Friday, August 13, 2010

Lift the Anathema!

John Philoponus was ahead of his time. Anticipating Galileo and Mirandola by generations, literally centuries, he endeavored to explicate the Trinity in terms satisfactory to the peace of the Empire and with the goal of non-schism for the Church. Due to Imperial politics, he was eventually anathematized, but theologians like T. Torrance are dedicating time to "rehabilitating" him, primarily by re-examining and understanding his thought.

One of the interesting things in his work is that he anticipates quantum physics in talking about a kind of hyper-reality in which God works and has reserved for His working. A possible explanation for miracles and other wonders, it also provides a model or way of thinking (imagistically) about "how" God creates the world out of nothing and how He interacts with it, an interaction which culminates in the Incarnation of His Son.

Schuon discusses the concepts of Being and Beyond-Being in his 20th century work, and has been covering this. This is another way of talking about the essence/energy distinction (in Orthodoxy): we cannot ever know God in His essence, but we do experience His energies, which is His Love, towards us, and is more properly "Who" God is. Schuon would identify the Beyond-Being with the person of the Father, who is archetectonic, or the archetype for Creation. Jesus is identified with revealed Being, which is the "face" of God towards his finite, flawed, and weak creatures. The Orthodox theologian Bulgakov, I believe, also ventured onto some of this ground with his Mariology and focus on Sophia, or the wisdom of God.

The traditional Church has focused on Faith (pistis) perhaps to the detriment of Gnosis and Wisdom, although this balance is redressed somewhat in Eastern Orthodox thought. Philoponus' work may be a way for the Western Church to begin to re-examine and move back "into" the early concepts and struggles of the Early Church (which are more and more relevant to our time).

The important point here, vis a vis John Whitehead and process theology, is that Christianity implies some form of ontology, and is ineluctably bound up with the theology of earlier ages through the communion of the saints, not to mention the development of tradition and the language that emerges out of history. While God may be, for us, more "potential" than actual, and while Whitehead's thoughts may yield insights spiritually along these lines, it is always useful to dig through history and find a potentially more thorough and sound interlocutor that is working with the same lines and struggling with the same issues.

Given Philoponus' position in tradition, he may at least be useful ballast to efforts to re-vivify and re-articulate a "fresh" Platonic theology for our day, a theology which is classical, Christian, & well-adapted to modern conditions.

The important point here, boys and girls, is that safety lies in the deeper part of the stream, which mingles otherwise dangerous currents and influences, and is both deep and wide. If our bark is strong, that is the place to be...

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