Friday, October 7, 2016

The Body is Not a Problem

I started reading Louis Marie Chauvet's Sacraments and will hopefully include interesting insights along the way. It's trying to incorporate anthropological and sociological data in order to think through the Biblcial testimony concerning God's interactions with Man. This is a case of fides quarens intellectum (faith seeking understanding).

Anyway, Chauvet explores a certain view of language as an instrument. What this means is that man experiences reality directly, with both man's impressing upon reality and reality's impressing upon man. Language, in this view, is a tool for man to share this reality with others. This view presupposes that man pre-exists language (which is problematic), but I will focus on one particular issue.

Chauvet quotes Augustine and Thomas (quoting Augustine) who find language as a problem. For Augustine, language is a product of the fall, a kind of crutch. In Paradise, Man will not speak for his intellectation will be pure and unmediated between himself, the saints, angels, and God. In some ways, differentiation seems hard to imagine. But the purity of thought uncontaminated with the created will be overcome.

This view, thus, implies mediation is, itself, a problematic reality. Mediation is not a created good, nor a reality to be transfigured. Rather, it will burn up in the Eschaton. This view implies that temporality is itself a flaw, inheriting a Platonic suspicion of the fleeting and passing. This is not to say that Man's blessedness does not find itself in communion with the Eternal and Infinite Creator Lord. But, Jesus Christ is the Word of God, and our eternal dwelling is in being the Body of Christ. Our experience of the Father is always mediated through the Son, in the Spirit. This is not a symptom of This Age, but a constitutive element of our glorious future.

The Human body represents a nexus of mediated experience, between the external reality and the internal life. It makes sense that certain Platonized elements in the Church would revolt from the very bodiliness of our salvation. Origen was perhaps the most explicit to try and reconcile the clear biblical data of the resurrection with the Platonic sensibilities that would find mediatedship as a problem that needed to be overcome.

I think St. Maximus' theology helps us overcome this problem. His monastic disciplines were fundamentally different than some other Origenistic monks. His vision was not the erasure of the body, beating it into a kind of stupor in which it would cease to meddle with the life of the nous (the intellectual, and thus most true, part of the soul). Instead, the body became the site in which worship was given and blessing received. It needed discipline so that it would be a purer site of mediation of God's grace to the person. This has nothing to do with earning salvation, but as a process of "working out salvation with fear and trembling".

The body, like language, is transformed by the gospel. Our words need to be reformulated and altered in order to bear the weight of God's revelation. Scripture provides this, a canon (rule-stick), for both language and for the practices of the body. It helps guide us in how to speak about our world and experiences therein. It also helps us transform the body. It teaches us of prayer and fasting. It teaches us to stay away from fornication, while teaching us to embrace our brothers. It teaches us to eat the Body and Blood of Christ in the elements of Bread and Wine. It teaches us that we must be washed in the water of Baptism.

St. Paul warns St. Timothy of the practices of these Origenistic monks. They become obsessed with the destruction of the body that they deny the goodness of God's creation and, in the end, tend towards the demons. To put it in other terms, St. Paul is attacking those who would remove the mediated presence of God through His good gifts and His Incarnate Presence through "silly myths". Not only does this call God's will for Creation into question, it asks us to, essentially, throw away the Scripture, stripping God's word bare in order to scratch some gnosis (secret, salvific, directly experienced knowledge).

But of course, what we do with the body matters, in a way that infinitely transcends the Platonists. We must avoid gluttony and the love of things, not because they are evil or merely because they are fading, but so we might properly worship the Lord. Fasting teaches us to rely upon the Word of God, for bread alone is not enough. Prayer not only sends our petitions and thanksgivings up to the Lord, but also sets us in proper relation as in communion with the Father of All Light. It's in the body that we experience the Lord, whether in our earthen vessels now, or the incorruptible bodies after the resurrection. It is in the body that we will worship the Lord, seek the manifold glories and beauties of His Kingdom, and rejoice forevermore. Amen


  1. I was just writing AP about this book:

    I'm using it as a framework for explaining different Christian approaches to apologetics and philosophy to my teenage son.

    I thought of it because one of the three views is the Anselmian/Augustinian 'Faith Seeking Understanding' which is where I would also place the Van Til/Oliphint group.

    The other two are the Thomistic Synthesis and the camp to which I belong the Ockham/Pascal Faith and Philosophy in Tension position. That said, there's much I can appreciate about the FSU position. On one level it's a happy medium between the two extremes. It just depends on where you go with it.

    1. Those divisions, while useful for elementary studies, seem to chop up nuances.

      My major beef with the VanTillian gang is how they have almost completely obfuscated their own intellectual roots and have confused it for the Bible itself. To an outsider, one can see the Idealism and Rationalism that drenches the school. It's one thing to sift through tools to better get a handle on what is actually happening in Scripture, it's another to hold the Bible captive to a system.

      My understanding is that the spirit of fides quarens intellectum holds that all methods are merely tools and are insufficient. They are only to jostle us out of whatever slumber we're in, and help us listen to Scripture. However, the opposite temptation is to trust the method too much. That's what I see as the heart of the debate between Pascal and the Jesuits. Even Thomas, brilliant as he was, saw a vision of divine glory and considered his writings as but straw. Aristotle helps to a degree, but a tool is no substitute for the presence of the Real.

      Pascal and Thomas are not so far apart.

  2. The divisions are just a starting point. The VanTillians take FSU and now use it as a platform to deduce (rationally not exegetically) a comprehensive system. I appreciate the rejection of a kind of inductive-evidence based approach to arguing someone into the faith. But as you say they are indeed infected with Idealism and thus coherence becomes the standard of all truth. And if your speculations cohere, they must be true... except of course they (ironically) have their own presuppositions when they approach a myriad of cultural issues which cloud their judgment.

    They're pro philosophy. You have to start with faith and then you can rightly use philosophy.

    Thomism starts with philosophy (as it were) and move toward theology, first natural and then revelatory.

    Pascal saw philosophy as leading to scepticism. Like Hume everyone is in the end holding on to a form of dogma. It's either dogma or scepticism, faith or nihilism. Revelatory truths aren't coherent with philosophy. In fact they destroy it.

    I see philosophy as a wonderful way to destroy all man-made systems. That's why Ockham, Hume, Pascal and even to some degree Kierkegaard and Kant are useful. They destroy and cast down man-made systems. Kant of course didn't intend to do that but in many ways he did.

    I see Paschal and Thomas as being at odds. Rome has always condemned Fideism (perhaps an unfortunate term). The interesting thing is where do Luther and Calvin fit in? Sometimes they're Thomistic, sometimes Anselmian but (horror of horrors to their descendants) at times they are very much within the Fideistic camp.

    1. I think that opposition between Man and God is not a helpful dichotomy, especially since it is through a Man that we are saved. Christology reveals the nature of Humanity as much as it reveals the face of Divinity. I don't see philosophy as inherently a problem, though it is fallible and is a tool.

      The VanTillians are right to be pro-philosophy, but the problem is that I don't think they think they really are. Instead of being able to utilize a myriad of philosophers and intellectual disciplines, they look for a "biblical philosophy", thinking there is some system they can deploy, a purified school that properly reflects reality. This is foolishness.

      My example of FSU is Gregory Nazianzen. Recent scholarship has revealed how he utilized Aristotelian, Platonic, and Stoic categories in novel ways. They were subordinate to the Biblical witness, and he used these schools as an aid to properly understand the grammar of holy Scripture. But at the end of the day, he saw philosophy as a temptation to vanity.

      It's in this way I don't see Thomas and Pascal as at odds, at least certain interpretations of Thomas. It is disputed whether Thomas is the Thomas of Manual Thomists and how Rome utilized him, especially during and after Trent. Philosophy is a tool to help remove mental blocks and reconfigure how we understand information.

      Philosophy can cast down intellectual Babel projects, but I don't see it as purely negative. If we do not understand that philosophy is merely how we organize our mental categories, we will blind ourselves from the fact that we are always doing it. The question is if we hold it in a penultimate state, always needing reform and purification, always aware of its inadequacy.

      I think Luther was ultimately a fool. He couldn't see how he was himself captive to particular schools of thought, and instead of using the tool, the tool used him. Thinking his theology was biblical, he was blinded by his ideas of Divine voluntarism and nominalism. He couldn't see what he was doing, and confused his own attempts at theology and philosophy with the words of Holy Scripture. The anecdote about his handling of the Epistle of James is proof, and is a kind of inspiration for liberal theology ever since.

      Even though I disagree with some of Calvin's conclusions, I think his renaissance training helped give him some understanding that philosophy was a set of tools. He was able to deploy them at this or that time and, when the time came, to set them down and announce their inadequacy. He was trying to listen to the Bible, while Luther inadvertently told the Bible what to say as much as he tried to let it speak.