The World is Reborn in Bethlehem

On the Eve of Christmas under the reckoning of our Orthodox brethren, we are pleased to offer a Guest Post by Mark Citadel:

At a time when Eastern Christianity celebrates Christmas (as per the Julian calendar), the importance of Christ’s birth is more often misunderstood than it is underemphasized. Indeed, for the true Christian who sees beneath the surface of what holidays have become, Easter (or Pascha) is far more important than Christmas, for it contains the recognition of action on the part of Christ to redeem mankind so that he may not perish from the Way. Whether this action is more fully defined by sacrifice or victory is irrelevant to the event’s significance as such. Events surrounding the death of Christ are adorned with symbolism, and areas of vagueness that have intrigued theological study for centuries. Yet of course without birth there is no death, and thus to ponder the Incarnation itself is necessary for a richer understanding of His final significance.Frithjof Schuon wrote on the nature of the risen Lord:

If the Incarnation has the significance of a “descent” of God, Christ is thus equivalent to the whole of creation, containing it in a way; he is a second creation, which purifies and “redeems” the first.

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René Girard – Imitation and Life Without God

In preparation for teaching a literature course in the 1950s, René Girard reread some of the classic novels. In the process he realized that the novelists had had profound insights into aspects of the human condition and that to a large degree, they were the same insights…

In Deceit, Desire and the Novel, possibly René Girard’s best book, he argues that denying the existence of God does not remove the desire for transcendent meaning. Thwarted from seeking spiritual satisfaction from above, the desire gets directed towards other people who it is imagined have god-like qualities of self-sufficiency and autonomy and that we alone have been excluded from this divine status – creating resentment and compounding human misery.

Likewise, various utopian ideas are an attempt to create heaven on earth, frequently creating hell on earth. Trying to satisfy transcendent desires in the realm of the immanent is a disaster, both in politics and in relationships between people.

In this essay published at the Sydney Traditionalist Forum, I also draw connections between Girard and St. Augustine’s notions of the role of God in human life.

René Girard – Imitation and Life Without God

Who is the Angel of America? Who is His Vicar on Earth?

A culture does not subsist in virtue of its members, or of their mere vicinity. Nor does it subsist in any formal specification of its systematic relations – laws, customs, language, technics, rites, and so forth – or of the propositions about reality upon which those formalities are founded, and from which they derive. Nor even does it subsist in the agglomeration of its people and the body of formal specifications of their systematic coordination thrown somehow together.

This, in just the way that I do not subsist in virtue of my cells, or of the formal specification of their systematic coordination. Rather, my cells and their formal coordination subsist qua mine in virtue of me.

The regnant occasion of my body, and of my life, is just me. I am the angel of my body’s life. I am the concrete real in whom the formal specification of its systematic coordination first subsists so as to be strangely attractive to my otherwise wayward cells and organs and subsidiary control systems. The relations constituting the system of me are very like those of feudal vassalage. My subsidiaries are loyal to me for the sake of their love for me, and mine for them.

So likewise a nation subsists, not in its people or in its laws or in the system of propositions in virtue of which those laws make any sense, but rather in the concrete angel who is its regnant occasion, to whom its components are all strangely attracted, and by whom they are all domesticated to his house, ordered and coordinated.

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A Basic Paradox

To be a person, to belong to a community, one must imitate and assimilate.  To be a person, and not to belong to the crowd, one must resist imitation and assimilation.  One must accept being the “minus one” in “unanimity minus one.”  Yet, as the behavior of the Apostles testifies, this is the hardest thing to do.

Unanimity minus one

Why does no one step forward to defend the scapegoat victim? An obvious answer is that aligning with the victim risks the wrath of the mob falling on the defender too.

The other is social conformity. On the face of it, this smacks of something wormlike and intensely ignoble.

In a famous experiment, a large crowd of people agree to lie. They will say that line A is shorter than line B even though the reverse is true. Just one person is the experimental subject and this person does not know about the pact shared by the others. This person will deny the evidence of his senses and agree with the crowd. Pathetic!

But, try to think of a single thing you think is true with important ethical implications that no one else at all believes. Give up? If no support is forthcoming from anyone at all – not a friend or family member – how would this belief be maintained?

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That Hideous Strength

Who has read and remembers That Hideous Strength – of the gigantic oeuvre of CS Lewis, the capstone, masterpiece, and summation – and who has lately followed the news in the alternative media must have noticed a horrible semblance of these last weeks to the gathering storm that novel so masterfully presents, of good and evil human, natural, and supernatural rising to a tremendous pitch of intensity and power as they drive each inexorably to a titanic, shattering battle. I do not mean here to specify all the parallels, but they are almost all there: corrupt government agencies with noble sounding names and ends that work in fact deep evil; a cruel fat sadistic lesbian harridan, plaything and willing instrument of obscure Satanic masters; inner circles within inner circles, each more vicious and twisted than the last; sexual sin run amok; young victims; hubris on a vast scale, pretensions to a Babelonian New World Order and a New Man; nominalist obfuscation, nihilism and relativism; sophistical professors and rotten priests; contempt for all that is good, true and holy, old and homely, right, simple, and sweet, or even simply and honestly rational (all in the name of rationality) – the whole nine yards. And arrayed against these Powers, a pitiful few doughty hapless writers and scholars, talking mostly to each other in a remote corner of the world of what is good and right, true and holy, strait and wise, solid and reliable.

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Should the West Consider Christ’s Victory?

We are pleased to offer another guest post by blogger Mark Citadel.

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In Gustav Aulén’s 1931 book Christ the Victor, he writes, “the work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.”

Such a concept is unsurprisingly alien to most Western readers who have for so long been believers in a very different theory of atonement, that is, what exactly occurred at the metaphysical level during our Savior’s crucifixion. While Aulén’s theory would not have been at all controversial before the turn of the first millennium after Christ, when the east and west were divided, the western portion of the Occident was heavily influenced by the works of St. Anselm of Canterbury and his book Cur Deus Homo?, which was published in 1097. It’s important we understand what this model puts forth.

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A Thousand Essays

The Orthosphere yesterday reached 1,000 posts since we began writing here in early 2012. Meaningless in itself, this passage nevertheless marks a milestone. It is fitting then to reflect on how well we have met our original purpose, of providing a traditional, orthodox Christian perspective on the maelstrom ever in progress here on Earth.

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Of Possible Interest: Flaubert on Early Christianity

Flaubert

Given the productive discussion that has ensued from my quotations from Constantine’s Edict of Milan and Theodosius’ Codex here at The Orthosphere, I thought that it would not be inappropriate to call attention to an article of mine that appears in the latest number of Anthropoetics, the online journal of Generative Anthropology and related sciences.  The article bears the title, Flaubert’s Tentation de Saint-Antoine : Three Approaches.  Educated people know Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880) mainly as the author of Madame Bovary (1857) and A Sentimental Education (1869), classics of the Nineteenth Century social novel – and simply of the novel.  Like the poet Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867), Flaubert stands in a line of dissentient artists and intellectuals who, in France, stem from the counter-revolutionary thinking of Joseph de Maistre (1753 – 1821).  That fact by itself should attract the interest of Traditionalists; but more than that, Flaubert maintained a lifelong fascination for the history of religion, most particularly that of Christianity.  Indeed, the work that occupied Flaubert longer than any other and which he considered to be his masterpiece, is La tentation de Saint-Antoine (final version 1870).  La tentation is difficult work to describe.  It is in some fashion a novel, but it is otherwise a drama of the imagination in the form of an internal monologue by the famous instigator of desert monachism (the Thebaïd) whose life spanned the last half of the Third and the first half of the Fourth Centuries.

Flaubert wrote a number of other works with a religious content, notably his Trois Contes or Three Tales (1877), one of which is about Herod, John the Baptist, and Salome, another about St. Julian the Hospitaler, and the third about a naive but pious woman who lives out her life in the confines of small village. Flaubert’s Salammbô (1862), set in Carthage just after the First Punic War, treats the notorious Moloch Cult in detail.

The article not only offers an interpretation of La tentation  from three perspectives – Voegelinian, Girardian, and Gansian – but it also traces the unexpected influence of the masterpiece on later writers. John Dos Passos’ first important novel, Three Soldiers (1921), an autobiographical fictionalization of its author’s wartime experiences, frequently alludes to and may be said to absorb La tentation.