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Author Topic: Is Orthodox theology equipped to counter Western philosophy  (Read 3930 times) Average Rating: 0
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StGeorge
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« on: January 08, 2006, 09:55:17 PM »

Is Orthodox theology sound and developed enough to counter certain Western philosophical theories that indict faith in God, belief in the supernatural, belief in the Incarnation, etc.?ÂÂ  I know a little about Western philosophy, and it seems that, starting with Descartes, things begin becoming incomprehensible to me.ÂÂ  I don't fully understand what Hegel means by his Universal Spirit, nor do I understand all the different epistemological distinctions made by these philosophers.ÂÂ  However, when I read Orthodox works (right now I'm reading St. Maximus the Confessor) things, while by no means simple, seem to make a lot more sense.ÂÂ  I am curious, however, if I'm simply not intelligent enough to fully understand what the modern Western philosophers mean, and that, compared to the Orthodox theologians, the Western philosophers are far superior in their understanding of things.ÂÂ  Am I wrong in this disposition?ÂÂ  What can reassure me that the Orthodox theologians, while living in not as technologically advanced an environment as their Western counterparts, have a better understanding of truth than do these Western philosophers?ÂÂ  

Thanks!ÂÂ  Smiley
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« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2006, 10:24:34 PM »

In my opinion, from the limited exposure to the Fathers and the writings of the Church, I would say so.  As with any dialogue between different philosophical/theological systems, there has to be a period of clarification and definition of terms; at some level, I think many of the western philosophies will use similar/same terms as we do, but with different presuppositions and implications.  But once the playing field is set and the language is fixed, then I think the wisdom of the Church containes much of what western philosophy is looking for.

As far as reassuring you, the best I can do is this: what separates the philosophers from the theologians is that the theologians do what they do with the help of prayer and fasting, not just with the grey matter between their ears.  That's all I've got.
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« Reply #2 on: January 08, 2006, 10:47:01 PM »

Western philosophers are good at two things: 1. Using really big words, and 2. Making up really intricate systems of thoughts. Neither of these have anything to do with Truth, however. Do you know what the difference is between modern western philosophers and pagan polytheists throughout time? See #1 and #2 above ÂÂ Grin ÂÂ  Seriously, in both cases they are just making it up as they go along, saying what seems right to them. Go ahead and read Descartes, for all the lip service he pays to God, in the end he's just making things up and trying to invent a system that makes sense to him, that seems to account for all the issues he is aware of. Now, when some new guy comes along and has different issues, he modifies that system of the guy before him. It is the same thing as mythology, only instead of speaking in stories that everyone can understand, the system is articulated in intellectual-gibberish that only .1% of people can understand. Then the other 99.9% say "Huh?" and at least a few of those also add "Wow. They must be on to something!" ÂÂ Hey, maybe they are! But I seriously doubt it. I'm not saying that we can't learn anything from modern western philosophers; just that we probably shouldn't bank our lives and afterlives on their speculations.

Now, if we are talking about a traditional Christian audience, I personally think that Orthodox thought could persuasively refute modern western philosophers. On the other hand, if the audience is not traditional Christian, then it would probably do very poorly, not because Orthodoxy's arguments are weak, but because Orthodoxy's arguments and the premises behind them are not shared by most modern people. For one example, Orthodoxy clearly teaches that a continual cleansing of the soul (e.g., by asceticism, suffering, etc.) is necessary for one to gain a proper understanding of nature and the supernatural. But fasting, prostrations, learning to not lust, learning to be careful in what "entertainment" you indulge in, etc. is not exactly things that modern people would like.* So, sure Orthodoxy could throw out big words as well, maybe saying that "the ontologically-eternal and omniscient divine well-spring facilitates the life and living of our human nous, and is the source and summit of our epistemology, and thus vis-a-vis the intellection which our psychosomatic composition permits us, helps us to experience a proper understanding of the human faculties which we are ourselves speaking of presently.  Or, we could just say that God reveals true stuff to us about ourselves. Smiley

Justin

* Well, obviously no people in no place would like that... but in former times people lived much different lives, and in today's world we are used to being catered to and pampered.
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« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2006, 12:14:09 PM »

The Western method of philosophy can support Orthodoxy and should in no way be thought antithetical to it. Richard Swinburne, emeritus professor of philosophy of religion at Oxford and one of the most respected philosophers of religion now living, converted to Orthodoxy just over ten years ago. For the last four decades, he has been writing on how the existence of a Triune God who sent his Son to liberate us from sin can be deduced from ontological evidence. He is reportedly at work on a new work that shows how the doctrine of the Church's infallibility can be trusted, and this Church would of course be the Orthodox Church. The most-accessible introduction to his work is The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford University Press, 2003), and if you already have a little grounding in philosophy, Responsibility and Atonement (Oxford University Press, 1989) is also worth checking out. Both should be available at any university library.
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« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2006, 12:52:34 PM »

Interesting... I didn't know of the conversion of Swinburne... I'll have to ask my british Deacon-friend about it when I get back (to see what he thinks...)
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« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2006, 10:29:21 PM »

Quote
Both should be available at any university library.

Except ASU of course....
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« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2006, 11:05:11 AM »

  I don't fully understand what Hegel means by his Universal Spirit, nor do I understand all the different epistemological distinctions made by these philosophers. 

Don't worry, no one understands Hegel, we just accept that he created 2 extra dimensions and then we go about our way and say that he's a crackpot which if you ask Karl Marx, he is.... But at any rate, I wouldn't worry about Hegel or any of the other philosophers. We have our ways of dealing with them  Grin
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« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2006, 12:41:33 PM »

Don't worry, no one understands Hegel, we just accept that he created 2 extra dimensions and then we go about our way and say that he's a crackpot which if you ask Karl Marx, he is.... But at any rate, I wouldn't worry about Hegel or any of the other philosophers. We have our ways of dealing with themÂÂ  Grin

That we do.


I think it should be pointed out that the Philosohers are as vulnerable to the works of deconstruction as anything they seek to study or critique.


I would just have to even mention some of my own testimony  going to school and so on.   Especially in contemporary/Post Modern times.    All the Great Western greats have been challenged.   Plato, Freud, and so on.    I would also have to mention my past as Protestant (that has many Enlightenment beliefs).    And mention how in the Western world, Orthodoxy is "Catching on" when just a few decades it was rarely ife ver heard about (just something for Russians, Greeks) etc.


I would simply state that Orthodoxy has already shown itself viable against Western influences (including philosophical ones).    Where it may lack is from certain Orthodox themselves, who often are not well versed in the great writings of its saints.    Which I see, as the most likelyand biggest problem.   
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« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2006, 11:47:29 PM »

However, when I read Orthodox works (right now I'm reading St. Maximus the Confessor) things, while by no means simple, seem to make a lot more sense.

Because Neoplatonism makes perfect sense.
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« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2006, 12:22:44 PM »

So, sure Orthodoxy could throw out big words as well, maybe saying that "the ontologically-eternal and omniscient divine well-spring facilitates the life and living of our human nous, and is the source and summit of our epistemology, and thus vis-a-vis the intellection which our psychosomatic composition permits us, helps us to experience a proper understanding of the human faculties which we are ourselves speaking of presently.  Or, we could just say that God reveals true stuff to us about ourselves. Smiley
Justin

Dude this has got to be the best randome quote containing "ontology" and etc. that i've EVER read.  It was AWESOME.  and your summary was HILARIOUS.  sorry..just thought i'd let you know that I appreciated it. 


Now, as for the topic.  Mixing philosophy started as early as the first century with Justin Martyr, who tried to prove that Neoplatonic philosophy and wern't 2 completely dichotomized entities and that they could coexist together.  Maximus the Confessor did much the same thing, but with a more extensive definition of philosophy.  There are plenty of modern "orthodox" writers who tackle those modern German guys as well.  Some writers are better than others, but the information is out there.  Let me know what you are interested in exactly and I can give you book titles.  Unfortunately a lot of the responses are in German...but hey you might get lucky.  Or have to brush up on your 18th century german!  haha. 
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« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2006, 04:35:50 PM »

The question isn't exactly if one is equipped to tackle the other, but simply if one relates to the other.  That is, Western philosophy (in it's scholastic form from Aristotle onward) is foreign to Orthodox theology.  Two Patristic/ early-Church Father mantras sum this up (afterall, if you want to understand Orthodox in more depth, you must go to the Patristic teachings): "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" (and) "The Theologian is the one who truly prays."  The first implies that Western scholasticism is not needed to know God.  The second implies that knowing God is an ascetic practice (ie. praying, repenting, confessing, etc).  The fact of the matter is that Western Scholasticism (to continue to get clear on these terms) is often (with the exception of a few scholars like Aquinas, Anselm, Augustine, and other RC and Prot. scholars) not geared at knowing God (it could be said also that those who pursue the faith from a purely rational angle are no better off).  Instead, they attempt to understand the world with their own cognitive/rational faculties, and either come up with blasphemous theories or worship Satanic 'gods'.  Hegel, as you briefly mentioned, seems to do both of these.  Although he claims he is a Christian, be not fooled.  His "world Spirit" is none other than a synonym for Lucifer or something of such a realm, to help push not only euro-centricism/ increased political control.  Which brings us to another point- that Western Philosophy is also often supported politically, and helps to move it's Satanic NWO agenda.  For instance, Aristole also 'discipled' Alexander the 'Great'. 

However, another angle on this topic was rightly noted in one comment in this discussion.  That is, the Apologies of Saint Justin Martyr.  In defense of the faith, he showed that Christianity is the oldest and truest philosophy.  He even rebukes certain elements in Plato to show this point.  It should be mentioned here, that Orthodoxy can use the terminology of the west, and not err.  As you probably know, many Greek 'philosophical' terms were helpful for Orthodoxy to defend the faith against heresy. 

This is all I will say about this for now.  Though that may be a bit oversimplified, you must first ask if Western philosophy/ scholasticism is aimed at knowing God, and if it claims to be, you may investigate as to if it is the Holy Trinity or not.  And again, one of the biggest differences is that Eastern Orthodoxy is holistic and ascetic, not purely rational as like Scholasticism or, it could even be said, like Judas.
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« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2006, 05:20:36 PM »

Kristophoros,
Of course, it should be added that we can err in our theology if we try to force the Church into philosophical constructs, rather than manipulating the constructs to reflect the Church.  I think this is one of the oldest seeds of heresy, and one which is countered in your above quote - "The Theologian is the one who truly prays" - since through one's ascent on the Ladder, one is able to come closer to God, and only one close to God in Christ is able to expound on His relationship to the world (i.e. most of Theology).
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« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2006, 08:36:47 PM »

  Two Patristic/ early-Church Father mantras sum this up (afterall, if you want to understand Orthodox in more depth, you must go to the Patristic teachings): "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" (and) "The Theologian is the one who truly prays."  The first implies that Western scholasticism is not needed to know God.  The second implies that knowing God is an ascetic practice (ie. praying, repenting, confessing, etc). Ãƒ‚ 

Not to be overly nitpicky but I believe "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem" is a quote from Tertullian "Prescription against the Heretics" (7).  Tertullian was a first to second century father, so Western scholasticism did not exist.  Maybe what you were trying to say is that Philosophy alone is not what is needed to know God, and that asceticism is the true path.  Let me know if i'm misunderstanding your point. 

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« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2006, 02:01:48 AM »

As to the original question, I think Orthodox theology is more than equipped to counter Western philosophy.  As someone noted, clarification would be necessary, but I think the Fathers more than adequately answer anything you could throw at them.  Much of modern philosophy is along the lines of ancient heresy.  There is also a major contradiction in first principles going on, though that could be worked around, if only to the point of vaguely understanding the opposing viewpoint.

What I think Kristophoros is getting at is best explained in terms of approach.  The Western philosopher approaches his expertise in self-contained study and thought.  He is considered to be performing a human pursuit.  The mind and the heart seem divorced.  The Eastern theologian approaches theology with prayer and asceticism, learning wisdom to, and by, drawing closer to God.  His is certainly a better path, especially to those of us in the Church.  That does not mean that Western philosophy is useless, just that it is not the font, or result of wisdom, but is quite subject to normal human error.

I am reminded of Aquinas.  He often gets a bad rap from the EOC for his Scholastic approach.  It is important to remember that he abandoned such pursuits towards the end of his life, after an experience of God that he believed made all his writings on philosophy and theology worthless.
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« Reply #14 on: February 07, 2006, 02:25:41 AM »

Not to be overly nitpicky but I believe "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem" is a quote from Tertullian "Prescription against the Heretics" (7).  Tertullian was a first to second century father, so Western scholasticism did not exist.  Maybe what you were trying to say is that Philosophy alone is not what is needed to know God, and that asceticism is the true path.  Let me know if i'm misunderstanding your point. 



It is controversial to say Western scholasticism did not exist, as it surely didn't pop into existence with the birth of Aristotle (Epicurus, and others also played big roles).  This is like trying to say that the Great Schism was exactly in 1054.  And yes, the quote was from Tertullian...how sweet of you to cite it for everyone. 

I think the two sentences of what was written were quite clear:  The first implies that Western scholasticism (or the foundations of Western phil.... whatever you want to call it (Photius used 'ancient heresy') is not needed to know God.  The second implies that knowing God is an ascetic practice (ie. praying, repenting, confessing, etc).

As I said, it was a bit oversimplified, but a succinct attempt to answer the topic question. 
So, yes... you and Photius seemed to capture the point in one form or another.
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« Reply #15 on: February 07, 2006, 11:58:45 AM »

It is controversial to say Western scholasticism did not exist, as it surely didn't pop into existence with the birth of Aristotle (Epicurus, and others also played big roles).  This is like trying to say that the Great Schism was exactly in 1054.  And yes, the quote was from Tertullian...how sweet of you to cite it for everyone. 

I think the two sentences of what was written were quite clear:  The first implies that Western scholasticism (or the foundations of Western phil.... whatever you want to call it (Photius used 'ancient heresy') is not needed to know God.  The second implies that knowing God is an ascetic practice (ie. praying, repenting, confessing, etc).

As I said, it was a bit oversimplified, but a succinct attempt to answer the topic question. 
So, yes... you and Photius seemed to capture the point in one form or another.

So basically what it sounds like you are saying is, first no we're not equiped because it's not in our experience, and secondly because it's not in our experience it's clearly not important and thus irrelevant...may I suggest that maybe we just got it all wrong?
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« Reply #16 on: February 07, 2006, 03:31:57 PM »

I think maybe what happened was a misunderstanding of terms.  To me Western Scholasticism has to do with books, and taking the art of learning to such an extreme that books and letters are the focus instead of personal spiritual progress.  Western PHILOSOPHY, is a different thing.  Aristotle's PHILOSOPHY is the begining of WESTERN PHILOSOPHY, so I would have classified it as that, not SCHOLASTICISM.  Now obviously i'm also overgeneralizing, and we can argue semantics all night.  All I wanted to know was if I was understanding you, which I found out that I was. 

Also, just so that you know, the only reason I quoted it was because the quote was right in front of me when I read your post, and I wanted to make sure we were talking about the same thing, instead of ASSUMING what you wanted to say.  So please forgive me if you found my quoting offensive.  I just happened to come accross where you found it, and I asked you about it. 

There are some further factors that maybe should be discussed too.  The term "western scholasticism" did not come about until the Enlightenment period.  So for you to say that such a thing (west. schol.) existed in the time of Tertullian doesn't make sense just by virtue of the term (at least not to me).  Personally I think that it would be more efficient and probobly more correct to use such terms as "aristotilian philosophy" had such and such an effect on early church apologetics with philosophy.  Tertullian was clearly speaking to the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, not 800 years later semantics about scholasticism.  I guess what i'm trying to say is that for me, its important to stay within the context.  Now i'm as guilty as the next guy about actually DOING that, but hey, this is what dialogue and discussion are all about. 
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« Reply #17 on: February 10, 2006, 12:29:06 AM »

my reply went to I know not where!

I will repeat it

Interesting that both Aquinas and Augustine both are said to have moved away from things they had written earlier in their careers as they reached the later stages of their lives. If only they could have hit the delete button on thier earlier writings they would have spared the Western Church alot of grief!
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« Reply #18 on: February 10, 2006, 12:31:47 AM »

although he converted, Swineburn still writes primarily as a Western philosopher/theologian; although he was always "orthodox" in the Western sense of correct and historical/traditonal in his beliefs (he was never a modernist)
But it is great to have him in the Orthodox Church and will be interesting to see what influence that will have on him.

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« Reply #19 on: February 15, 2006, 02:50:58 AM »

I'm a new member ... so a bit of jonny come lately but please allow me to add some reflections. Scholasticism isn't much good. It is so many words with so few results. So Orthodoxy is well equipped to encounter Western philosophy because it - so to speak - has results, ie salvation. Orthodoxy can meet humankind on the level of existence and show the way of salvation through just about every possible mode - the senses, words, philosophy, poetry, music, literature and all of it brought into prayerful contemplation of the Saviour.

So yes, Orthodoxy can meet the demands of Western philosphy because it can offer more than arid words but also because it can articulate true and salvific words to replace all those arid ones. We do, however, run the risk of simply writing off many (post)modern philosophical conversations we deem to be "scholastic" simply because they appear to me a mere playing with words and grammar. To be sure, some conversations are that way but many of them deserve an answer and some of them even desire to be answered. Where ever there is some desire for truth, Orthodoxy must be there because she has the Spirit that breathes life and illuminates the truth. We often forget that many of our greatest saints were intellectuals - rhetoricians and the like - and put their abilities to prayerful use to defend the faith at critical times in the life of the Church.

A few months ago I read a book, "The Beauty of the Infinite" written by a convert to the Orthodox Church, David Bentley Hart, and he is exceedingly verbose and downright complicated at times ... maybe even too much so. But, being a convert myself and having studied much of the contemporary philosophy he attempts to address, I found another part of myself being converted to the Church. Another dark corner of my mind and heart was brought to the light and I am quite thankful to Mr. Hart for his contribution.

Those are my thoughts for now. Please forgive my lack of editing.
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