdown, and chaos; is this really worth promoting? Of course, it's a false move. Ukraine was roadkill being picked apart by western vultures during the 90s, regardless of its formal government. I can't speak to comparing it to its status in the 70s and 80s, but it being milked by the corrupt bureaucratic oligarchy that was the USSR post-Stalin (i.e. after it emerged from a red tsardom), it wouldn't surprise me if it was impoverished. In either case, it's missing the relevant features. As I started, even an avowed socialist, Sanders, advocates free-trade in Pharmaceuticals to threaten, if not break-up, the power bloc that dominates the American market.

I don't think there's a specifically Christian political position or disposition, but I would argue that a leftist orientation fits quite well with many of the facts scripture presents us with. There's an awareness that the powers-that-be still reign and rule under the dominion of the Devil, and will continue to do so until Christ returns and ends This Evil Age. Additionally, if its understood that governments, even ostensibly "christian" ones, do not fit the sacred and redemptive types of scripture (e.g. Moses, Judges, Davidic kingship), but profane ones, then one does not expect perfection or ascribe holiness to them (this includes not just states, but nations, peoples, cultures, and societies). This imperfection, and even expectation of corruption, fits well with a concern for vigilance, scrutiny, and an expectation for public accountability, even if it foils proposed efforts for paradise.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

We will never be the ones we're waiting for: A Jansenist Defense of the Commons and the Tyranny of Neo-Platonism

I was reminded today of the thought of the Polish philosopher, Kolakowski, and his genealogical approach to defining western civilization. In general and imprecise terms, Kolakowski saw the Jesuits as the great and triumphant synthesizers of Augustinian neo-Platonism, delivering it from the storm clouds of divine absolutism that the Jansenists represented. The Jesuits and their philosophical theology liberated Augustinian Neo-Platonic metaphysics, and its positive assessment of the divine interweaving through all creation (with emanationist undertones, if not overtures), from its foreboding predestinarianism. Jansenism was the last gasp of this absolutist cast of mind, where the whole world stood emaciated, desiccated, and prostrate before the obliterating void of divine omnipotence. The Jansenists (as their name, which was a pejorative, was intended to suggest) represent the Augustinianism that fueled the Reformers, like Luther and Calvin. For Kolakowski, they removed the holy from the world, which not only made God an ominous Other threatening, a vision of Death with his sickle poised to destroy, but made contingency chaotic and meaningless. Again, this is a brief and super generalized summary from what I remember being explained to me (take with a grain of salt).

However, I always was suspicious of Kolakowski's general motives because the history was so bad. It was not the Jansenists, but the Jesuits, who favored a divinely tinged absolute monarch. In contrast, the Jansenists had mildly liberal sentiments about limited government derived from a legal and historical cast of mind. Simultaneously, the Jansenists tended not to be violent or revolutionary, though many Jansenists (though remarkably changed by 1789) were advocates for the milder form of the French Revolution, expecting a level of popular sovereignty to work in conjunction with the estates-general, later the national assembly, and the king. In contrast, Jesuits, and other ultramontanist or the parti devot, would be involved in royal assassinations, even against insufficiently pious Roman Catholics. Henri IV was murdered, and Louis XV had an attempt on his life. So, despite a superficial reading of Jesuit philosophy, where Molinism was vaulted as the great correction to Augustinian metaphysics, the result was hardly liberal or liberative.

I'm highly sympathetic to Jansenism, especially their most favorite son Pascal, so that colors my reflection. But my appreciation of this movement derives from the points they make. I've mentioned elsewhere my high evaluation of their figuralist reading of scripture (which is expertly explication by Ephraim Radner, even if his prose is a bit dense). But its also the Jansenist's ability to simultaneously maintain a profuse and rich understanding of the holy, while simultaneously having a high view of divine power and presence. Jansenists did not evacuate the world of holiness; they believed in sacramental presence, saints, and the power of miracles (see the Saint-Medard miracles associated with the Jansenist saint, deacon Francois de Paris).

But it was this divine power that motivated their constitutionalist stance in regards to royalty. Human polity, organized and governed by God, but without divine mandate, was evacuated of its sanctity and, thus, its inviolability. Perhaps ironically, this led not to Jansenist revolutionaries or assassins (unlike the Jesuits or Parti Devot), but to a critical obedience. The king was not God's representative on Earth, but a political figure established through the people's welfare. The commonwealth took precedence, and thus law and a unwritten constitution, observable in French history, could convict or rein in kings. Until the political shuffles in the reign of Louis XVI, which changed many dynamics, the Jansenists were almost always linked to the Parlement of Paris, an aristocratic body that exercised judicial, and somewhat legislative, power. The parlement (not to be confused with the English idea of parliament, which defines that term) had a continuously stressed relation with the crown, as the king would (especially in the near divine kingship of Louis XIV, the sun king) try to obliterate all opposition to his absolutist rule. The crown would be the sole source of authority, absorbing or annihilating all institutions that derived origin or authority from somewhere else. It was this centralizing putsch, that marked early modern state formation and political development, that Jansenists most vehemently resisted.

Perhaps part of the Jansenist resistance was the de-divinizing of politics that was so normative post-Renaissance. Ironically, for some perhaps, it was the return to the sources, both of Hellas and Israel, that marked a turn among some theorists to a divinized state. Sure, Medieval monarchs would be given regal titles that smacked of divine kingship, but these were always checked by the general weakness of kings. The titles exhibited a claim, but everyone knew the kings depended upon feudal warlords to muster the armies and cash to claim authority.

Now, I'm glad the state formation of the early modern period was part of, and involved however accidentally, the destruction of feudalism. The arrangement equally received divinization, with justification for the three estates. However, in the hands of Jansenist legal theorists and parlementaires, this human arrangement could be used as a weapon to resist royal overreach. Feudalism could be transitioned into a form of commonwealth which would wield the resourcement of Roman ideas with a historical collection of the nation's laws and customs into a defense of the commons. Hence, the institutions of feudalism (perhaps ironically) became a bulwark to defend the commons from the beginnings of state capitalism that would grind up the peasantry and convert them, in an ever increasing amount, into unskilled labor that struggled to survive in an increasingly harsh and difficult world. As an aside, this fact, which I think is demonstrated in some very smart historical scholarship from the last 3-4 decades, obliterates paradigmatic accounts of history as the battle of ideas. Yesterday's villains can become today's heroes, for their bones can be fashioned into shields and spears to resist invaders. It doesn't backdate a positive vindication; rather, it's simply the fact that ideas (and their enfleshment in institutional arrangements) are passive and dependent upon their users. Things can be broken up and put to new purpose.

The point of all of the above, and what links Jansenist figuralist hermeutics with both their constituionalist politics and their emphasis on divine absolutism, is that it grounds the radical and the revolutionary into the very specifics of the Christian faith. The Jansenists were, like many of their contemporaries, providentialists. They believed history was the unfolding of divine action in time. But the question, as it always was and will be, was how to interpret the series of events. A setback for a group could be interpreted as God crushing His enemies, or God purifying His people. Victory could be divine vindication of the righteous, or the demonic last gasp before the Parousia. Every group claimed these for themselves, and when it reached a critical mass of violence and bloodshed (as it did in France's Wars of Religion and England's Civil Wars), it produced a crop of theorists who were skeptical or cynical, if not absolutely allergic, to this cast of mind. There was nothing intrisinc in some "modern" movement; Machiavelli derived some of his thoughts, while still in the heat of the Renaissance, from his experience in Savonarola's Florentine New Jerusalem.

So what makes the Jansenists unique? I think it was their cruciform providentialism, articulated well in Pascal's Pensees, where providence was both light and shadows that swirled around the figure of the Messiah. Scripture includes both those who see and believe, and those who shut their eyes and don't believe. Pascal was quite astute to recognize that seeing evil could send the pious into righteous thoughts, while seeing good could, for the impious, send them into evil thoughts. So, for example, reading the lives of the saints can generate jealousy, fear of punishment, or rank ambition. One had to have a right mind to derive true goodness from these texts, it was not simply enough to read them. And thus, like a beam of light, the truth would radiate, but also create shadows outside of its glow. The appearance of the Christ brought out the best and the worst in men; speaking the truth cut hearts and brought repentance and faith, as well generated the gnashing of teeth and the plotting of murder. But, unlike many forms of Calvinist providentialism, which could also explicate the two-sides of revelation, it was one that saw the light as engulfed in darkness. For the truth, when He appeared, was crucified. Thus, the Jansenists understood their own persecution, by the hierarchy, as being identified with Christ as the Chief Priests with Pilate and Herod, slaughtered Immanuel. They could be hopeful, for not only would God vindicate them in the Judgement, but also it was this persecution would accidentally bring about God's work.

But this providential realization, linked to Christ and His holy ones, produced a secularization of things outside of it. This didn't deny a comprehensive figuralist hermeneutic, seeing scripture as the interpretive lens for world history and experience, but deepened it. For not everything in scripture was holy: scripture shows us a world of both holy and profane things. So the French nation, its commonwealth and laws, could be understood as a secular entity, one that was made by human hands and of human origin, even if it was underneath a divine government and would serve the purpose in God's economy as the This Age continued to reveal the Judgement, namely Christ crucified ruling from the tree. This oriented the believer into a hermeneutic that located things in very specific places. It was not the mere splurging of an emanationist neo-Platonism throughout the world, leading to the various forms of Jesuit-led ecumenism (from the controversy over allowing Chinese converts to worship their ancestors and allowing American Indians converts to crudely syncretize their old ways, to today's Jesuit evolutionary theology, typified in Teilhard de Chardin, and a one-world religion church of pluralism).

Kolakowski, and other defenders of the Jesuit project, see this completely backwards. They consider Pascal and the Jansenists as destroying history, where it's precisely the opposite. And its the neo-Platonic metaphysics that does not lead to liberation, but the worst tyranny. For the project of the Future is simply up for grabs to whichever warlock can channel the immanentized absolute for forging an End (an eschaton or telos) to history. But Pascal, contra Goldmann (in the link above), does not reject the past or the future for eternity or the void, but recognizes that the gateway to the future, and thus history's End, is the crucified Christ. Did not Christ say He was the gate and the way? But what a narrow way indeed! And yet this fixture prevents sanctifying any and every project. The divine and the holy are not waiting to be found and communed with through the highly skilled thaumaturgist, whether its the Plotinus of his devoted students or the Marxian revolutionary vanguard. And yet even this shared framework ends in potential violence: the Porphyrian and the Iamblichians wage war on each other, in a way no different than the Stalinists and the Trotskyites turn on each other. While this may seem like a ridiculous comparison, some recent work has grounded the last Diocletian pogroms in efforts to institutionalize a particular vision of neo-platonism (Porphyrian), which saw both divergent groups (Iamblichians, but also Christians) as enemies to be purged (c.f. Digeser's A Threat to Public Piety).

The leftist methodology and metaphysics of the Jesuitically inclined is ultimately tyrannous, an attempt to build a utopia, whether it's Plato's Republic or a Marxist paradise. In contrast, the Jansenists offer a particular vision that degrades the political for the simple fact that it is not, nor can it ever be, the domain of the sacred. It keeps it from becoming the locus of radical transformation, which is revealed in scripture to not only be blasphemous and idolatrous, but leading to various nightmares and bloodbaths. But the Jansenist conservatism, of grounding political ideas in their historical context, is not simply a defense of the status quo, but a liberation of the commons along modest grounds. For there's nothing innately good in anyone, and the products of, say, the French nation are as much a product of human wickedness as circumstantial contingency. But they exist, in all of their imperfection and mutability, and they can service balance, order, and levels of prosperity for all. I'm saying the Jansenists were "leftists", in any sense of the term we would use. But it stands as a counterpoint which does not valorize a society or its institutions in either way. Sure, this dampers revolutionary potential, but it is because we aren't the ones we were waiting for. The revolution, whatever it is, is almost always a lie. We will never be the ones we were waiting for, and not because we stand in the worthless domain of the created and contingent, poised between the void and eternity. Rather, it's because the Christ, rather the crucified Christ, which is the nexus of God's entrance into the world.

I think it's correct to see in Marx, especially his earlier Romantic intellectual stage, as deeply linked to neo-Platonic metaphysics. But it's precisely this element which makes his theory so amenable to the coming tyrant. This is perhaps an unpopular and a minority opinion, but it's not the secularization of society that birthed nightmares. Neo-liberalism, contrary to many theorists, is not the apogee of secularism, but its opposite. It is the sacralization of the market and of the Individual (even as many actual individuals are ground into poverty and squalor). Technocrats are not the end of priestcraft, but its rebirth as a new Brahmin class. For it was the Egyptian and Babylonian priests who were the astrologers, the mathematicians, and the scientists. Thus, perhaps there's a link between the early Marx as romantic and the later Marx as positivist. The effusion of the sacred through all creation, the absolute as present and flowing through all contingent, capable of appearance anywhere and any time, is not liberative potential, but chains waiting to be forged. Only Christ, only the narrow way, is what liberates us from the new Julians, the neo-platonic vanguard, and their legion of demons, whether new or old.

Addendum I: In a lot of ways, politically and economically, I would identify as a leftist. I take that to mean a concern for the public, the commonwealth as common, and a secularization, and a subsequent scrutiny and suspicion, of politics. But while my above critiques may sound conservative, in the vein of Burke, they're nothing of the sort. For while I believe history is our grounds, and its contingency (even if demarcated by scripture), it is open for reworking and reuse in the terms we find ourselves in. Burke takes these ideas, but applies them to reworking history to forestall reform. For he is not a reactionary, but draws upon history to vindicate his contemporary order of Whiggish oligarchy, resisting the leftwing, pro-Jacobin, of the Foxite Whigs. In this vein, Burke is a kind of snake, who reifies the past, even as he's playing with the data to deceptively sublimate the rule of the land-magnate/financier class into the rolling green pasturage of Merry Ol' England. Burke shares the method, but uses it against the commons through subterfuge. Even so, Burke is a welcome figure against the modern day Porphyrians.

Addendum II: To be very clear, a major methodological difference is not the rejection of history or its embrace, but how it is used. Neo-Platonists did not think the past could be simply rooted out or rejected. Every politeia was some accretion of a people's experience with the sacred. Marx too saw revolutionary transformation out of historical context. However, this imbues history with these transformative forces in a way where these processes can, or will inevitably, lead to an earthy paradise. Thus, it was in this vein that the Jesuits providentially saw the customs and mores of the Heathen peoples they encountered as not demonic thralldom, but stepping stones on the path to divine illumination. History is gathered up into threads to weave a political vision of a new sacral kingship (and hence the Jesuits embraced an ultramontanism of both king and pope, which undid the Jesuits when these two forces clashed). Jansenists don't evacuate history, but see it under the domain of the profane, the common, material which does not emanate the holy. The secular grounds of history, its laws and customs, have no deeper significance beyond their being overseen by God, and thus are open to use and defense. They're also a ready arsenal to deflate divine pretensions.

Addendum III: It should be stated, more clearly, that this Jansenist resourcement of the past was still grounded in their pessimism. There was no expectation of saving the world from itself, for it was enthralled to the prince of this age until Christ ended this age. Instead, the righteous would suffer persecution and attacks, and would, in most worldly senses, appear to be the losers. And even so, it did not breed quietism, but a refusal to watch pious myths constructed to build new regimes where the sovereign was as a god on earth.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Difference between Sacraments and Magic

I like to game occasionally, and was far more involved when I was younger. Taking a nostalgic tour, I started replaying Warcraft 3 and re-reading some of the lore about the world. Specifically, I was looking at the role of "the Light" in the Warcraft world, and I thought it would provide a good springboard to a substantive issue. In Warcraft, there are various characters/units that draw upon "the Light" to fuel their powers. This developed a little haphazardly because of how Warcraft came into its own as a franchise. Originally it was a Warhammer RTS, but when the Warhammer franchise pulled out, and pulled their licensing, Blizzard didn't want to scrap the game, and made some alterations and rebranding so as not to infringe on copyright. Thus, they had holy warrior and holy monks, paladins and priests, who called upon God. In Warcraft II, when the game series had time to develop a unique story, God got retconned out as the Light. As Warcraft progressed, the Light has turned out to be some sort of Manichaean creative force, paired with the Void. It's not clear if the Light has sentience or not, though it has produced powerful creatures that can operate as conduits for the Light for other lesser creatures. Additionally, the Light depends upon the user's willpower and faith (in one's abilities). Thus, the Light does not have a morality check; its user could be drawing on this power for malevolent purposes (e.g. there are religious zealots who use the Light to wage war against "the good guys")

Now what does a bit of game trivia have anything to do with anything serious? Because I think many people confuse Christianity and its sacraments (if I can use the post-/extra-biblical category) for something like Warcraft's idea of the Light. I'm not even talking about atheists or non-Christian peoples. I'm talking about average Christians, educated and not, within both sacramental and anti-sacramental churches. Now these people don't view God as Warcraft's the Light (at least many, I think, don't, though there are some quasi-Buddhist-Manicheans out there). But they do look askance at rituals that claim some objective power. And of course, unlike a fantasy game, there's no visible benefits connected, inherently, with the rite. It's not as if you do x rite y number of times a day, you will have the power to blast people with beams of energy or something (though some hagiographic stories come close). In my more juvenile moments, I wish it was something more obvious like that.

But this is a perfect lead into the difference between sacraments and magic. For the Light, and Warcraft light users, is an operative element in a magic paradigm. If one adheres to a magical "world-view" (I hate this phrase, so I say it with hesitance), one believes, whether explicitly or functionally, in elemental powers that the user taps into. These powers are not personal, even if they're linked to powerful personal beings. Thus Wicca adherents practice their magic, and they believe in gods, but their magic is not their gods, but something else, or something they share with the gods. Magic is almost always esoteric, with secret knowledge that only the initiated can wield to good purpose. Of course, in many magic views, there is both good and bad magic, or good and bad uses of magic, which can promote a kind of dualism between white-black or light-shadow. The user is a conduit for these forces, channeling them through their willpower.

A magic view is similar to shamanism, where the host uses his/her will to access great power, but this power is attached to created spirits. One does not master this power, but is mastered by the spirits who possess this great power. Either way, the shaman or the magician conduct power from the deepest source of reality. For the shaman's many spirits are creatures, and not the origin of their great power or dominion. Thus the many differences between shamanism and magic collapse when examining the source, if the former does not believe in a Creator (more on that soon). In the Warcraft canon, there's no difference between magic, shamans, and light-users. Paladins and priests are just magicians or shamans, or both. They adhere to a view that makes uncreated powers accessible to the initiated and the steeled.

In contrast, Scripture unequivocally condemns witchcraft. Of course, this presupposes a potential overlap, which is what we see in shamanist "world-views" that acknowledge a Creator. Of course, its questionable who this Creator is, whether He (or she or it) is known or even sentient. Additionally, there might be a dualist element, where there are two creators, one light and one dark, and some balance that keeps creation going must be maintained. There are lots of fantasy stories that draw on this vision, even as they're cloaked in faux-Christian trappings. The comic characters John Constantine and Spawn come to mind, where there's a balancing act between God and the Devil, two arche-principles of light and darkness. But that sort of corruption is precisely what the Torah and the Prophets unequivocally condemn. There's not equation between light and dark; there's no balancing act.

The Christian counter-point would signify that, unlike shamanism, God appointed priests. Unlike shamans, who consulted various spirits, priests both were table-servants for God, as well as mediators who acted as both representatives for God and for His people Israel. Priests worked in God's house, served and stood at His table (thus, maintaining a servant and/or friend relation), and brought forth gifts between God and His people. There's a lot that goes into the Hebraic notion of priesthood, I can't get into it here. But suffice it to say, it's very different than what one sees in polytheistic Greece or Egypt. For the pagans, they had sacrifices that maintained a patronal relation with the gods, as well as magic, which tapped into some divine power-source that humans could share (or snatch at) from the gods.

Unlike these views, there was no Real beneath or behind God. God was the Real, and He identified with His powers, which were not accessible outside of Himself. Power came from communion with God Himself, and how did this take place? Israel was covenanted to God, and certain provisions were maintained through statute. This reflected God's occasional wrath against Israel, as well as fueling Israel's petitions to God to not forget them and to adhere to His covenant. Good for Israel, because God's initial covenant with Abraham promised God to both sides; He pledge both for His side and Abraham's side (which He made good when He took flesh). Sacraments gained a kind of technical term because (for Latin Christians) the concept of an effective sacred pledge seemed to knit many diverse things throughout scripture together. The effectiveness of ritual or symbolic action was potent because God promised, or deigned, to be present in and through His power working. Thus, there was nothing special about Elijah's bones or the River Jordan that they were able to do such miraculous effects. Moses was not a magician more powerful than the Egyptians, he was simply an emissary (not a vessel) for the true God who can act however He pleases.

This same conceptual framework continues into the NT. Jesus' miracles are exactly like the wonders in the OT, except they are not given through the Word, but come directly from the Word Himself. When the woman grabs Jesus' robe, and power exudes, and Jesus asks who touched Him, the point of the episode is not that Jesus' person is like a super-charged battery. While at one level, the question may very well be genuine, the blessing the woman received was not absent a divine commendation. Even when men misuse their gifts, this gets bracketed as God permitting the wicked to heap up condemnation. This view of God's power as magic is explicitly condemned as simony, where Simon Magus thinks to simply buy apostolic powers, presumably for his own schemes (whether benevolent, malevolent, or self-interested). Witchcraft is so hateful because it radically confuses the nature of reality. It ultimately pledges a kind of fealty to something other than the Creator God.

Unfortunately, the Baptist mentality radically misunderstands this relationship. At one level, I don't blame the response that formed this theology. Medieval Roman Catholic practice functioned, very often, at the level of magic. Average practice, hagiography, and even official teaching collated to turn sacraments into a confecting of divine power upon the altar. Hence the Medieval reform to place the eucharistic host directly in the mouth; peasants, and others, would run off with the host and use it for crop fertility, love charms, or wards against evil. The Church (or really, the Roman hierarchy of the Church) became a bastion of white magic (as Charles Taylor persuasively argues, drawing on historiography, in his A Secular Age). Some Waldensian and Lollard hostility to eucharist, even doing things as offensive as stomping on it, was an attack on the sacrament as white magic. In their view, all magic was darkness, and Rome had turned otherwise Christian rituals into thaumaturgy. Of course, not all Lollards or Waldensians went this far, and not all reacted to these practices by becoming full on sacramentarians, emptying the symbols of power. But many did, and this must be understood in the context of a Church, and a Christian populace, that would ascribe magical powers to the eucharistic host, among the many other sacramentals the Church could provide (e.g. holy water, blessings and unctions on demands for physical objects, sacred receipts for the purchase of indulgences, etc.).

But in the zeal to reject this magical view of the sacraments, the Baptist totally misunderstands the disjuncture between the Old and the New. What changed was not the relation between physical and spiritual realities. The OT, just as much as the NT, had their physical rites connected to spiritual truths. The difference was what these rites communicated. The NT is a promise of entry into fullness, of no longer serving under a tutor struggling through This Age, but adhering to the Age to Come and entering into God's kingdom in full sonship and friendship. It is the promise of maturity, of no longer being children that were kept under a pedagogue. The rite of the Lord's Supper is a sacrament, a sacred pledge, of God's friendship and peace. That's what the body and blood symbolize. But when I say symbolize, I'm not referring to empty and bare arbitrary signs. A kiss is a symbol of love, but it communicates and effects a potency in its own right. It's not something you conjugate in your mind to confect some emotional state, or otherwise, of love. No, it comes in a power of a sort.

I even think this communicated uncreated power through created symbols appears in other, non-promised, forms of faith. I think this is precisely why relics began to take on importance. Honoring the bodies of the saints was a godly thing to do, and preserving their tangible bodies and honoring them was a testament to the resurrection. Perhaps God's power manifested through these objects (like Elijah's bones) and did wonders among His people. Of course, what has become of relics and their use has far overreached. I plan to write in another post soon, but unless Christians have the figure of Josiah in mind, then reform becomes impossible. In example, even the God-ordained symbol of the bronze serpent, which did wonders out in the Wilderness, was destroyed when it bred idolatry. But none of this has to do with sacraments per se.

The category of sacrament was to group together the sacred pledges God gave in the promises made through Jesus Christ. This does not mean these places are the only places where God will act and meet Christians, but it does refer to the salvific places. Hence why the Reformers reduced sacraments to two, without (at least among some) destroying the godly potency of the other five. It was simply the point that baptism and the eucharist were the means of salvation, where God effected redemption. The Word was important as well to frame and imbue these acts, as it not only gave intellectual substance to them (i.e. what they meant), but also had power to draw men to these rites. For these were not simply rites, but the promised place where God would act. I know it's hard to believe, given the misuse and abuse of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and these seeming ineffectiveness, but these too reveal something true. God's ways can be misused and abused, and even God seems to remain silent as this takes place. Why? For we worship a crucified God, not some thunderbolt-hurling Olympian. We worship the Creator, not some great and mighty created champion.

It's for these reasons why I'm have a "high" view of the sacraments. And yet it would lead me to equally condemn what otherwise would also be a "high" view of sacraments. The labeling of high/low is mostly a burden that obscures actual and substantive differences. I'm not after ecclesiastical mummery or ornate decoration. The Supper's potency is given in obedience to the sacrament. One cannot partake of the promise if one does not take and eat. The idea of parading the supper around and gawking at it is not honoring, but foolish and obscene. It would be like taking a meal someone made you and putting it in a glass case. Not only would it be a misuse of the gift, but it would probably puzzle, if not offend, the giver. Anyway, all of this is to say that Warcraft paladins have nothing to do with Christianity, but Baptists insult the Scripture when they, indirectly, make the connection.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Inventing Iconoclasm: Notes on Byzantium and Theology

I just read through Brubaker's Inventing Byzantine Iconoclasm (2012), which is a brief, and popularly accessible, summary of work she (and John Haldane) had done on the Roman Empire through its two iconoclastic controversies. The following are notes and interesting points I wrote down, for your consideration:
-From debate between Patriarch Germanos and the local bishop Konstantinos in early 8th century, concern for and against images began before the Isaurians enacted any policies; Germanos cited both Leo III and Konstantinos V (father-son co-emperors) as image adoring, when reprimanding bishop Konstantinos

-Leo was a reformer, implementing OT-based laws to reflect New Rome's status as the New Israel, as well as empire's need for reform; Leo's legal reforms reinforced a political theology of emperor as special divine representative and having special relationship with God [I'm not sure how well Brubaker assesses this evidence, as it's not clear how much the ruling political theology reflected the actual opinions of rulers and their courts/administrators/generals]

-Unclear of Leo's actual iconoclasm: account of removing icon from Chalke gate in the Liber Pontificalis was later interpolation, and the accounts from Life of Stephen the Younger and Theophanes' history were written 80 years after Leo, with differing accounts of how this attempted removal went down; both had focus to blacked Konstantinos V [If it's a total fabrication, it's odd that the details of which icon, and where, were the same; Brubaker's skepticism about the event itself seems a little too strong, even if it was not a pitched battle between concerned citizens (Theophanes) or women (Stephen the Deacon) against the emperor's troops]

-Council of Hiereia (754) was a product of Konstantinos V's theology, with the council's president, Theodosios (metropolitan of Ephesus), as a lackey of the emperor; resultant horos (definition) banned future icon production, but left alone all icons that were on liturgical instruments, which were to specifically remain unmolested unless given a direct order from emperor or patriarch, lest God was blasphemed; in contrast to iconic real presence, Konstantinos elevated eucharist as only legitimate real presence of Christ

-Hiereia didn't attack/reduce cult of the saints, or of Mary Theotokos; also, cross was highly venerated as a sacred symbol to placed everywhere

-Unintended results of council: increased focus on symbol of the cross, unease with material in relation to bearing the spiritual, unease with presence of relics of saints at altars where God Himself was to be present in the eucharist, and a shift of focus to top-down mediating presence of God through the hierarchy rather than the bottom-up mediation of God through icons that could exists outside of official ecclesiastic channels

-Post-Hiereia, there was little icon destruction, with few examples of icons replaced by crosses (two), one was lightly white-washed, and another was covered over, only to be later uncovered without any damage; in contrast, Konstantinos V's reign was marked by investment in the arts and a building campaign

-Konstantinos V's attacks on certain monks or monastic institutions had more to do with imperial politics and court intrigues, not likely persecution of iconodules; the emperor executed Stephen the Younger likely out of his association with a court faction plotting a coup (which even Theophanes notes); Konstantinos endowed monasteries and promoted monks, from which came the power to plot and scheme against him

-Eirene's (the wife, turned regent-empress during Konstantinos VI, of Leo IV, son of Konstantinos V) turn to iconodulia, and calling for a council (Nicaea II, 787) was to reunify the church between East and West (Rome had rejected Hiereia); Eirene sought to undo Rome's growing reliance/partnership with the Franks and their Carolingian overlords

-Like Hiereia, Carolingian theologians rejected "real presence" of icons, but unlike Hiereia did not proscribe making icons, seeing in all art a means for contemplation and a book for the illiterate

-Eirene's coinage continued to show prior Isaurian dynasty; her iconodulia did not cut her off from the perceived legitimacy of Leo III/Konstantinos V

-Leo V's (formerly Leo the Armenian, military-governor of Anatolia who seized the throne) return to iconoclasm was less dogmatic than before: icons were simply false, not idols; living Christians were the "real presence" of God, not painted objects; Michael II (who overthrew Leo) continued this policy, but due to increased threats from Arabs and Bulgars spent even less time bothered about ecclesiastical practice; result was unofficial toleration for icons

-The second Iconoclasm was intentionally modeling the imperial policies of Leo III and Konstantinos V, who were seen as model emperors/generals/administrators, not out of dogmatic attachments; while Theophilos (who succeeded Michael II) was more ardently iconoclastic, his policy enforcement was intermittent (he exiled, and then recalled, iconodule Methodios)

-Theology of icons followed popular practice in the 7th c., tidying it up into more refined theological dogma; the practice of iconodulia, not the theology, was what Konstantinos V's iconoclasm responded to; it was never highly dogmatic theology in itself that was at issue
At the end of the day, I find Brubaker a generally reliable guide. She's not the most insightful or penetrating mind when it comes to the theology of icons, but she has a solid and capable grasp of the issues. This defect might not even be her fault, as this work was designed for popular consumption. High octane theological distinctions (which she doesn't shy away from) is not something a "lay-reader" will easily grasp.

One result of this read was a general distaste for intellectual posturing that one sees very commonly in inter-confessional debates among Christians. Styled as dealing with strong positions, not strawmen, confessional titans will haul their apparatus with them, detailing the glories of their theology. But if one peers a little bit behind it, most of the time one will find a complete mess. It turns out few, not even professional theologians, fully understand or adhere to the confessional position that marks their faction out as a single bloc. But the fact is that accessible dogma only really ever comes through practice. Tangible changes are the only ways forward. Simply trying to add a gloss to a popular practice does little. Accordingly Brubaker notes that dogmatic iconodulia never quite matched the popular practice, which was wilder and more unhinged than many wanted to admit. But this didn't preclude from dogmaticians from joining in. After recounting Anastasios of Sinai's story of the bleeding icon that slayed two dozen Arabs, Brubaker writes:
"as soon as we leave the rarefied atmosphere of learned theological treatises, the properties of the sacred portrait so carefully distinguished by Byzantine churchmen collapse. This is true not only of 'popular' literature such as saints' lives and miracle accounts, but also of non-theological texts written by the same elevated churchmen"
She goes on to cite Theodore the Studite's letter, where he commends his friend for using an icon of St. Demetrios as a god-father. God-parenthood was important in Byzantium, and thus replacing a living (and perhaps far less holy) man for the saint, even though the saint was present as a wooden painting, was not simply valid, but commendable. Truly, the icon was not simply a window into heaven, but a living presence of a holy one.

I'm not sure of Brubaker's personal beliefs, but her account of "inventing" iconoclasm is not wholly hostile. She appears to find the easily produced icons as a sign of popular power, where common people are able to claim the presence of the holy without it having to be filtered through a top-down, imperially appointed, hierarchy. The victory of icons was not designed to be a popular victory, but it functioned like it. Bishops and emperors had to cow before popular devotional practices. While Brubaker notes that Konstantinos V had the tradition on his side, this doesn't really influence her positive account of iconodulia.

All in all, none of this answers the question of biblical normativity (though her remarks about tradition would suggest an answer), but it does show a history that does not fit most positions taken today.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Against Neo-Feudalism: Reflection on Politics and State Power

I have a lot of respect for Noam Chomsky and enjoy almost all of his work. He has done much, from his professorship at MIT in neurolinguistics, to deflate the myth about the American empire and has made many of its crimes accessible to a larger audience. He has also done much to lay bare how it's not "conspiracy theory" to notice the small ring of people who occupy the revolving door, shifting from Pentagon to Wall St. to the White House to Madison Ave and other media outlets, would have the same interests and operate along those lines. He has done much to help people see through the slit of publicly accessible information, opening up a view of all the behind-the-scenes corruption and madness that afflicts the American plutocracy. Even as a secular atheistic Jew, denouncing the God of the OT as a barbaric monster, he appeals to universal norms that he can't substantiate, though he stands upon. In some lectures, he notes that there's no scientific method to prove a universal like justice or good, but that these things don't subsist in a way open to this kind of probing. In this move, Chomsky pronounces a kid of moral fideism, while simultaneously turning his back on the bizarre scientism prevalent among some who think morals flows imply from scientific research. I don't think this approach is truly sustainable, but it's something. I hope Chomsky someday (and he's pretty old already) finds the Just One.

But having said all of that praise, the one thing that I don't quite get is Chomsky's political vision. He describes himself a few ways: anarchist, anarcho-syndicalist, socialist libertarian. As he's explained elsewhere, his firstpoint has to do with an attitude towards the state and governing powers. It's a suspicion and constant skepticism, which he commends as necessary for all peoples living in a society. The latter two terms refer to concepts that involve a reduction of state power flowing from a radical change in economic arrangement. If workers own the means of production, organizing industry through workers' councils, this mode of existing would change the fabric of society and be the means of breaking down the powers of the state. Any libertarianism that does not change the economic structures of business is doomed to create a private fascism (Chomsky calls corporate structures, as they are, akin to fascism, with their top-down authoritarian power structures).

There are points here that I find agreeable. It is true that libertarianism, as a right-wing movement, is woefully ignorant of what would happen if the government ceased to intervene in economic affairs. Quite easily corporate monopolies would strangle competition, or privately hide their influence and tentacles through shell companies (as they already do). The result would a Randian nightmare society (like the game Bioshock). A weak-state with powerful private lordling who own all (or almost all) the means of production is the definition of feudalism. As it stands, rightwing anti-government types accidentally embrace this mode of existing. Of course, not all, as many in the US Right advocate, unintentionally many times, a form of corporate socialism. This MO is basic to both the majority of operators in both the Republican and Democratic parties. They dump corporate funds to prop up the military-industrial complex, as well as our crooked financial system. The wildcard trading on the US Housing Market evaded market discipline when these financial institutions, supposedly too big to fail, were handed a sack of money from the US Treasury in the form of bonds. Quantitative Easing is a fancy word to say that the US government was a nanny-state for the bankers and financiers.

But given that Chomsky rightly denounces the corporate socialism of the US plutocracy, I don't see how his scheme would prevent the nightmare of neo-feudalism. Sure, without a powerful state that has a seemingly unlimited credit line and a coffer full of tax money, a lot of major US industries would severely wither. But then the alternative would be what? If states didn't ensure levels of trade cooperation, being organizers and directors of forces, what would prevent some kind of East Indian Company take-off, where semi-autonomous corporations hire their own armies? This corporate feudalism was also present in the Netherlands, where the weak and disjointed republican state had loose control over its semi-state corporations. The result was a private group of men, with the blessing from the state, who wielded armies and coercive powers within their own ranks, creating trade settlements under laws devised by the majority stockholders. I suppose in Chomsky's scheme, the destruction of all corporate fascism would result in worker-led companies that would prevent the return of oligarchs at the head of armies. But Chomsky deplores violence, and how else would you seize their wealth? And under whose authority?

The problem with Chomsky is two-fold. Biblically, there's no reason to look to a future state of affairs, political or economic, to find God's presence in This Age. Rather, St. Paul takes a seemingly radically conservative move in legitimizing (in a highly qualified sense) all reigning governments. But this is not simply political quietude, in the form of Lutheran Two Governments theology, where we simply cooperate with, participate in, and drive forward the agenda of the state as simply God's will in creation (in contrast with His redemptive will). And then, pragmatically, it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense and impossible. Chomsky considers that borders are all fictive inventions, which is somewhat true, but how else would these revolutionary reforms occur if not in a well policed society? Otherwise, one would need simultaneous global revolution so the remaining oligarchs don't poison the well by corrupting the unfolding of these processes.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist on this point, thinking Chomsky is actually on the "inside" of some elite cabal, but it's not surprising he keeps getting invited back to many mainstream media interviews. I think a lot of utopic social organization on the left can be given a level of faux-sympathy from the corporate oligarchs. Why? Because it's somewhat nonthreatening. True, I'm sure many gnash their teeth against someone who so cavalierly exposes the lies and crimes. But what's the alternative? A utopic anti-statist socialism suspends a level of action. I'm not saying some practical effects of this approach are not good. Clearly, it's a solid human good to be present in local communities, being grounded in where you live, and learning to do politics (in a more neutral sense of the term) by being a part of groups, communities, and voluntary associations. It should breed both a level of optimism in common folk, while also a healthy dose of pessimism and skepticism of any concerted revolutionary future. A form of anarchy which rejects, if not vociferously attacks, any level of state power or authority is useful to the corporate raiders. It's not for nothing that both Soros and the Koch Brothers want open borders. Even Bernie Sanders, supposedly a radical leftist, rejects open borders as a rightwing, Koch brothers, phenomenon. In part, I think it's for things like this that Sanders is vilified. Many have done their best to make a question of borders to be about xenophobia and racism, but the simple fact is that you can't have strong social benefits without functional boundaries on who's in and who's out. But I'll leave off on this discussion.

What I'm countering here is any idea that it's reasonable to expect this anarchist vision. Besides, I'm working from a Christian and biblical position that Chomsky denies or finds ridiculous. Now, I'm not here proposing a model for a Christian polity. Far be it, for I despise the effects of Christendom and its Judaized confusion of losing the Church of Christ in various national and imperial power-politics, collapsing The Age to Come into This Age, if not theoretically than functionally. However, I want to propose some considerations for thinking through polities in this age, things that are better than worse, and arrangements that preserve higher levels of freedom, peace, and justice.

As already documented above, one ought not to be stupid about state power. For better or worse, the state is the best means to preserve a level of order and equity. It's a public institution that asserts a level of control, and access, to the broadest number within a given geographic territory, usually with levels of ethnic and historical ties (we'll get back to that). Only public institutions, which in theory all have some level of access to (in this age, but more on that later), which can combat the exercise of private powers, meaning groups that are for smaller amounts. The ideal of the state, which is what makes it a state, is that it claims to be working for the benefit of the commonwealth. Hence ancient political theorists differentiated kingship from despotism, where the former acted on behalf of the all, while the latter acted as a private man who ruled a personally owned dominion. Of course, this is a very slippery subject, because very few ever claim to rule on their own behalf, and instead even if a state had become colonized to the point where it became the property of a family or a small-group, they still claimed to be acting for the greater good and the "res publica", the common things. And yet this rational is the only means where private power has ever been restrained. Otherwise, there's a return to the endless wars of feudalism.

Of course, this higher evaluation of the state and its functions does not mean statism or a positive evaluation of state-ownership. Here is where Chomsky's point about anarchism is both valid and very necessary. If there is to be a level of popular sovereignty, it's the mass of the commons that must be eternally vigilant and probing. Transparency and truth-telling must be not only virtues, but institutionally available through kinds of organization. This is different from popular government. Frankly, the confusion between the two has made many democracies pretty awful and functional oligarchies. One can have a representative government, like the US, which is almost totally in the pocket of particular private interests. There are various democratic controls which prevent a representative body from cementing into an oligarchy (like it was in Venice), but even though chaos can't be controlled, it can be managed. Thus democracy, in the sense of popular sovereignty as outlined above, is far more dead in a functional democracy like the US then in many other places and times. Most people are rather complacent to let things roll along, actively participating in their chains.

Now, I should put a Christian gloss on all of the above. The Apostles are both clear that the Church is not of This Age, and that we're present under the regime of demoniac beasts, while also noting that all these things are under God's hand. We pay our taxes and honor Caesar, trying to stay peaceable and not meddle. These two do not produce schizophrenia, or force one to take one side or the other. But they fit together when one realizes that a God-ordained regime does not validate its righteousness or active collaboration. It simply means we're allowed to operate in the logics of these systems, pursuing ends many times radically opposed to what the given social matrix advocates. Christians ought to be at the forefront of truth-telling, not buying into the lies and filth that many regimes vomit forth to justify their deeds. Most state actions would be hardly justifiable if people knew what was really going on. Of course, a people can be deluded and deceived, and sometimes their hearts so twisted they chant and cheer for criminal theft and imperial glory. And so a democratic vigilance is no guarantee that Christians won't suffer forms of martyrdom. But a popular sovereignty is useful for the sole purposes of a creaturely deflation of pretension. Governments are responsible for the good of all, and this standard ought to be restated against them when they fail. I'll address this more in a following post on the meaning of secularity, but when deprived of mythic origins, a state's commitment to common good goals that are, in general, empirically accessible. I think participating in this vigilance is part of Christians seeking peace and justice in their cities, wherever they may be placed.

And on top of this point, as I implicitly stated above, is not a particular glorification of democratic government. All of my points are not simply products of the modern world. I think popular sovereignty, or a kind of democratic vigilance, is possible and a good no matter what form of government one lives under. It could be monarchical, oligarchical, or even a representative-democracy. As recent research done in Anthony Kaldellis' Byzantine Republic shows, even a supposedly divine-right empire actually functioned along the ancient Roman laws of res publica, and the people of Constantinople many times acted to resist an emperor when he lost his mandate. Now the people didn't choose the next candidate emperor, some court faction did that. But the people kept, even violently, a vigilance over their overlords, sometimes deposing them. The only case where this did not work, was Justinian I's violent suppression, which required killing 1/10 of the capital, with 30,000 dead. This point is not to vindicate the Byzantine-Roman system, nor to commend Christians to this kind of behavior (even though, ostensibly, these popular riots were committed by Christians). Rather, in the wake of liberalism and technological change, there are far superior mechanisms for this enforcement. With print and the internet, one can mobilize and spread information in far more effective ways than ever before. Even though the internet was devised as a military project, rulers lost controls of its capacity to disseminate information, and there has been a concerted crackdown, ever since its public inception, to control and regulate its functions.

But, as I've said, without a notion of democratic vigilance and popular sovereignty, even ostensibly democratic governments become neo-feudalism. Whether the state's strong, in cases of corporate-socialism, or the state's weak, a neo-feudalism can rear its ugly head. Politically, I think James Madison was a bright theorist, who recognized that this state of feudalism was innevitable unless enough factions could exist to check others. A popular awareness, even if motivated out of sinful desires for gain and self-protection, prevents any one faction from seizing power. And yet Madison woefully miscalculated, because he underestimated how a weak federal government would compete with the dominant power of the money-interest, the stockjobbers and speculators. The Federalists, and the Whigs, empowered the federal government, but turned it into a feeding trough for elite interests.

To iterate the point above, weakening a state might remove a level of corporate-socialism, but this merely allows these feudal powers to run wild once again. I'm generally disappointed with a lot of American history because a lot of the way issues are framed seems to be me to be woefully inept. Andrew Jackson was a sinful and prideful man, a racist and a warmonger, but many fail to appreciate the way he thought. Some historians think him a bungled paradox, riding the wave of anti-government sentiment while also wielding the federal government's power in new and unprecedented ways. Was he just a barbarian, the King Andrew I who thought he could bludgeon his opponents into the ground? Well, not exactly. He, and his second Martin Van Buren, were concerned with these oligarchic powers. Jackson's Bank War was not against government, but against private interests that were snaking around the government, rapidly colonizing it. Jackson's willingness to invade South Carolina to hang his own Vice President was a view of federal lawmaking that rejected private interests. The issue was never free-trade or the American System, but simply the strengthening of public, national, power to do some jobs, but not all jobs.

Again, none of this is to say that Christians should positively evaluate Andrew Jackson or have a specific policy on trade. But its simply the consideration that public powers are many times the only thing standing in the way of private powers, and that these private powers will simultaneously try to reduce central power to punish them, while bolstering it to feed them. It's why supposedly antagonistic Democrats and Republicans can have genuinely different political philosophies, while also having absolute agreement on the essentials. Because they're agreed on empire and corporate-socialism, they can fight over tactics, strategies, and methods. It's not about the goal, it's about implementation. And it's why there has been so much insane fanfare about Donald Trump's presidency. He's an ogre and a vile man, and while he's not an outsider with no ties to the deep-state, he does threaten certain aspects of it. Even the forms of it he has made his peace with (particularly the neo-con faction of the Pentagon, with its anti-China and anti-Iran Asian belligerence), he has been playing a rather odd game with. For some reason or another, he has achieved an unprecedented peace with North Korea (perhaps under the auspices of flipping it against China; but the old strategy of using a North Korean threat to explain further entrenchment does not seem to have lost its vogue) and has stalled on an Iranian conflict. Again, the point is not that Donald Trump is a good president or a righteous man, but his method of using public power to hatchet off at least one head of the hydra has sent the beast into a violent reactive mode. Of course, if he was truly a threat, his death would've probably already occurred. No matter what one thinks of the JFK assassination, there's enough clear and compelling evidence that the CIA was pleased to see Jack go, with the Company's finger prints all over the agents who brought about his demise. In a lot of ways, the fact that a Donald Trump has been the most violent agent of disruption shows how corrupt and deeply embedded the US plutocratic oligarchy actually is.

Anyway, Christians should positively evaluate when a level of truth and justice is being done. But we ought not turn our eyes to any kind of libertarian fantasy, or even of necessity have negative views of state power. Chomsky's anarchism should be a de-facto Christian position, even a position for all lovers of the truth. We ought to be suspicious of all forms of power, we ought to know that all beast systems are under the wings of the Devil, and know that their time is short and their raging inevitable. In Revelation the saints celebrate when the Whore gets consumed, which is anytime the beast (still a demoniac system) turns on its theocratic form of justification. And by theocratic, I don't simply mean divine-right type arguments. I mean any justification that derives from a mythic power or element, whether it's wholly natural and secular or not. Appeals to the Market, or Progress, or History, or Freedom/Democracy, or whatever, are naturalized variants of some god given mandate. The death of the Whore is a victory for the truth, even the Truth, Jesus Christ. And while popular sovereignty can take on these mythic overtones, its point is simply that the rulers are themselves human too, responsible to the commons (even if not of the commons) to govern well. While Christians know that all things happen under God's providence, even the corruptions and cruelties of wicked demoniac men in love with mammon, we must not confuse this fact for our empirically verifiable common humanity. Without this popular sovereignty, as I'm terming it, it's easy for Romans 13 to become the backbone of a divine right of kings theory that is itself a Christianized beast-system.

Anyway, food for thought.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Primitive Bishop: Thoughts on Episcopacy Sola Scriptura

I was looking through Rowan Williams' opus on Arius when I noticed a subtle point he made regarding the original Arian controversy. Arius was a presybter in the church of Alexandria, which meant he had a lot of sway. The bishop likely developed as a primus inter pares, and his authority, which expanded over the Egyptian countryside, was limited over his presbyters. This does not mean, as some have speculated from Jerome onwards, that there was a presbyteral senate that elected bishops. However, Arius' authority, or his self-perception of it, was not simply from his eldership. Williams notes that Arius wore the garb of a philosopher, and he wielded authority as a charismatically inspired teacher. Part of the Arian controversy, which was sublimated very early on, involved the question of a divinely given teaching authority. While Arius may have stood upon his teaching powers, and was for that reason influential across the eastern Mediterranean, his homoian supporters scoffed when called Arians. They were bishops, and were not the followers of a lowly presbyter.

This point is interesting for a few reasons. There was a tradition that stretched back that equated Christianity with philosophy, which was was a Greco-Hellenistic concept. It involved a divinely inspired teacher who led a school, a group of devoted followers. This teacher wielded a charismatic authority to unpack sacred doctrines and explore the nature of reality. This concept was behind the Gnostic revolt against the Great Church, represented in Irenaeus' controversy with Valentinus and his followers (and possibly dating as far back as St. John the Elder vs. Cerinthus). It also undergirded Justin Martyr's school. Justin was likely able to preserve his orthodoxy not only because of his martyrdom, but because he never openly challenged the Roman bishop. He backed down in a way that Marcion or Valentinus never did. Similarly, Origen likely functioned in a similar way, though, like Justin, straddling the fence. Origen wielded a kind of charismatic power in the sacerdotal philosopher, but was never willing to press the point to open challenge to episcopacy in general. Certainly he fought with his own bishop, but instead of revolt, he retreated to his followers in Palestine, who shielded him, even possibly ordaining him.

Origen stuffed down the problems, but he was only following in the footsteps of Clement and Ammonius Saccas. The former was the head of a catechetical school in Alexandria, whose own conception of teaching authority was not linked to episcopacy (as far as I can tell). The latter was likely a heterodox, if not syncretistic apostate, who taught both Origen and Plotinus. The latter, operating out of the same mold, instituted a sacred school. Porphyry would rationalize this model, while Iamblichus would intensify its divine functions. But whether the charisma of the teacher was linked to a larger set of thaumaturgic beliefs and practices, or reason was divinized to emphasize the intellectual dimensions more, either way the school was the hub of a sacred authority. It's a tradition that runs as far back as Socrates and Pythagoras, with the latter possibly reinventing an Egyptian priesthood on the go. But that's a wild speculation.

Anyway, the point in bringing all of this up is to address the question of teaching authority in the post-Apostolic age. The question of where authority now resided and how it was to function. Who were the successors to the apostles and what did that mean? The Gnostics claimed this apostolic authority for themselves, where the sacred teacher (like Christ Himself) received and divine mysteries and revelations. Perhaps it's better to say that they were more like super-apostles, for their authority was not mediated, or it came about in a way more like St. Paul's. But unlike Paul, who was concerned to be received by his fellow apostles, and bore up under their (legitimate) suspicion and scrutiny, they turned their back on those who would not follow their new claims. Hence Irenaeus' point about apostolic succession: bishops had authority because they received the truth through apostolic hands and continued on through it.

This debate between Alexander and Arius derived, in part, between this divergent view of teaching authority. Was Christianity the realm of sacred teachers, a philosophy (though the most supreme one), or did it exist in the church leaders, the bishops, whose limited teaching authority (hemmed in by apostolic tradition, or scriptures properly taught) succeeded the apostles? The answer became a kind of yes and no, as the bishops triumphed over the philosophers, even as monks rapidly appeared in forms that repeated the Greco-Roman model in modified form. Sometimes monks operated in ecclesiastical disputes as biblical prophets, descending into the cities to shore up one episcopal contender over his critics. Contrary to some higher criticism, prophets were not separated from the priestly class, but were individuals tasked to call it back to faithfulness. But this view of monks was largely wishful thinking (though not exclusively so), modeled best in Athanasius' Life of Antony. Monks many times could become agents of chaos, creating schools that at times threatened to overthrow ecclesiastical authority. But I'll end my historical speculations here.

The question remains about what, exactly, a bishop is and does. I think it's clear enough from scripture that the episkopoi have a dual function: to teach and to manage the distribution of goods. The former task needs some unpacking. Teaching, as I've alluded to above, was not simply a bare rational act. Israel's priests had a hieratic office of linked sacrifice and teaching. They republished the commands of God, calling Israel to faithfulness, as they enacted the sacred rites of the commonwealth. I think there's a continuity here between the church's leadership and Israel's priestly offices, especially as the king was a temporary feature that involved levels of hieratic analogy, but I won't press this point further here. My argument is simply that teaching is derived from a sacred office, with the authority as something linked to God's gifting and appointing. Teaching authority is not simply from the gifts of being able to teach, and the institutional authority is the local congregation.

From Alastair Stewart's groundbreaking monograph (The Original Bishops), it's clear that congregations had a single episkopos who ruled in conjunction with a body of patrons/elders. When this group confederated to an extent, as bishops met together, bishops of bishops emerged, where the whole could be referred to as "the elders of the city" with now a metropolitan operating above them. Stewart downplays the role of teaching that the bishops do (which to me seems inexplicable given the NT data about that role), but if this quirk is overlooked, his account is quite convincing otherwise. He ends the book with a comment that he did not intend to write the book to settle any doctrinal dispute, and thus refuses to comment on how his data would/should be used. The basic result is an account that the single bishop was original to churches, but churches linked together under a single jurisdiction was something that developed.

The question here is how best to understand "develop". In general, I despise this word because of its association with Newman's theory of doctrinal development. The idea is basically that the church, as  social organism, "grows up", and becomes larger and more mature as time unfolds and various controversies force clarification. Newman's theology was hated in his own day by his fellow Romanists, but it became the life-preserver for the Roman church in the 20th century when its authoritarian epistemology became increasingly fideistic and charismatic. Many could not simply shrug off a mountain of historical evidence for an infallible magisterium who said what was or wasn't history. So growth became the model. But, of course, one's growth is another's mutation. Who's to say that Nicaean Christology was the aberration? Because Nicaea "won"? That's a preposterous Whiggish view that's ridiculous in light of the contemporary moment. There's no reason, besides assertions about what's logical or necessary or good, why one turn is better or worse than another.

But where does this leave Stewart's account? Was the shift from house-church bishops to city bishops the kind of development Newman described? If it was no important, why was this shift not given to us in scripture? Well, perhaps it was. There's ambiguity about what role, exactly, Paul ordained Titus and Timothy to. They weren't apostles, but what they received was not simply the same thing as episcopacy as elsewhere described. It seems more far-reaching, especially as Titus and Timothy acted as representatives of Paul, apostles of an apostle, shaliachim.

Here we reach a hermeneutical point. How are these events, and these letters, to be understood as canonical scripture? Are they simply testimonies of the Apostolic age, or do they have any continuing didactic purpose? Where I deviate from a simple congregationalist view is that these accounts mean something beyond simply the historical context. Timothy and Titus may not have been simply bishops of Ephesus and Crete (respectively), but was it unwarranted for a regional episcopal authority to model this authority? We know Paul had "successors", did Timothy and Titus have the same? There's no evidence one way or the other, and there's little evidence that other apostles did something similar with similar results (closest thing is the unspoken relationship between Peter and Mark, but that's still quite a few steps from Paul's relationship to Timothy). But again, why was such given in the canon of scripture? And why was there zero fight over this inter-ecclesial authority until the 4th/5th century with Jerome's remarks and Aerius' quasi-presbyterianism? The fight between the philosophers and the bishops was over how a sacred teaching authority existed in or out of the official hierarchy of the church; it wasn't between bishops and presbyters.

Of course, an argument for episcopacy is not an argument for all episcopacy. Just like there are variations of congregationalism, there are kinds of episcopacy. I'm in agreement with the puritan episcopal reformers of 16th/17th century England against some of their more prelatical adversaries. Edmund Grindal and James Ussher stand in for those willing to rework and reform episcopacy to reduce clericalism, and integrate bishops/presbyters into the congregation and thus the life of the church. I think they had the right idea, even if its implementation was not fully considered. The Reformation repeated many of the same Constantinian mistakes, even as Reformation churches were, at least momentarily, free to rethink their relationship to the governing powers. But their point, which was swamped in the nasty politics and high stakes of the times, was a subtlety that many still mistake. Ordaination, even a high and hieratic view of ordaination, is not equivalent with clericalism, for the office is not separate or over from the life of the congregation as a whole. Thus I'm disgusted with iure divino Presbyterianism when it emphasizes the bureaucratic status of a teaching-elder as belonging to the presbytery, not to the congregation that it supervises and preaches to. Paul had authority over the many Gentile congregations he helped to found as an Apostle, and yet he never spoke over them, but implored them. It was the Corinthians who were to cast out the incestuous adulterer, not Paul.

Anyway, these are more thoughts on the matter. I think a kind of episcopacy can be sustained through an adherence to a sola-scriptura that has not divorced itself from the received history that intertwines it. One does not need a PhD on Second Temple Judaism to understand the Bible, but one does need a good translation and certain hermeneutical principles to understand it. These things we receive from the church, like the Ethiopian gained from St. Phillip, which is the work of the Holy Spirit of Christ through His manifold powers and agents.