Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Christianity and Classical Culture" III.X

Part III: Regeneration

X. The Church and the Kingdom of God

We've seen the failure of Augustus and Constantine to preserve for all time the Classical ideal in Rome. Now we'll look at why Christianity didn't save Rome. (359)

In order to understand this, we've got to understand what the post-Nicene church meant by "the kingdom of God."

In the 4th century, the Kingdom of God was a spiritual aristocracy, and a "society regenerated by the acceptance of Christian truth" as contained in the Nicene Creed. (359-360) The 4th century tried to work this out. This "revaluation of values" divides the Classical from the modern. [c.f. Ferdinand Lot] The Creed gave them ground on which to stand and take from the Classical world. They began to systematize all of human existence in ways not really seen since Plato. (360) Plato, indeed, provided the greatest challenge to Christianity, but couldn't escape the deficiencies of the Classical world.

So how does Christian doctrine relate to the Classical background?

First: Athanasius, the champion of Trinitarianism, pointed out that only the Trinity as a doctrine can bear the weight and resolve the contradictions of philosophy. (361-362) He found the arche, the "cause" (a Greek philosophical term), not in nature but in Christ and Scripture. (362) This of course is a mystery for devotion--who can really understand the Trinity?--but Athanasius was concerned to show its rationality, especially compared with the pagan philosophies. (362-363) The problem was in the "natural" man who could not comprehend something that defies objective comprehension (363), but which claimed more than subjective feeling as its basis.

To this end, Athanasius turns to the Incarnation (not to the Holy Spirit, as later generations would do), and to the refutation of Greek philosophy. (363-365) In the perpetual generation of the Son we find the ground of being so long sought after by the pagans. (365-367) The universe exists at God's Word. This is a reworking of both nature and human history, which may both be seen as culminating in the Incarnation. (367-368)

This is a new view of history, unconcerned with economics, war, politics, culture, and "cause"; and focused instead on sin, freedom, and salvation. (368) For Athanasius, the fall of man was adopting false ideology, which expresses itself in various forms (369), all destructive. Only the Incarnation could heal man, human effort was insufficient. Redemption thus becomes the central theme, and life is its result. (369-370)

The humanization of God further suggests the potential divinization of man. (371) The implications of this are 1) sin is not necessary to nature; 2) "the spirit is free." (371-372) Both of which show our immortality. This stood opposed to Classicism, which saw deification only for the best of the supermen and heroes, not for all who believed. (372)

In terms of the Holy Spirit, we turn to Ambrose. (372-373) Ambrose contributed to the order of the church, not to its intellect, especially through his hymns and thoughts on church leadership. (373) Ethics were, for him, a combination of devotion and grace, and church structure is there to help facilitate morals. (374-375) The church is "a distinctive embodiment of the spiritual order," as it held a trusteeship with God's Word and sacraments. (375) This affects all of human life through the Holy Spirit. (375-376) Thus in Ambrose we see the social morality of Rome baptized into the church. So in Augustine we see philosophy Christianized. (376)

The baptistery where Ambrose baptized Augustine (no sprinkling here!)
Augustine passed through Neoplatonism into what became Augustinian Christianity. He recognized his Platonic roots and his debt to Plato in his search for truth. And yet, Platonism and Christianity remained irreconcilable at a fundamental level. (377) Augustine's thought, now to be examined, steals from Platonism and incorporates it into Christianity.

Augustine makes many contributions to Western Civilization (377), but his legacy has been mixed. (377-380) With this last statement he himself may not have disagreed (380), since life is the culmination of experiences. This meant a lot, given the complex nature of his own era. (380-381) He lived as Romanitas collapsed within and without. The only thing left to which one might hold was faith. (382-384) Augustine notes this in his Retractions, when he purged his works of pagan non-faith. Yet, this was not a rejection of the world, but rather a statement of what the world-system should be founded upon. (384-385) Of course, non-believers will never buy this, so instead we have the City of God dwelling midst the city of man. (385-386)

[Cochrane gives an extended comparison of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations  and Augustine's Confessions. (386-387)]

In the Confessions, Augustine discovers the unity of person and experience (388), and between person and relationship. (389) Man is, therefore, consciousness. But what satisfies consciousness? (389) not just life itself (389-390), as he had believed in his youth. Which isn't to say that matter is bad, as the Manicheans do (390), or that only "form" is Good, as idealists (Platonists) do. Life and motion must have goals. (390-391) Emotions and passions likewise need a noble goal. (391-392) Does the Empire meet this requirement? (392) Does it provide the law necessary to temper the emotions and direct life? No, though by compulsion and repetition it might convince one that it does so. (393-394)

For Augustine, only Christianity provided meaning that would satisfy our consciousness. The problem that must be overcome is that of original sin (394), which is an increasing egoism combined with the external limitations of time and place. (395) To explain how Christianity overcomes these in culture was the point of the City of God. (396-397) There, he sought to 1) defend Christianity; and 2) assault pagan philosophy. he does this through his historical theology and an appeal to the fact of Scriptures. But what does this all mean? Find out in the next chapter...

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